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What Happens After Emancipation

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

In “The Price of Freedom,” one of the five essays in collected volume What Was Freedom’s Price, historian C. Vann Woodward called on scholars to write about the history of emancipation from a comparative perspective.  He acknowledged, “the literature on comparative slavery has reached impressive proportions” but also lamented that “very little has been written so far on the comparative history of emancipations and reconstructions” (93).  A number of studies on slavery in the Americas have broadened our understanding of the shared intellectual, social, and economic contexts that allowed New World slavery to expand and flourish during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  David Brion Davis’s Inhuman Bondage (2006); Herbert Klein’s Slavery in the Americas (1988); Laura Foner and Eugene Genovese’s Slavery in the New World (1970); Robin Blackburn’s The Making of New World Slavery (2010); and most recently Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams (2013).

In the four decades since Woodward’s call, historians have made tremendous strides into the comparative examinations of abolition, emancipation, and reconstruction (I am using the term “reconstruction” in the sense of rebuilding society after the abolition of slavery).  Seymour Drescher (Abolition, 2009), Celia Azevedo (Abolitionism in the U.S. and Brazil, 1995), Sylvia Frey and Betty Wood (From Slavery to Emancipation in the Atlantic World, 1999), and several other works have shifted our attention to the transnational context in which the Age of Emancipation played out.  However, Thomas Holt notes, “Studies of the post-emancipation era remain relatively provincial—hewing closely to the American national narrative” (“Rethinking Emancipation in the Twenty-First Century,” 21).  For the large part, this remains true, and I would add that many of these metanarrative works focus on the British context, while providing one or two chapter to the Latin American context (Davis, Drescher, and Blackburn).

Since my last blog focused on the transnational histories of anti-slavery, this post will focus on the particular themes associated with consequences of emancipation.  What did freedom mean after abolition?  What happens to labor relations and practices after emancipation?  What happens to anti-slavery after legal abolition of slavery?  These questions and others will be addressed in this blog?

The Various Meanings of Freedom

“Freedom” is a word that has several meanings, which are rife with ambiguity and contradiction.  David Brion Davis, for example, notes the paradox of freedom in the United States: After independence, the United States claimed to be a land of freedom and liberty, but this nation was also built on the backs of slaves.  In Slavery and Social Death, Orlando Patterson talks about the issues surrounding manumission, the act of a master giving freedom to a slave.  “The act of manumission,” Patterson writes, “creates not just a new person and a new life, but a new status…the single most important factor in determining the condition of the freedman in the society at large will be the nature of his relationship with his former master” (240).  Patterson stresses how manumission, in some locales, was used as a device to ensure the continued dependence of the freedman, while also helping to help prevent large-scale rebellion, this idea was at the heart of James Madison’s push against the Virginia legislature’s movement to limit manumissions.

James Patrick Kiernan’s 1976 dissertation “The Manumission of Slaves in Colonial Brazil” suggests that manumission occurred for several reasons, but was usually contingent on the slave remaining on the plantation to work.  In some cases, slaves were manumitted for economic reasons.  Brazilian law required that debts were settled upon a master’s death, usually by the sale of his property including slaves.  Masters would manumit their slaves on the condition they continued to work on the plantation and in faithful service to the family.  By doing this, the master ensured his family’s continued access to labor without the threat of government interference.

In the mid-nineteenth century, however, full-scale emancipation changed everything.  The tension between what slaves thought would come with freedom versus the reality of labor needs and social status created tensions across the Atlantic World in the mid-nineteenth century.  For slaves, freedom entailed full independence and access to citizenship (especially enfranchisement), some even believed their freedom came with forty acres and a mule (Du Bois, Black Reconstruction, 198).  For planters and the federal government, however, the issues of freedom with emancipation were surrounded by questions of labor and economics.  How could they keep ex-slaves on the plantation, and ensure that they were neither “idle” nor “lazy”?  They answered these problems in a number of ways from apprenticeships and sharecropping to vagrancy laws and the use of indentured labor.

Another tension arising with emancipation was what social status and political rights did the emancipated have in society.  Part of this question, I argue, emerged from the rise of nation-states and the creation of imagined political communities.  In Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, he explore the creation of “nation-ness” and how this new identity was not based on lineage or fealty to aristocracy, but instead constructed by people who now saw themselves as part of a physical and conceptual abstraction in “an imagined political community” (6).  This developed an “us” versus “them” mentality, which led to the question of where ex-slavery belonged, in the “us” or in the “them” group?  As slave regimes around the Atlantic fell, many societies were faced with whether to accept slaves as active citizens of their communities, or to push them to margins of society.  Unfortunately, most societies chose the latter.

Thomas Holt’s The Problem of Freedom, in my mind, provides one of the best accounts on the tensions arising over slave freedom.  First, he provides a definition of freedom, which I will most likely use for the rest of career:  Freedom “was neither natural nor indigenous, but a historically particular and socially constructed phenomenon” (xxii).  Put differently, the concept of freedom has its own history, and is NOT an innate or transcendent quality of humanity.  Freedom was a construction, and this construction changed in various periods and contexts.  With this definition in mind, Holt explores the problems of freedom in Jamaica between 1838 and 1938, which is an understudied period in Jamaican history.  Moreover, these bookends are two emancipation moments.  The first emancipation was the abolition of slavery and the freeing of slaves.  The second emancipation was Jamaica’s movement towards decolonization and freedom from the Empire, which they achieved in 1962.

One of Holt’s major contributions to the historiographical field is his exploration of how planters, politicians, and freedpeople understood freedom.  Planters wanted full control over cheap labor on their sugar plantations.  The British government wanted to transform slaves into wage laborers.  They believed the adoption of the “liberal democratic ethic,” the pursuit of material interests, would transform ex-slaves into motivated, industrious, and reliable workers.  For freedpeople, “they sought to build not just a free labor economy but a free society.  They sought to be not just free laborers but a free people” (176).  They attempted to achieve this loft goal by moving off sugar plantations and buying land, which created problems for the British government and planters.  These tensions led to violent conflicts over the next one hundred years, including the Morant Bay Rebellion and the Jamaican Labor Rebellion of 1938.  At the heart of these conflicts were tensions over the idea and reality of freedom.

Afro-Jamaicans wanted self-determination, while British politicians and planters wanted dependence embedded under the veil of “freedom.”  As Holt writes, British policy tried to provide a freedom “drained of the power of genuine self-determination; materially, a freedom stripped of control over basic material resources; ideologically, a freedom that internalized its own antithesis” (xxv).  At the end of the day, an interesting paradox emerged: the British government wanted economic freedom for all freedpeople (free labor system, see Drescher Mighty Experiment), but they waivered with the idea of full political freedom, especially in areas where it could lead to “black rule,” which white politicians believed would create another “Haitian nightmare” (218).

Catherine Hall’s Civilising Subjects is another illuminating study on British emancipation in Jamaica.  Specifically, she explores the connections between colonial Jamaica and Birmingham, England.  By approaching the history of the England from within the framework of empire, Hall brings together two historiographical fields that have been traditionally separated: the history of Britain and the history of the British Empire.  In short, Hall shows how people living in England fashioned their global identity around a number of postemancipation imperial projects.  In Birmingham, many missionaries and nonconformists looked towards Jamaica as site of humanitarian reform, which they also connected with franchise reform and other social projects as home.  In the 1830s, Birmingham was the epicenter of anti-slavery activity, the hometown of Joseph Sturge.  Missionaries and abolitionists from this region set out on a social project to first convert all Jamaican slaves to Christianity, as part of the new humanitarian imperial agenda.  Missionaries such as William Knibb, for example, were “shocked by the moral degradation of slavery and the mindless existence…to which enslaved were condemned” (100).  They were met with resistance from Jamaican planters, who feared that conversion would cause slaves to demand for more freedoms.  With the abolition of slavery, Birmingham abolitionists and missionaries argued that converting Afro-Jamaicans to Christianity would lead them to work industriously on plantations without compulsion, one of the key arguments against apprenticeship.

By the 1840s and 1850s, however, things took a turn for the worst.  The Jamaican sugar industry faltered, especially as Afro-Jamaicans walked off the plantation to work in their own ventures (similar to Holt’s assessment).  The fear of black resistance, highlighted by the Morant Bay Rebellion, and the demand for political independence led the humanitarian Baptist mission to second-guess abolition.  The turning point came with Thomas Carlyle’s 1849 essay “Occasion Discourse on the Negro Question” (republished in 1853 with a more racist title).  He clearly identified with the planters’ cause and argued that abolition “led to the ruin of the colonies, the ruin of the planters, and the ruin of black people who would not work” (349).  Soon after Carlyle’s essay and the Morant Bay Rebellion, in addition to the death of Joseph Sturge in 1859, a new generation of reformists arose, and unlike their predecessors, they had strong racist tendencies.  In short, they used biological essentialism to argue that whites were civilized, while Africans were heathens.  Soon public opinion established strong racial lines, creating more inequality, similar to what Paul Escott describes in his study on emancipation in the United States.

Paul Escott’s “What Shall We Do With the Negro” provides an important investigation of the issues surrounding emancipation in the United States.  The pressing question facing white Americans in the antebellum and wartime periods, if slavery were to be abolished, was: “what shall we do with the Negro?” (2). Put differently, what would become of the four million freed slaves?  Would they be citizens and have the same rights as whites?  These questions were answered in various ways by northern and southern whites.  In the antebellum and wartime periods, elite white southerners maintained their belief that African Americans belonged in slavery.  The Republican Party and Lincoln opposed slavery, but ignored this question and focused on maintaining the Union.  As the war came to close, both the North and South were forced to address this question.  The key moment for Escott was the Hampton Roads Conference (February 3, 1865), where “the racial goals of the North and South intersected.”  Lincoln attempted reunification by bargaining “away much that was important to blacks in order to conciliate Southern whites” (224).  Emancipation, for Lincoln, was a means to reunification, not a movement to give equality to freedpeople.  Put differently, Lincoln, many Republicans, and Unionists saw emancipation as a military necessity, “an unavoidable incident of war,” and nothing else (242).  Lincoln and the Union’s unwillingness to fight for equality, therefore, is why after the Civil War many white Americans espoused strong racist ideologies, similar to the Brits in the 1850s.  Three Republican states, for example, rejected black suffrage, and many white Americans viewed freedpeople as a “grossly inferior group” who were “not legitimate Americans” (242 & 244).  Escott concludes, “Long after slavery ended, white racism would remain a central problem on the nation’s agenda” (243).

Jim Down’s Sick from Freedom also provides an innovative approach for examining the problems of emancipation and freedom after the American Civil War.  First, and most importantly for me, Downs persuasively presents emancipation as a process.  By exploring the history of “sickness, suffering, and death,” he reveals the complicated process of emancipation, which “functioned as a long, protracted process rather than a shotgun moment of liberation” (13).  As Downs shows through several anecdotes, slaves were liberated with the Civil War, but they were also left without “clean clothing, adequate shelter, proper food, and access to medicine” (4).  Unfortunately, this period witnessed the worst biological crisis in the nineteenth century, and the death of thousands of freedpeople.  Downs work goes against the “liberation narrative” that celebrates the accomplishments of freedpeople and the ending of slavery.  And in some cases this was true: freedpeople built schools; some were reunited with long lost families; some participated in the political franchise for the first time; some married; but many would “never enjoy any of these rights and privileges of the free” (17).

