New York Review of Books Volume 36, Number 5 · March 30,
The Ends of Slavery
By David Brion Davis
Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam
by John Gabriel Stedman. transcribed for the first time from the original 1790 manuscript, edited by Richard Price, by Sally Price
Johns Hopkins University Press, 708 pp., $95.00
The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 17761848
by Robin Blackburn
Verso, 560 pp., $49.50
The Arrogance of Race: Historical Perspectives on Slavery, Racism, and Social
by George M. Fredrickson
Wesleyan University Press, 310 pp., $25.95
Robin Blackburn's monumental book The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery reproduces on the front of its dust jacket the extreme right-side portion of John Trumbull's patriotic painting The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill. A young American lieutenant, "wounded in the sword hand, and in the breast," as Trumbull described the scene, turns in hesitation as he flees the American redoubt on Breed's Hill, wondering if he should sacrifice his life in a vain attempt to save General Joseph Warren. Close by his side stands "a faithful negro," actually a black combatant named Peter Salem, who holds in readiness a cocked flintlock musket. So at the outbreak of the American Revolution, a black rifleman stands shoulder to shoulder with a white American patriot holding a sword in his left hand and wearing a plumed hat.
General Thomas Gage's Redcoats were not the only European troops shipped out to quell a colonial revolt. During the week in June 1775 when the Americans inflicted over one thousand casualties on the British at Bunker Hill, Captain John Gabriel Stedman reported that a detachment of Dutch colonial troops in Suriname had, while wading through a deep marsh, been ambushed by the rebels they were pursuing. As we learn from the account Stedman later wrote, now published for the first time in an accurate edition, the news jolted Stedman's professional marines, who had been sent over from Holland more than two years earlier, into a state of high alert.
In Suriname, in contrast to the North American colonies, the rebels in this "First Boni War" (17651777) were all escaped black slaves or the descendants of fugitive slaves. Such people were called maroons thoughout the Caribbean islands and marronnage had been a chronic problem for Europeans from the time of their first settlements in the New World; communities of maroons appeared and often flourished in the wilderness from Río de la Plata to Virginia. Nowhere, however, were maroons more successful in defending their independence than in the Dutch colonies of Guiana, particularly in the colony of Suriname. Today the six tribes descended from these maroons, living primarily in the interior rain forests, make up over 10 percent of Suriname's population.
In 1760 and 1762, after a century of struggle, the two major groups of Surinamese maroonsthe Djuka and Saramakahad won treaties from the Dutch colonists acknowledging their independence and even promising a regular supply of arms and supplies. But in the colony of Berbice, to the west of Suriname, the black slave population rose in a mass revolt in 1763, seizing control of much of the sugar colony until troops sent from Holland, Suriname, and other neighboring colonies finally crushed the rebels' dreams of founding an independent black kingdom.
Although the Djuka and Saramaka of Suriname had pledged themselves to return fugitive slaves (as had Jamaican maroons in 1739), their inland communities were an inducement to slaves to desert. In the late 1760s and early 1770s new maroon groups in Suriname began to coalesce in the forests, close to the plantations on the banks of the Cottica and Commewijne rivers. As these rebels set plantations ablaze and massacred their white inhabitants, more black slaves took to the woods. White settlers fled in panic to Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, and it soon appeared that the entire colonial economy was on the brink of collapse. As Stedman's Narrative makes clear, "the revolted Negroe Slaves may with truth be called the Terror of this Settlement if not the total loss of it." A New World Haiti might well have emerged in some form without benefit of French Revolutionary ideology. It was to prevent such an outcome that the Dutch States-General dispatched a corps of professional soldiers, later followed by reinforcements, to assist the jaded colonial troops.
The son of a Scots army officer and his Dutch wife, Stedman had grown up partly
in Scotland and partly in Holland, joining at age sixteen the Scots Brigade
that served the Dutch government. Proud of his physical strength and exploits
at brawling, drinking, and wenching, Stedman was also an acute and intelligent
observer who had a talent for drawing and an ardent interest in flora, fauna,
and ethnography. His hot temper and the toughening exposure to frequent violence
and death failed to blunt his unusual sensitivity to human or animal suffering.
Fluent in English, Dutch, and French, he learned to speak Sranan, the creole
language of Suriname's slaves and many whites. Stedman was ideally prepared
to write what Richard and Sally Price, its editors, accurately term "one
of the richest, most vivid accounts ever written of a flourishing slave society."
