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By examining how ordinary Virginia citizens grappled with the vexing problem of slavery in a society dedicated to universal liberty, Eva Sheppard Wolf broadens our understanding of such concepts as freedom, slavery, emancipation, and race in the early years of the American republic. She frames her study around the moment between slavery and liberty -- emancipation -- shedding new light on the complicated relations between whites and blacks in a slave society.
This well-informed and carefully crafted book outlines important and heretofore rarely examined changes in whites' views of blacks and liberty in the new nation. Combining a study of manumission documents with an investigation of the shifting public discussions over slavery, Race and Liberty in the New Nation demonstrates that the high point of antislavery sentiment in Virginia occurred during the 1830s and not the Revolutionary period. At the same time, it shows how white Virginians' attitudes toward blacks hardened during the half-century that followed the declaration that "all men are created equal."
1 "Are we willing to grant this liberty to all men?": Ambivalence in the Revolutionary Era 1
2 "The liberty of Emancipating their Slaves": The Practice of Manumission, 1782-1806 39
3 "Deep-rooted Prejudices": Race and the Problem of Emancipation, 1782-1806 85
4 "White negroes" and "inchoate freedom": Life after Manumission 130
5 A "contest for power": Slavery and Emancipation Become Political Issues in the 1820s 162
6 The "most momentous subject of public interest": The Public Debate over Slavery and Emancipation, 1831-1832 196
Epilogue: Virginia and the Nation 235
Appendix A Religion of Manumitters in Deeds of Manumission Whose Religious Affiliation Could Be Identified 239
Appendix B Petitions Regarding Slavery, Emancipation, and Colonization Sent to the House of Delegates in 1831-1832 242