Similar to British government in Jamaica, the federal government attempted to assist freedpeople in their transformation to wage labor.  Their main concern was rebuilding the South’s economy using freedpeople’s labor.  The Freedmen’s Bureau, especially the Medical Division, Downs argues, “remained tethered to question of freedpeople’s labor power,” which in turn, “suggests that ‘freedom’ depended upon one’s ability to work” (64).  In fact, Johnson’s administration refused requests from both the Freedmen’s Bureau and from individual African American petitions for increased medical supplies and assistance.  Instead, federal politicians argued that those in need of medical support should be moved to where labor was needed.  They acted under the “rationale that employment could prevent and even cure sickness,” and therefore, the government “insisted on freedpeople returning to the South as plantation laborers” (87).

Downs also demonstrates how freedpeople reported to various federal agencies and benevolent organizations about the “death and disease that attacked their community.”  In doing so, Downs suggests, “early forms of black political mobilization unfolded on the ground, in the camps, among the sick and suffering” (166-167).  This mobilization, put differently, demonstrates that freedpeople often associated access to healthcare during and immediately after the Civil War as part of their rights as citizens of the United States.

Downs is very clear that the federal government’s “demands for labor underlay virtually every federal policy drafted during this period.”  By tracing the destruction of slavery through the lens of freedpeople’s health, Downs provides a deeper understanding of what freedom meant to various groups in the United States.  “The narrative of American freedom implies triumph, celebration, and progress,” Downs writes, “but these terms leave little rhetorical room to tell the history of the thousands of freedpeople who were displaced from their homes, became sick, and died during the Civil War and Reconstruction” (168).  Put in different words, this work shows that significant gap between federal government’s vision of emancipation and how this process of emancipation played out in the everyday lives of former slaves.

As these works demonstrate, freedom took on many different meanings in the postemancipation era.  These different meanings often led to tensions, and in some cases, violent conflict.  The problem of freedom, in short, is the problem of emancipation.  In the sense of expectations, especially among freed slaves, emancipation came up short for their vision of independent and self-determined existence.

Labor History and Emancipation

As most the works above mention, one the major issues with emancipation concerns the labor.  The United States and the British government, for example, were concerned about the economic consequences of ending slavery.  Some believed that it would be replaced by a stronger and more efficient system of free labor.  Others believed it signed the death warrant for plantation production.  Still others looked for a new source of exploitative labor, which they found in the form of indentured servants from Asia.

In A New System of Slavery (1974), Hugh Tinker argues Indian indentured labor was a new system of slavery, which “indeed, replicated the actual conditions of slavery” (xv).  Between 1838 and 1938, British sugar planters in the Caribbean imported more than 800,000 indentured workers, and the majority of them came from Asia.  In Tinker’s view, indentured servitude replaced slavery.  These migrant workers endured their own arduous passage to the sugar island, under similar conditions as African slaves coming to the New World.  Upon arrival, these laborers were quickly put to work in the cane fields, and kept under careful watch by white planters and overseers.  Both pecuniary and nonpecuniary pressures were used to control and exploit these workers, in similar, if not the same, fashion as African slaves.  Tinker argues, “Slavery produced both a system and an attitude of mind” (19).  Although the system changed slightly, the attitude of slavery remained and created “a new system of slavery.”

This Tinkerian paradigm laid the foundation for an avalanche of studies on indentured life overseas, especially in the Atlantic.  Tinker’s argument that indentured servitude became a new system of slavery, however, has its detractors.  The most important argument against Tinker’s work is David Northup’s Indentured Labor in the Age of Imperialism (1995).  In this study, Northup argues that indentured labor had “more in common with the experiences of ‘free’ migrants of the same era than with the victims of the slave trade” (x).  Northup’s work is at the center of an important historiographical change in the 1980s, which suggest that indentured labor, although sharing many qualities with slavery, was distinctive from chattel slavery and more akin to free Europe migration during the same period.  First, Northup claims, “most indentured migrants left their homes voluntarily, just like most of the fifty million unindentured Europeans who migrated overseas” (7).  Second, both groups of migrants (Europeans and Indians) left for “permanent settlements as well as cyclical migrations” (7).  Finally, Europeans and indentured workers traveled on the same ships, which were both fasters and more spacious than slave ships.  Other historians such as David Galenson and Pieter Emmer have come to similar conclusions.

Rosemarijn Hoefte’s In Place of Slavery (1998) provides a post-revisionist examination of indentured labor in Suriname in the Age of Emancipation.  This work aligns more closely to Tinker’s interpretation than Northup’s.  Hoefte focuses on colonial Suriname, and more specifically on the lives of indentured servants working on the Mariënburg plantation, the equivalent to Jamaica’s Worthy Park plantation or the Codrington plantations in Barbados.  Hoefte provides an important look into the day-to-day lives of both British Indian and Javanese indentured laborers working on this plantation.  She concedes that these indentured laborers did sign contract, but they were often the victims of fraud and chicanery.  Moreover, the contract signed by the indentured workers was less focused on their rights than on the duties they were required to fulfill.

Moon-Ho Jung’s Coolies and Cane (2006) provides one of the most recent studies on the introduction of Asian indentured labor into the New World.  Unlike previous historians, Jung explores the issue of Asian indentured labor in the context of the American South and the Caribbean, which goes against the traditional starting point of coolies in the New World (which begin with their importation into California’s gold mining district).  In Jung’s work, we see how several groups approached the question of labor in the postemancipation period differently.  He writes, “Developments in the Caribbean led Americans to equate coolies with slaves in the age of emancipation, enabling anti-Asian forces to present Chinese exclusion as an antislavery, pro-immigrant measure” (6).  For sugar planters in Louisiana, however, indentured labor was the solution to the labor problem in the post-slavery period.  Ironically, these views were reversed in the antebellum period.  Abolitionists encouraged the importation of Asian workers, in hopes of showing how wage labor was stronger and more efficient than slave labor.  Planters, however, rejected coolie laborers because they wanted to protect their investments in slaves, and shame the British for using indentured laborers.

Following the American Civil War, however, the issue of coolie labor became more complicated.  As the United States was now a nation without slavery, indentured Chinese filled the labor void, but also inhabited a middle ground somewhere between free workers and slaves.  Jung writes, “In a nation struggling to define slavery and freedom, coolies seemed to fall under neither yet both; they were viewed as a natural advancement from chattel slavery and a means to maintain slavery’s worst features.  Coolies confused the boundary between slavery and freedom, between black and white, causing the mass demand for Asian migrant laborers as well as appeals for their exclusion in the postbellum United States” (6).  In the end, Chinese laborers were banned from the United States with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  The plans to make the South “Chinese” did not work for several reasons—these laborers were not as efficient as imagined by southern planters, they were expensive, and they were too foreign.  Nevertheless, Jung’s work demonstrates the problems of emancipation in the United States, and how Chinese laborers played a critical role in race formation.

Often historians discuss slavery and emancipation in a white and black context, especially with studies on apprenticeship and sharecropping.  However, this was not the case on the ground as Jung, Tinker, and Hoefte demonstrate.  Asian laborers played an important role in reconstructions of postemancipation societies.  They were viewed in many different ways, racial stereotyped, and treated in a similar manner as slaves.  Historians of African slavery and abolition have often overlooked Asian laborers role in the restricting of society during the Age of Emancipation.  To understand the full complexities of emancipation, I argue, we need to consider what role these indentured laborers played in society without chattel slavery.

Post-Emancipation Anti-Slavery

Another important topic to consider, although less studied by historians, is what happened to anti-slavery after emancipation, especially in the case of the British Empire, the first of the European powers to abolish chattel slavery in the New World.  According to Holt and Hall, abolitionism and anti-slavery fell victim to the growing racism of the early Victorian period.  This aligns with the traditional narrative on British anti-slavery in the post-emancipation period, which suggests that anti-slavery sentiment succumbed to Victorian racism, imperialism, and/or indifference.  As Richard Huzzey summarizes in Freedom Burning: “The era can be viewed as a period of anti-slavery decline—a decline indicated by the fading influence of anti-slavery societies, by the rise of racial thinking, by the stirrings of imperialism, and by the apathy of many Britons toward the cause of the North in the American Civil War” (7).  Huzzey, however, undermines this narrative by showing how anti-slavery remained alive, but hidden to historians because of its diversity and variety.  He approaches anti-slavery ideology as a solar system.  At the heart of this system was “opposition to the ownership of humans” (8).  Creatively, Huzzey’s work shows how anti-slavery ideologies regularly found itself comfortably nestled against rampant racism towards blacks, imperialist agendas, and the acceptance of growing inequality.

“Anti-slavery ideologies,” Huzzey writes, “were one of the principal ways that commercial, strategic, spiritual, and moral objectives could be combined…anti-slavery was a principle public expression of imperial enthusiasm” (174).  In the case of Africa in the 1860s, the suppression of the slave trade gave way to “moral imperialism.”  Britain role as the international “moral policeman” dates back to their attempts to suppress the transatlantic slave trade.  This also introduced them to Africa.  Imperial expansion into Africa, therefore, was by design the construction of anti-slavery, where British imperialist conquered various parts of Africa in the 1860s to “improve” the territory and introduce legitimate trade (Buxton), and suppress any lingering systems of slavery or the slave trade, especially with Brazil (chapter 6).

Anti-slavery ideology also fit into the growing racism expressed towards Africa and Africans.  British experience with African slavery and the slave trade served as “proof” for British imperialists of their immoral nature and racial inferiority.  It also, ironically, wetted their appetites for Africa colonization.  Moreover, the issues arising in the West Indies, especially in West Indian sugar colonies, only further ingrained this racist attitude.  As freedmen appeared to the British as unreliable workers, racism grew while also justifying a number of coercive laws to keep them on the plantation and under control.  The same attitude was applied to Indian indentured labor.  Anti-slavery ideologies were at the heart of keeping ex-slaves working on plantations and ensuring the stability of the British overseas economy and their existence as industrious and Christianized workers.  As Huzzey puts it the best: “The road to hell was paved with anti-slavery intentions” (210).  In my mind, this is a perfect summation of the problem associated with emancipation (similar to Downs anti-liberation approach).  Emancipation and anti-slavery might have been victorious, but it also provided the foundations for racial segregation, gross inequality, and coercive labor practices and laws.

Joel Quirk’s The Anti-Slavery Project is the second work that really provides an exploration of anti-slavery in the postemancipation period, although his work also starts with anti-slavery in the eighteenth century.  His main goal is to present an analytical tool “to help illuminate a variety of connections and associations between historical practices and contemporary problems” (6).  In this work, Quirk provides important definitions for “legal abolition” and “effective emancipation.”  This is critical for my dissertation, especially as my work examines slavery and abolition in both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds.

