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Response to James Forten’s Letters from a Man of Color (Essay Sample)


James Forten, Letter #2 from “Letters from a Man of Colour” to the Pennsylvania State Legislature, 1813 (please note that the primary source document erroneously sources the letter as written by "John" Forten. It's "James Forten).

The Atlantic slave trade was still operating at the beginning of the 19th Century, but there was a growing abolitionist movement in the United States. The state of Pennsylvania had passed a Gradual Abolition Act in 1780, which promised to free at age 28 all children born to enslaved women, creating a free black cohort beginning in 1808. Philadelphia whites by 1800 began to feel uncertainty about a growing free black population and, in response, sought legislation to close the state’s borders to free blacks, register all African American residents in the state, and have the freedom to sell black lawbreakers. James Forten, a black veteran of the War of Independence and well-to-do Philadelphia businessman, published an eight page pamphlet in protest of the proposed legislation.

Your response should be up to two pages long, double spaced, with one inch margins. It should include a clear thesis and a set of arguments that respond to the questions below. Please submit your paper on Canvas no later than noon on Monday, January 14.

Questions to be answered:

What is the significance of this document for understanding America at the beginning of the 19th Century?
How does this document add to our understanding of citizenship at the beginning of the 19th Century?
What is the relationship between Forten's second letter and other readings assigned for the week, including John Adams views on slavery, Hector St. John Creveceour’s views on the definition of an American, and Benjamin Rush’s “Thoughts upon Female Education”?
How does Forten’s protest speak to the tensions between democratic ideals and reality in the new republic?
Please pose at least one discussion question about this reading in a separate answer from your essay. What do you think is important to talk about with regard to this text?

Responses will be graded according to the following criteria:
Does the response address all the questions posed?
Does the response demonstrate that the student has done a close and careful reading of the text?
Does the response offer a thoughtful engagement with the text?
Does the response demonstrate a concerted effort to think about the significance of the text and its relationship to course topics?
Does the response make sense? Are the ideas within it clearly communicated?
Is the response written in essay form, with a thesis, a set of paragraphs that each address a distinct argument in support of the thesis, and a conclusion?
Does the response include a question that the student has posed about the reading that is separate from the essay?


Student’s Name
Tutor’s Name
Response to James Forten’s Letters from a Man of Color
It is the beginning of the 19th century; the Atlantic slave trade still rages regardless of the abolitionist movement slowly gaining momentum in the United States. The state of Pennsylvania had passed the Gradual Abolition Act that sought to free all children born to slaves at the age of 28 starting in 1808. By the turn of the century, the whites in Philadelphia had already started feeling uncertain about the growing population of free blacks. In response to this, they sought to enact legislation that would close the borders of the state to free blacks. Moreover, the legislation would require the registration of all the black residents living in the state and give the whites the right to sell blacks who broke the law. 

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