After retiring from military service in his early forties, Stedman settled in England and began drafting an account of his experiences abroad based on his notebooks and the log he had kept of daily events. The Prices, during their years of research in Holland, England, Suriname, and the United States, discovered that Stanbury Thompson, an English antiquarian who had acquired Stedman's diaries around 1940 from a London junk dealer and had sold them before his death in the late 1960s, had flagrantly distorted the text in his 1962 edition of Stedman's Journal. In addition to locating the original manuscript diaries and arranging their sale to the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota, the Prices found fifteen of Stedman's drawings and watercolor paintings, which as anthropologists they assure us are "ethnographically careful and accurateconsiderably more so than many of the engravings modeled after [them]."
Stedman finished his long Narrative in 1790 and was later pleased when
Joseph Johnson not only agreed to publish the book but engaged four engravers,
including Francesco Bartolozzi and William Blake, to cut plates. Stedman established
close ties with Blake, whose sixteen engravings included scenes of slave life
that helped form the core of international abolitionist iconography for generations
to come. What Stedman didn't know was that in 1794 Johnson hired William Thomson,
a professional editor and man of letters, to rewrite the entire manuscript.
In 1795, when Stedman saw the "mard" and bowdlerized printed book,
"full of lies and nonsense," he exploded in anger and claimed to have
burned two thousand copies. Although Johnson finally agreed to reinstate portions
of Stedman's text, the Prices conclude that the edition finally published in
1796 was an "unhappy compromise."
It was the 1796 Narrative, however, that became a classic, was republished in twenty editions and translated into six languages. Eleven years ago, thanks to the alert eye of Professor Stuart B. Schwartz, a distinguished Latin American historian at the University of Minnesota, Richard Price found Stedman's original 1790 manuscript at the James Ford Bell Library. So after the passage of two centuries, we now have a superbly edited critical edition of the book Stedman actually wrote.
The 1790 Narrative is mostly written in direct, earthy prose that evokes the emotional response of a young European captain to the naked breasts of "beautiful Negroe Maids," to the clouds of ravenous "muskitos," to the tremors of tropical fever, and to the delight of stripping off all his sweat-soaked clothing and diving daily into the cool depth of a Surinamese river, a therapeutic secret confided to Stedman by Cramaca, a wise old slave. Cramaca also convinced Stedman that the motion from vigorous swimming would protect him from alligators and piranhas, or "p---k biters," as Stedman called them in his diary.
Stedman's first editor deleted such references to nudity as well as frequent
passages expressing anger and contempt for Colonel Fourgeoud, Stedman's commanding
officer. He also diluted Stedman's portrayal of Suriname as a cornucopia of
sexual pleasure for European males, who could choose between casual one-night
stands or acquiring a slave mistress who, in addition to providing sex, "preserves
their linnens clean and decent, dresses their Victuals with Skill, carefully
attends them/they being most excellent nurses/during the frequent illnesses
to which Europeans are exposed in this Country." Thomson could not eliminate
references to Joanna, Stedman's own beautiful mulatto mistress, but the 1796
edition gives no sense of Stedman's loving admiration of Joanna's dignity and
superior talents, or of his belief in racial equality, repeatedly underscored
by such affirmations as "in every respect I look on [the African Negro]
as my brother," or "I love the African Negroes, which I have showed
on numberless occasions."
Thomson's most significant revisions, the Prices believe, pertain to Stedman's
views on race, slavery, and moral justice. The 1796 edition was published when
British troops had suffered appalling casualties in order to preserve plantation
slavery in the Windward Islands and were struggling to restore the institution
in Saint Domingue, where black rebels and the French government had tried to
abolish it. Stedman, as a retired army officer and conservative royalist, surely
had sympathy for the British Caribbean troops and may well have approved the
attempt to transform his Narrative into a proslavery tract. By the mid-1790s
even the most conservative abolitionists were being denounced as covert Jacobins.
In 1792 Stedman refused to sign one of the immensely popular petitions against the slave trade. Even in the 1790 manuscript he urges the reader to consider the "Proof" presented in an obdurate proslavery work by James Tobin, a wealthy planter who had written a blistering response to the Reverend James Ramsay, perhaps the most cautious and conservative of British abolitionists. Indeed, throughout the 1790 edition Stedman repeats the standard proslavery arguments that were voiced in Parliament and marshaled in pamphlets commissioned by the Committee of West India Planters and Merchants. Britain's tropical colonies, he wrote, could not be cultivated without the labor of African slaves; the colonies would inevitably be lost if Parliament interfered by adopting "rash" measures, a lesson supposedly proved by the recent American War of Independence; many of the West Indian slaves were treated with indulgence and enjoyed such diversions as fishing, swimming, dancing, making baskets and musical instruments, and socializing with their friends and families; they were infinitely happier and more secure than European soldiers, sailors, paupers, and prostitutes, or for that matter the millions in Europe who "annually expire under the name of Liberty, loaded with the pangs of want & disease, and crushed under the galling chains of oppression." 