  • Legal Abolition: “typically involved an official change in status, with slaves receiving no compensation and little or no support” (7)
  • Effective Emancipation: “does not represent a static, singular standard, but instead constitutes a set of evolving political aspirations and ethic expectations… ‘a politically contingent idea around which people…discuss what to do next in politics.” (6)
    •  “Effective emancipation now includes issues such as prevention, restitution, rehabilitation, further institutional reform, and larger concerns about social justice (6)

Quirk also discusses the comparative issues attached to “strict equivalence” versus “sufficient similarity,” especially when talking about the different forms of slavery across time and space.  Strict equivalence requires that slavery be compared or related in “only cases of close correspondence” (9).  This is similar to David Northup’s argument that indentured servitude was not equivalent to chattel slavery.  Sufficient similarity, however, compares or relates various forms of bondage with slavery “on the basis of familial resemblance” (9).  This approach is aligned with Hugh Tinker’s argument that indentured servitude did resemble, if not mimic, slavery.  I find myself more aligned with the “sufficient similarity” camp, mainly because I argue this approach opens doors for comparative studies.  I think that historians have traditionally used Atlantic slavery as a yardstick to evaluate other forms of forced labor.  By doing this, they either debate over what should and should not be considered “slavery,” or completely ignore other forms of forced labor prevalent at the same time.  If we step back and look at the history of slavery in the broadest sense, we can start to see how Islamic slavery in Indian Ocean, for example, influenced and was influenced by African chattel slavery in the Americas.  Alternatively, how indentured servitude filled the void left by slave labor in the West Indies and American South.  These events were connected, and Quirk provides us with the analytical tools to follow these developments from the eighteenth century to the present.  He shows us how we can start to comprehend the whole story, and the contexts for which slavery was abolished and replaced new forms of inhuman bondage.


Transatlantic Influences

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

Timothy Roberts, Distant Revolutions: 1848 and the Challenge of American Exceptionalism (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009)

Andre Fleche, The Revolutions of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014)

Brian Schoen, The Fragile Fabric of Union: Cotton, Federal Politics, and the Global Origins of the Civil War (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2009)

Sven Beckert, “Emancipation and Empire: Reconstructing the Worldwide Web of Cotton Production in the Age of the American Civil War.” American Historical Review. 109 (December, 2004):1405-1438.

Matthew Pratt Guterl, American Mediterranean: Southern Slaveholders in the Age of Emancipation (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2008)

Edward Rugemer, The Problem of Emancipation: The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press, 2008)

This blog focuses on historians who have written about American slavery and the Civil War in a global context.  Over the last several years, historians have explored the transnational political, economic, and social dialogues, which coursed throughout the Atlantic World during the nineteenth century.

Timothy Roberts’ Distant Revolutions provides an impressive look into how Americans interpreted and reacted to the European Revolutions of 1848.  This work holds weight for my own dissertation, which explores how Americans reacted to various developments (war, abolition, political change) in both Latin America and the Indian Ocean.  Roberts delves deeply into newspaper coverage of the Revolutions of 1848 (Hungary, France, northern Italy, Papal States), and shows how Americans initially applauded these efforts.  Many believed that the American Revolution was an example to be followed by these democratic revolutionaries (“American exemplarism”).  Once these revolutions failed, however, they started to argue that America was exceptional (“American exceptionalism”).  Roberts adds, that American exceptionalism was also shorted lived, at least among American abolitionists groups.  The violence in Kansas during the mid-1850s, in fact, proved to many abolitionists that the United States was not free from reactionary “European style-violence” (174).  Roberts’ main idea suggests that the Revolutions of 1848 did not change political, social, or religious ideas in the United States, but instead, these events were used to support various arguments over domestic issues and the future of the United States.

Andre Fleche’s The Revolutions of 1861 also examines the influences of the European Revolutions of 1848, but this time on the American Civil War.  During the Civil War, the Union and the Confederacy constructed their image of the Revolutions of 1848 to fit their own goals.  Unionists suggested their actions against the South paralleled revolutionaries in Austria, France, and the German states.  Slaveholders held extra-economic and extra-political power similar to European feudal lords, and like the European revolutionaries, they were attempting to overthrow nobility and unify under the principles of democracy.  Confederates, on the other hand, seceded from the North under the premise of national self-determination, which was the calling cad for the European Revolutions of 1848.  These Americans were fighting against “red republicanism” (European communism and socialism) of the North, which threatened individual property rights.  These views help support Fleche’s main argument that global events such as the Revolutions of 1848, helped shape the ideological discourse of the American Civil War.

Brian Schoen’s The Fragile Fabric of the Union provides an interesting narrative on the expansion of cotton and slavery in the US South by tracing the development and arguments over the political economy, espoused by southern planters.  He shows how economic realities interacted with ideological beliefs to shape federal and state political decisions and actions, which all built towards the South’s secession from the Union.  To show this, Schoen explores economic policies (i.e. tariffs), which he argues, has often been pushed to the margins when examining the development of American slavery from the early American republic to the Civil War.  He also illustrates how events such as revolutions in Europe, European and American industrialization, the transportation revolution, the rise of free trade, and the replacement of Empire with modern nation-states were influential and influenced by elite white southern planters.  His narrative, in short, “is a tragedy, on in which greed and an integrated world’s insatiable desire for cotton provided the incentive and the means for entrepreneurial planters to continue enslaving millions of souls and eventually to help inaugurate the bloodiest war in U.S. history” (4).

Sven Beckert’s “Emancipation and Empire” approaches cotton in a similar light as Schoen.  Beckert’s article explores “how the U.S. Civil War recast the worldwide web of cotton production, its prevailing forms of labor and, with them, global capitalism itself” (1407).  Although Beckert does not attempt to explore the era of the American Civil War from a global perspective, but instead examines how the American Civil War was one important event in history of global capitalism.  Beckert carefully crafts an argument that shows how “free” cotton replaced American slave cotton during the Civil War.  Unfortunately, the attempt to reproduce  “free” cotton in places such as Egypt, Brazil, and India created major debt and poverty, placing million into debt-bondage.  This was on answer to the pressing question of how the world market could continue to produce cotton without slaves.  In short, these various attempts to produce free cotton were “a gigantic experiment of how a world of cotton without slaves could be shaped” (1420).

Similar to the other historians under review, Matthew Pratt Guterl’s American Mediterranean attempts to examine American slaveholders in an international context.  A casual perusal of his footnotes shows that he continuously criticizes American historians such as Eugene Genovese for comparing the American Slave South exclusively to the American North.  Guterl situates American slaveholders in a transnational context, where he shows how the “master class” was connected to other slaveholders “by ship, by overland travel, by print culture, by a sense of singular space, and by the prospect of future conquest” (1).  Following the Missouri Compromise, southern slaveholders thought about expanding their empire into other parts of Latin America, especially Cuba and Brazil. America saw itself as the most civilized and leaders of the American Mediterranean.  Following the Civil War, however, American slaveholders were lost their leadership roles, and a few even left for other regions such as Cuba, Brazil, and Mexico.  Often we consider American slaveholders to be part of the United States, but Guterl’s work also shows how they were also a part of the larger developing society of slaveholders that stretched across the Caribbean and Latin America.

Edward Rugemer’s The Problem of Emancipation provides another work, which examines the Caribbean roots of the American Civil War.  Rugemer’s landmark study offers insight into understanding how the United States’ boundaries were permeable.  Ideas, information, people, and most importantly abolitionist rhetoric traveled along the same commercial lines connecting the British West Indies to the United States.  For Rugemer, “Britain’s abolition of slavery should be understood as a seminal event in the history of the United States” (6).  The problem of slavery and emancipation in the United States, Rugemer reminds us, was directly linked to West Indian emancipation and postemancipation society.  Rugemer is at his best when he follows how emancipation and slave rebellion in the West Indies influenced the discussion of slavery in the United States.  In short, we must look to the Caribbean to understand the coming of the Civil War.  It was in the Caribbean, especially after the British government declared free blacks legally equal to whites in St. Lucria and Trinidad, where the foundations of the Civil War battle lines were drawn.  This “new geography freedom” in the West Indies, Rugemer suggest, established the foundations for the American Civil War, because the British Caribbean and the United States shared a history, one wrapped up in discussions over the future of slavery and emancipation.

Each historian reviewed in this post has stressed the importance of understanding the transnational or Atlantic contexts from which American slavery, abolition, and the Civil War developed. These historians have transnationalized events such as the Civil War, which influenced by a number of different factors: slave rebellions; British abolition; the transforming global cotton market; European revolutions; and so on.  Although I hate placing value judgments on things, I have to believe that some “events” were more important to the development of American slavery than others. Do we give the same weight to American slaveholders’ desire to expand their Empire of Slavery into Latin America as to their reactions to the failures of the European Revolutions of 1848?  Did British emancipation really set the “battle lines” for the American Civil as Rugemer suggests, or was it the debates over economic policies and tariffs in the 1820s as Schoen argues?

Davis, Drescher, and Blackburn: Comps

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006)

Seymour Drescher, Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009)

Robin Blackburn, The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation, and Human Rights (New York: Verso Press, 2011)

Hello everyone!  I have returned to my blog once again, this time to write down a few thoughts about some of the books I am reading for my comprehensive exams.  In this post, I am exploring three historians that have and will continue to play an important role in my understanding of slavery and abolition in the New World.

Transnational Framework:

In recent decades, historians have made an effort to write the history of slavery and abolition in either a transnational or global framework.  These transnational or global histories, especially those focusing on the Atlantic World, have continued reaffirm national boundaries and focus on the English-speaking regions of the Atlantic.  As Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra laments in Puritan Conquistadors, historians of the United States and British Empire, despite “their greater global awareness,” continue to develop Atlantic histories that remain “very much British” (218).

Thomas Bender has espoused a similar criticism in his edited volume Rethinking American History in A Global Age.  He shows how the nation often remains central in histories dealing with “transnational” or “international” topics.  Bender encourages historians to try and “imagine a world community consisting of individuals, groups, their ideas, activities, and products interacting with one another in myriad ways” (51).  He admits that nation-states have their own histories, and even suggests we think about two worlds: The first consisting of sovereign states and the other a “putative global community, a product of forces of globalization” (53).  Bender is not calling for the end of national histories, but an understanding of the nation as a social unit that interacts with a number of other worlds, which are both larger and smaller than the “nation.”

I should mention that several scholars have attempted move away from this Anglo-centric approach (which I will examine in later posts), but the criticisms presented by Cañizares-Esguerra and Bender highlight important ideas to think about when examining the master narrative of New World slavery and abolition (if there is such a thing).

David Brion Davis:

Davis provides an important starting point for examining the transnational history of slavery and abolition in the Atlantic World.  In The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture, he posed the question: why did people in the late eighteenth century suddenly attack slavery as an immoral institution after more than two centuries of justifying its existence in religion and law?

Davis has provided many answers to this question.  In The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture, he presents an overview of the history of slavery, starting from biblical times.  IN this work he established the intellectual and cultural developments (Quakerism; ethic of benevolence; evangelicalism/instantaneous conversion; secular Enlightenment; etc.) that converged during a period of Atlantic Revolutions, which was centered on democracy and equality.  This developed the foundations for the Anglo-American Anti-Slavery Movements.

In The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, Davis establishes his main thesis that runs throughout most of his other works, especially in The Anti-Slavery Debate and Inhuman Bondage.

