Freedom and Dependence during the Revolution of Rio de la Plata. Slaves and Freedmen in the Construction of Political Citizenship (1810-1820)

By Gabriel Entin, Magdalena Candioti

In this paper, we analyse the relationship between slavery and the construction of political citizenship during the revolution of Rio de la Plata (1810-1820), based on the symbolic figure of the freedman (liberto). Therefore, we test the following hypothesis : revolutionary citizenship created a form of freedom as dependence. This contradiction in terms prompts us to understand republican freedom as a plural concept in the revolutions of the New World. Far from the dual freedman/slave concept, we explore several kinds of freedom and slavery during the first decade of the revolutionary period. The freedman (i.e. a former slave that had been freed or the free-born son of a slave) acquired a different kind of freedom, reflected in his inability to exercise the common kind of freedom due to his dependence on a patron (either an individual or the State). We combine a diachronic approach of the freedman in ancient Rome and under the Spanish monarchy with a synchronic study of this figure under the revolution of Rio de la Plata, seen through the analysis of measures for the controlled liberation of slaves ; policies aimed at limiting citizenship for African descendents ; freedmen serving in the army ; and slaves turning to the courts to obtain freedom. Our aim is to explain the apparent contradiction between the omnipresent discourse on freedom as non-domination and continued slavery in Rio de la Plata until 1860.

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