Americans in New Nation America - History

Americans in New Nation America - History

INtroduction to Americans of the Period

The United States was an experiment, as a nation and as a society. It brought together people of different backgrounds in a land of vast resources and possibilities; under the national banners of liberty, ambition and progress. While the founding fathers were establishing the United States as a political state, the people of the new nation were creating this distinctly American society.

Despite their different origins and backgrounds; most new Americans valued hard work, practicality, strength, ingenuity and independence. Although European visitors often described Americans as greedy pragmatists, many Americans were idealists who poured their hopes into the future of the country. Not everyone was accepting of new concepts and approaches, especially when they came into conflict with older traditions. In addition, the treatment of American Indians and, especially, the institution of slavery were grave sins on the American conscience, contradicting the national love of liberty and equality. Nevertheless, more than anywhere else in the world, the United States had become a place for new ideas, new achievements and new beginnings.

Fragment of the Irish Famine Memorial in Boston. (Credit: mtraveler/

Fleeing a shipwreck of an island, nearly 2 million refugees from Ireland crossed the Atlantic to the United States in the dismal wake of the Great Hunger. Beginning in 1845, the fortunes of the Irish began to sag along with the withering leaves of the country’s potato plants. Beneath the auld sod, festering potatoes bled a putrid red-brown mucus as a virulent pathogen scorched Ireland’s staple crop and rendered it inedible.

While the potato blight struck across Europe, no corner of the continent was as dependent on tubers for survival as Ireland, which was mired in extreme poverty as a result of centuries of British rule. Packed with nutrition and easy to grow, potatoes were the only practical crop that could flourish on the minuscule plots doled out by wealthy British Protestant landowners. The Irish consumed 7 million tons of potatoes each year. They ate potatoes for dinner. They ate them for lunch. They even ate them for breakfast. According to “Irish Famine Facts” by John Keating, the average adult working male in Ireland consumed a staggering 14 pounds of potatoes per day, while the average adult Irish woman ate 11.2 pounds.

VIDEO — Deconstructing History: Ireland. Get the facts on the Emerald Isle.

Through seven terrible years of famine, Ireland’s poetic landscape authored tales of the macabre. Barefoot mothers with clothes dripping from their bodies clutched dead infants in their arms as they begged for food. Wild dogs searching for food fed on human corpses. The country’s legendary 40 shades of green stained the lips of the starving who fed on tufts of grass in a futile attempt for survival. Desperate farmers sprinkled their crops with holy water, and hollow figures with eyes as empty as their stomach scraped Ireland’s stubbled fields with calloused hands searching for one, just one, healthy potato. Typhus, dysentery, tuberculosis and cholera tore through the countryside as horses maintained a constant march carting spent bodies to mass graves.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the Making of the Nation

'Iolani Palace, in the capitol district of downtown Honolulu, Hawaii

Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Photo taken by Carol Highsmith.

"For Native Hawaiians, a place tells us who we are and who is our extended family. A place gives us our history, the history of our clan, and the history of our ancestors. We are able to look at a place and tie in human events that affect us and our loved ones. A place gives us a feeling of stability and of belonging to our family--those living and those who have passed on. A place gives us a sense of well-being, and of acceptance of all who have experienced that place."

Edward Kanahele, Introduction to Ancient Sites of O'ahu: A Guide to Hawaiian Archaeological Places of Interest by Van James (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1991), ix-xiii.

In the United States of America the sun first rises over the skies of Guam in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and awakens its indigenous people, the Chamorro. Guam was acquired as a spoil of war after the Spanish American War of 1898 and the Chamorro, native to the land, became Americans with no political voice in the matter.

Similarly, Native Hawaiians, who have called the Hawaiian Islands home for almost 2,000 years, became Americans at the turn of the twentieth century without any declaration of war. The Islands became a U.S. protectorate after the Kingdom of Hawai'i was overthrown, principally by Americans. One fascinating reminder is 'Iolani Palace, the home and symbol of the former sovereign of the Kingdom of Hawai'i and the only royal residence in the United States. In addition, other Pacific Islands such as the Federated States of Micronesia have long cultural histories and historic and strategic ties to the United States.

There are now over one million people of Pacific Islander or Native Hawaiian descent in the U.S. Together, Asian and Pacific Americans make up approximately 6 percent of the U.S. population-more than 20 million people-and those numbers are growing rapidly. Their ancestral roots represent more than 50 percent of the world, extending from East Asia to Southeast Asia, and from South Asia to the Pacific Islands. Their stories are noteworthy and. as part of the nation's heritage, the historic sites that reflect them are worthy of preservation and inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places some qualify for National Historic Landmark designation and inclusion in the National Park system.

Indigenous peoples have been joined in the American journey by intrepid explorers, maritime workers on ships plying the oceans in the British Empire, and Filipino seamen landing in Mexico and the Mexican Gulf when the Spanish Empire sent Manila Galleons between the Philippines and Mexico, beginning in the 16th century. Filipinos have lived in the New Orleans region since at least the 1800s. Chinese men were marrying Irish women in New York City before that city had an established Chinatown while others were working for the Hudson Bay Company in Washington and Oregon, sending furs to China in exchange for tea and porcelain. This early to mid-19th century trade with China created unprecedented wealth for entrepreneurial ship owners and traders in Boston, New York City, and Newport, Rhode Island. Chinese were recruited as strikebreakers in Lowell, Massachusetts and one of them, Lue Gim Gong, eventually went to Florida and developed the orange that revolutionized the juice industry. Native Hawaiians sent by Christian missionaries in Hawai'i to be educated on the mainland went to universities including Yale in Connecticut.

Asians and Pacific Islanders have also served in the U.S. armed forces since the War of 1812 when America went to war against Great Britain. They served throughout the 19th century at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, in the American Civil War in some of its most critical and memorable battles, and in the Spanish American War. In the 20th century, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders served in World War I, and during World War II thousands of Japanese Americans volunteered for and were drafted into segregated units, earning praise and over 20 Congressional Medals of Honor for their heroism. Also during the war, Filipino Americans fought to expel Japanese invaders from the Philippines and both Chinese Americans and Korean Americans served with great distinction. And Asians and Pacific Islanders continue to serve in the military today – including Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth from Illinois who lost both legs in Iraq. Some, however, fought in different ways. First Lieutenant Ehren Watada protested American actions in the Middle East and was court-martialed for his act of conscience, refusing to deploy to Iraq when ordered to do so in 2007. The proceedings eventually ended in a mistrial. Since almost the beginning of the nation, even when denied citizenship or facing discrimination, Asians and Pacific Islanders have been part of America's journey.

Major waves of immigration from Asia began shortly after the discovery of gold in California in 1849. Soon thereafter the Taiping Rebellion in China created massive death and dislocation emigration to earn money became an important element of survival for many Chinese who arrived in the U.S. by the thousands in the 1850s and 1860s. About 20,000 Chinese comprised most of the labor force for the Central Pacific Railroad's portion of the first Transcontinental Railroad, which began construction in Sacramento, California and blasted its way over and through the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the dead of winter and over the desert until it reached Promontory Summit in Utah where it joined the Union Pacific Railroad to connect the two coasts in 1869. When the celebratory photograph of the symbolic joining of the railroads with the "golden spike" was taken at what is now the National Park Service-administered Golden Spike National Historic Site, the Chinese workers were deliberately kept out of the picture.

This anti-Chinese gesture was part of a major racial movement which grew with the Depression of 1873-1879, giving rise to vicious mob actions involving lynchings and expulsions. In short order, the U.S. Congress was moved to pass the nation's first racial exclusion law, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, marking a specific group as undesirable, unable to enter the country and, if already there, ineligible to become naturalized citizens. That Act was made permanent in 1904. To fill the need for cheap labor, several hundred thousand Japanese immigrated to Hawai'i largely as sugar plantation workers and to the mainland as migrant agricultural workers, railroad laborers, fishermen, and miners. When anti-Japanese sentiment resulted in the Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907-8, restricting laborers from immigrating to the U.S., a new wave of Japanese women began arriving as "picture brides" whose families had arranged marriages with Japanese bachelors in the U.S. This practice took advantage of a section of the Agreement which allowed direct family members to enter the country. By 1920, Japan faced increasing pressure from the U.S. and agreed to prohibit these arrangements.

