Even as the decline of apprenticeship and indentured servitude narrowed the gradations of freedom among the white population, the Revolution widened the divide between free Americans and those who remained in slavery. Race, one among many kinds of legal and social inequality in colonial America, now emerged as a convenient justification for the existence of slavery in a land that claimed to be committed to freedom. Blacks’ “natural faculties,” Alexander Hamilton noted in 1779, were “probably as good as ours.” But the existence of slavery, he added, “makes us fancy many things that are founded neither in reason or experience.”

“We the people” increasingly meant only white Americans. “Principles of freedom, which embrace only half mankind, are only half systems,” declared the anonymous author of a Fourth of July speech in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1800. “Declaration of Independence,” he wondered, “where art thou now?” The answer came from a Richmond newspaper: “Tell us not of principles. Those principles have been annihilated by the existence of slavery among us.”


1. How did the limited central government created by the Articles of Confederation reflect the issues behind the Revolution and fears for individual liberties?

2. Explain the importance of the Land Ordinances of 1784 and 1784, as well as the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, both for the early republic and future generations.

3. Who were the nationalists of the late 1780s, and why did they believe a new national constitution was necessary?

4. The Constitution has been described as a “bundle of compromises.” Which compromises were the most significant in shaping the direction of the new nation and why?

5. What were the major arguments against the Constitution put forth by the Anti-Federalists?

6. How accurate was I lector St. John de Crevecoeur’s description of America as a melting pot?


1. Why did settlers believe that the right to take possession of western lands and use them as they saw fit was an essential part of American freedom? Why did this same freedom not apply to the Native Americans already on the land?

2. James Madison argued that “Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuse of power.” Explain what Madison meant, and how this statement affected the ideas of freedom for the participants at the Constitutional Convention.

3. Why and how did the framers of the Constitution design a government that protected slavery and its advocates?

4. How important was the Bill of Rights at the time it was enacted, and how important is it now?

5. Why does the Constitution never use the word “slavery”?

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