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Ancestral Blood in National Soil: African Americans’ Manifest Destiny in Anti-ACS Rhetoric

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Abstract:

One of the most persistent foundational tropes in African American protests against African colonization was that of the blood of enslaved ancestors saturating U.S. soil. In January 1817, Philadelphia’s free blacks used it in the preamble of their anti-ACS resolution: “Whereas our ancestors (not of choice) were the first successful cultivators of the wilds of America, we their descendants feel ourselves entitled to participate in the blessings of her luxuriant soil, which their blood and sweat manured.” By the 1840s, numerous anti-colonization statements supported African Americans’ demand for enfranchisement in terms of the blood-enriched land.

Some activists took that “entitlement” to U.S. soil one step further, proposing to be “colonized” in the land of their “nativity” on “a small portion of [U.S.] territory.” Such colonization would be the culmination of an irreversible historical process that slavery set in motion as the transatlantic slave trade forever severed African Americans from Africa and attached them permanently to America’s soil. As the U.S. became their historical destiny, they insisted that colonization as a form of reparation could materialize only in the United States. They asserted their independence of white patronage by representing reparation as history’s inevitable consequence rather than the result of human benevolence.

African Americans had thus anticipated the logic of manifest destiny, which became increasingly prominent in the second half of the 1840s. But while the hegemonic concept associated white liberty with free (and white) western spaces, the earlier African American idea utilized slavery’s history as the condition for western freedom. Whereas manifest destiny promised U.S. citizens that they could embody the nation’s spaces, African Americans claimed that the nation’s land embodied their own histories more than that of white culture. David Walker wrote it explicitly: “America is more our country, than it is the whites—we have enriched it with our blood and tears. The greatest riches in all America have arisen from our blood and tears.” Walker elucidates what similar statements imply: America was the product of the physical bodies of slaves. This idea critiqued Lockean understandings of colonization, which inspired U.S. expansion and helped justify manifest destiny. While hegemonic Lockean views posited the labor of white individuals as the foundation of their private property and political representation, African American writers argued that the collective laboring body of generations of slaves turned their communities into the U.S.’s rightful founding proprietors.

I analyze this discourse in light of the history of African Americans’ relation to America’s land. African colonization was a culmination of numerous threats to African Americans’ claims to U.S. soil and citizenship, including the early eighteenth-century definition of slaves as real estate and their later reclassification as “moveables.” By reading anti-ACS texts in this context, I discuss African Americans’ development of their own manifest destiny avant la lettre and examine its broader cultural significance.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509401_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Ben-zvi, Yael. "Ancestral Blood in National Soil: African Americans’ Manifest Destiny in Anti-ACS Rhetoric" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509401_index.html>

APA Citation:

Ben-zvi, Y. "Ancestral Blood in National Soil: African Americans’ Manifest Destiny in Anti-ACS Rhetoric" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509401_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: One of the most persistent foundational tropes in African American protests against African colonization was that of the blood of enslaved ancestors saturating U.S. soil. In January 1817, Philadelphia’s free blacks used it in the preamble of their anti-ACS resolution: “Whereas our ancestors (not of choice) were the first successful cultivators of the wilds of America, we their descendants feel ourselves entitled to participate in the blessings of her luxuriant soil, which their blood and sweat manured.” By the 1840s, numerous anti-colonization statements supported African Americans’ demand for enfranchisement in terms of the blood-enriched land.

Some activists took that “entitlement” to U.S. soil one step further, proposing to be “colonized” in the land of their “nativity” on “a small portion of [U.S.] territory.” Such colonization would be the culmination of an irreversible historical process that slavery set in motion as the transatlantic slave trade forever severed African Americans from Africa and attached them permanently to America’s soil. As the U.S. became their historical destiny, they insisted that colonization as a form of reparation could materialize only in the United States. They asserted their independence of white patronage by representing reparation as history’s inevitable consequence rather than the result of human benevolence.

African Americans had thus anticipated the logic of manifest destiny, which became increasingly prominent in the second half of the 1840s. But while the hegemonic concept associated white liberty with free (and white) western spaces, the earlier African American idea utilized slavery’s history as the condition for western freedom. Whereas manifest destiny promised U.S. citizens that they could embody the nation’s spaces, African Americans claimed that the nation’s land embodied their own histories more than that of white culture. David Walker wrote it explicitly: “America is more our country, than it is the whites—we have enriched it with our blood and tears. The greatest riches in all America have arisen from our blood and tears.” Walker elucidates what similar statements imply: America was the product of the physical bodies of slaves. This idea critiqued Lockean understandings of colonization, which inspired U.S. expansion and helped justify manifest destiny. While hegemonic Lockean views posited the labor of white individuals as the foundation of their private property and political representation, African American writers argued that the collective laboring body of generations of slaves turned their communities into the U.S.’s rightful founding proprietors.

I analyze this discourse in light of the history of African Americans’ relation to America’s land. African colonization was a culmination of numerous threats to African Americans’ claims to U.S. soil and citizenship, including the early eighteenth-century definition of slaves as real estate and their later reclassification as “moveables.” By reading anti-ACS texts in this context, I discuss African Americans’ development of their own manifest destiny avant la lettre and examine its broader cultural significance.


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