White Liberty, Was Slavery Needed or Not? | Teen Ink

White Liberty, Was Slavery Needed or Not?

February 13, 2019
By I_Am_Rosey_Kay BRONZE, Grantsburg, Wisconsin
I_Am_Rosey_Kay BRONZE, Grantsburg, Wisconsin
2 articles 1 photo 2 comments

Favorite Quote:
"You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." — Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh.

“How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” This question was asked by Samuel Johnson, in “Taxation No Tyranny An Answer to the Resolutions and Address of the American Congress,” in 1775.  That question was asked and people wondered, how could the Americans fight the Revolutionary War for their freedom if they were still performing slavery? In most places, slavery was seen as essential to white liberty. To some of the colonists, this was no big deal, they knew they would continue on and prosper, even with or without slavery. Some colonists, though, thought their lives were ending.

Some, on the other hand, decided to ship slaves in from Africa. At the time white ex-indentured servants, who were people from England who could not afford the trip so they had someone pay for their trip, and the indentured servants had to work up to seven years, “had difficulty acquiring good land of their own, and instead found themselves pushed out towards the frontier or down into landless poverty,” States Andrew C. Lannen, who has a Ph.D. in history, an assistant professor at Louisiana State University in his article Liberty and Slavery in Colonial America: The Case of Georgia, 1732-1770. Edmund Morgan suggested that some Virginian farmers had grown fearful of economic issues caused by a dependence on white indentured servants for chores and work.

That's when the Africans were shipped in. The more slaves they brought the less landless whites in poverty and debt there was. Some colonies and individual colonists tried to get rid of slavery or to limit it. Georgia had a powerful and egotistical political system, which, in the words of Robert Scott Davis, a professor of history at Wallace State College in Hanceville, Alabama, “Acted like the head in controlling all operations of the greater body for the improvement and rehabilitation of the whole.” This was in all colonies where Georgia was followed, when Georgia tried to ban something so did some of the other colonies would do it, too. So when the Trustees came to town and changed Georgia for the better, other colonies did the same or tried the same.

Georgia was governed by a group who called themselves the ‘Trustees’ from 1732 to 1752. The Trustees were based in London and decided to run the colony from a distance and not allow any other government to control or run Georgia. The Trustees saw a chance to, “Solve’ the problems of colonization,” states Lannen. Though seventy-one men had served on the Trust only one man had ever actually set foot in Georgia, James Oglethorpe. So the colonies laws were shaped by people who had never set foot in Georgia. The Trustees hoped to build a group of farmers who worked and obeyed their ‘superiors’ in England. The Trust took two audacious and strange actions to do this. One was to outlaw slavery and two, to have no government in Georgia or to represent Georgia.

This has made some scholars wonder and think that the Trust was just inspiration for future abolitionists like William Wilberforce, Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln. Those scholars are wrong. The Trustees only did it to preserve their power. Even though the Trust outlawed slavery in Georgia, this did not mean they were abolitionists. Some even openly supported the Atlantic Slave Trade. For example, Oglethorpe became an assistant in the slave-trading Royal African Company in January of 1731. When Georgia was founded,  on January 2, 1788, none of the Trustees cared or wanted abolition outside of Georgia, while some supported the capture and enslavement of the Native People in Georgia.

The Trust had an excuse for the laws they made, and how the Trust was running Georgia. The Trust stated their policies were intended to protect, what they called,  ‘White virtue, white manners, and white morals’. Some people in Georgia saw that not having slavery and a real government was a threat of tyranny. “From 1732 to 1751, slavery was prohibited, and an organized group of colonists mounted a campaign to make slavery legal,” states Lannen. At the same time, slavery became intertwined with the debacle over the input of a true government.

Other colonies tried to also limit and ban slavery, a group of Quakers in 1688 declared that slavery was inconsistent with Christian principles. Rhode Island passed a law, making all ‘services’ and enslavement to no more than ten years in 1652, but it was never really enforced. Pennsylvania and North Carolina tried to restrict the number of imported slaves, but none of these restrictions worked as well Georgia did. Georgia was the only British American colony to outlaw slavery before the Revolutionary War.

From 1751 to 1770 the Trust decided to make slavery legal to expand their control of the colony by giving people slavery and more control over black slaves. This was a problem even though many people saw it as good that they could have their slaves back, but it was not a good thing. Today Georgia would be looked at as a reduction in liberty because by their actions with slavery they had made their society less free then more.

“When eighteenth‐century British colonists spoke of “liberty,” they associated this concept with a host of specific religious, political, economic, and legal privileges that allowed individuals to exercise a degree of self‐determination,” states Lannen.

There were two types of liberty back then, political liberty and economic liberty. A colonist enjoyed economic liberty if he had the chance to purchase and sell property for his own use. Political freedom meant to colonists that they were involved in forming laws and government policies. Colonists used that liberty for their own purposes, but those liberty’s had restrictions, so to not cause social chaos.

Colonial historians have noticed that the connection between slavery and white liberty date back long before the problems in the 1760s and 1770s. For example, Jill Lepore, a Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at “The New Yorker”, has spoken about how a reported slave conspiracy and the resulting repercussions that gave more power to white calls to political freedom.

Gerald Horne has shown that any challenge towards the use of slavery was a challenge to white freedom as well.  This was from the late seventeenth century onwards. This shows how the colonists thought that they needed slavery to have their freedom. Most colonists thought they needed slavery to have their freedom and even most patriots saw slavery as crucial to their freedom. The American Revolution, to Horne, was the last step in a huge number of colonial efforts to keep slavery, “in the name of white liberty”.

“Slavery and its relation to freedom have long been difficult issues for political theory as well as political life. ” States Stanley Engerman, who has a Ph.D. in economics, and a historian at The University of Rochester.

The U.S. Supreme court’s decision rules that slaves and free blacks are not citizens in 1857. Blacks were not recognized as citizens until 1868 when the fourteenth amendment was put into place.

The Trust is an example of possible abolitionists, but evidence and history shows they were not in many ways. Slavery and white liberty were seen as fundamental for each other and without one another each side would have been rewarded in different ways. So if you choose this topic do you think you would find an answer to Samuel Johnson's question? Do you think we needed slavery? The colonists might say yes, but today many people would disagree. So what do you think?


Works Cited

Lannen, Andrew C. “Liberty and Slavery in Colonial America: The Case of Georgia, 1732-1770.”

Historian, Vol. 79, no. 1, spring 2017, pp. 32-55. EBSCOhost, doi: 10.1111/hisn.12420.

“From Slavery to Freedom.” Star-Gazette, Feb 02, 2003. Proquest.

Engerman, Stanely. “Slavery, Freedom, and Sen.” Feminist Economics, vol.9, no. 2/3, July 2003,

P. 185. EBSCOhost, doi: 10.1080/1354570032000078033.

The author's comments:

White Liberty, Was Slavery Needed or Not? this piece is my first to submit to Teen Ink Magazine, I belive history shows us how we could have or should have changed something, then or now. I believe that no history should be hidden in the shadows, or 'hush, hush'. All history needs to be shared and told so we do not forget who we are and how we got here. All history is amazing, and even if it is a gruesome path you just have to take the leap and learn.

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.

Smith Summer

Parkland Speaks

Campus Compare