Friday, September 27, 2013

Book Review: “The Internal Enemy” - Founding Fathers’ attitude towards Slavery after the American Revolution

 Authored by Lachin Hatemi M.D.
Published by

Pulitzer Prize-winning author - Alan Taylor describes the events around the issue of slavery during and after the American Revolution in his most recent book “The Internal Enemy”. Alan examines the mass exodus of slaves to the ranks of the Royal British Army. “The Internal Enemy” shows the personal side of the Founding Fathers from Virginia and points a finger at the contradiction between their well-publicized rhetoric and attitudes towards the institution of slavery.
America’s Founding Fathers and their ideals about personal liberty are widely taught in history classes across the nation. However, little is known about their ideas and attitudes towards the institution of slavery. Despite the common knowledge that our Founding Fathers also were slave owners, the contradiction between slavery and the principals of personal liberty they vehemently fought for is rarely questioned. 

George Washington was a slave owner, but he still felt uncomfortable about the moral aspects of slavery. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison both betrayed the ideals of American Independence and self-determination by being owners of slaves in their private lives. Jefferson and Madison, both fellow Virginians, benefited financially from their slaves’ labor.

During the rising abolitionist movement in Britain, Jefferson and Madison both argued about violations of the personal liberties of Americans while two-fifths of the Virginia’s population was either slaves or born into slavery. Indeed, most Southern slave owners participated in the American Revolution to protect slavery - a revolution for the liberty that excluded the black people in the most tragic of ways.
There was a good reason for American concerns about British attitude against slavery. There had been very well-documented legal battles involving slaves who were taken to England by their masters and who successfully declared their freedom with the help of abolitionist British attorneys, since slavery was not recognized by Great Britain. Anti-slave campaigners in Britain convinced the royal court that “as soon as any slave sets foot upon English territory, that slave becomes free.”

The War of 1812 changed everything. During this war, thousands of black slave families had the opportunity to be free under the British Flag.  Perhaps out of British “military opportunism,” the Royal army even enlisted 400 male runaway slaves as the Colonial Marines and benefited enormously from their resilience and innate knowledge of the local terrain in their war against American rebels. Most of the run-away slaves were able to free their families once they become British soldiers. Without the help of the runaway slaves, British could not easily reach the deep corners of Virginia’s countryside. 

However, the duality of British attitudes cannot be ignored given that freedom offered to rebel-owned slaves did not extend to loyalist-owned slaves. Despite this, slaves from Virginia would still continue to dive into the ocean at the sight of a passing a British war ship.

I found this book to be original in its approach to the War of 1812. We can all learn from Alan Taylor’s excellent narrative of early American history. Alan’s books can be trusted to be candid in our search for the truth about slavery in the post-revolution America.  

Lachin Hatemi is a physician located in Buffalo, New York. His interests include Human rights, racial equality and interfaith dialogue. You can reach Lachin at 

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