Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad
About the Underground Railroad
about the underground railroad
following the footsteps
eyewitness to history
figure it out
mapping it out
secrets: language, signs and symbols
create a quilt block
living history
underground railroad library
You are here!
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Hear this spoken!
Listen to this passage as you read!

What about the Declaration of Independence?

It says that “all men are created equal” and that everyone has the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” How could we believe that and still allow slavery?

During the Revolutionary War, people talked a lot about "rights" and "equality" and "freedom." Americans said that the English government was not recognizing our natural rights. They said that Americans had rights that were equal to those of Englishmen and that we should be free of foreign control. Some people believed that the "rights" applied only to wealthy, well-educated white men. They did not believe that women, blacks, or people who were not Christians shared those same rights.

As people listened to the arguments in favor of independence from England, many concluded that enslaved people also should be free. Some people realized that we couldn't be fighting for "freedom" while still having slavery. Some enslaved people went to court to demand their own freedom. They declared, using the language of the Revolution, that freedom was their "natural right."

Around the time of the American Revolution, many former enslaved people became free. Thousands of enslaved people and free black men fought in the Revolution. Enslaved people who fought often gained their freedom. Other enslaved people took advantage of the wartime confusion to escape, and they and their descendents became free. The Northern states gradually outlawed slavery. The leaders of those governments saw that you could not have a free society in which there was slavery. Southern states refused to outlaw slavery. Maryland and its neighbor Delaware were the two northernmost states where slavery continued to exist. North of here, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio became "free" states, where slavery gradually disappeared.

Even in the South, where slavery continued to be legal, some whites opposed slavery. Some believed that it was against the laws of God to keep other human beings enslaved. Members of one religious group, the Quakers or Friends, were especially strong in the opposition to slavery. They believed that all human beings were part of God's divine creation. Quakers required their members to free their enslaved people. Many Methodists also believed that slavery was wrong and freed their enslaved people around the time of the Revolution.

Were there a great many enslaved people in Maryland?

« back to Slavery and Free Blacks

classroom resourcesscreensaverfor parentsabout this sitethinkport home
©2024 Maryland Public Television. All Rights Reserved.