But these proslavery passages seem perfunctory and lifeless, as if dutifully
inserted to prove Stedman's "Manly" impartiality to potential subscribers
and the readers of travel literature. Far from counterbalancing Stedman's descriptions
of appalling torture, brutality, and slaveholder debauchery, unforgettably illustrated
by Blake's engravings, the proslavery arguments could lend strength to the belief
that Stedman was an objective eyewitness, untainted by effeminate abolitionist
sentimentality. As Stedman first glimpsed Surinamese society, after stepping
ashore, he saw
a most miserable Young Woman in Chains simply covered with a Rag round her
Loins, which was like her Skin cut and carved by the lash of the Whip in a most
Shocking Manner. Her Crime was in not having fulfilled her Task to which she
was by appearance unable. Her punishment to receive 200 Lashes and for months
to drag a Chain of several Yards in length the one end of which was Lock'd to
her ancle and to the other End of which was a weight of 3 Score pounds or upwards.
She was a beautiful Negroe Maid.
The first image, which Stedman sketched for pictorial evidence, paled by comparison
as he went on to witness blacks being mutilated, dismembered, and slowly burned
to death. Confirming Voltaire's famous description of Surinamese slavery in
Candide, Stedman echoed the judgment of Candide's dismembered black informant
by estimating that in the slave colonies "in 20 Years two millions of People
are murdered to Provide us with Coffee & Sugar." Stedman expressed
particular outrage over the white "overgrown Widows, Stale Beauties, and
overaged Maids" who out of jealousy disfigured, tortured, or killed young
slave women. When Stedman tried to stop the merciless flogging of a beautiful
slave girl who had refused to submit "to the loathsome Embraces" of
an overseer, he learned that such interference always called for the redoubling
of the punishment, and walked away imploring "the curse of Heaven to be
poured down upon the whole relentless fraternity [of overseers]." Two years
later he succeeded in rescuing "a Negro boy and a Girl Suspended from a
in the most Agonising Tortures, and with theyr Shoulders half
out of Joint," and swore "to Demolish the Overseer for inflicting
this New mode of torture Without he Promis'd to forgive them which Miraculously
The 1790 Narrative rivals the most radical abolitionist literature in its scathing
portrayal of a slave society. As Stedman saw, the root of the problem lay in
the corrupting temptations of unlimited power. There was no law or impartial
authority that could prevent whites from killing slaves with impunity, from
cutting off their ears or slitting their noses "from private Peek,"
or smashing out their "Teeth for Tasting the Sugar Cane Cultivated by themselves."
It was no wonder, Stedman wrote, that slaves seized every chance to assemble
armies of rebels in the forest "to Seek Revenge & Liberty." Stedman
not only expressed frequent admiration for blacks, including a magnificent swimmer
named Philander, "the Finest Man without Exception that Ever I saw in all
my Life," but took pride in looking like a mulatto after cutting his hair
short, having his skin darkened by the tropical sun, and his bare feet toughened
by years of marching through the forests. During his seven agonizing campaigns
against the rebels, Stedman also tried to learn from their "Masterly Manoeuvers"
and built "a High Palace on 12 Stakes in imitation of Bonys [Boni] the
Prince of the Rebels."
In many ways Stedman exemplified the preracist and pre-abolitionist mentality
of a sensitive, outgoing man of the world who knew that life was filled with
pain and death and who took slavery as much for granted as the disease and suffering
he and his fellow soldiers experienced in the rain forests of Suriname. Though
outraged by the extraordinary excesses of the plantation system, he was content
in the end to propose modest political and legal reforms and to intersperse
descriptions of exotic "QuadrupedesBirdsFishesReptiles,
trees, ShrubsFruits & Roots" with recollections of sadistic brutality.
Stedman's perceptions of slavery were influenced by one crucial phenomenon
that has been disconcerting for modern historians, especially those of the left.
From Stedman's account it is clear that Suriname could never have survived without
the aid of black soldiers who were carefully selected from the slave population
and offered their freedom. Stedman called them "rangers," likening
them to the rangers who fought the Cherokee in North America. Where the white
troops were continually baffled and cut off from their supplies by the rebels,
the black rangers knew the techniques of bush fighting and guerrilla warfare;
in 1772 they had even discovered the secret underwater paths of communication
to the main rebel base, thereby enabling the whites to capture it. "It
will ever be my Opinion," Stedman wrote, "that one of these free negroes,
was Preferable to half a Dozen White men in the Woods of Guiana, which Seemed
their natural Element."
