David Blight on David Walker
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Q: Which philosophies did David Walker base his Appeal on?
A: Walker uses an Old Testament liberation theology mixed with the natural rights tradition of the Declaration of Independence. In particular, what he draws from the Declaration of Independence is Jefferson's language about the right of revolution. And from the Old Testament, from the Bible, what he particularly draws, he draws upon moments in the Bible where God enters history on behalf of his people and overturns the society.
David Walker's Appeal, in a literary form, is a great example of an American Jeremiah. It's a warning to the nation that if the nation doesn't change its ways on slavery, God will enter history and destroy the earth, as he says at one point in the document. God will enter history on behalf of his people and wreck the nation.
What's most interesting about Walker's use of the Declaration of Independence is that it demonstrates that the black abolitionist, even early in this story -- this is still the 1820s -- that document was never to be de-revolutionized. To black abolitionists, the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution was a source of a kind of founding creeds of their own movement. What Walker does with the Declaration of Independence is he says that blacks are part of the language of Jefferson's first principles of the document, especially the principle of the right of revolution.
David W. Blight
Professor of History and Black Studies
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