Free Blacks and American Citizenship in the US Northwest Territory (1787 and 1830)

By Marie-Jeanne Rossignol

This paper focuses on the Northwest Territory of the United States, where slavery was prohibited even before the territory was organised into states and opened up to European and American settlers beginning in 1787. The prohibition of slavery did not make the region a refuge for free blacks or runaway slaves ; on the contrary, the region implemented legal discrimination, and an exclusively white form of republicanism developed there. Located to the west of the initial thirteen states, near the Great Lakes and Canada but not far from slave states, the Northwest was nevertheless a melting pot where antislavery activists adopted new methods after coming into contact with free blacks and runaway slaves, who received aid from both blacks and whites. Their struggles were a prelude to the abolitionist movement after 1830, with the emergence of a more inclusive republic.

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