The Immigration Act of 1917, also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, designated much of Asia and the Pacific Islands as areas from which people could not enter the U.S. – except Filipinos who, from 1906, were being recruited as cheap labor both in Hawai'i and on the mainland. Employers could do so because the Philippines had been "acquired" from Spain in 1898 after the Spanish American War and subdued as a U.S. territory after nearly a decade of vicious fighting known as the Philippine American War. As American nationals, Filipinos were free to be recruited and to enter the U.S – until Congress voted, in 1936, to make the Philippines a Commonwealth for a period of ten years and then grant independence. This action came, however, with the proviso that only 50 Filipinos per year could enter the U.S. and ended the ability of cheaper Philippine goods and labor from freely entering the U.S. market. So, with modest revisions, the exclusion of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders remained official American policy until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

Because of the severity and length, nearly a century, of the exclusion period, the immigration processing center on the West Coast was very different from Ellis Island on the East Coast in New York City. Where tens of millions of immigrants, most from Europe, passed under the welcoming visage of the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. Immigration Station on Angel Island in California was in place from 1910 to 1940 largely to detain people and discourage immigration. The Chinese were a particular target especially once the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had been passed, extended, and then made permanent. One response by Chinese immigrants was the invention of citizenship through assertion of birth. Any Chinese immigrant who had been born in China to a father who was a U.S. citizen could claim citizen status and would be allowed to enter the country. Immigrants whose fathers were not U.S. citizens would buy papers identifying them as children of male Chinese American citizens. Because official records were almost non-existent, largely due to the disastrous earthquake and fire in San Francisco in 1906, these "paper sons" and "paper daughters" would go through an interrogation process at the U.S. Immigration Station and, if they passed, would be allowed to enter the country as citizens. But the practice soon alerted officials to suspect all entering Chinese and to devise devilishly intricate questions to trick them into revealing the alleged fraud. This, in turn, led to a substantial cottage industry of "coaching books" to be memorized by those seeking entry. Would-be immigrants memorized such trivial details as the number of windows in the rear bedroom facing east or the number of stone steps in the walkway between the front door and the peach tree in the yard. As a result, well-prepared paper sons and daughters succeeded in duping immigration officials while some genuine children of real citizens were deported. Indeed, while a wide variety of national groups entered the U.S. via Angel Island, including Russians, Mexicans, Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese, the most distinctive stories are of Chinese immigrants and the days, weeks, or months of grueling interrogation they endured. Some of these experiences remain as poems rendered in classical Chinese carved into the walls of Angel Island's barracks. The national refusal to admit Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on an equal basis with peoples from other regions of the globe lasted until passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 which ended nearly a full century of exclusion and restriction.

Early Asian Americans and Pacific Islander communities included the dwindling numbers of Chinese and Chinese Americans who famously created Chinatowns in cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York City as well as in a few rural towns such as Walnut Grove, CA, and in one instance they created a whole town – Locke, CA. There were Filipino groups as well, including those who established communities largely comprised of bachelors. Much later, retired Filipino farm workers created Paolo Agbayani Village in what is now The Forty Acres National Historic Landmark, honoring Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union.

Japanese immigrants experienced a different path in the first decades of the 20th century largely because they were under the protection of a growing military power. The Meiji regime in Japan, established in 1868, soon extended its sphere of influence through territorial expansion – Okinawa and Taiwan in the late 19th century Korea and China in the 20th century, until the fateful clash with the U.S. in 1941. Japan's "concern" for her subjects overseas included demands that Japanese women be allowed to immigrate, so that families would develop and communities would be formed. One result was the emergence of Japanese Americans as the single largest ethnic group in Hawai'i as early as 1900. They were significantly present on many of the sugar and pineapple plantations that dotted the islands and were increasingly important urban dwellers in the capital, Honolulu, as well as significant towns on neighbor islands.

Because most of the early Asian immigrants arrived to join the labor force, issues dealing with the use and exploitation of workers quickly rose to critical prominence. Indeed, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act had been instigated by white unions and labor organizations which alleged that the Chinese were undercutting white workers struggling for better pay and working conditions. But in most cases Asian American and Pacific Islander workers themselves sought better wages and conditions through organization, negotiation, public relations, legal action, and work stoppage or sabotage. The case of Asian workers on Hawaii's sugar and pineapple plantations was a classic example.

The sugar industry took off in Hawai'i after the American Civil War disrupted the shipment of Southern sugar to the more industrialized North. A burgeoning pineapple sector added to the plantation work force in the 1900s. Japanese immigrant labor formed the majority of the plantation labor force, joined by small numbers of Koreans [along with immigrants from Portugal, Puerto Rico, and a few, including European Americans and African Americans, from the American mainland] and larger groups of Filipinos. Until the arrival of organizers from the California-based International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union [ILWU] in the 1930s, the spontaneous uprisings and organized strikes on the plantations were largely based on single ethnic/nationality bonds. These strikes were broken by planters who temporarily hired workers from other groups until the perpetrators surrendered.

Partly as a result of organizing work during World War II, the ILWU began a series of successful negotiations and strikes immediately after the war. By the end of the 1950s, Hawaii's plantation labor was the highest paid agriculture work force in the world. Not coincidentally, Hawaii's political order was fundamentally altered as workers streamed into the Democratic Party ranks. This coalition of organized labor and Democratic Party control extended from about 1960 and only began to dissipate in the 21st century, a period of fifty years.

Asian Americans, particularly Filipinos, were also active on the mainland in fighting for the rights of workers. The Cannery Worker's and Farm Laborer's Union was formed in Seattle in the 1930s to protect the rights of Filipinos working in the Alaskan salmon canneries. In the late 1950s the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) was created to fight for farm workers' rights in California. Led by and primarily made up of Filipinos, the AWOC went on strike in 1965, against California grape growers. They were eventually joined by Cesar Chavez and the National Farm Workers Association in the famous Delano Grape Strike. The five-year strike was a major victory for farm laborers and resulted in the merging of the two organizations into the United Farm Workers, which became a major force in politics and civil and labor rights in the U.S.

World War II was a turning point in global history it certainly marked vastly different social and political terrains for Hawai'i and the U.S. One of the war's distinguishing ironies or contradictions was the international crusade to liberate oppressed peoples and the domestic imposition of concentration camp conditions on Japanese Americans. Approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them American citizens, were forcibly removed from their homes and businesses on the West Coast and incarcerated in ten War Relocation Centers as well as dozens of other prisons, internment camps, military prisons, and holding pens, including livestock areas. In Hawai'i, only about 1,000 people of a total of nearly 160,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated after individual hearings, but none of them, in Hawai'i or on the mainland, was ever accused or charged with any wrongdoing or tried or convicted of any crime against the U.S. On August 10, 1988, nearly one-half century later, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation to apologize for this unconstitutional action and to provide $20,000 in reparations to more than 80,000 surviving Japanese Americans who had been incarcerated during the war.

World War II also witnessed the formal end of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. In 1943, Congress allowed current Chinese residents to apply for naturalization and permitted an annual total of 105 Chinese to enter the country – although unlike other "nationality" groups, that quota was applied to all Chinese entering from any country, not just from China. Shortly after the war ended, Filipinos and Asian Indians were allowed to naturalize as well. Later, in 1952, after the Treaty of Peace with Japan was signed by the U.S., Japan, and other Allied nations, Japanese Americans could also become naturalized. But it was the momentous Immigration Act of 1965 which forever changed the immigration dynamic, allowing Asians and Pacific Islanders to immigrate under the same conditions as aspirants from other parts of the globe. Today, the Asian American population in the U.S. is rising at a faster rate than any other "racial" group in the country.

America's war in Southeast Asia, notably in Vietnam but also in Laos and Cambodia stretching from the early 1960s until defeat and withdrawal in 1975, produced a long stream of refugees – including many who had fought for the U.S. or who had supported the effort and others who had been impoverished by the cruelties of that devastating conflict. Some were multi-lingual scholars who had been trained under French colonial regimes, others were doctors and other professionals who fled Communist rule. From Laos came not only Laotians like General Vang Pao who had commanded his troops under illegal CIA instructions but also the Hmong peoples, largely illiterate, who had assisted the war from beyond the Vietnamese borders.

In today's America, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders occupy a set of widely diverse and deeply complex niches. There are pockets of intense poverty and social dislocation, but there are successive Asian Indian American winners of national spelling contests and wildly successful entrepreneurs like Amar Bose, founder of the Bose Corporation and Vera Wang, noted American fashion designer. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders influence local and national elections and threaten to overwhelm admissions statistics for elite universities. But they are still subject to racial profiling, sometimes in the form of Sikhs with turbans or dark—skinned South Asians vilified as "terrorists." In this context, it is helpful to recall that the first person of Asian descent to be elected to the U.S. Congress was Dalip Singh Saund, an Asian Indian, from the State of California in 1954. In an age when it is more common to see Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for what they actually are—Americans of all walks of life—it is time to recognize and preserve more historic sites which tell their stories.

When the sun finally sets on U.S. territory, its last rays diminish as the horizon darkens over American Samoa in the Pacific Ocean, just on the other side of the International Date Line from Guam. On the American mainland in North America, a host of historic places awaits listing in the National Register of Historic Places and some should be designated as National Historic Landmarks or become National Parks, to educate visitors and others through the rich stories they can tell about the histories of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and their roles in the making of the nation.

Franklin Odo, Ph.D. is the former director of the Asian Pacific American Center at the Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Odo has served as a member of the Landmarks Committee of the National Park System Advisory Board and is now assisting the National Park Service in overseeing the development of an Asian American and Pacific Islander Theme Study. Dr. Odo is the author of No Sword to Bury: Japanese Americans in Hawai'i During World War II and Voices from the Canefields: Folksongs from Japanese Immigrant Workers in Hawai'i.

Select Bibliography

Azuma, Eiichiro. Between Two Empires: Race, History and Transnationalism in Japanese America. NY: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Chan, Sucheng. Asian Americans: An Interpretative History. Boston: Twayne, 1991.

Choy, Catherine Ceniza. Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

Coffman, Tom. Catch a Wave: A Case Study of Hawaii's New Politics. The University of Hawaii Press, 1972.

