Benjamin Rush Address

Publication Year: 1773

Rush, Benjamin. An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America, upon Slave-keeping (Philadelphia: [J. Dunlap], 1773).  
PHS Call number: CR AMER 1773 E12991

Reading suggestions

See especially pages 1-4, 20-22, 28-30; printed "s" looks like "f".

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Source note

Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) was a prominent citizen of Philadelphia, a member of the Continental Congress, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Rush was raised in a devout Presbyterian family and trained as a physician in Scotland. He opened his own medical practice in 1769 and also taught chemistry at the College of Philadelphia. Rush was appointed treasurer of the U.S. Mint by President John Adams in 1797 and served in that post until his death. Rush was a committed abolitionist for most of his life, and was a member of the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society, for which he served as secretary and president. His opposition to slavery arose from his faith—the belief that slavery went against God—and from the idea of personal freedom that was enshrined in the Constitution. He also owned at least one slave, and had a personal stake in the institution of slavery while at the same time condemning it.

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Reading questions

1.    Who is the author? What is the historical context in which it was written? Do you think this is a reliable source on the topic of rhetoric about slaves and slavery during the Revolutionary era?

2.    What does Rush claim is his purpose for writing this address (page 1)?

3.    What evidence does Rush provide in order to dismiss racist arguments of Africans’ intellectual and social inferiority (page 2)?

4.    According to Rush, what is the first step in abolishing slavery in the United States (page 21)? What action does he suggest as a way to take that first step?

5.    Rush suggests that those enslaved people who “are unfit to be set at liberty” should be educated and taught about business so they can be self-sufficient later (page 22). How common was the idea, at this time, that some or all enslaved people were “unfit” for freedom and independent lives?

6.    Why does Rush specifically address Christian ministers on the subject of slavery (pages 28-29)? What is he asking them to do?

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Source type
History Topics
Abolition and Anti-slavery
American Revolution
Time Period
American Revolution (1763-1783)