Capitalism was linked to anti-slavery, but not in terms of financial interest (Eric William’s Capitalism and Slavery), but instead, in the form of changing social relations of labor.  Quakers were deeply involved in new capitalist ventures: banking, shipping, mining, insurance, and industry.  Attacking slavery did not hurt them financially, but instead fortified their new bourgeois social order.  “The desire to dignify and honor labor—a need and desire that made the British public in the early industrial era far more receptive to antislavery appeals,” Davis writes (Inhuman Bondage, 248).  By attacking slavery, Quaker elites were able not only to legitimize wage labor, the cornerstone of their own personal wealth, and create of wellspring of British working-class support for their anti-slavery enterprise.  In a rather brash way, anti-slavery focused on the visceral coercion of slave labor, while veiling the coercion of industrial wage labor.

Although the rise of anti-slavery depended on a fundamental change in Western moral perception, which grew with the rise of capitalism and wage labor, Davis argues that in the context of the United States, it was free blacks that “provided the key to slave emancipation” (Age of Emancipation, xiv).  In the conclusion of Davis’ trilogy of works, he examines how the role of free blacks in the movement to abolish slavery in the American South.  By presenting themselves as “industrial enterprising, thrifty, and intelligent,” free blacks demonstrated they ability or fitness for freedom.  Free blacks played an important role in sustaining American anti-slavery agitation, overcoming colonization, starting the radical immediatist movement.  Unlike his previous work, Davis focuses heavily on black agency in the movement to abolish slavery in the United States.

Davis’ entire catalogue of works focuses heavily on the Anglo-Atlantic, and although he mentions France, Central, and South America, he does little to develop how these regions helped develop a movement against slavery, which swept throughout the New World during the nineteenth century.

Seymour Drescher:

Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery: Drescher is widely known for challenging Eric William’s decline thesis.  Williams privileged “economic forces” over “political and moral” ideas as the main motivation behind British abolitionism.  William used data from Lowell Joseph Ragatz’s The Fall of the Planter Class in the British Caribbean 1763-1783.

Drescher’s Econocide (1977): This work opened up an entire new dialogue over the economics of slavery in the Atlantic.  “Econocide” defined by Drescher is “the radical termination of a profitable trade by a newly empowered political movement that finally sentenced the British transoceanic slave trade to death” (p. xxvii).  Although Econocide has, as David Brion Davis commented in the forward to the 2010 edition, “totally destroyed the belief that the British slave system had declined in value before Parliament outlawed the slave trade” (p. xv), Drescher also establishes his arguments that political intervention and the power of public opinion were critical for the abolition of slavery.

In 1986, Drescher published Capitalism and Antislavery, which continues his examination of political anti-slavery.  For Drescher, political intervention was necessary for the abolition of slavery.  For him, “the key to the timing of slavery’s ultimate demise in the Western economy lies not in its economic functions but in its social peculiarity” (5).  Drescher sets up a dualism between the metropole and colony.  In the metropole, slavery did not exist and was not challenged until the working class of England took up the cause.  Drescher flips Davis’ argument by suggesting that anti-slavery grew from workers’ resistance to the capitalism, not the bourgeois elites attempting to justify its new social order (abolition as “social control”).  Slavery was a violation of workers’ moral economy, and grew in popularity during the early stages of industrialization, but later fell off with the hardening of class lines.

In Abolition, Drescher expands his exploration of abolitionism in his work on the rise and fall of slavery in the New World.  He expands his assessment of British Atlantic slavery by showing how every abolitionist victory in the New World came at a time when the respective institution of slavery was lucrative, expanding, and powerful.  He presents British abolitionism as the leader in the movement against slavery.  Although unlike Chris Brown’s Moral Capital, he argues that the American Revolution was not the reason for Britain’s movement against slavery.  Throughout this work, Drescher stresses the importance of mass mobilization and how pockets of freedom pressured various regions to relinquish slavery and adopt “free labor” practices.  He downplays slave resistance, while highlighting the importance of political intervention and public opinion.

James Oakes, Freedom National

This idea is similar to James Oakes’ approach in his recent work Freedom National.  Instead of the British Empire, however, Oakes explores the development of American “antislavery policy from its prewar origins to the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment” (xxii).  He examines how anti-slavery politicians in the United States made freedom national.  “Antislavery constitutionalism,” in short, was the “platform on which Abraham Lincoln ran for president, and on which he won” (48).

Robin Blackburn:

Like Davis and Drescher, Blackburn also has written a number of studies on the history of slavery and abolition in the New World.  For this post, I will focus on his recent monograph, The American Crucible.  Blackburn’s tour de force focuses heavily on a number issues, but one of his larger themes is that emancipation came from a nexus of anti-slavery developments which included: slave resistance (Haitian Revolution); ideological currents (religious, humanitarian, economic); political crises (French Revolutions, Spanish American Wars of Independence, American Civil War); and state-building (abolition gave the state moral legitimacy and power over local authorities).

Blackburn, in short, suggests that slavery and abolition in the New World “were linked to the overall evolution of society, culture and economy in and beyond the Atlantic World” (3).  He also spends much more time with Iberian World compared to the Drescher and Davis’ works.  Blackburn also pushes historians to acknowledge the importance of the Haitian Revolution and its influences on the development of the Atlantic political culture and human rights consciousness.

All three historians provide interesting approaches to the history of slavery and abolition in the New World.  Each scholar offers an important perspective to consider, and as I move forward with my comprehensive exams and dissertation, these works provide the foundations for my research into the global history of slavery and abolition.

Pro-Slavery Views of Brazil

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

De Bow’s Review, “The Empire of Brazil,” January 1858

The Empire of Brazil Debow 1858

“Our present article will be confined to an examination of a new work on Brazil, issue in very handsome style, form the press of Childs & Peterson, Philadelphia, being the joint labor of two Reverend American gentlemen, Kidder and Fletcher, and have, with pen and pencil, illustrated very fully its characteristics, history, and polity” (1).

Daniel Kidder and James Fletcher, Brazil and the Brazilians

“On the subject of slavery Mr. Fletcher has many interesting particulars, but looks upon everything with the eyes of a citizen of the Northern states, who cannot be considered a proper judge of what is fitting or not fitting to the institution of African slavery.  He believes it to be doomed in Brazil, but out own conclusions are the very reverse, based upon the experience of the rest of the world, and upon its necessity in that country, evidenced in the great prosperity which prevails, and which does not exist in any neighboring States without the benefit of the institution” (7)

“It is to be observed that we are dealing with an anti-slavery authority; and therefore, what is said must sometimes be received cum granis” (9).

“On the subject of the slave and free labor in Brazil, Mr. Fletcher continually reiterates the opinion that since the stoppage of the slave trade [1850] “slavery will die out in Brazil.”  As that effect was not produced in our own country from the same cause [1808], we may hesitate to receive the opinion” (17)

De Bow’s Review, “Slavery in Brazil—The Past and Future,” April 1860

Slavery in Brazil DeBow 1860

“The progress and present condition of this empire, so rich with nature’s choicest gifts, are then to us matters worthy of investigation.  Unfortunately, at the outset, we encounter the difficulty of obtaining information, and it becomes necessary to draw one’s inference from works written either by Northerners or Europeans” (479)

“Messrs. Kidder and Fletcher—for it is impossible to separate the two in their joint authorship—have what may be mildly called, ‘free soil’ tendencies, and all, therefore, they say on the subject of slavery, must be taken cum grano salis [with a grain of salt]” (479)

Abstract: Article also compares Fletcher and Kidder with letters written by a southern correspondent in Rio de Janeiro.  First published in the Charleston Mercury, and author signs his name J.H.R.

H. 1853. ART. 4.–MAURY ON SOUTH AMERICA AND AMAZONIA. The Southern Quarterly Review (1842-1857). 10, http://search.proquest.com/docview/126281331?accountid=7064

In-depth review of Lieutenant Maury’s pamphlet on his travels to Brazil

“We believe, differently, perhaps, from LIeut. Maury and many others, that the anti-slavery feeling is running to seed.  That the hobby, ridden without reaching the grand aim project, is wearing out.  That the northern agitators are now confined to a comparatively few madmen, who are equally fanatic against that Bible, and its author, as against “slave drivers.”  That the bone and sinew of our northern brethren are satisfied that an ingnis fatuus (deceptive, a foolish goal or hope) has been leading them astray from a just and constitutional view of the question”

“That England, the originator of the system of slavery, and, from selfish and sinister motives, the very head of the crusade for its extirpation, is sick of the heartless struggle; and would now, but for very shame, reestablished it in her fertile dominion…the grand politico-religious fervor is nearly evaporated, and slavery, this day stands on a firmer basis than it has ever done!

Footnote: “We heartily disavow all intended offense to Mr. Maury.  He is a Virginian, and, without knowing him personally, is a gentleman for whom we entertain high admiration.  We are dealing with his publication, and we assure him that we are handling this portion with our gloves on.“


De Bow’s Review,  “ART.1—Amalgamation,” July 1860

DeBow Amalgamation

 “Shall the white and black races in America abandon all distinctions of color, and unite, socially and political as one people?  Shall the warp of Anglo-Saxon civilization, now thrown across the great North American continent, be crossed by the woof of Ethiopian barbarism?  Shall the interests of the two races, once so diverse, but now so identical, be fused through a process of socialism into one element, or shall they exist upon the fundamental principle governing the existence of the States themselves?” (2)

“We shall endeavor to show, so far as we are capable of doing in our limited space, that all these question should be answer in the negative” (2)

“Doctors Spix and Martius, the eminent travellers in Brazil, who went out by command of the King of Bavaria, alluding to a swelling of the glands of the neck, very common in certain parts of the empire, and which much resembles the Swiss goiter, say, that the people who suffered from it were, “for the most part, mulattoes,” who had, “independent of this, no very agreeable features” (5)

Johann Baptist von Spix and Frederick P. von Martius, Travels in Brazil

“In the interesting travels of Mr. Wallace, a naturalist, who resided for some time Brazil, we find a description of Bara, a city situated on the Rio Negro, a short distance above its junction with the Amazon: ‘It population,” says Mr. Wallace, “is five or six thousand, of which the greater part are Indian or half-breeds; in fact there is probably not a single person born in the place of pure European blood, so completely have the Portuguese amalgamated with Indians.  ‘Moral,’ continues our traveller, ‘are perhaps at the lowest ebb possible in any civilized community” (10).

“Speak of the possibility of an insurrection in Brazil, Mr. Gardner says:

‘In such an event, the whites will be sure to suffer from the savage rapacity of the mixed races, especially these who have African blood in them; for it is to be remarked that the worst of criminals spring form this class, who inherit, in some degree, the superior intellect of the white, while they retain much of the cunning and ferocity of the black.” (quoted from George Gardner, Travels in the Interior of Brazil, 21). (11)

See pages 15-16 for comments on racial equality in Brazil.

Orangeburg News, June 15, 1867 (reprinted from June 8th, 1867)

“I left Brazil about eight weeks ago and young negro fellows were then worth from five to seven hundred dollars; the people of the United States appear to be more deeply interested concerning the abolition of slavery in Brazil than the Brazilians themselves; if my predictions be true in regard to the abolition of slavery there, I am confident that, that country will be in a much worse condition than ours, as there is even now less prejudice in Brazil between the differences than there is in the Southern states.”