Stedman was astonished by the bravery of these black troops, by "theyr
fidelity to the Europeans," and by their "implacable bitterness against
the rebels," whom they mutilated or killed on the spot. The bitterness
was mutual, since the rebels viewed the rangers as "Traytorsand betrayers
of theyr Countrymen." In one instance, at least, the rebels were beaten
back by plantation slaves who had been armed at the last minute by their master.
While it should be emphasized that planters could never count on such performance
and that Stedman often speaks of plots and insurrections, the fact remains that
in the 1790s the British relied increasingly on "slaves in Red Coats"
in their attempts to conquer Saint Domingue and defend their own slave colonies.
Without the aid of such black power, including informers who revealed impending
uprisings, it seems probable that the West Indian slaveholder regimes would
have been overthrown during the last third of the eighteenth century.
If Robin Blackburn fails to give this question the attention it deserves, it
is one of the few weaknesses of his vast, complex, and powerful narrative that
describes and accounts for the abolition of colonial slavery from the American
Revolution to the revolutions of 1848. Blackburn, who edits the New Left Review
in London, is the first historian since Eric Williams to present a comprehensive
interpretation that connects the destruction of slave systems to the American
and French revolutions, to the colonial revolts against imperial authority,
and to the triumph of industrial capitalism in Britain. But Blackburn, profiting
from and admirably synthesizing the vast scholarship produced since the publication
of Williams's influential book Capitalism and Slavery (1944), is far less rigid
and doctrinaire than Williams, much more attuned to the workings of politics.
Unlike Williams, he includes slavery throughout the Western hemisphere (though
he curiously fails to mention Canada).
In many respects Blackburn succeeds in his aim to move beyond the works of
Williams, Eugene D. Genovese, and the present reviewer "to construct a
Marxist narrative of the actual liberation struggles in the different areas
of the Americas and to establish to what extent anti-slavery, either in intention
or result, transcended the bourgeois democratic or capitalist dynamic."
We can leave it to self-professed Marxians to debate just what is Marxist in
his narrative. Blackburn emphatically rejects economic determinism and in fact
shows relatively little interest in the economics of slavery or the development
of new consumer markets. He repeatedly stresses the contingency of events, the
unpredictable confluence of military, political, and ideological developments,
and the irreducible importance of individual choice. "The overthrow
of slavery," he writes when discussing the impact of the French Revolution
in Saint Domingue, "required conscious and dedicated protagonists as well
as favourable conditions." He may well give too much attention to "elite"
leaders to satisfy those who favor history "from the bottom up," though
in Saint Domingue the black elite were less dedicated than the black masses.
All this said, no one can mistake Blackburn's sympathies or his casting of
good guys and bad guys. In Saint Domingue, patriot "bands" clash with
royalist "gangs." For him, the French Jacobins, who generally opposed
interference with the Atlantic slave trade, are far more admirable than the
American revolutionaries who outlawed slave imports and in 1777 adopted the
first constitution in history (Vermont's) that prohibited slavery outright.
Plebeian abolitionists are somehow more authentic than bourgeois abolitionists,
especially those bourgeois motivated by Christian benevolence. Like C. L. R.
James, the Marxist author of Black Jacobins, a major study of the Haitian
revolution, Blackburn would like to convey "a marvellous sense of the eruption
of the masses in history," and at one point he concludes that
part of the grandeur of the great French Revolution is that it came to sponsor
slave emancipation in the Americas; and part of the grandeur of the great Revolution
in St. Domingue/Haiti is that it successfully defended the gains of the French
Revolution against France itself
. Haiti was not the first independent
American state but it was the first to guarantee civic liberty to all inhabitants.
As these samples indicate, Blackburn's rhetoric is sometimes haunted by a Marxist
scenario of what should have happened. Remarkably, this ghost from the past
seldom impedes Blackburn's quest to understand what did happen. Indeed, his
flexibility, open-mindedness, and balanced judgments are characteristic of the
best recent "Marxist" writing on slavery. It may not be coincidental,
at a moment when Marxism is being subjected to intense self-scrutiny around
the world, that Blackburn views the British antislavery movement as an instrument
for progressive adaptation that eventually rendered the capitalist "ship
of state more seaworthy in a storm."