Daniels, Roger. Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in America Since 1850. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988.

Fujita-Rony, Dorothy. American Workers, Colonial Power: Philippine Seattle and the Transpacific West. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Hsu, Madeline. Dreaming of Gold, Dreaming of Home: Transnationalism and Migration between the United States and South China, 1882-1943. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Ichioka, Yuji. The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants, 1885-1924. New York: Free Press, 1988.

Jung, Moon-Ho. Coolies and Cane: Labor and Sugar in the Age of Emancipation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2006.

Jung, Moon-Kie. Reworking Race: The Making of Hawaii's Interracial Labor Movement. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Lee, Erika and Judy Yung. Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Lee, Robert. Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999.

Lee, Shelley. A New History of Asian America. London: Routledge, 2014.

Maeda, Daryl. Rethinking the Asian American Movement. London: Routledge, 2011.

McGregor, Davianna. Na Kua'aina: Living Hawaiian Culture. Honolulu: The University of Hawai'i Press, 2007.

Ngai, Mae. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Okihiro, Gary. Margins and Mainstreams: Asians in American History and Culture. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994

Prashad, Vijay. The Karma of Brown Folk. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Robinson, Greg. A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

Shah, Nayan. Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco's Chinatown. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

Tchen, John. New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Yuh, Ji-Yeon. Beyond the Shadow of Camptown: Korean Military Brides in America. New York: New York University Press, 2002.

Zalburg, Sanford. A Spark is Struck: Jack Hall and the ILWU in Hawaii. Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii, 1979.

Zia, Helen. Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People. New York Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2000.


African Americans protest Philadelphia Transportation Company's discriminatory hiring practices, November 8, 1943. Photograph by C. Elfont. Philadephia Record Photograph Collection, Box.FF 38.3741, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

No idea is more fundamental to Americans' sense of ourselves as individuals and as a nation than freedom. The central term in our political vocabulary, freedom—or liberty, with which it is almost always used interchangeably—is deeply embedded in the record of our history and the language of everyday life. The Declaration of Independence lists liberty among mankind's inalienable rights the Constitution announces securing liberty's blessings as its purpose. Freedom has often been invoked to mobilize support for war: the United States fought the Civil War to bring about "a new birth of freedom," World War II for the "Four Freedoms," the Cold War to defend the "Free World." The recently concluded war in Iraq was given the title "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Americans' love of freedom has been represented by liberty poles, caps, and statues and been acted out by burning stamps and draft cards, fleeing from slave masters, and demonstrating for the right to vote. Obviously, other peoples also cherish freedom, but the idea seems to occupy a more prominent place in public and private discourse in the United States than in many other countries. "Every man in the street, white, black, red or yellow," wrote the educator and statesman Ralph Bunche in 1940, "knows that this is 'the land of the free' . . . [and] 'the cradle of liberty.'"

Despite, or perhaps because of, its very ubiquity, freedom has never been a fixed category or concept. Rather, it has been the subject of persistent conflict in American history. The history of American freedom is a tale of debates, disagreements, and struggles rather than a set of timeless categories or an evolutionary narrative toward a preordained goal. And the meaning of freedom has been constructed at all levels of society—not only in congressional debates and political treatises, but on plantations and picket lines, in parlors and even in bedrooms.

If the meaning of freedom has been a battleground throughout our history, so too has been the definition of those entitled to enjoy its blessings. Founded on the premise that liberty is an entitlement of all mankind, the United States, from the outset, blatantly deprived many of its own people of freedom. Efforts to delimit freedom along one or another axis of social existence have been a persistent feature of our history. More to the point, perhaps, freedom has often been defined by its limits. The master's freedom rested on the reality of slavery, the vaunted autonomy of men on the subordinate position of women. By the same token, it has been through battles at the boundaries of freedom—the efforts of racial minorities, women, workers, and other groups to secure freedom as they understood it—that the definition of freedom has been both deepened and transformed and the concept extended to realms for which it was not originally intended.

The early settlers of Great Britain's North American colonies brought with them long-standing ideas about freedom, some of them quite unfamiliar today. To them, freedom was not a single idea but a collection of distinct rights and privileges that depended on one’s nationality and social status. "Liberties" meant formal, specific privileges—such as self-government or the right to practice a particular trade—many of which were enjoyed by only a small segment of the population.

Freedom did not mean the absence of authority or the right to do whatever one pleased—far from it. One common conception understood freedom as a moral or spiritual condition freedom meant abandoning a life of sin to embrace the teachings of Christ. What was often called "Christian liberty" meant leading a moral life. It had no connection with the idea of religious toleration. Religious uniformity was thought to be essential to public order. Every country in Europe had an official religion, and dissenters faced persecution by the state and religious authorities. Liberty also rested on obedience to law. Yet the law applied differently to different people, and liberty came from knowing one's social place. Within families, male dominance and female submission was the norm. Most men lacked the economic freedom that came with the ownership of property. Only a minute portion of the population enjoyed the right to vote.

Nonetheless, conditions in colonial America encouraged the development both of a greater enjoyment of freedom than was possible in Europe at the time and of alternative ideas about freedom. The wide availability of land meant that a higher percentage of the male population owned property and could vote. Unlike the French and Spanish empires, which limited settlement to Roman Catholics, the British encouraged a diverse group of colonists to emigrate to their colonies. Thus, religious pluralism quickly became a fact of life, even though nearly every colony had an official church. William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania and a member of the Quakers, who faced severe restrictions in England, envisioned his colony as a place where those facing persecution in Europe could enjoy spiritual freedom. His Charter of Privileges of 1701 guaranteed that no resident of Pennsylvania who believed in "one almighty God" would be punished for his religious convictions or "compelled to frequent or maintain any religious worship." Some English settlers, such as the authors of a petition from Pennsylvania complaining to London authorities about Mennonites settling in the colony, found the growing diversity of the colonial population disturbing. But while it did not establish complete religious toleration (it required belief in God), Penn's charter was, nonetheless, a milestone in the development of religious liberty in America.

The struggles in England that culminated in the Civil War of the 1640s and, half a century later, the Glorious Revolution, gave new meanings to freedom. Alongside the idea of "liberties" that applied only to some groups arose the notion of the "rights of Englishmen" that applied to all. The idea of "English liberty" became central to Anglo-American political culture. It meant that no man was above the law and that all within the realm enjoyed certain basic rights of person or property that even the king could not abridge.

The belief in freedom as the common heritage of all Englishmen was widely shared by eighteenth-century Americans. Resistance to British efforts to raise revenues in America began not as a demand for independence but as a defense, in colonial eyes, of the rights of Englishmen. The Stamp Act Congress of 1765 condemned the principle of taxation without representation by asserting that residents of the colonies were entitled to "all the inherent rights and liberties" of "subjects within the Kingdom of Great Britain." But the Revolution ended up transforming these rights—by definition a parochial set of entitlements that did not apply to other peoples—into a universal concept. The rights of Englishmen became the rights of man. The struggle for independence gave birth to a definition of American nationhood and national mission that persists to this day—an idea closely linked to freedom, for the new nation defined itself as a unique embodiment of liberty in a world overrun with oppression. This sense of American uniqueness—of the United States as an example to the rest of the world of the superiority of free institutions—remains alive and well even today as a central part of our political culture. Over time, it has made the United States an example, inspiring democratic movements in other countries, and has provided justification for American interference in the affairs of other countries in the name of bringing them freedom.

The American Revolution, together with westward expansion and the market revolution, destroyed the hierarchical world inherited from the colonial era. As the expanding commercial society redefined property to include control over one's own labor, and the opening of the West enabled millions of American families to acquire land, old inequalities crumbled and the link between property and voting was severed. Political democracy became essential to American ideas of freedom. This was a remarkable development. "Democracy" in the eighteenth century was a negative idea, a term of abuse. The idea that sovereignty rightly belongs to the mass of ordinary, individual, and equal citizens represented a new departure. With its provisions for lifetime judges, a senate elected by state legislatures, and a cumbersome, indirect method of choosing the president, the national constitution hardly established a functioning democracy. But in the new republic, more and more citizens attended political meetings, became avid readers of newspapers and pamphlets, and insisted on the right of the people to debate public issues and to organize to affect public policy.

By the 1830s, a flourishing democratic system had emerged, based on popular control of local governments and distrustful of the faraway national state. American democracy was boisterous, sometimes violent, and expansive—it largely excluded women, at least from the voting booth, but could incorporate immigrants from abroad and, after the Civil War, former slaves. It engaged the energies of massive numbers of citizens, producing voter turnouts that reached 80 percent in some elections. The right to vote became an essential element of American freedom. Yet, even as the suffrage expanded for white men, it retreated for others. New states did not allow black men to vote. In the older states, some groups lost the right to vote even as others gained it. Women who met the property qualification (mainly widows, since married women's property belonged to their husbands) enjoyed the suffrage in New Jersey beginning in 1776, but it was taken away in 1807. In Pennsylvania, African American men saw themselves stripped of the right to vote when a new state constitution was adopted in 1838, prompting Philadelphia’s black leaders to protest. In New York State, the same constitutional convention of 1821 that eliminated property qualifications for white men imposed so high a qualification for black men that almost all were stripped of the franchise. Overall, for American men, race replaced class as the dividing line between those who could vote and those who could not.

