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FORTHCOMING — University of Virginia Press

Freedom in Black and White
The Politics of Slavery and Black Expatriation in Nineteenth Century America

Freedom in Black and White is the first book to tell the full story, from roughly 1816 to 1900, of how powerful white politicians tried for nearly a century to persuade the federal government to support the expatriation of Black Americans. Rooted in a well-known declaration made by Thomas Jefferson in 1787 in Notes on the State of Virginia — centuries of enslavement had made it impossible for Black and white Americans to coexist on equal terms — this political movement insisted that expatriation would resolve two of the nation’s greatest issues: the institution of slavery and the free Black population that was the institution’s unintended consequence. Among the leaders of this understudied movement were numerous congressmen, Supreme Court justices, presidents, and other prominent politicians: Henry Clay, John Marshall, Bushrod Washington, James Madison, Francis Scott Key, Frank Blair, Abraham Lincoln, and John Tyler Morgan, among many others.

In recounting the history of this political movement, Freedom in Black and White shows the outsized role that its leaders played in embedding in American society the exclusionary idea that Black freedom was (and is) a national problem. The book further shows that as prominent white politicians asserted for roughly one-hundred years the notion that Black exclusion, either through expatriation or through the restriction of civil rights, was an existential necessity, they imbued this notion, as astonishing as this might sound, with senses of morality, inevitability, and patriotism.

A crucial element of the story told in Freedom in Black and White is the intertwined narrative of how prominent Black Americans — such as James Forten, Samuel Cornish, Frederick Douglass, and Anna Julia Cooper — vigorously contested this political movement at every step, how they repudiated the Black-freedom-as-a-problem ideology, and how they fought against attitudes, practices, and laws constructed upon this ideology’s false premises. Douglass was the most active of all of these opponents, denouncing the Black expatriation political movement for roughly fifty years, until his death in 1895. During his final years, he repeatedly called attention to the fact that white politicians were using the slavery-era rhetoric of Black expatriation to justify post-slavery-era Jim Crow laws and practices. As he proclaimed in a speech delivered frequently during the early 1890s, the “true problem” was not Black freedom but rather the national government that had made Black Americans citizens and then had repeatedly failed to protect their rights. “This,” Douglass advised with consternation, “is the problem.”

In sum, Freedom in Black and White expands and refines our collective understanding of how “slavery made race” in the American past, to borrow a phrase from the eminent Ira Berlin. Simply put, although historians have produced many excellent volumes on this subject over the last sixty years, we have lacked a crucial piece of the story.

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