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Warring for AmericaCultural Contests in the Era of 1812$
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Nicole Eustace and Fredrika J. Teute

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781469631516

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469631516.001.0001

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Meditating on Slavery in the Age of Revolution

Meditating on Slavery in the Age of Revolution

Barbary Captivities and the Whitening of American Democracy

Chapter:
(p.56) Meditating on Slavery in the Age of Revolution
Source:
Warring for America
Author(s):

Carroll Smith-Rosenberg

Publisher:
University of North Carolina Press
DOI:10.5149/northcarolina/9781469631516.003.0002

From the nation’s founding inclusion in and exclusion from the U.S. body politic has been racialized. Citizenship and whiteness have been defined in opposition to slavery and blackness, the free white man celebrated as the prototype of the liberty-loving American citizen. “The very structure of American citizenship is white,” political philosophers and historians repeatedly tell us. Yet U.S. democracy took form during one of the most radical periods of human history, the Age of Revolution when the political world appeared remade and the promise of freedom unlimited. Between the 1780s and the War of 1812, increasingly radical political movements crisscrossed the Atlantic challenging absolute monarchies, establishing post-colonial republics and questioning the legitimacy of human slavery. Born of such momentous times, how were U.S. citizenship and democracy constituted as powerful instruments of racial exclusion? How were the majority of US citizens and their political leaders able to reconcile their commitment to the equality of all men with the centuries-old practice of chattel slavery? This essay ponders that conundrum through an exploration of a rapidly growing literary genre, the Barbary captivity narratives, cheaply printed popular accounts of the seizure and enslavement of American sailors by Barbary “pirates.” Focusing on the period between the 1780s and the War of 1812, that epic time when revolutionary fervor — and most especially the Haitian Revolution — made the contradictory interplay of Atlantic slavery and universal rights impossible to ignore, this article will explore the role popular representations of white and black enslavement played in the construction of the new U.S. republic and U.S. citizenship.

Keywords:   Barbary captivity narratives, pirates, African enslavement, white slaves, Age of Revolution

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