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The Patriots' Dilemma

The Patriots' Dilemma

White Abolitionism and Black Banishment in the Founding of the United States of America

by Timothy Messer-Kruse

A provocative interpretation of early US history arguing that abolitionism among the founders was motivated by white racism

Many accounts of the US founding hinge on a fundamental conflict between pro-slavery and anti-slavery interests. By 1776, influential American patriots widely acknowledged that slavery was morally wrong and incompatible with the ideals of the republic. But a republic for whom? As Timothy Messer-Kruse argues, their real motivations have been misinterpreted for more than 200 years.

White abolitionists were primarily concerned with the protection and betterment of the white community - not the liberation of enslaved Black people. Their great conundrum was that slavery had to end because it created what they saw as a dangerous, disloyal and dependent population, but it couldn't be abolished without endangering their (white) republic. Messer-Kruse reveals how the founders' solution was through schemes for former slaves' banishment to the western frontier or overseas, their legal removal from the category of 'citizen', and schemes of gradual emancipation that tightly policed African American communities.

Urgent and controversial, The Patriots' Dilemma breaks through the long-running debate as to whether the founders fought or defended slavery. Patriots reluctantly came to embrace slavery both for its economic and geopolitical power and because they no longer believed there were other ready options to building a white republic. Ultimately, efforts to ethnically cleanse the emerging US polity of Black people failed due to the resistance of the Black community itself.

Timothy Messer-Kruse is professor of ethnic studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He is the author of numerous books, including The Yankee International: Marxism and the American Reform Tradition, 1848-1876, The Haymarket Conspiracy: Transatlantic Anarchist Networks and The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists: Terrorism and Justice in the Gilded Age, which was named 'Best Labor History Book of 2012' by the journal Labor History.

'A stunning achievement. Masterly. Finally, an analysis of slavery and republicanism from the left, not seeking to excuse inhumanity by referring to stale recipes about "bourgeois democracy." As the progressive movement in the U.S. begins increasingly to discuss impending fascism, finally we have an account that provides historical foundation for this chilling conception. Brilliant. Insightful.'

- Gerald Horne, author, 'The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the USA'

'In explaining the role of self-interest in the abolition work of the founding generation, Timothy Messer-Kruse broadens debates that generally focus on the motives and efforts of those who supported African recolonization to show that the rhetoric attributed to colonizationists permeates the work of early abolitionists in general. Messer-Kruse takes away the illusion of altruism and replaces it with an honest examination of the role of self-interest in the first generation of antislavery.'

- Beverly Tomek, author of 'Colonization and Its Discontents: Emancipation, Emigration, and Antislavery in Antebellum Pennsylvania'

1. White Abolitionism and the Invention of the White Nation
2. Abolishing Slavery By Abolishing The Slave
3. White Liberty vs. Freedom’s Anarchy
4. Patriot Dreams of Black Banishment
5. The Invention of White Citizenship
6. Gradual Emancipation as Racial Cleansing
7. The Patriots’ Solution: Civil Slavery

Published by Pluto Press in Apr 2024
Paperback ISBN: 9780745349671
eBook ISBN: 9780745349688

156mm x 234mm