The later half of the 18th century was a time of political upheaval in the United States. In the midst of cries for relief from British rule, people pointed out the apparent hypocrisies of slave holders' demanding freedom. The Declaration of Independence , a document that would become a manifesto for human rights and personal freedom, was written by Thomas Jefferson , who owned over 200 slaves. Other Southern statesmen were also major slaveholders. The Second Continental Congress did consider freeing slaves to disrupt British commerce. They removed language from the Declaration of Independence that included the promotion of slavery amongst the offenses of King George III . A number of free Blacks, most notably Prince Hall —the founder of Prince Hall Freemasonry , submitted petitions for the end of slavery. But these petitions were largely ignored. 
The songwriter W. C. Handy (1873-1958) popularized the blues when he published his "Memphis Blues" in 1912 and the "St. Louis Blues" in 1914. These two songs created an unprecedented vogue for the blues, and their popularity, and the success of those who sang them, carried the blues all over the world. The 1920s are considered the era of classic blues, a style popularized by black women like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Alb Hunter (1895-1984), and Ethel Waters (1900-1979). The soulful sophistication and haunting beauty of their blues performances were altogether new to American audiences. Bessie Smith, perhaps the most famous of the classic blues singers, epitomized the form's emotional power, while Ma Rainey's singing captured its racy, theatrical side.