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Freedom-Talk in Colonial Georgia

By Matthew Yglesias on February 25, 2011 at 12:29 pm

"Freedom-Talk in Colonial Georgia"

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Here’s another joint from Alan Taylor’s American Colonies, this time illustrating that the use of freedom-talk as a cover for violent hierarchical authoritarian nationalism is nothing new:

The Georgia dissidents rallied behind the revealing slogan “Liberty and Property without restrictions”—which explicitly linked the liberty of white men to their right to hold blacks as property. Until they could own slaves, the white Georgians considered themselves unfree. Such reasoning made sense in an eighteenth-century empire where liberty was a privileged status that almost always depended upon the power to subordinate someone else. Under increasing pressure from a Parliament solicitous of the slave trade, in 1751 the trustees capitulated, permitting slavery and surrendering Georgia to the crown. Georgia received the usual tripartite arrangement of an elected assembly, a crown-appointed council, and a royal governor.

It’s a very interesting quirk of rhetoric. Freedom-talk tends, in practice, to have very little to do with any respectable notion of freedom.

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