Freedom and Unfreedom in the "garden of America"
Gigantino, James John
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This dissertation examines abolition in New Jersey between 1770 and 1857. It argues that the American Revolution did not lead white New Jerseyans to abolish slavery. Instead, the Revolutionary War and the years following it reinforced the institution of slavery in the Garden State. This dissertation first focuses on the factors that led New Jersey to pass the Gradual Abolition Act of 1804, specifically the rise of Jeffersonian Republicanism and the influence of Quaker abolition activists and then examines the elongated abolition period which followed the enactment of gradual abolition, beginning with the role of the children born under the law, those who I call slaves for a term. The role these children played in early national America challenges our understandings of slavery and freedom. Instead of a quick abolition process, slaves and slaves for a term in New Jersey continued to serve their masters in significant numbers until the 1840s and then in smaller proportions until the eve of the Civil War. The existence of slavery in a free state challenges our understanding of the rise of capitalism in the early republic as well as the role the North played in debates over nationwide slavery issues beginning in the 1820s. This long-standing relationship to slavery helped prevent the formation of a strong abolitionist base in the 1830s and influenced Northern images of African Americans until the Civil War. Abolition in the North became very much a process, one of fits and starts which stretched from the Revolution to the Civil War and defined how Americans, white and black, understood their place in the new republic.