Democracy, in Lincoln's famous formulation, means "government of the people, by the people, and for the people." But this begs the question of who constitute "the people." The Revolution had given birth to a republic rhetorically founded on liberty but resting economically in large measure on slavery. Slavery had been central to colonial development, and slavery helped to define American understandings of freedom in the colonial era and the nineteenth century. From the very first meeting of Congress, when the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery presented a petition for universal liberty, slavery was a source of division in the new nation. Of course, as ubiquitous newspaper advertisements seeking the return of fugitives attested, slaves and indentured servants (bound to labor for a specific number of years, not life) sometimes expressed their own commitment to freedom by running away. Later, northern abolitionists organized "vigilance committees" to assist fugitives Philadelphia's was run by the free African American William Still, who carefully recorded the details about runaway slaves who arrived in the city and later published a book, The Underground Rail Road, that bore witness to the many acts of self-emancipation.

Nonetheless, slavery helped to shape the identity—the sense of self—of all Americans, giving nationhood from the outset a powerful exclusionary dimension. Even as Americans celebrated their freedom, the definition of those entitled to enjoy the "blessings of liberty" protected by the Constitution came to be defined by race. No black person, declared the US Supreme Court in 1857, could ever be an American citizen.

Yet, at the same time, the struggle by outcasts and outsiders—the abolitionists, the slaves, and free blacks themselves—reinvigorated the notion of freedom as a universal birthright, a truly human ideal. The antislavery crusade insisted on the "Americanness" of both enslaved and free blacks and repudiated not only slavery but the racial boundaries that confined free blacks to second-class status. Abolitionists pioneered the idea of a national citizenship whose members enjoyed equality before the law, protected by a beneficent national state. And the movement offered a way for those excluded from the suffrage, most notably free blacks and women, to participate in political life in other ways—by circulating petitions, delivering speeches, and seeking to change public sentiment about slavery.

The abolitionist movement also inspired other groups, especially women, to stake their own claims to greater freedom in the young republic. The long contest over slavery gave new meaning to personal liberty, political community, and the rights attached to American citizenship. Abolitionism, wrote Angelina Grimké, the daughter of a South Carolina slaveholder who became a prominent abolitionist and women's rights activist, was the nation's preeminent "school in which human rights are . . . investigated." Leaders of the movement for women's suffrage, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, arose out of the abolitionist movement. After the Civil War, however, when Congress (including Radical Republicans who had supported women's suffrage) moved to enfranchise black men but not women, white or black, many women's suffragists concluded that women could not place their trust in male-dominated political movements. Women, Stanton and Anthony now insisted, must form their own organizations to press the case for equal rights. It would take another half century of struggle for women to win the right to vote. But in an ironic reversal of the situation in Reconstruction, when the rights of black men took precedence over those of women, leaders of the women's suffrage movement assured southern legislatures that the Nineteenth Amendment, added to the Constitution in 1920, would not affect laws disenfranchising blacks, male or female, through property and literacy tests and poll taxes.

The Civil War, of course, destroyed slavery and placed the question of black citizenship on the national agenda. Although the Confederacy's vice president, Alexander H. Stephens, identified slavery as the "cornerstone" of the Confederacy at the war's outset, many southerners, such as South Carolina plantation owner Thomas Drayton, insisted, "We are fighting for home & liberty." But when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, the cause of the Union became inextricably linked to the promise of freedom for the slaves. The Proclamation also authorized for the first time the enrollment of black men in the Union army. Initially paid less than white troops, the black soldiers mobilized to demand equal compensation, which Congress granted in 1864 and 1865. Black men, one officer wrote, had moved "one step nearer owning their rights as men."

In the crucible of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the abolitionist principles of birthright citizenship and equal protection of the law without regard to race were written into the Constitution—an attempt to strip American freedom of its identification with whiteness. But these changes affected all Americans, not just the former slaves. The Fourteenth Amendment made the Constitution what it had never been before—a vehicle through which aggrieved groups can take their claims that they lack equality and freedom to court. Reconstruction failed to secure black freedom and was followed by a long period of inequality for black Americans. But the laws and amendments of the Civil War era remained on the books—"sleeping giants" in the Constitution, as Senator Charles Sumner called them—waiting to be awakened in the twentieth century by another generation of Americans in what they would call the "freedom movement."

After decades of the slavery controversy, which had somewhat tarnished the sense of a special American mission to preserve and promote liberty, the Civil War and emancipation reinforced the identification of the United States with the progress of freedom, linking this mission as never before with the power of the national state. Even as the United States emerged, with the Spanish-American War of 1898, as an empire akin to those of Europe, traditional American exceptionalism thrived, yoked ever more tightly to the idea of freedom by the outcome of the Civil War. To be sure, anti-imperialists like Moorfield Storey of Boston could condemn American rule in the Philippines for depriving the people of those islands of "the freedom which in this very city our fathers declared the inalienable right of every human being." But the majority of Americans appeared to see the expansion of national power overseas as, by definition, an expansion of freedom.

At the turn of the twentieth century, debates over freedom were dominated by the question of what social conditions make enjoyment of freedom possible. The question of how to secure "opportunity for free men" in the face of vastly unequal economic power between employer and employee, wrote Philadelphia businessman Joseph Fels, was the major question of the age. One outlook defined the free market as the true domain of liberty and condemned any interference with its operations. One supporter of Philadelphia transit companies confronting a strike called trade unions "diabolical" interferences with the "liberty [of] your company to transact its own business."

Critics, however, raised the question whether meaningful freedom could exist in a situation of extreme economic inequality. In the nineteenth century, economic freedom had generally been defined as autonomy, usually understood via ownership of property—a farm, artisan's shop, or small business. When reformers forcefully raised the issue of "industrial freedom" in the early years of the twentieth century, they insisted that in a modern economy, economic freedom meant economic security—a floor beneath which no citizen would be allowed to sink. To secure economic freedom thus defined required active intervention by the government. During the 1920s, this expansive notion of economic freedom was eclipsed by a resurgence of laissez-faire ideology. But in the following decade, Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to make freedom a rallying cry for the New Deal. Roosevelt persistently linked freedom with economic security and identified entrenched economic inequality as its greatest enemy.

If Roosevelt invoked the word to sustain the New Deal, "liberty"—in its earlier sense of limited government and laissez-faire economics—became the fighting slogan of his opponents. The principal conservative critique of the New Deal was that it restricted American freedom. When conservative businessmen and politicians in 1934 formed an organization to mobilize opposition to the New Deal, they called it the American Liberty League. Opposition to the New Deal planted the seeds for the later flowering of an antistatist conservatism bent on upholding the free market and dismantling the welfare state.

During the twentieth century the United States emerged as a persistent and powerful actor on the world stage. And at key moments of worldwide involvement the encounter with a foreign "other" subtly affected the meaning of freedom in the United States. One such episode was struggle against Nazi Germany, which not only highlighted aspects of American freedom that had previously been neglected but fundamentally transformed perceptions of who was entitled to enjoy the blessings of liberty in the United States.

Today, when asked to define their rights as citizens, Americans instinctively turn to the privileges enumerated in the Bill of Rights—freedom of speech, the press, and religion, for example. But for many decades after the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in 1791, the social and legal defenses of free expression were extremely fragile in the United States. A broad rhetorical commitment to this ideal coexisted with stringent restrictions on speech deemed radical or obscene. Dissenters who experienced legal and extralegal repression, including labor organizers, World War I–era socialists, and birth control advocates, had long insisted on the centrality of free expression to American liberty. But not until the late 1930s did civil liberties assume a central place in mainstream definitions of freedom.

There were many causes for this development, including a new awareness in the 1930s of restraints on free speech by public and private opponents of labor organizing. But what scholars call the "discovery of the Bill of Rights" on the eve of American entry into World War II owed much to an ideological revulsion against Nazism and the invocation of freedom as a shorthand way of describing the myriad differences between American and German society and politics. Americans who demanded American entry into the European war in 1941 called themselves the Fight for Freedom Committee. They insisted that the destruction of Nazism was necessary for the preservation of freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment—"freedom to think and to express our thought, [and] freedom of worship."

World War II also reshaped Americans' understanding of the internal boundaries of freedom. The abolition of slavery had not produced anything resembling racial justice, except for a brief period after the Civil War when African Americans enjoyed equality before the law and manhood suffrage. By the turn of the century, a new system of inequality—resting on segregation, disenfranchisement, a labor market rigidly segmented along racial lines, and the threat of lynching for those who challenged the new status quo—was well on its way to being consolidated in the South, with the acquiescence of the rest of the nation. Not only the shifting condition of blacks but also the changing sources of immigration spurred a growing preoccupation with the racial composition of the nation. In 1879, a referendum on the subject of Chinese immigration in California resulted in 154,000 registering opposition, with only 883 in favor. The Chinese Exclusion Act followed in 1882. Immigration from Europe also aroused controversy. In the early twentieth century, far more newcomers entered the United States from Italy and the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires than from northern and western Europe, the traditional sources of immigration. Among many middle-class, native-born Protestant Americans, these events inspired an abandonment of the egalitarian vision of citizenship spawned by the Civil War and the revival of definitions of American freedom based on race. The immigration law of 1924, which banned all immigration from Asia and severely restricted that from southern and eastern Europe, reflected the renewed identification of nationalism, American freedom, and notions of Anglo-Saxon superiority.

