Slavery's Foe, at Last

LEARNING TO BE AN ABOLITIONIST

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HO CHE ANDERSON / TIME

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Just before he died, Franklin had his last words on the subject in a biting parody. Signing the essay "Historicus," Franklin composed a speech of one Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim, an Algerian prince, defending the practice of enslaving Christians. "If we forbear to make Slaves of [the Christians]," asked the prince, "who in this hot climate are to cultivate our lands? Who are to perform the common Labours of our City, and in our Families?" Yet Franklin's rhetoric outpaced his actions. He had long ago revised his will to free Peter and Jemima at his death, but neither slave outlived him.

Nash is professor emeritus of history at UCLA and the author of Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia's Black Community, 1720-1840

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