Orangeburg News, “Mixture of Races,” September 19, 1868

This article is building on Agassiz.  “Agassiz, in his lately published work on Brazil, has the following on the mixture of races:”

Louis Agassiz, A Journey in Brazil (1869)

“Let any one who doubts the evil of this mixture of races, and is inclined from a mistaken philanthrogy, to break down the barriers between them, come to Brazil. He cannot deny the deterioration consequent upon an amalgamation of races more widespread here than in any other country in the world, which is rapidly effacing the best qualities of the white man, the negro and the Indian, leaving a mongrel nondescript type, deficient in physical and mental energy.”

“At a time when the new social status of the negro is a subject of vital importance in our statesmanship, we should profit by the experience of a country where, though slavery exists, there is far more liberality towards the free negro than he every enjoyed in the United States.  Let us learn the double lesson, open all the advantages of education to the negro, and give every chance of success which culture gives to the man who know hot to use it; but respect the laws of nature, and let all our dealings with the black man tend to preserve, as far as possible, the distinctions of his national characteristic, and the integrity of our own”


Travel Narratives: The Key to Information for Abolitionists

Saturday, March 8th, 2014



Newspaper: The Genius of Universal Emancipation (1821-1839)

Editor: Benjamin Lundy

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

DOC 1:

OMINOUS. (October 1824). Genius of Universal Emancipation (1821-1839). 10, http://search.proquest.com/docview/124022146?accountid=7064

“[Brazil] must follow the example of Mexico, and the new Republics of South America—In fine, they must abolish the system of slavery…The genius of South American emancipation, the great BOLIVAR, will be near.  His spirit will furnish a live coal for the altar of Brazilian freedom.”

DOC 2:

SOUTH AMERICAN STATES.  (Dec. 1824). Genius of Universal Emancipation (1821-1839). 12, http://search.proquest.com/docview/124022568?accountid=7064

“It is believed, that every district in South America has abolished slavery, with the exception of Brazil and Guianas…it is probable that Brazil, and I may add, the Guianas, will adopt the same course”

DOC 3:

“DR. JAMES SMITH’S SLAVES. (July 1825). Genius of Universal Emancipation (1821-1839). 07, http://search.proquest.com/docview/124022776?accountid=7064

“It is, indeed, asserted that the great BOLIVAR is at the bottom of the undertaking, and that he will march as army in Brazil, for the purposes of putting an end to royalty and slavery.”

DOC 4:

TRIUMPH OF PHILANTHROPY, OR POLITICAL REGENERATION OF AMERICA. 1825. Genius of Universal Emancipation (1821-1839). 05, http://search.proquest.com/docview/124022830?accountid=7064

“The vast, and almost boundless extent of country, comprising of North and South America, is, with the exception of Brazil and a part of the United States, shortly to be the exclusive abode of freemen.  The former contains within her own bosom the germs of liberty, which are fast hastening to maturity.  The Eagle has built her nest among the stately branches of her mountain oaks; the nurslings of freedom and equality are cherished there; and tender brood is watched by the genius of Bolivar.”


Newspaper: The Liberator (1831-1865)

Editor: William Lloyd Garrison

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

DOC 1:

Title: “From Dr. Walsh’s Views of Slavery in Brazil. Overwhelming Horror of Slavery”

Robert Walsh (Irish Writer)

Newspaper: Liberator, published as The Liberator; Date: 02-12-1831; Volume: I; Issue: 7; Page: 26

Abstract: Slave kill themselves.  Infanticide.  Freedom with death.  Incident involving S. Jose (slave killed himself).  Death equals emancipation.  Felice from Organ mountains, mulatto, murdered his father to attain freedom; was emancipated from his will.  Relation to United States, Great Britain, and Brazil

DOC 2:

Title: “Slavery Record. from Walsh’s Notes on Brazil”

Newspaper: Liberator, published as The Liberator; Date: 06-11-1831; Volume: I; Issue: 24; Page: 94;

Abstract: miscegenation; forcing light complexioned slaves to marry those who are blacker; “good fathers being alarmed at the prospect of keeping in a state of slavery, human faces as fair as their own”; Thomas Incle story revived; white European children enslaved in Brazil; selling of white mother and son; Father selling his own white child into slavery;

DOC 3:

Title: “Slavery Record. from Walsh’s Notes on Brazil

Newspaper: Liberator, published as The Liberator; Date: 06-18-1831; Volume: I; Issue: 25; Page: 98;

Abstract: Continuation from last week.  Talking about how slavery abroad has ruined a European man, who sold his family into slavery; “The deterioration of feelings in conspicuous in many ways among the Brazilians”; Brazilians are naturally nice people, but slavery has ruined them and allowed violence to proliferate in their society; walking through the street of Rio and seeing the whip; Violence towards slaves is necessary to break and control them; Nasty violence description from Walsh

DOC 4:

Title: “Slavery Record from Walsh’s Notes on Brazil”

Newspaper: Liberator, published as The Liberator; Date: 06-25-1831; Volume: I; Issue: 26; Page: 102;

Abstract: Talking about European slavery on Barbary Coast; relates it to the idea that white slaves on the Barbary Coast would never kill themselves, but in Brazil this was a daily occurrence; story about Negro women attempting suicide, and failed; talks about her Christianization, Valongo, and cruel treatment after recovery; Walsh in Bota Fogo; Infanticide in Minas Gerais

DOC 5:

Title: “Notices; Brazil; Constantinople”
Newspaper: Liberator, published as The Liberator; Date: 07-09-1831; Volume: I; Issue: 28; Page: 111; Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Abstract:  Work talks about how Walsh traveled all across Europe and to Brazil; possible connection to Barbary slavery; the article also states that Brazil should be a warning to the southern States, about what would come; also mention how free people of color were often looked upon as individuals who could contribute to society, another idea that the United States could adopt

DOC 6:

Title: “Slavery Record. Horrors of the Slave Trade”

Newspaper: Paper: Liberator, published as The Liberator; Date: 07-23-1831; Volume: I; Issue: 30; Page: 118; Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Author: Unknown

Abstract:  Another plug for reading Walsh’s Notices on Brazil.  Talks briefly about a copperplate that shows slave ships and close quarters.

Image of the copperplate

DOC 7:

Headline: Brazil; Article Type: News/Opinion

Paper: Liberator, published as The Liberator; Date: 01-07-1832; Volume: II; Issue: 1; Page: 4; Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Abstract: Article about the power struggle created by the Regency Era.  Interesting not on Haiti and the holiday compared to the situation in Brazil.  Wild beasts and what not.  Very dim view of total race war.  Interesting for historical context, and one of the few non-Walsh articles on Brazil.

Reviews of Walsh, Non-Liberator

DOC 1:

TITLE: ART. VI.–BRAZIL: 1.–Travels in Brazil, in the years 1817–1820, …

PERIODICAL: The American Quarterly Review (1827-1837);

DATE: Sep 1, 1831; 10, 19; American Periodicals pg. 126

DOCUMENT URL: http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.rice.edu/docview/124455766?accountid=7064

DOC 2:

Title: Review 2 — No Title

Publication title: The Museum of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art (1822-1842)

Volume 17  Issue 98

Publication date Aug 1830

Document URL


DOC 3:


Publication title: The Juvenile Miscellany (1826-1834)

Volume: 3 Issue: 1

Publication date: Sep/Oct 1832

Document URL: http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.rice.edu/docview/136926510?accountid=7064

* Walsh provides the basis for this article, see footnote.

DOC 4:

ART. VI.–BRAZIL. (1831, Sep 01). The American Quarterly Review (1827-1837), 10, 126. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/124455766?accountid=7064

Wonderful account on all the travel narratives written on Brazil from the beginning.  The article states that Walsh’s narrative is the best and most informative.

DOC 5:

Article 2 — no title. (1831, Aug 27). The Friend; a Religious and Literary Journal (1827-1906), 4, 368. URL http://search.proquest.com/docview/91313258?accountid=7064

Abstract: Article mostly on the horrors of the slave trade.  Walsh provides wonderful and truthful insight according to this account.  The most IMPORTANT aspect of this section is the end, where it talks about the intellectual capability of free blacks.  Possible angle to help people understand the ability of Africans to be citizens

* Connect to copperplate article

African Americans’ Ideas of Racial Equality/Harmony in Brazil (who also lean heavily on Walsh’s travel narrative)

DOC 1:

Title: Ohio Memorial – Extract No. 5.

Collection: African American Newspapers


Date: April 12, 1838

Location: New York, New York

Abstract: Talks about Dr. R. Walsh and Mr. Kester, an Englishman living in Brazil, who concurs with Dr. R. Walsh.  Mainly, slavery is bad in Brazil and an important system in that society

African Americans, however, see enfranchised Afro-Brazilians (non-slaves) and have hope

DOC 2:

Collection: African American Newspapers


Date: September 5, 1840


Location: New York, New York

Abstract: In Brazil there are more than two millions of slaves. Yet some of the highest offices of state are filled by black men. Some of the most distinguished officers in the Brazilian army are blacks and mulattoes. Colored lawyers and physicians are found in all parts of the country. Besides this, hundreds of the Roman Catholic clergy are black and colored men; these minister to congregations made up indiscriminately of blacks and whites.

DOC 3:

Collection: African American Newspapers


Date: December 4, 1841


Location: New York, New York

Abstract:  Do not fight the slave trade, instead focus on fighting slavery.  Opposition to immediate abolition in Brazil is to support the slave trade.  Wonderful approach and possible answer to one of my questions: why focus on the slave trade, and not the institution?


*Heart of evidence for my argument that the Anglo-American Anti-Slavery Network gathered their information on Brazilian slavery primarily from travel narratives.  This lengthy six-part publication series shows how important these narratives were to their understanding of the institution of Brazilian slavery.

This lengthy six-part (June 1867 to February 1868) review builds from James Redpath’s “Slavery and Slave Life in Brazil,” first published in the National Anti-Slavery Standard (Still need to find this)


“SLAVERY IN BRAZIL” (June, 1867). The Anti-Slavery Reporter, 15 (6), 121-124. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/2998129?accountid=7064

Travel narratives examined:

Henry Koster, Travels in Brazil (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1816):

He was an English coffee planter who traveled to Brazil for health reasons.  Landed in Ceará where he created his own coffee plantation.  His travel narrative provides important details about his experience in Brazil with slavery.  Interesting reviews about a story dealing with a free mulatto who was attacked by one of the “Lords of the Plantation.”  The free mulatto killed his attacker and ran away.  On his deathbed, the white planter who first attacked the mulatto asked his family to not pursue his attacker.  Once the mulatto returned to the plantation, he was treated as if nothing happened. This review stated, “They manage these things differently down South.”

The Anti-Slavery Reporter also draws on an article published in the Boston Daily Advertiser (December 1, 1865, Volume 106; Issue: 131; page 2), which leans heavily on the travel narrative produced by William Dougal Christie, Notes on the Brazilian Questions (1865).

