ideals of liberty and equality existed side by side with the
brutal realities of human slavery. By the time of the Revolution,
slavery existed in all the colonies, slaves made up 20 percent
of the population, and their labor had become a vital contribution
to the physical and economic development of the colonies.
The existence of slavery created tensions that would strain
the integrity of the United States for many decades to come.
The Society of Friends, a religious group also known as the
Quakers, formed the first formal antislavery society in 1775.
Throughout the Revolution, as the states struggled to find
common ground, the issue of slavery was so divisive that it
threatened to shatter their fragile union. Some prominent
leaders of the Revolution raised their voices to oppose slavery
on moral grounds. Slaves and free Africans embraced the principles
of liberty and equality embedded in the Declaration as their
own best hope for freedom and better treatment. Many, fighting
as soldiers in the American armies, helped to defeat the British,
while earning their freedom and gaining the respect and gratitude
of some whites. And clinging to their own understanding of
"all men are created equal," they pushed the country
closer to living out the full promise of its words.
| Elizabeth “Mumbet”
Freeman, watercolor (reproduction) by Susan Anne Livingston
Ridley Sedgwick, 1811 learn