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Street Diplomacy

The Politics of Slavery and Freedom in Philadelphia, 1820–1850

Elliott Drago

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An illuminating look at how Philadelphia's antebellum free Black community defended themselves against kidnappings and how this "street diplomacy" forced Pennsylvanians to confront the politics of slavery.

As the most southern of northern cities in a state that bordered three slave states, antebellum Philadelphia maintained a long tradition of both abolitionism and fugitive slave activity. Although Philadelphia's Black community lived in a free city in a free state, they faced constant threats to their personal safety and freedom. Enslavers, kidnappers, and slave catchers prowled the streets of…

An illuminating look at how Philadelphia's antebellum free Black community defended themselves against kidnappings and how this "street diplomacy" forced Pennsylvanians to confront the politics of slavery.

As the most southern of northern cities in a state that bordered three slave states, antebellum Philadelphia maintained a long tradition of both abolitionism and fugitive slave activity. Although Philadelphia's Black community lived in a free city in a free state, they faced constant threats to their personal safety and freedom. Enslavers, kidnappers, and slave catchers prowled the streets of Philadelphia in search of potential victims, violent anti-Black riots erupted in the city, and white politicians legislated to undermine Black freedom. In Street Diplomacy, Elliott Drago illustrates how the political and physical conflicts that arose over fugitive slave removals and the kidnappings of free Black people forced Philadelphians to confront the politics of slavery.

Pennsylvania was legally a free state, at the street level and in the lived experience of its Black citizens, but Pennsylvania was closer to a slave state due to porous borders and the complicity of white officials. Legal contests between slavery and freedom at the local level triggered legislative processes at the state and national level, which underscored the inability of white politicians to resolve the paradoxes of what it meant for a Black American to inhabit a free state within a slave society.

Piecing together fragmentary source material from archives, correspondence, genealogies, and newspapers, Drago examines these conflicts in Philadelphia from 1820 to 1850. Studying these timely struggles over race, politics, enslavement, and freedom in Philadelphia will encourage scholars to reexamine how Black freedom was not secure in Pennsylvania or in the wider United States.

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Street Diplomacy

Elliott Drago

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Reviews

Drago's concept of street diplomacy and how it played out on the streets, courts, and activist circles is paradigm shifting. Street Diplomacy also connects Philadelphia to state and national politics over issues of personal liberty laws, free and self-liberating African Americans' rights, and abolition. This book deftly brings attention to issues taking place across the antebellum North and will encourage a broader scholarly reexamination of street diplomacy during this time period.

At last, a penetrating analysis of the ways personal struggles over freedom and slavery linked local, state, and national politics. It sets the standard for all of us interested in a broader interpretation of the politics of slavery centered on Black community resistance. Street Diplomacy is thoroughly convincing.

At the heart of this powerful study is both the fragility of Black freedom in the City of Brotherly Love and the courage and tenacity of those, Black and white, who struggled to defend that freedom.

In this engaging book, the streets of Philadelphia teem with ordinary people engaging in battles over freedom and slavery. The stakes were high in these confrontations, for both the Black Philadelphians, many of them children, who were kidnapped and sold into slavery, and for the nation, as their street diplomacy reverberated outward to the halls of Congress.

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Book Details

Release Date
Publication Date
Status
Preorder
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
304
ISBN
9781421444536
Illustration Description
10 b&w illus.
Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
Introduction. Terror in an Age of Slavery
Chapter 1. A Precarious Freedom
Chapter 2. Street Diplomacy
Chapter 3. Fugitive Freedom in Philadelphia
Chapter 4. Domestic Sanctuary
Chapter 5. A

Acknowledgements
Introduction. Terror in an Age of Slavery
Chapter 1. A Precarious Freedom
Chapter 2. Street Diplomacy
Chapter 3. Fugitive Freedom in Philadelphia
Chapter 4. Domestic Sanctuary
Chapter 5. A Theatre of Scenes
Chapter 6. Interlocking Opportunities
Epilogue. The Famous Grasshopper War
Notes
Primary Sources
Index

Author Bio