The article in the Boston Daily Advertiser surmised:

“There is no country where the white and black races mingle in which the field is so fair for the negro…In Brazil, there is no social distinction between the black race and the white, resulting in the general prescription of the African.”


SLAVERY IN BRAZIL. (July, 1867). The Anti-slavery reporter 16, (6) (07): 161-164, http://search.proquest.com/docview/2995000?accountid=7064.

Continuation of Koster’s travel narrative

SLAVERY AND SLAVE LIFE IN BRAZIL. (October 1867). The Anti-Slavery Reporter, 15(10), 220-222. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/2979907?accountid=7064

Travel narratives examined:

Daniel P. Kidder, Sketches of Residence and Travels in Brazil (1845)

Maria Graham, Journal of Voyage to Brazil, and Residence There (1824)

George Gardner F.L.S., Travels in the Interior of Brazil (1846)


SLAVERY AND SLAVE-LIFE IN BRAZIL. (1867). The Anti-Slavery Reporter, 15(11), 257-261. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/2993672?accountid=7064



SLAVERY AND SLAVE-LIFE IN BRAZIL. (Jan. 1868). The Anti-slavery reporter 16, (1) (01): 3-4, http://search.proquest.com/docview/2980164?accountid=7064

Travel narratives examined:

Rev. James C. Fletcher and Rev. D.P. Kidder, D.D., Brazil and the Brazilians: Portrayed in Historical and Descriptive Sketches (1866)


SLAVERY AND SLAVE-LIFE IN BRAZIL. (November, 1867). The Anti-slavery reporter 15, (11) (11): 257-261, http://search.proquest.com/docview/2993672?accountid=7064

Several Narratives here (still working through them)


SLAVERY AND SLAVE LIFE IN BRAZIL. (February, 1868). The Anti-slavery reporter 16, (2) (02): 28-30, http://search.proquest.com/docview/3054768?accountid=7064

Travel narratives examined:

W.D. Christie, Notes on the Brazilian Questions (1865)

*Also an editorial note from Professor Ed. Laboulaye, American Professor (also repeated in Journal des Debats, July 1865)

*Possible Additions of General Anti-Slavery Conventions of 1843 (London) and 1867 (Paris)—Travel narratives play an important role.

Anti-Slavery Reporter_Travel Narratives

(Above is the PDF for the entire six-part series.  Any ideas or commentary would be appreciated)


*Section on American slaveholders’ interest in Brazil.  I have identified the major newspaper and periodical, along with the travel narratives they adopted (which present a rosier picture of slavery in Brazil)

*Most information deals with the 1860s and 1870s

Main newspaper: New Orleans Times

Main periodical: DeBow’s Review

Travel Narratives used in both publications:

Lansford Warren Hastings, The Emigrant’s Guide to Brazil (1867) [Hard to find copy of this book online, if anyone can help that would be great!]

Daniel Kidder’s Sketches of Residence and Travel in Brazil (1845)

Auburn University Digital Archive on the Confederados


Somehow I will pull this all together to make sense.  Hopefully…

Farewell Until Next Semester

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

This semester’s readings address a number of themes in field of anti-slavery studies, but one theme that has intrigued me the most is the diverse paths of emancipation.  The destruction of American slavery occurred after decades of conflict between pro-slavery and anti-slavery constituencies and a bloody Civil War (Oakes, Freedom National).  Brazilian emancipation was achieved rather rapidly for a number of reasons from international pressures to the decline in the Brazilian slave population (Conrad, The Destruction of Brazilian Slavery).  In Cuba and Puerto Rico, abolition of slavery arose with debates over the future of the Spanish Empire (Nowara-Schmidt, Empire and Anti-Slavery).  In the British West Indies, emancipation was compensated and came after years of planning by abolitionists and politicians (Drescher, Matthews, and Hall).  In British India, the delegalization of slavery arrived only after the British metropole, government, and East India Company decided to acknowledge that slavery still existed in their Empire (Major, Slavery, Abolitionism, and Empire).  In Northern Nigeria, the British government ended slavery gradually over time, which allowed the institution to remain until World War I (Lovejoy and Hogendorn, The Slow Death of Slavery).  In Haiti and most of Latin America, slavery was abolished with independence, or shortly thereafter.

Such diversity raises the question of what historians can say, if anything, about the nature of emancipation.  Does the diversity of abolition and emancipation make finding a master narrative impossible?  Do local variations prevent us from making large claims about the general nature of anti-slavery and abolition?  The British Empire, for example, took three different paths to emancipation in the West Indies, India, and Africa.  How can we, therefore, write about British abolitionism and emancipation as a unified whole?  Do we need to qualify such distinctions?

The history of emancipation is a diverse and complicated story.  The question remains, however, whether we can say anything general about anti-slavery or emancipation.  There was not one single plan or strategy, but instead a diverse number of different ways it was achieved.  Through political agitation, violent war, compensation, negotiation, and so forth.

I do believe, however, there are a few commonalities, which we can use to talk about emancipation and abolition on a global scale.  The first being the law or legal history.  The abolition of slavery was always associated with changing the law, and more specifically removing the laws that protected slavery.  Second, emancipation always followed by a major social transformation.  The ending of the master slave relationship, by law, destabilized the very social order it helped build.  This is one reason why the British government was concerned about removing slavery in India and Northern Nigeria; they feared it would lead to colonial instability.

Another commonality in all emancipation movements centers on labor systems and materialism.  Just because slaves were freed did not mean that the labor demanded faded away.  After emancipation, Brazilian coffee was still produced, West Indian sugar was still cultivated, and American cotton was still picked.  Therefore, it might be interesting to see how these labor voids were filled.  Moreover, when the system of slavery was abolished, other forms of labor coercion usually arose (sharecropping, parceria, debt peonage, indentured servitude, etc.).  Employers and planters wanted to control their labor, and this usually led to replacing slavery with other kinds of labor systems that provide power to employer but not to the employee.

I also think it is interesting that emancipation was never just one moment, but a process that developed over time.  After this semester’s readings, I have realized that abolition (the legal ending of slavery) was one moment, when the laws protecting slavery were abolished.  Emancipation, however, was a much longer process that usually started before abolition and lasted well after it.  Some might even say we still have yet to achieve it.  It is also important to note, that slaves were never compensated and usually left with little to no property.

When thinking about the global history of emancipation, or the Age of Emancipation, it is helpful to remember that no two countries followed the same path.  I think these differences say a lot about slavery’s ability to adapt and survive, it still exists today.  However, thinking about the history of slavery across time and space, it does raise an interesting question: slavery has existed for thousands of years, but in the late eighteenth century, this system of labor finally came under scrutiny and challenge.  Why then?  What was it about the late eighteenth century that led British abolitionists to challenge slavery and the slave trade?  Why after almost three thousand years, did slavery finally become unacceptable?  Answering this question might also help historians write the global history of emancipation, a period when individuals and groups across the world finally agreed that slavery was an immoral and unacceptable system of labor.  Just some food for thought.

Reviewed Work: Andrea Major, Slavery, Abolitionism and Empire In India, 1772-1843 (London: Liverpool University Press, 2012)

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Over the last decade, scholars have made important inroads into the global and transnational histories of slavery and abolition.  Seymour Drescher’s Abolition (2009), David Brion Davis’ Inhuman Bondage (2008), and Richard Huzzey’s Freedom Burning (2012) are only a few of the several works that have broadened our understanding of anti-slavery as a trans-Atlantic phenomenon.  Until recently, however, historians have done little with the issue of slavery in British India and its connections to the larger debates over slavery, freedom, and emancipation.  Andrea Major’s Slavery, Abolitionism, and Empire in India provides the first work that helps fill in this historiographical gap.

Major explores how “slavery in India was erased within the British public discourses on empire at the very moment when the horrors of the transatlantic (slave) trade were being seared onto the national conscience” (7).  She convincingly proves this statement by showing how EIC officials and British politicians casted slavery as a “scandal of Indian society,” not the British state (314).  British missionary propaganda, moreover, argued that Indian slavery was the child of “‘Hindoo theological doctrines’” (266).  The British EIC, in turn, did not challenge the different slaveries (agricultural, domestic, etc.) in order to maintain colonial order.  And British abolitionists did not challenge this form of labor until after the emancipation of African slaves.

Major makes an important point, which might be somewhat overstated: “slavery in India…(was) absent from both abolitionist and missionary discourses throughout the first decades of the nineteenth century” (9).  Of course this it not completely true, especially considering the wide readership of works such as: James Mill’s The History of British India; George Saintsbury’s East India Slavery (1823); Robert Montgomery Martin’s The History, Antiquities, Topography, and Statistics of Eastern India (1836); or James Pegg’s India’s Cries to British Humanity (1830), only to name a few.  Ironically, Major discusses many of these works, but her main point is not lost: slavery in India was not considered or treated the same as African chattel slavery in the New World, at least until the 1840s.

This work, along with several other monographs read his semester, has clarified a question that has haunted me since the beginning of my graduate studies: why have scholars who study slavery and abolition in the fields of South Asia and the Atlantic World not engaged with each other?

One answer that I have found is that until Richard Huzzey’s Freedom Burning, scholars of British abolitionism have assumed that anti-slavery sentiment died in the Victorian Era (1837-1902), which also happened to be the same period that the issue of Indian slavery was reevaluated and challenged by abolitionists such as Joseph Pease, Thomas Clarkson, Daniel O’Connell, and George Thompson.  Put differently, the lack of attention on British India in the early nineteenth century has led historians of slavery and abolition to overlook the importance of Indian slavery, and its role in the larger discussion about freedom and emancipation.

Major, however, does not miss the opportunity to bridge these two fields.  She intertwines works by Indrani Chatterjee, Gyan Prakash, and Jane Brenman with studies by Atlanticists such as David Brion Davis, Howard Temperley, and Seymour Drescher.  To understand the role of India in the Age of Emancipation, scholars need to start interacting with other fields, especially as we start discussing slavery and anti-slavery in a global context.  How does Indian slavery provided a new lens for understanding emancipation in the British Empire, the United States, Cuba, Brazil, or Puerto Rico, and vice versa?

Methodologically, Major’s work provides a wonderful model for handling the issues of slavery, religion, and freedom in different contexts (i.e. the East and West).  She does a wonderful job of identifying the various forms of Hindu and Islamic slavery and its relevance to conversations taking place over African slavery and the future of labor.  She briefly touch upon issue such as coolie indentured servitude and the problems of identifying slavery in multiple forms.

In relation to my dissertation, Major’s work will fit nicely into my examination of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society and the British India Society between 1840 and 1865.  She provides a wonderful foundation for understanding the role of British India in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but stops with delegalization of Indian slavery in 1843.  She might have brought her coverage up to 1862 with the criminalization of slavery in India, or better yet, discuss how the issue of Indian slavery, labor, and freedom interacted with discussions over slavery in Brazil, Cuba, or the American Civil War.  Thankfully, however, she has left room for future scholars to pick up where she left off.  Andre Major’s Slavery, Abolitionism and Empire in India provides an important glimpse into the colonial and metropolitan debates over slavery in India.  Her work will help scholars rethink the role of the Eastern Empire in debates over labor, freedom, and slavery taking place in the New World.