The struggle against Nazi tyranny and its theory of a master race discredited ideas of inborn ethnic and racial inequality and gave a new impetus to the long-denied struggle for racial justice at home. A pluralist definition of American society, in which all Americans enjoyed equally the benefits of freedom, had been pioneered in the 1930s by leftists and liberals. During the Second World War, this became the official stance of the Roosevelt administration. The government used mass media, including radio and motion pictures, to popularize an expanded narrative of American history that acknowledged the contributions of immigrants and blacks and to promote a new paradigm of racial and ethnic inclusiveness. One radio program asked listeners: "How can we expect to win a people’s war if we maintain barriers against any group? For is not this great country dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal?" What set the United States apart from its wartime foes was not simply dedication to the ideal of freedom but the resolve that Americans of all races, religions, and national origins could enjoy freedom equally. By the war's end, awareness of the uses to which theories of racial superiority had been put in Europe helped seal the doom of racism—in terms of intellectual respectability, if not American social reality.

Rhetorically, the Cold War was in many ways a continuation of the battles of World War II. The discourse of a world sharply divided into two camps, one representing freedom and the other its opposite, was reinvigorated in the worldwide struggle against communism. Even during World War II, when the Soviet Union was America's ally, anticommunist organizations insisted that communism posed a dire threat to American values such as freedom of religion and speech, not to mention the threat posed by communist advocacy of such dangerous doctrines as "absolute social and racial equality intermarriage of Blacks and Whites Promotion of Class hatred." During the Cold War, the United States was once again the leader of a global crusade for freedom against a demonic, ideologically driven antagonist. From the Truman Doctrine to the 1960s, every American president would speak of a national mission to defend the Free World and protect freedom across the globe, even when American actions, as in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s and Vietnam in the 1960s, seemed to jeopardize the freedom of other peoples rather than enhance it. The Cold War abroad led inevitably to an anticommunist crusade at home that placed in jeopardy core American freedoms. As the Pennsylvania Civil Rights Congress pointed out in 1953, the denial of freedom of speech to those who held unpopular opinions itself posed a threat to "American traditions of freedom."

The glorification of freedom as the essential characteristic of American life in a struggle for global dominance opened the door for others to seize on the language of freedom for their own purposes. Most striking was the civil rights movement, with its freedom walkers (arrested in Alabama in May 1963), freedom rides, freedom schools, freedom marches, and insistent cry, "freedom now!" Freedom for blacks meant empowerment, equality, and recognition—as a group and as individuals. The flyer mobilizing and urging participation on the March on Washington of 1963, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, spoke not only of restoring the constitutional rights of black Americans but also of restoring "dignity and self-respect" by guaranteeing employment and adequate education to all Americans. Central to black thought has long been the idea that freedom involves the totality of a people's lives and that it is always incomplete—a goal to be achieved rather than a possession to be defended.

The black movement made freedom once again a rallying cry of the dispossessed. It strongly influenced the New Left and the social movements that arose in the 1960s. In that decade, private self-determination assumed a new prominence in definitions of freedom. The expansion of freedom from a set of public entitlements to a feature of private life had many antecedents in American thought (Jefferson, after all, had substituted "the pursuit of happiness" for "property" in the Lockean triad that opens the Declaration of Independence). But the New Left was the first movement to elevate the idea of personal freedom to a political credo. The rallying cry "the personal is political," driven home most powerfully by the new feminism, announced the extension of claims of freedom into the arenas of family life, social and sexual relations, and gender roles. The sixties also saw the rise of a movement for gay rights, exemplified by July 4 demonstrations at Independence Hall, to remind Americans that homosexuals were denied the "liberties and rights" that should, according to the Declaration of Independence, belong to all. While the political impulse behind sixties freedom has long since faded, the decade fundamentally changed the language of freedom of the entire society, identifying it firmly with the right to choose in a whole range of private matters—from sexual preference to attire to what is now widely known as one's personal "lifestyle."

Although Cold War rhetoric eased considerably in the 1970s, it was reinvigorated by Ronald Reagan, who, consciously employing rhetoric that resonated back at least two centuries, united into a coherent whole the elements of Cold War freedom—limited government, free enterprise, and anticommunism—in the service of a renewed insistence on American mission. Today, at least in terms of political policy and discourse, Americans still live in the shadow of the Reagan revolution. Freedom continues to occupy as central a place as ever in our political vocabulary, but it has been almost entirely appropriated by libertarians and conservatives of one kind or another—from advocates of unimpeded free enterprise to groups insisting that the right to bear arms is the centerpiece of American liberty. The dominant constellation of definitions seemed to consist of a series of negations—of government, of social responsibility, of a common public culture, of restraints on individual self-definition and consumer choice. At the same time, the collapse of communism as an ideology and of the Soviet Union as a world power made possible an unprecedented internationalization of current American concepts of freedom. The "Free World" triumphed over its totalitarian adversary, the "free market" over the idea of a planned or regulated economy, and the "free individual" over the ethic of social citizenship.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the language of freedom once again took center stage in American public discourse as an all-purpose explanation for both the attack and the ensuing war against "terrorism." "Freedom itself is under attack," President George W. Bush announced in his speech to Congress on September 20. Our antagonists, he went on, "hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other." As during the Cold War, the invocation of freedom proved a potent popular rallying cry. But the seemingly endless war on terrorism also raised timeless issues concerning civil liberties in wartime and the balance between freedom and security. As happened during previous wars, the idea of an open-ended global battle between freedom and its opposite justified serious infringements on civil liberties at home. Legal protections such as habeas corpus, trial by impartial jury, the right to legal representation, and equality before the law regardless of race or national origins were curtailed and compromised.

America, of course, has a long tradition of vigorous political debate and dissent, an essential part of our democratic tradition. Less familiar are previous episodes—the arrest of those with a disloyal "disposition" during the American Revolution, the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the massive repression of dissent during World War I, Japanese-American internment during World War II, anticommunist hysteria during the Cold War—when unpopular beliefs or particular groups of Americans were stigmatized as unpatriotic and therefore unworthy of constitutional protections.

Today, the idea of freedom remains as central as ever to American culture and politics—and as contested. One thing seems certain. The story of American freedom is forever unfinished. Debates over its meaning will undoubtedly continue, and new definitions will emerge to meet the exigencies of the twenty-first-century world, a globalized era in which conversations about freedom and its meaning are likely to involve all mankind.

Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University and the author of numerous works on American history. His most recent book is The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, winner, among other awards, of the Bancroft, Lincoln, and Pulitzer Prizes.

Beyond model minority politics

As history shows, Asian American communities stand to gain more working within communities and across the lines of race, rather than trying to appeal to those in power.

Japanese American activists such as the late Yuri Kochiyama worked in solidarity with other communities of color to advance the civil rights movement.

A former internee at the Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas, Kochiyama’s postwar life in Harlem, and her friendship with Malcolm X, inspired her to become active in the anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movements. In the 1980s, she and her husband Bill, himself part of the 442nd Regiment, worked at the forefront of the reparations and apology movement for Japanese internees. As a result of their efforts, Ronald Reagan signed the resulting Civil Liberties Act into law in 1988.

Kochiyama and activists like her have inspired the cross-community work of Asian American communities after them.

In Los Angeles, where I live, the Little Tokyo Service Center is among those at the forefront of grassroots organizing for affordable housing and social services in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. While the organization’s priority area is Little Tokyo and its community members, the center’s work advocates for affordable housing among black and Latinx residents, as well as Japanese American and other Asian American groups.

To the northwest in Koreatown, the grassroots organization Ktown for All conducts outreach to unhoused residents of the neighborhood, regardless of ethnic background.

The coronavirus sees no borders. Likewise, I think that everyone must follow the example of these organizations and activists, past and present, to reach across borders and contribute to collective well-being.

Self-isolation, social distancing and healthy practices should not be in the service of proving one’s patriotism. Instead, these precautions should be done for the sake of caring for those whom we do and do not know, inside and outside our national communities.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Left: Members of the Japanese independent congregational church attending Easter services prior to evacuation of persons of Japanese ancestry from certain West Coast areas, in Oakland, in this April 1942 handout photo. February 19, 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of FDR signing executive order 9066, authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two. Courtesy Dorothea Lange/Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection/Library of Congress/Handout via Reuters

Nearly two dozen Black massacres in American history. Reparations? Rarely.

The 1921 destruction in Tulsa wasn't the first or the last race massacre that leveled homes, usurped land or destroyed livelihoods for Black Americans.

One of the first was in 1863 &ndash sparked by a draft law. One of the last happened in 1923 in Rosewood, Florida. Whatever the precipitating event, the desire was generally the same: to destroy Black upward mobility.

Below, is a database of recorded massacres (defined for the purposes of this project as one or more mob attacks on a Black community that resulted in the aggregate loss of lives, homes, land and livelihoods).

The attacks frequently drove residents away from a community for good. In other instances, Black residents hid in swamps and woods for days to escape death. Others tried to rebuild their town's former glory, but failed with little to no assistance from the surrounding community or government.

