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VIII THE I M P E R A T I V E S OF E C O N O M I C I N T E R E S T A N D N A T I O N A L I D E N T I T Y FOR THE POST-REVOLUTIONARY GENERATION OF AMERICANS, the most pressing political problem was formation of a viable national union. The existence of the United States of America was not —and it sometimes requires an effort of mind to remember this— inevitable. It is easy today to underestimate the centrifugal, disintegrative pressures that bore upon the union of ex-colonies forged by the necessity of uniting against British "tyranny." By examining these pressures, as well as the efforts made to resist them, it is possible to see how closely the primary political problem was interrelated with the presence of Negroes in America and with white men's thoughts about black. The major factor making for sectional division in the United States was the proportion of Negroes in the population. By the 1790*5 it was clear that slavery was going to survive only in the area of high concentration of Negroes in the states south of Pennsylvania . Yet in the late eighteenth century sectional division lacked the clarity it was later to take on. The proportion of Negroes, despite a sharp break at the Mason-Dixon line, made for something of an achromatic spectrum—off-white in New Hampshire to dark grey in Georgia. Economic differences and the pattern of antislavery sentiment within the South also blurred the distinction between northern and southern states, since it was by no means definite that Virginia and Maryland would not become "northern" states by accomplishing general emancipation. Delaware was expected to abolish slavery and was usually classed with the North: hence the frequent contemporary allusions to five southern and eight northern states. To conceive of the ex-tobacco colonies as part of a monolithic South is to permit hindsight to remodel the facts. De- [315] W H I T E O V E R B L A C K spite the presence there of the twin factors which eventually proved determinative, slavery and a high proportion of Negroes, there was every reason to set off the upper "South" from the lower: proportion of Negroes, profitability of slavery, abolition sentiment—the very tone of society. North Carolina, moreover, served (as it had from the days of William Byrd) as a nebulous, anomalous borderland , characterized by diversified agriculture, a relatively low proportion of Negroes, and a culture which belonged, everyone agreed, almost in a class by itself. There was not one South but two and a half.1 While attending to these sectional realities and especially to economic changes which were working to solidify them, it is necessary to bear in mind that sectional discord over slavery depended on the existence of a national union and that existence of a union tended to make the presence of Negroes in America a national problem. Discussion of certain issues, especially in the national Congress after 1789, stirred up dormant hostilities without seeming to alter traditional ways of looking at the Negro. Yet of itself the rise of an independent American nation contained subtle and elusive implications for the Negro which were of far-reaching importance . For the task of building a new nation did not consist simply in laying down the bricks and mortar of national government; a rationale was needed to define the contents and purposes of the new structure. Without some sense of who and why Americans were a people and therefore a nation, work could not even begin. This necessity no less than the development of special sectional characteristics intensified what the Revolution had made the problem of Negroes in the American republic. 1. THE ECONOMICS OF SLAVERY One incident capsulates the elements of sectionalism and national union and also a major aspect of the problem of the Negro in America. In the autumn of 1792, as the nation was girding its unanimity for re-election of General Washington as president of the United States, a tall young man from the rolling hill country of central Massachusetts found himself aboard ship bound for Savannah , Georgia. Fresh from Yale College, he was headed for a post as i. For Delaware, [Philip Mazzei], Recherches Historiques et Politiques sur les£tats-Unis de L'Amerique Septentrionale . . . , 4 vols. (Colle, Italy, 1788), IV, 127; Farrand, ed., Records Federal Convention, passim...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469600765
Related ISBN
9780807834022
MARC Record
OCLC
861793501
Pages
696
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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