Review: Chris Schmidt-Nowara, Empire and Antislavery: Spain, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, 1833-1874 (Pittsburg: University of Pittsburg Press, 1999)

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Chris Schmidt-Nowara’s Empire and Antislavery is a short but complex work that sheds new light onto several debates in the field of slavery and abolition.  His work centers on four main arguments.  First, he suggests that historians need to reexamine the “power and complexity” of the nineteenth-century Spanish colonial project to better understand the rise and fall of Antillean slavery (2).  While Schmidt-Nowara concedes that economic and mass mobilization were critical factors for Spanish anti-slavery, it appears that the interests of the Empire, specifically the retention of Cuba and Puerto Rico, were the most important considerations in the struggle over colonial slavery.

Schmidt-Nowara does an impressive job of examining Spanish abolitionism under the backdrop of intra-imperial politics in the second half of the nineteenth century.  Writing against historians who have characterized Spain as a weak colonial power after Spanish American independence in the 1820s, Schmidt-Nowara demonstrates how Cuba and Puerto Rico remained prized colonial possession in the “Second Empire.”  Following the rise and fall of Spain’s “second slavery,” from the 1830s to the restoration of the Monarch in 1874, he reconfigures our understanding of Spanish slavery and abolitionism in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The second major theme in this work centers on the Spanish Abolitionist Society and the “political stage” that allowed for the development of anti-slavery initiatives (3).  Schmidt-Nowara craftily follows the development of pro-slavery and anti-slavery movements in both the metropolitan and colonial centers.  Unlike the Caribbean, where slavery was the heart of the colonial economy, Cuban and Puerto Rican anti-slavery supporters found acceptance with “Liberal Madrid,” and through a number of reform associations in the metropole, the Spanish Abolitionist Society came to be.  Put differently, Madrid offered an “anti-slavery space” where colonial and metropolitan supporters of anti-slavery could unite.  I also found it interesting that Schmidt-Nowara traces the origins of Puerto Rican anti-slavery to the idea that free labor would revive the colony’s failing sugar economy, not because of slavery was relatively marginal on the island.

The third major theme deals with race and how Spanish elites always viewed “political and economic transformations through a racial lens” (3).  And yet, elites in the metropole and both colonies continued to disagree about the implications and meanings of race and the timing of emancipation.  Although elites always lived in constant fear of race war (i.e. a second Haitian Revolution), by the 1860s, abolitionists came to “overlook race a qualification for liberty and nationality” (175).  Although Puerto Rican, Spanish, and Cuban elites saw “whiteness” as the foundation of the Nation, abolitionists came to overlook whiteness as perquisite for freedom and citizenship, especially after 1868.

The final major theme of Schmidt-Norawa’s book focuses on the interplay between the colony and metropole as an important part of the history of Atlantic anti-slavery movements, especially in the Spanish Empire.  Traditional historians have argued that liberal minded Europeans attacked colonial slaveholders.  However, Schmidt-Nowara shows that the development of anti-slavery, at least in the Spanish context, was a two-way street.  In fact, several Puerto Rican elites were part of the founding generation of the Spanish Abolitionist Society in Madrid.

The largest criticism that could be levied against Schmidt-Nowara’s work is that he ignores the lives and experiences of slaves in Cuba and Puerto Rico.  This is a heavy top-down examination of Spanish abolitionism, focused on the actions of the metropolitan and colonial elites such as José Antonio Saco, José Juan Acosta, and Rafael María de Labra.  Nevertheless, this work challenges us to examine how Spanish anti-slavery developed in light of other imperial issues, whether it was with Cuban slaveholders’ annexation movement, the debates over free trade, or the growing fear of race war.  Spanish anti-slavery did not form inside a bubble, and if we are to truly understand the abolition of Antillean slavery, we need to understand its place in the context of other issues overlabor, colonial/metropolitan economics, and intra-imperial politics.

Problems of Emancipation

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

This week’s readings address the tensions arising between whites and non-whites over the issue of freedom, citizenship, and labor relations during the Age of Emancipation.

Before I examine each monograph individually, I want to briefly mention a few common themes I have found in these works.  First, social revolution often followed the abolition of slavery.  Freeing thousands or millions of slaves directly challenged a society’s social, economic, and political dynamics.  In turn, this led to tensions between freedpeople who demanded equality and autonomy and planters who attempted to maintain their economic livelihoods and social hegemony.

Second, these societal transformations were different in every region (to a point), but at the heart of these changes was the struggle over what freedom meant.  Racial egalitarianism? Citizenship? Occupational freedom? Free labor?  In almost every case study in this set of readings, the state, federal and colonial governments often failed to recognize ex-slaves as full and equal citizens.  Instead, they searched for ways to keep their ex-slaves/laborers on plantations, or importing new laborers than can exploit (indentured laborers).

Third, the problems associated with emancipation were linked to the Age of Revolution’s notions of “rights of man,” freedom, and capitalism.  Put differently, governments attempted to balance capitalist’s demands for labor while maintaining the liberty and freedoms of workers (usually, the demands for plantation labor took precedence).  Finally, the question facing post-emancipation societies was: what shall we do with the ex-slave, and how can we secure industrious labor?  In a way this question is self-evident, otherwise there would be no need for slavery.  Capitalist planters need a cheap supply of workers.  With the criminalization of slaveholding, they ultimately turned to new coercive labor reforms, pushed blacks out of the body politic (if they were able to enter in the first place), solidify white supremacy, and created laws that offered them control over their workers.

In Beyond Slavery, Thomas Holt, Rebecca Scott, and Frederick Cooper provide three excellent essays that examine the labor systems that replaced slavery following emancipation.  Holt’s article “The Essence of Contract” examines the “aspirations Jamaicans had” in relation to the expectations of “their imperial emancipators” (9).  He illustrates a fundamental change in British emancipation policy between the end of apprenticeship (1838) and the Jamaican Morant Bay Rebellion (1865).  He shows that the Morant Bay Rebellion was a clear sign for MPs of the “failure of British emancipation policy and as evidence of the former slaves incapacity for responsible citizenship” (56).  In short, white elite planters marginalized black from the body politic because they feared ex-slaves would pursue political and economic goals counterproductive to their needs.  By the 1840s, planters believed that freedpeople were lazy, undisciplined, and unprepared for civic life, however.  Holt demonstrates that a white-black public sphere was never possible anyways.  “No such public sphere existed in Jamaica,” Holt writes; “because slavery had produced a society divided into the powerful and the unprotected, the one dominating the public sphere, the other outside of it” (43).  The Morant Bay Rebellion confirmed this belief.

Rebecca Scott’s “Fault Lines, Color Lines, and Party Lines” follows a different path in assessing post-emancipation society.  Scott examines labor and cross-ethnic alliances between workers on sugar plantations in Cuba and Louisiana.  Engaging with Holt, she demonstrates how planters in both regions attempted reaffirm white supremacy, which in turn, removed non-whites from the body politic.  The consequences of such actions, however, produced different but similar results in Louisiana and Cuba.

In Louisiana, planters successfully secured a white-black dichotomy, which marginalized Africans and solidified whites atop the hierarchy (creating a Herrenvolk Democracy).  In Cuba, this was not the case.  Chinese, Spanish, and African laborers worked alongside one another.  They fostered a cross-racial alliance that strengthened after the Cuban War of Independence (1895-98) and led to the creation of a constitution (1901), which did not segregate based on race (for the right to vote).  This momentary political egalitarianism, however, did not last as the Cuban military killed thousands of non-white members of the Partido Independiente de Color.  As we saw in Jamaica, the possibility of a multiracial body politic created tensions between white and non-whites, which ultimately led to segregation between both groups.

Frederick Cooper’s chapter provides the largest temporal scope in this collection of essays.   Focusing on French Africa, he shows how the colonial labor policy attempted to mold Africans into “universal free workers” (108).  Like in Jamaica, the creation of quasi-independent workers threatened the economic production of the region (because white believed that Africans would work for themselves, not for the colony).  In turn, the colonial French government rejected chattel slavery, but allowed other forms of coerced labor (debt bondage for instance) to emerge in order to keep Africans in the fields.  Although a little later than Jamaica (1840s), the French colonial government, by the turn of the century, abandoned the idea that Africans were capable of becoming industrious laborers.  By the early twentieth-century, criticisms of coercive labor systems arose, especially after the ILO’s Force Labor Convention in 1939.  By mid-century, there were several attempts by French officials in the metropole to create a universal citizen of the Empire.  When Houphouet-Boigny was elected in Paris, for instance, he created a bill that ended forced labor.  Unfortunately, this bill was not fully implemented into the colony, which in turn, provided the foundation for the anti-colonialism movement.

In The Slow Death for Slavery, Paul Lovejoy and Jan Hogendorn present an important glimpse into British slavery and abolitionism in Nigeria during the twentieth century, a topic that Cooper casually forgets to mention in his essay on Africa (slavery still existed in Africa!).  Starting with the Royal Niger Company and British military conquest of Nigeria in 1897, both historians make a strong case for the Empire’s prominent role in fighting slavery in the modern period.  Focusing specifically on the Sokoto Caliphate in Northern Nigeria, Lovejoy and Hogendorn illuminate that slavery remained vibrant well into the twentieth century.  In fact, Caliphate held more than two million slaves when Britain colonized this region, and continued until World War II.

Instead of immediate and compensated abolition, the British colonial policy approach was to implement abolition gradually over time.   Lovejoy and Hogendorn primarily focus on the actions of Sir Frederick Lugard, the British governor of Nigeria.  In effect, the British policy towards slaves in Nigeria during this period (1897 to 1836) was to prevent massive desertion from plantation, which would threaten the colonial economy (no laborers to work on plantations) that was primarily based on production of cotton and groundnuts.  The British implemented policies that discouraged slaves from leaving, required them to pay for their own freedom, and obligated them to live relatively close to their master’s plantations.

However, the British colonial government, especially Lugard, did enact several laws that would bring about the slow death of slavery (hence the title).  Ordinance No.1 of 1901, for example, “confirmed that all persons born in or brought into the Mandated Territories were free” (273).  After initially take control of Northern Nigeria, Lugard criminalized slave raiding, kidnapping, and attempted to limit the African slave trade (which created all kinds of social and political problems).  His attitude towards the institution of slavery (under Islam), however, was a bit different.  Taking a page from the British East India Company, he did not immediately outlaw slavery because he believed it “provide political stability and social order” (32).  Even when slaves were manumitted, British colonial officials attempted to keep the Africans economically tied to the plantation, an action premised on the problems created from West Indian emancipation and apprenticeship.

Slavery eventually ended with the outbreak of World War II, mainly after the British colonial administration started enacting more stern laws against slave-ownership (plus several investigations into Nigerian slavery by the League of Nations helped speed the process along).  Although emancipation was not reached in Nigeria until the 1930s, the questions over labor, freedom, and the roles of freedpeople in a post-emancipation Nigeria guided Britain’s policy and ultimate acceptance of gradual abolition.   Slavery provided workers, stability, and economic security to this new colonial territory.  After experiencing and witnessing the struggles between whites and non-whites in post-emancipation societies throughout the Atlantic, it should come as no surprise that Britain elected to abolish this Nigerian institution slowly over time.