One of the most frequently used justifications for an attack? The rumor that an African American male had assaulted a white female. Usually the rumor was unfounded. Frequently it was sparked by an erroneous news report.

This list is by no means, complete. Attacks were frequently denied and not documented by authorities. This is a living, breathing document culled from numerous news reports, historical sites and encyclopedias among other online resources.

I also reached out to every city listed in this database to find out whether reparative actions are currently being taken (of any kind), and if the city's history includes reparations of any sort. The information that I received, along with other information found through searches, is included under the "Reparations history" section.

When more information becomes available, it will be added.

In rare instances, the aftermath of a massacre, and the help given, was meticulously documented. White merchants in New York, for example, raised $40,000 for Black victims of the 1863 attack. The committee's notes were archived in the Library of Congress, and made available through the HathiTrust Digital Library. See them here.

Keeping the public informed about this nation's too frequently ignored history of massacres also depends on you.

Is your family or community history missing from this list? Send us your story along with documentation. Reach me at [email protected]

Americans in New Nation America - History

Like the earlier distinction between “origins” and “causes,” the Revolution also had short- and long-term consequences. Perhaps the most important immediate consequence of declaring independence was the creation of state constitutions in 1776 and 1777. The Revolution also unleashed powerful political, social, and economic forces that would transform the post-Revolution politics and society, including increased participation in politics and governance, the legal institutionalization of religious toleration, and the growth and diffusion of the population. The Revolution also had significant short-term effects on the lives of women in the new United States of America. In the long-term, the Revolution would also have significant effects on the lives of slaves and free blacks as well as the institution of slavery itself. It also affected Native Americans by opening up western settlement and creating governments hostile to their territorial claims. Even more broadly, the Revolution ended the mercantilist economy, opening new opportunities in trade and manufacturing.

The new states drafted written constitutions, which, at the time, was an important innovation from the traditionally unwritten British Constitution. Most created weak governors and strong legislatures with regular elections and moderately increased the size of the electorate. A number of states followed the example of Virginia, which included a declaration or “bill” of rights in their constitution designed to protect the rights of individuals and circumscribe the prerogative of the government. Pennsylvania’s first state constitution was the most radical and democratic. They created a unicameral legislature and an Executive Council but no genuine executive. All free men could vote, including those who did not own property. Massachusetts’ constitution, passed in 1780, was less democratic but underwent a more popular process of ratification. In the fall of 1779, each town sent delegates––312 in all––to a constitutional convention in Cambridge. Town meetings debated the constitution draft and offered suggestions. Anticipating the later federal constitution, Massachusetts established a three-branch government based on checks and balances between the branches. Unlike some other states, it also offered the executive veto power over legislation. 1776 was the year of independence, but it was also the beginning of an unprecedented period of constitution-making and state building.

The Continental Congress ratified the Articles of Confederation in 1781. The Articles allowed each state one vote in the Continental Congress. But the Articles are perhaps most notable for what they did not allow. Congress was given no power to levy or collect taxes, regulate foreign or interstate commerce, or establish a federal judiciary. These shortcomings rendered the post-war Congress rather impotent.

Political and social life changed drastically after independence. Political participation grew as more people gained the right to vote. In addition, more common citizens (or “new men”) played increasingly important roles in local and state governance. Hierarchy within the states underwent significant changes. Locke’s ideas of “natural law” had been central to the Declaration of Independence and the state constitutions. Society became less deferential and more egalitarian, less aristocratic and more meritocratic.

The Revolution’s most important long-term economic consequence was the end of mercantilism. The British Empire had imposed various restrictions on the colonial economies including limiting trade, settlement, and manufacturing. The Revolution opened new markets and new trade relationships. The Americans’ victory also opened the western territories for invasion and settlement, which created new domestic markets. Americans began to create their own manufacturers, no longer content to reply on those in Britain.

Despite these important changes, the American Revolution had its limits. Following their unprecedented expansion into political affairs during the imperial resistance, women also served the patriot cause during the war. However, the Revolution did not result in civic equality for women. Instead, during the immediate post-war period, women became incorporated into the polity to some degree as “republican mothers.” These new republican societies required virtuous citizens and it became mothers’ responsibility to raise and educate future citizens. This opened opportunity for women regarding education, but they still remained largely on the peripheries of the new American polity.

While in the 13 colonies boycotting women were seen as patriots, they were mocked in British prints like this one as immoral harlots sticking their noses in the business of men. Philip Dawe, “A Society of Patriotic Ladies at Edenton in North Carolina, March 1775. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Slaves and free blacks also impacted (and were impacted by) the Revolution. The British were the first to recruit black (or “Ethiopian”) regiments, as early as Dunmore’s Proclamation of 1775 in Virginia, which promised freedom to any slaves who would escape their masters and join the British cause. At first, Washington, a slaveholder himself, resisted allowing free blacks and former slaves to join the Continental Army, but he eventually relented. In 1775, Peter Salem’s master freed him to fight with the militia. Salem faced British Regulars in the battles at Lexington and Bunker Hill, where he fought valiantly with around three-dozen other black Americans. Salem not only contributed to the cause, but he earned the ability to determine his own life after his enlistment ended. Salem was not alone, but many more slaves seized upon the tumult of war to run away and secure their own freedom directly.

Between 30,000 and 100,000 slaves deserted their masters during the war. In 1783, thousands of Loyalist former slaves fled with the British army. They hoped that the British government would uphold the promise of freedom and help them establish new homes elsewhere in the Empire. The Treaty of Paris, which ended the war, demanded that British troops leave runaway slaves behind, but the British military commanders upheld earlier promises and evacuated thousands of freedmen, transporting them to Canada, the Caribbean, or Great Britain. But black loyalists continued to face social and economic marginalization, including restrictions on land ownership. In 1792, Black loyalist and Baptist preacher David George resisted discrimination, joining a colonization project that led nearly 1,200 former black Americans from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone, in Africa.

The fight for liberty led some Americans to manumit their slaves, and most of the new northern states soon passed gradual emancipation laws. Manumission also occurred in the Upper South, but in the Lower South, some masters revoked their offers of freedom for service, and other freedmen were forced back into bondage. The Revolution’s rhetoric of equality created a “revolutionary generation” of slaves and free blacks that would eventually encourage the antislavery movement. Slave revolts began to incorporate claims for freedom based on revolutionary ideals. In the long-term, the Revolution failed to reconcile slavery with these new egalitarian republican societies, a tension that eventually boiled over in the 1830s and 1840s and effectively tore the nation in two in the 1850s and 1860s.

Native Americans, too, participated in and were affected by the Revolution. Many Native American tribes and confederacies, such as the Shawnee, Creek, Cherokee, and Iroquois, sided with the British. They had hoped for a British victory that would continue to restrain the land-hungry colonial settlers from moving west beyond the Appalachian Mountains. Unfortunately, the Americans’ victory and Native Americans’ support for the British created a pretense for justifying the rapid, and often brutal expansion into the western territories. Native American tribes would continue to be displaced and pushed further west throughout the nineteenth century. Ultimately, American independence marked the beginning of the end of what had remained of Native American independence.

The Long History of Xenophobia in America

The United States has always been a nation of immigrants—and seemingly also always a nation suffused with xenophobia, a fear or hatred of those same immigrants.

In 1750, Benjamin Franklin worried that large numbers of “swarthy” foreigners, speaking their own language among themselves, would swamp the colonies and their British subjects. The dangerous outsiders? They were Germans.

Erika Lee, J91, tells that story, among many others, in her award-winning book America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States, published last year. Regents Professor and the director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota, Lee says it’s important to know this complex history to be able to overcome it.

“Xenophobia doesn’t just reveal itself through a bigoted relative who is saying stuff about ‘the Mexicans’ at Thanksgiving dinner,” says Lee. “Xenophobia is a form of racism that has been embedded in our laws.”

One way to overcome the alienation that xenophobia brings is to combat the negative stereotypes about immigrants and refugees, and help see them as fellow human beings just like us, Lee says. She leads an effort to do just that, with the Immigrant Stories digital storytelling project. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the project’s 350 digital stories profile immigrants as “real people, not stereotypes,” she says.

When Lee was at Tufts as an undergraduate, she focused on history, and created her own major in ethnic studies, with advisor Reed Ueda, a professor of history. She also taught a course on the Civil Rights Movement in the Experimental College, “which made me realize how much I love teaching,” she says. “I’m forever grateful for that education.”

With a parade of anti-immigrant measures coming out of Washington, it’s more important than ever to understand what lies behind the xenophobia in this country, Lee says. Tufts Now spoke with her to learn more about that history—and what can be done to overcome it.

Tufts Now: The United States has a very long history of xenophobia, as you document in your book. And yet most Americans don’t know about it. Why is that?

Erika Lee: This is one of the most important questions to ask, because it speaks to why and how xenophobia can persist and endure. We don’t recognize what a strong and pervasive force it has been—or we discount it or willingly ignore it.

But I think it also speaks to a much larger question about history, memory, and the uses of history in crafting our understanding of ourselves.

One of the most important things about xenophobia is that it’s a shapeshifting, wily thing, just like racism. You think it’s gone away, and it comes back. It evolves so that even though one immigrant group finally gains acceptance, it can easily be applied to another.

