This essay intends to shed light on Francis Lieber's ambivalent role when he taught, from 1835 to 1856, at South Carolina College, in an intellectual and political environment that he found disingenuous and where as an outsider he was confronted with misgivings and mistrust. Lieber was one of several German liberal intellectuals who fled repressive German states under the impact of the Holy Alliance in the 1820s. Given the general reputation of German immigrants as anti-slavery (even in black abolitionist circles) there were good reasons for political and intellectual elites in the slave states to view Francis Lieber with suspicion. Little, however, is known about his views on race and the institution of slavery, and even less about his practical experience with 'the peculiar institution' during his long tenure. Did he compromise his views? Did he try to cling to his university position for reasons of financial security? Why did Lieber write a series of letters to John C. Calhoun condemning the institution of slavery - and then not actually mailing them? Why did he become a slaveholder himself, supposedly against his inner conviction, since he had voiced his principled antislavery attitude early and continued to attack the peculiar institution in his private correspondence? In the paper the author argues that the process of becoming American involved coming to terms with the institution of slavery and taking a position on race.