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In the Classroom > African Americans Lessons > Petitioning Freedom

Back to Petitioning Freedom

Possible Answers to Discussion Questions

1. The Declaration of Independence is addressed to the king of England.

Examples of strong language: Unanimous Declaration; dissolve the political bands; We hold these truths to be self-evident; long train of abuses and usurpations; repeated injuries; absolute Tyranny, etc.

Reasons for declaring independence: All men are created equal, unalienable rights: Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness, compelled to separation not by light or transient causes. List of abuses

2. The document is a petition for an act of the Legislature to end slavery for adults and all children once they reach age 21 years.

The document was written to the Massachusetts legislature by Prince Hall, a free black man in Boston. He was literate; someone without the amount of education he had probably couldn’t have accomplished so much. For more information about Prince Hall visit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2p37.html

On the one hand, the document states that slavery is worse than nonexistence; however, it is a request, not a declaration; “humble beseech your honours to give this petition its due weight”

Although the tone of the document might seem to suggest that even freed Blacks felt subservient and “knew their place”, it is more likely that this document follows the accepted formula for petitioning. In contrast, the Declaration is not a petition. Hence the tone and conventions are different.

Arguments put forth: natural and unalienable right to freedom; violates laws of nature and defies tender feelings of humanity; appeal to reason: you recognize and resent unjust endeavors; slavery is consistent with what the Declaration of Independence condemns

The ideas put forth in the Declaration of Independence did not apply to Blacks in practice. Many signers of the Declaration were slaveholders themselves. Even though there was much public discussion of liberty and freedom in the years leading up to the Revolution, the Massachusetts colonial government had little authority to end, or even curtail, slavery or the slave trade even had they wished because of instructions from Parliament to the royal governor, and none of the petitions succeeded.

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