And sometimes the group that just made it can be very active in leading the charge against the others. It’s unfortunately one of the ways in which racism and our racial hierarchy are at work in the United States.

Are some classes of Americans more xenophobic than others?

I would say that xenophobia flourishes in every community and in every class. One of the great examples of this is Chinese immigration and exclusion. In the book, I focus on the campaigns to drive Chinese people out of Seattle in the late 1800s. There was mob violence that was led by those whom we have been accustomed to identify as working-class whites.

And then there were the more “polite” campaigns, the ones that were led by judges, lawyers, professionals who basically told the agitators, “We agree with you. The Chinese must go, but do we need to resort to lawlessness? How about we organize a campaign of intimidation? Let’s blacklist the housewives—the employers who hire Chinese people, and publish their names in the newspaper. And let’s make it so just horrific to live in Seattle if you’re Chinese that they will self deport.”

Before studying this history, I don’t think I completely understood the depth of that cross-class racism, and the ways in which it can manifest itself differently.

Is the same true about racism in more recent times?

Yes! There are lots of examples of liberal and progressive xenophobia and racism. When I was researching the history behind 1965 Immigration Act—a law that was praised for formally ending discrimination in immigration law and reopening up the country to immigrants—I was struck by how lawmakers could still restrict immigration from the Western hemisphere in what was essentially a Civil Rights law. They described the U.S. being ‘overrun by black and brown immigrants’ at the same time that they insisted on the need to end discrimination.

It seems that this fear of being displaced pushes some lawmakers and others to double down against certain immigrants, especially those from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Immigration is treated as a zero-sum game new immigration is a threat to us already here. We can’t both gain at the same time. Your gain is my loss.

You write in the book that xenophobia is a form of racism. How does that work—and has it changed over time?

Racism identifies certain groups as good and superior to others. In the early 20th century, it was considered a matter of biology. Today, we often talk about it as being a matter of “culture.” There are “good immigrants” and there are “bad immigrants” who are a threat to “us.” The dividing line between “good” and “bad” has been marked by religion, national origin, class, gender, and sexual orientation. But especially race.

This relationship between xenophobia is a legacy of the racism that justified slavery and settler colonialism. In fact, early immigrants were always judged in relationship to their place on that spectrum of whiteness and blackness.

For example, Germans were first labeled “swarthy,” a term that was meant to signify blackness and to imply that German immigration was undesirable. But we never restricted their immigration or their ability to become naturalized citizens.

Cartoons of Irish Catholics from the 19th century make them look very similar to apes. This was effective in marking the Irish as a threat, because African Americans were already drawn in similar stereotypical and dehumanizing ways. But again, we never restricted Irish immigration or prohibited them from becoming naturalized citizens.

But then the Chinese came, and here we can see the difference that race makes. The Chinese were automatically seen as more like Native Americans and African Americans than European immigrants. The Chinese were excluded and barred from becoming naturalized citizens.

Xenophobia has influenced government policy from the time of Benjamin Franklin right up to the present. Do you think it is worse now?

It is, but one of the things that I try to emphasize is that you could not have Donald Trump and his policies without Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. You couldn’t have so many Americans shouting “build the wall” without the 2006 Fence Act that George W. Bush signed into law, and that Barack Obama helped to implement, or without Operation Gatekeeper in 1994, which was put in place by Bill Clinton.

What is worse today is the explicit, unabashed, unapologetic, vitriolic language. That is a centerpiece of President Trump’s campaign, first in 2015 when he said Mexicans are rapists and criminals, to today where he’s doubling down on xenophobia ahead of the 2020 elections. He was just here in Minnesota and one of his favorite targets is Ilhan Omar, a Muslim Black woman—a U.S. citizen and a Democratic Congresswoman who he told to ‘go back’ to where she had come from last year.

Previous presidents’ policies certainly had been xenophobic, but they also gave lip service to the idea of the United States as a nation of immigrants, that diversity is a strength. You don’t get any of that with this president, and it makes a difference.

So this administration is more xenophobic than average?

The immigration policies that have been put into effect during this administration have been so numerous, so broad in their scope, and so cruel that they are unparalleled in any other period or other administration.

They have impacted every category of immigrant—from refugees, asylum seekers, illegal, and legal immigrants. And because they have been put in place by executive order, there has been no debate, no calling of witnesses, no rebuttal, no ability for experts, advocates, or lawmakers on either side to be able to contest the justification of the laws.

And that was before COVID-19. I’ve just finished compiling and analyzing the 63 different immigration-related executive actions that have been put in place since January 30, 2020. Sixty-three! They have effectively ended immigration in all forms under the guise of public health concerns even though the infection rates are much, much higher within our country than in any other. We have already identified this era as the most restrictive immigration era in U.S. history.

Has this very obvious xenophobia throughout U.S. history deterred immigrants?

Absolutely. It’s deterred people, and it has encouraged—even forced—people to return home. One of the other aspects of immigration history that we never focus enough attention on is how 30 percent of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, and especially amongst certain groups like Italians in the early 20th century, actually returned home. There could be many reasons for that—jobs that didn’t work out, failed marriages—but a lot of it was that they just didn’t feel welcome here.

Have you seen that personally?

One of the saddest things I’ve seen in the past few years is an internalization of xenophobia. I have volunteered in my kids’ public high school, helping mostly refugee students write their college essays. Here in Minneapolis, they are largely from Somalia.

In 2017, some of my students had been in this country for only four years. They learned English and were working two part-time jobs in addition to going to school. They had compelling personal stories, but when I read their essays, I noticed that they did not mention anything about being refugees.

I’d ask them, “Is there a reason why you don’t want to put that part of your story in your college essay? I think it is phenomenal.” They said, “I don’t want to because ‘refugee’ is a bad word, isn’t it? They won’t want me. Right?” And my heart just sank.

So yes, xenophobia absolutely has an impact. There’s the violence of xenophobia. Families being split apart, etc. But even if you’re not at risk of that, it can manifest itself in deeply personal ways.

While there are vocal anti-immigrant groups, who is advocating now for immigrants?

One of the things that has changed in recent years is that people are leading spontaneous and mass protests against many anti-immigrant measures. I’m sure you remember January 27th, 2017, the Friday that the Muslim ban was announced by the Trump administration.

It was late in the afternoon. By that evening, there were lawyers, advocates, and crowds of people at many of the international airports in the United States with “you are welcome here” signs.

This kind of mass protest didn’t happen before when we passed the Exclusion Act, when we deported Mexican and Mexican Americans during the Great Depression, when we interned Japanese Americans during World War II. These challenges and protests today are so fundamental and so important. They give me hope.

And of course, with the elections coming up, we have the chance to vote xenophobic politicians out of office.

And how can the view of immigrants be more positive, especially among those who fear the effects of immigration?

I think about this on a daily basis. I really want to try to change the narrative about immigration, to combat the threat narrative.

I direct the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. It started 55 years ago as an immigrant archive. Its founders believed that it was necessary to document the experiences and life histories of what was then called the “new immigration” from southern, central, and eastern Europe. One goal was “to recover the full-bodied humanity of immigrants” through oral histories, research, and archive-building.

We are still working hard to achieve this mission in a new era of global migration. In 2012, I wanted to do the same for this new generation of immigrants and refugees, and especially the young people who were in my classrooms.

So my colleagues and I started the Immigrant Stories digital storytelling project, and it grew nationally and internationally. It’s a digital storytelling website that allows anyone anywhere to create, preserve, and share their story for free with video, audio, and text. There are now over 350 stories in the collection representing 55-plus ethnic groups.

I really believe in the power of storytelling to change the ways in which people think about immigration and to challenge xenophobia and racism. They help us see immigrants and refugees as real people, not stereotypes. And they remind us what unites us, rather than divides us.

The Limits of Freedom

1776 - 1808

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” So begins the Declaration of Independence, the document that eventually led to the creation of the United States. But the words point to the paradox the nation was built on: Even as the colonists fought for freedom from the British, they maintained slavery and avoided the issue in the Constitution. Enslaved people, however, seized any opportunity to secure their freedom. Some fought for it through military service in the Revolutionary War, whether serving for the British or the patriots. Others benefited from gradual emancipation enacted in states like Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. In New York, for example, children born after July 4, 1799, were legally free when they turned 25, if they were women, or 28, if they were men — the law was meant to compensate slaveholders by keeping people enslaved during some of their most productive years.

Yet the demand for a growing enslaved population to cultivate cotton in the Deep South was unyielding. In 1808, Congress implemented the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves, which terminated the country’s legal involvement in the international slave trade but put new emphasis on the domestic slave trade, which relied on buying and selling enslaved black people already in the country, often separating them from their loved ones. (In addition, the international trade continued illegally.) The ensuing forced migration of over a million African-Americans to the South guaranteed political power to the slaveholding class: The Three-Fifths Clause that the planter elite had secured in the Constitution held that three-fifths of the enslaved population was counted in determining a state’s population and thus its congressional representation. The economic and political power grab reinforced the brutal system of slavery.