Rosemarijn Hoefte’s In Place of Slavery provides the third and final study.  Her work focuses on British indentured servants in Suriname.  Following abolition in Suriname (1862), Dutch planters struggled to hire workers from China, the British West Indies, and Africa.  Therefore, they explored options for large-scale immigration of workers, and British India “seemed the ideal place from which to recruit laborers” (30).   The Dutch signed an “imperial deal,” which later became known as the “Dutch-British Agreement” that brought indentured workers from India to Suriname (31).  Like the British Emigration Act of 1842, the Dutch implemented laws to protect these migrant workers.  Both the Dutch planters and British recruiters, however, often violated such legal protections, according to Hoefte.

Hoefte does a wonderful job of showing that both British Indian and Javanese workers were exploited in many different ways.  They found themselves marginalized from the body politic and at the bottom of the plantation hierarchy.  She also demonstrates that these laborers resisted in several ways, from running away to violent uprisings.  Such resistance, in turn, demonstrated these immigrants’ discontent with their social status.  Ironically, however, British and Dutch officials argued that such labor was not slavery.  Indentured servitude, by nature, was a contract between two parties.  The indentured servants entered into the contract and were provided free passage and money.  They repaid this debt through their service.  They were also afforded the opportunity to file complaints with the British consul in Suriname, which they did often (especially women).  To colonial officials and planters, this separated indentured servants from slaves.

Beyond Slavery, The Slow Death for Slavery, and In Place of Slavery provide three important works for understanding the tensions created between workers and employers in post-emancipation society.  After reading Hoefte, it is apparent that slavery and other forms of coercive labor were different in kind.  However, this does not mean that one is better than the other.  As Scott, Holt, and Frederickson demonstrate—the major issue for ex-slaves was securing their full equality and entrance into public and civic life.

In the United States, blacks did vote and hold office, but Herrenvolk Democracy and segregation laws quickly removed them from the body politic.  In the British and French Empires, planters and colonial officials often searched for new ways to control their laborers and tie them to the plantation, through either apprenticeship, indentured servitude, or forced migration (or all three).  In Cuba, interracial cooperation was also achieved momentarily, but ultimately thwarted by the military.  In Nigeria, British colonial officials decided that it was better to let slavery die a slow and natural death in order to avoid the problems found in other post-emancipation societies.

After reading all three studies, I think it might be helpful to think about abolition as the criminalization of slaveholding (removing its legal protections) and emancipation as an attempt to not just free slaves but also provide them with equality and autonomy (economic and political).  If we think about abolition and emancipation in these terms, then we can start to examine what abolitionists really set out to change: did they want racial egalitarianism and black autonomy or just the illegalization of slaveholding?

I also think that all of these works support James Oakes claim in Freedom National when he asserts that freedom was enough for slaves, because without securing their legal freedom first, dialogues over their political, social, and economic rights could not have occurred.  Ironically, this idea also allowed planters and employers to institute new forms of coercive labor such as indentured servitude, because to them it was not slavery, but a contract premise on the ambiguous idea of free labor ideology.

The Environment of Emancipation

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Reviewed Works:

Robert Edgar Conrad, The Destruction of Brazilian Slavery 1850-1888 (Malabar: Kreiger Publishing Company, 2nd Ed., 1993), pp. 254, $36.58

James Oakes, Freedom National, The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company), pp. 595, $21.19

The Environment of Emancipation

 In recent decades, historians of slavery and abolition have wrestled with the question of slave agency.  Did slaves have agency?  If so, how much?  The question of “agency” becomes even more poignant when addressing the role(s) of the enslaved in the emancipation process.  Who freed the slaves?  Did they free themselves?  Was it the government?  Abolitionists?  The Federal Military? Specific Individuals (Abraham Lincoln or Dom Pedro)?  A mixture of all of them?  Walter Johnson provides a refreshing approach to the idea of agency, specifically slave agency.  “One should ask,” Johnson writes, “what sorts of actions were available to enslaved people and in what sorts of circumstances, what sorts of notions of commonality undergirded their solidarity?” (Johnson, “Agency” in The Problem of Freedom in the Age of Emancipation, 28).  He suggests that scholars should explore the transubstantiation of “agency” into its material aspect.  In other words, how did material conditions (landscape, labor, reproduction, economics, etc.) limit or extend one’s agency?

Johnson’s “slave agency” argument can also be applied to other groups, especially those in opposition to slavery.  Put differently, how did the environment shape anti-slavery activities by politicians, lawyers, governments, and abolitionists?  James Oakes’ Freedom National and Robert Conrad’s The Destruction of Brazilian Slavery are two works that engage in a similar framework.  Both historians focus on how the mid-nineteenth-century political and economic environments shaped Brazilian and American anti-slavery efforts, respectively.

Oakes’ study traces the destruction of slavery in the American South, from the antebellum period to the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.  While giving attention to multiple groups: white and black abolitionists, slaves, Confederate and Union soldiers, Southern Democrats, and abolitionists—his main focus is on the Republican Party and Abraham Lincoln.  “In telling the story of how slavery was destroyed, I pay good deal of attention to the broad antislavery movement, in particular the Republican Party that set out to abolish the institution,” Oakes writes (xv).

Oakes corrects the mischaracterization of Lincoln as a “reluctant emancipator” and the idea that the Republican Party “did not have any serious antislavery intention” (xv). From its inception, the Republicans agreed that slavery must come to an end.  “For months before the 1860 Election,” Oakes argues, “Republicans across the North were giddily predicting the destruction of slavery in the South” (51).  Starting in the 1840s, supporters of anti-slavery saw two routes to emancipation.  One path was created by anti-slavery constitutionalists (a clear nod to William M. Wiecek’s work).  Starting with the Liberty and Free Soil Parities, anti-slavery politicians and lawyers such Salmon P. Chased argued for containment, “the federal government could not abolish slavery in that states, but it could restrict slavery to states where it already existed, and surround those states, and squeeze slavery to death” (256).  Freedom was national, and slavery was sectional (hence the title).

The other possibility was military emancipation.  As John Quincy Adams proclaimed, if the federal government fought in the slaveholding South, they could emancipate slaves “out of military necessity” (39).  Both plans provided opportunities to achieve emancipation, and both paths were often explored simultaneously.  The antebellum political and social environment, however, limited the reach of such actions.  But the environment changed with the Civil War, it “enabled Republicans to go further, to impose new pressures” which “would have been inconceivable in peacetime” (300).

Oakes does an impressive job of parsing out the differences between emancipation and abolition, in the American political context.  With the First and Second Confiscation Acts, emancipation became central to the northern politicians’ war aims.  Emancipation freed slaves from their rebel masters, but these acts did not outlaw the institution.  Following the victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, Republicans started thinking about how to completely remove this labor system following the North’s looming victory.  In comes the Thirteenth Amendment, which Republicans believed was “the best way to destroy slavery completely” (431).

Scholars might criticize Oakes for his argument about the universal acceptance of anti-slavery policies by the Republican Party.  Was abolition an inevitable conclusion once the Republicans assumed power?  If so, why did Lincoln enact the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, not in April 1861?  The answer was circumstances.  Emancipation was a process, not a single moment.  American society changed throughout this period.  From fugitive slaves invading Union camps to the creation of West Virginia, abolitionists were forced to adapt their strategies and push as far as their limits allowed.  This included challenging or not challenging the constitutional validity of slavery.

American supporters of anti-slavery were not the only ones who were forced to continuously adapt, this also happened in Brazil.  Like Oakes, Robert Conrad’s The Destruction of Brazilian Slavery also shows how their environment influenced the agency of Brazilian anti-slavery crusaders.   Conrad’s work offers two major historiographical interventions.  First, he shows that Paulista coffee planters were not supporters of anti-slavery until 1866.  This is critical.  In São Paulo, large coffee planters were one of the first groups to experiment with European colonos (immigrant contract laborers) in the 1850s.  Previous historians have linked this experimentation with their acceptance of anti-slavery, which Conrad shows was not the case (see Robert Toplin’s The Abolition of Slavery in Brazil).

Second and most important, the abolition of Brazilian slavery did not naturally develop from gradual emancipation legislation such as the Rio Branco Law of 1871 and the Saraiva-Cotegipel Law of 1885.  The Rio Branco law did not set a date for emancipation, and allowed for increased the exploitation of children under the age of eight.  The 1885 Saraiva-Cotegipel Act also allowed slaveholders to further exploit elderly enslaved Africans for another three years (as compensation to landowners).  Both laws actually did little to stem the tide of slavery in Brazil, and acted more as a smokescreen. Moreover, these laws were poorly enforced and often ignored in many circumstances.

The main thrust of Conrad’s monograph, therefore, is to explain how and why abolitionism arose in the 1880s.  Like Oakes, the rise of anti-slavery in Brazil was directly linked to materialism (not ideology).  Brazilian slavery end for several reasons: “the international repudiation of slavery which ended the African trade and eliminated the main source of plantation workers; the steady decline of the slave population after 1850 mainly through an excess of deaths over births; the internal slave trade which concentrated slaves and defenders of slavery into the coffee provinces; the abolition of slavery in the United States which helped to inspire policy of gradual emancipation through free birth; a slow but steady erosion of pro-slavery opinion, particularly in cities and in poorer provinces; and finally, the resistance of the slave themselves which reduced the efficiency of the labor system, frightened slaveholders, and culminated in the mass runaway movement of 1887 and 1888” (207).  In other words, a lot happened in a short amount of time, which in turn, pressured the Brazilian government to adopt anti-slavery policies.

Like Oakes, Conrad is very aware of the limitations facing anti-slavery sentiment.   By 1866, for example, the new political cabinet of Zacarais de Gois was actually prepared to abolish slavery in Brazil, but only when “circumstances permitted the government would consider abolition as an object of the greatest importance” (52).  The war with Paraguay prevented this anti-slavery cabinet from taking action until after this military dispute was settled.  It should also be mentioned that prior to 1850, Brazilian society was not conducive for an anti-slavery movement.  Brazil did not have a middle-class, and slave labor dominated the labor markets.  In turn, such an environment prevented an anti-slavery movement from developing.

Historians’ emphasis on agency has provided a strong break in the traditional top-down historiographical approach.  As Walter Johnson notes, however, this emphasis on “agency” has often overshadowed materialistic implications.  After reading both works, I am starting to wrestle with the questions of material versus intellectual motivations and limitations of anti-slavery movements.  Maybe the real question is not who freed the slaves or how much agency they had, but what environmental factors were most conducive for shifting political and public opinions into accepting abolitionism.  This also raises the question of abolitionists’ adaptability (as mentioned earlier), could the effectiveness of anti-slavery movements be measured by their ability to adapt to specific circumstances at specific times?  In other words, is the key for the success of anti-slavery movements versatility?  Does abolition require a specific set of circumstance to succeed, and if so what are those core circumstances?  I understand that such an approach might be too narrow, but at the same time, materialistic factors played a significant role in when and how various anti-slavery crusades developed.  Jim Oakes was correct when he argued that freedom was enough for slaves during this period, because it created an environment that allowed politicians and the public to explore how far that freedom would reach.