Early attempts to abolish slavery

The Continental Congress of 1774 called for the abolition of the slave trade. Some Northern states ended slavery as early as 1776. Even a few forward-thinking Southerners freed their slaves in a burst of Revolutionary zeal. Washington arranged for his slaves to be set free after he and his wife died. Although the U.S. set a deadline of 1808 to abolish the importation of new slaves, a slave rebellion in Haiti (1791) scared a lot of slave owners into harsher treatment of slaves. The slave revolt also made Napoleon rethink his involvement in the New World.


Question: What was the influence of the slave rebellion in Haiti on the U.S.?

Answer: The rebellion scared Southern slave owners into increasingly brutal treatment of slaves and gave Napoleon a reason to want to sell out of his interests in the New World, paving the way for the Louisiana Purchase.

Jefferson was embarrassed that he couldn't free his slaves. Enslaved workers were worth as much as $50,000 each in modern money. A poor businessman, Jefferson had been forced to mortgage his slaves to the bank, which wouldn't let Jefferson set them free. The Polish American Revolutionary war hero Thaddeus Kosciusko spent his army pay to help buy the freedom of slaves.

Women's gains and republican motherhood

Women made some early gains. New Jersey's Revolutionary constitution of 1776 even briefly granted women the right to vote, 100 years before the rest of the world. Although that early right was overturned, women played a role in the freedom fight. John Adams's wife, Abigail, warned him in her so-called Remember-the-Ladies letter (1776) before the Declaration of Independence that women were ready to start their own revolution. During the war, some women, dressed like men, fought in both the artillery and the infantry for the patriots. Two sisters dragged a British messenger off his horse and smuggled his secret dispatches through enemy lines to the Americans.


Question: What did Abigail Adams, wife of future President John Adams, write about in a famous letter to him?

Answer: In an early call for women's rights, Abigail advised John to "remember the ladies."

The idea of republican motherhood (1780) elevated women to the role of keeper of the nation's conscience and first educator of future patriots. The concept of republican motherhood resulted in increased educational opportunities for American women. The reasoning was that women had to be educated to raise good members of a free country. By 1837, women had their own source of higher education: Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, the predecessor to Mount Holyoke College.


Question: What was the meaning of republican motherhood?

Answer: Republican motherhood meant that it was the important responsibility of women to raise the next generation of freedom-loving patriots.

Although republican motherhood kept women at home rearing children, it also began to legitimize political activity for women. The Abolitionist movement, which started to gain strength in the 1830s and 1840s, found many of its strongest voices among educated Northern women. The Seneca Falls Convention (1848), which began the women's rights movement in the United States, owes some of its origin to the emphasis on republican motherhood at the time of the Revolution.

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