A Powerful Letter

After the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson and other politicians — both slaveholding and not — wrote the documents that defined the new nation. In the initial draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson condemned King George III of Britain for engaging in the slave trade and ignoring pleas to end it, and for calling upon the enslaved to rise up and fight on behalf of the British against the colonists. This language was excised from the final document, however, and all references to slavery were removed, in stunning contrast to the document’s opening statement on the equality of men. Jefferson was a lifelong enslaver. He inherited enslaved black people he fathered enslaved black children and he relied on enslaved black people for his livelihood and comfort. He openly speculated that black people were inferior to white people and continually advocated for their removal from the country. In 1791, Benjamin Banneker, a free black mathematician, scientist, astronomer and surveyor, argued against this mind-set when he wrote to Jefferson, then secretary of state, urging him to correct his “narrow prejudices” and to “eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions, which so generally prevails with respect to us.” Banneker also condemned Jefferson’s slaveholding in his letter and included a manuscript of his almanac, which would be printed the following year. Jefferson was unconvinced of the intelligence of African-Americans, and in his swift reply only noted that he welcomed “such proofs as you exhibit” of black people with “talents equal to those of the other colors of men.”

She Sued for Her Freedom

In the wake of the Revolutionary War, African-Americans took their cause to statehouses and courthouses, where they vigorously fought for their freedom and the abolition of slavery. Elizabeth Freeman, better known as Mum Bett, an enslaved woman in Massachusetts whose husband died fighting during the Revolutionary War, was one such visionary. The new Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 stated that “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential and unalienable rights among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties.” Arguing that slavery violated this sentiment, Bett sued for her freedom and won. After the ruling, Bett changed her name to Elizabeth Freeman to signify her new status. Her precedent-setting case helped to effectively bring an end to slavery in Massachusetts.

‘If one minute’s freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it.’

God Wouldn’t Want Segregated Sanctuaries

Black people, both free and enslaved, relied on their faith to hold onto their humanity under the most inhumane circumstances. In 1787, the Rev. Richard Allen and other black congregants walked out of services at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia to protest its segregated congregations. Allen, an abolitionist who was born enslaved, had moved to Philadelphia after purchasing his freedom. There he joined St. George’s, where he initially preached to integrated congregations. It quickly became clear that integration went only so far: He was directed to preach a separate service designated for black parishioners. Dismayed that black people were still treated as inferiors in what was meant to be a holy space, Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal denomination and started the Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church. For communities of free people of color, churches like Allen’s were places not only of sanctuary but also of education, organizing and civic engagement, providing resources to navigate a racist society in a slave nation. Allen and his successors connected the community, pursued social justice and helped guide black congregants as they transitioned to freedom. The African Methodist Episcopal Church grew rapidly today at least 7,000 A.M.E. congregations exist around the world, including Allen’s original church.

The Destructive Impact of the Cotton Gin

The national dialogue surrounding slavery and freedom continued as the demand for enslaved laborers increased. In 1794, Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin, which made it possible to clean cotton faster and get products to the market more quickly. Cotton was king, as the saying went, and the country became a global economic force. But the land for cultivating it was eventually exhausted, and the nation would have to expand to keep up with consumer demand. In 1803, Thomas Jefferson struck a deal with Napoleon Bonaparte, the Louisiana Purchase: In exchange for $15 million, the United States gained almost 830,000 square miles of land, doubling the size of the country and expanding America’s empire of slavery and cotton. Soon after this deal, the United States abolished the international slave trade, creating a labor shortage. Under these circumstances, the domestic slave trade increased as an estimated one million enslaved people were sent to the Deep South to work in cotton, sugar and rice fields.

Describing the Depravity of Slavery

“Benevolent men have voluntarily stepped forward to obviate the consequences of this injustice and barbarity,” proclaimed the Rev. Peter Williams Jr. in a historic speech about the end of the nation’s involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. “They have striven assiduously to restore our natural rights to guaranty them from fresh innovations to furnish us with necessary information and to stop the source from whence our evils have flowed.” A free black man who founded St. Philip’s African Church in Manhattan, Williams spoke in front of a white and black audience on Jan. 1, 1808 — the day the United States ban on the international slave trade went into effect. The law, of course, did not end slavery, and it was often violated. Williams forced the audience to confront slavery’s ugliness as he continued, “Its baneful footsteps are marked with blood its infectious breath spreads war and desolation and its train is composed of the complicated miseries of cruel and unceasing bondage.” His oration further defined a black view of freedom that had been building since the foundation of the country, as when the formerly enslaved poet Phillis Wheatley noted in 1774,“for in every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call love of Freedom it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.”

Activity 2. The Iroquois Experience

Share with the students some material on the role of the Iroquois in the American Revolution, in particular the significant efforts of Joseph Brant. You can use the general discussion by Colin Calloway, American Indians and the Revolution. (from National Park Service: Stories from the Revolution site)

Ask students to explore the words and images of Brant at the beginning of the Revolutionary War and at its end. One of the text documents and one of the images will be provided with explanatory notes or annotations. For the portrait, students will be able to see how the painting's visual language operates and also have key symbols and objects identified. A contrasting eighteenth-century portrait of a Native American is the 1762 engraving of "The Three Cherokees Came Over From the Head of the River Savanna to London." The engraving depicts the three Cherokee chiefs who visited King George III in London after the Seven Years' War seeking assurances about the security of their homelands in South Carolina. This portrait of Indians during the colonial era is one of the few done from life, rather than being drawn after the fact as in the more familiar European depictions.

Students will be asked to consider some of the following questions about the documents:

  • What was the situation that the Mohawks and other Iroquois were facing at the beginning of the conflict? At the end?
  • What were their goals? What were they asking the British government for?
  • What tone and language does Brant use in his appeals? Why do you think he adopts those methods?
  • What tone and visual language do the two artists adopt?
  • How do the verbal and visual appeals work together to achieve Brant's mission?

Joseph Brant in London, 1776

Joseph Brant or Thayendanegea, 1783-86

  • Joseph Brant, Message to Governor Frederick Haldimand of Quebec, 1783 (PDF).
  • Gilbert Stuart (in London, 1786), Portrait of Joseph Brant, 1786 at the New York State Historical Association -- also image on National Park Association site (larger version available)—also you can look at both the 1776 and 1786 portraits.

Modeling image interpretation of 1786 Northumberland portrait of Brant

  • Clothing and other items: What sort of garments has Brant chosen? He wears an open collar shirt with a cape of joined silver rings around his shoulders, a wide silver armband on his right arm and four silver bracelets on his right wrist. A red cap with more silver rings has yellow, orange and black feathers attached to the band.
  • What do the garments mean? The silver ornamentation attests to his high rank. Some of his decorations were ceremonial gifts such as the gorget (a type of armor that protected the neck) that was a gift from King George III and below that a medallion portrait of the king in an imposing brass locket, all signs of alliance with the British, especially the King.
  • Pose: His strong nose and mouth give him the appearance of an imposing leader. His face has full modeling, the same treatment as Stuart gave his European and American subjects
  • What are Gilbert Stuart and Joseph Brant trying to say? Brant appears as a statesman, an Iroquois statesmen of great dignity who wears signs of royal favor for his diplomatic activities.

For a whole group discussion students will be asked to chart the changes that have come about during and because of the war between the British, Americans, and the Indians. They should discuss what changes have occurred between the documents from 1776 and those from 1783/1786. They can look at the following:

  • What changes do you notice in his presentation?
  • How Brant makes his case to the British government?
  • How Brant presents himself in his portraits?
  • Also, note the differences, if any, between the text documents and the portraits.

Option 1: Using what they have learned from the documents, the secondary reading, and any other materials they used, students should write an essay on the following question: "What can you conclude about the alliance decisions made by Native Americans? Why did some Native American groups become involved in the American Revolution—either on the British or American side? What roles did they play in the conflict and what were the consequences of their decisions? Defend your answer using the documents from the activities and your knowledge of the Native Americans' post-Revolutionary War experience."

Option 2: Using what they have learned from the documents, the secondary reading, and any other materials they used, students role-play a mock council of a Native American tribe, debating the merits and drawbacks of a particular allegiance. The dialogue must accurately reflect the history. They should also identify which tribe they choose to portray since that identity should influence the council meeting decision.

What happened to these Native American allies after the American Revolution? Students could explore the post-revolutionary experiences of the different Native American tribes in the United States and Canada. How did their experiences differ from what the treaties signed with the new United States had promised? What factors (i.e. location/geography, tribal leadership, their Revolutionary allegiances, relationships between the various Native American tribes) played a role in the post-Revolutionary experience of the different Native Americans? Students could take their research one-step further: where are those Native American groups today? See the U.S. Census Bureau's American Indians and Alaska Natives Map, a link on EDSITEment's Internet Public Library.

Other members of Joseph Brant's family were important figures. You could explore the biography of Molly Brant, his sister, a link from Nativeweb or his brother-in-law Sir William Johnson, Indian Superintendent

The Continental Congress was quite involved in Native American affairs during the War. American Memory's Learning Page has a feature on the Home Front during the Revolutionary War with several documents and discussion.

The Battle of Oriskany in 1778 in central New York was a critical engagement involving Native Americans on each side of the battlefield. See the National Park Service: Discover History, The Battle of Oriskany: "Blood Shed a Stream Running Down."