Continental soldiers at Yorktown; on the left, an African American soldier of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. (picture source)

In many ways, the American Revolution bolstered American commitment to slavery. On the contrary, the Revolution also brought about revolutionary ideas about equality and liberty that challenged slavery’s longstanding history of tremendous human inequality. The American Revolution brought the potential for the radical change of the slave system to light, and it helped facilitate the gradual but eventual change in America’s social and political ideologies.

Slavery was a prominent social institution in America during the late 18th century, and most white Americans viewed it as normal and beneficial. The broad acceptance of slavery began to be resisted during the American Revolution. Two of the most interesting and noteworthy sources that challenged the popularity of slavery were the decline of the market value of tobacco and the need for slaves as soldiers.

It is somewhat ironic that the South demonstrated significant movement towards freeing slaves, and even more so that the change began primarily in states that placed a heavy emphasis on the need for slaves to work plantations. As tobacco production ceased to be a profitable industry, the need for slaves saw a major decline. By 1810, free African Americans outnumbered enslaved African Americans by three to one in Delaware. One of the most powerful slave states of the Confederacy saw a rapid growth in its free black population – between 1780 and 1790 the free blacks of Virginia rapidly increased in number. The new free black population created a wide range of public institutions for themselves. These institutions functioned to announce and promote the culture of the African Diaspora.

The decline for the need for slaves to work Southern tobacco fields along with the need for slaves as soldiers helped many whites to reconsider their previous notions of what it meant to be an individual – for a brief period, slaves were reluctantly regarded as citizens, and this helped to fuel the eventual reconstruction of laws and norms that formerly objectified the black community. Thus, the American Revolution was the catalyst for changes in the political and cultural ideologies that originally functioned to suppress African Americans.

Works cited:

  • “Revolutionary Changes and Limitations: Slavery.” US History. Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2014.