Blackburn's highly readable narrative presents the political and social setting
of the gradual emancipation acts in the northern United States, the violent
overthrow of slavery in Haiti, the less decisive undermining of the institution
during the Latin American wars of independence, the outlawing of the slave trade
in 1808 by Britain and the United States, Britain's legislative emancipation
in 1834 of some 800,000 colonial slaves, and the final eradication of slavery
in the French and Danish colonies during the revolutions of 1848. It is welcome
news that Blackburn is preparing two companion volumes, The West and the
Rise of Slavery and Nemesis of the Slave Power, the latter concentrating
on the final struggle for emancipation in the three societies in which black
slavery gained strength during the first half of the nineteenth century: the
southern United States, Cuba, and Brazil (in Suriname and the other Dutch New
World colonies, slavery persisted until 1863 but was of marginal economic importance).
The present volume, while containing informative chapters on the French and
Haitian revolutions, Latin America, and the French restoration of slavery in
the early nineteenth century, quite rightly centers on Britain. For it was Hanoverian
Britain, the world's leading slave-trading nation, that executed a dramatic
volteface that led to costly efforts to eradicate the entire Atlantic slave
trade and encourage abolitionist movements throughout the world. Most students
of the question agree that Britain's conversion to antislavery ideology was
related in some way to the Industrial Revolution, the need to legitimize and
honor wage labor, and the bitter struggles over various demands for domestic
reform. But as Seymour Drescher and David Eltis have recently argued, Britain's
antislavery policies actually ran counter to the nation's economic self-interest.
Blackburn agrees, in his central conclusion, "that slavery was not overthrown
for economic reasons but where it became politically untenable." His rejection
of economic causation extends to the historically naive theory that the spread
of capitalism and market values cultivated new habits of thought, such as "thinking
causally," which gave efficacy to the Golden Rule and made possible new
and enlarged conceptions of moral responsibility, exemplified in abolitionism
and other humanitarian movements. Blackburn's narrative, so rich in significant
detail, demonstrates the fallacy of divorcing an abstract "humanitarian
sensibility" either from the political and class struggles within the British
metropolis or from the militant actions of the colonial planters, the free blacks,
and the slaves themselves.
Moreover, as Blackburn observes, abolitionists found it extremely difficult
to win over merchants and manufacturers involved in trades that employed slaves
markets set up a structure which appeared to erase individual responsibility for the pattern of resultant action. Very often bankers and trustees would have been negligent of their clients' interests if they had not seized profitable openings available to them in the slave-related sector.
Although Blackburn tends to underestimate the religious sources of both white
and black activism, he recognizes that the radical Agency Committee of the British
abolitionists instructed its lecturers "to make clear that the central
objection to slavery was humanitarian and religious," and that the movement
"derived strength from its association with the critique of the operation
of pure market forces, rather than their celebration."
Blackburn captures the dynamic tension between antislavery as a means of demonstrating
the liberality of a privileged class or political regime and antislavery as
a vehicle for challenging all hierarchical establishments. In the late eighteenth-century
world of political upheaval and intrusive commercialization, antislavery and
as secular correlates to [the evangelical religious] search for new meanings and a more stable and satisfying order, alike in the public and private spheres. The challenge to empire was accompanied and preceded by a generalised malaise, what might be called the "legitimation crisis."
By 1806, as the British government strained to maintain support for a seemingly
interminable war and to stave off moves for major domestic reforms, various
leaders began to see abolition of the slave trade as "the only reform measure
which was simultaneously widely popular, agreed between leading members of the
government and within the realm of the 'art of the possible."' The final
passage of abolition, according to Blackburn,
dignified and elevated Britain's resistance to Napoleon and bid for global hegemony. The self-confidence of the ruling class was boosted and at least some of the ground-swell of democratic patriotism evident in 18046 harnessed to the war effort . The passage of abolition offered symbolic satisfaction to middle-class reform while preserving unchanged the substance of oligarchic power . Just as abolitionist legislation helped the oligarchy to assert its right to rule and deflect middle-class agitation for reform, so in the industrial districts middle-class abolitionism helped manufacturers to outface menacing combinations, cement ties with other respectable persons and assert their social conscience. The Luddites sought to halt or deflect capitalist industrialisation by threats of violence; the abolitionists proclaimed the need to pacify market relations and base them on a minimum respect for personal inviolability and autonomy.
But these conservative, legitimizing functions of the antislavery movement
by no means stifled domestic protest or movements for radical reform, which
in fact drew upon the techniques abolitionists used to call mass meetings, obtain
hundreds of thousands of petition signatures, interrogate political candidates,
and arouse and inform armies of disfranchised artisans, farmers, and women.
Blackburn quite rightly stresses the ambiguous and changing character of the
British antislavery cause. As "the least controversial reform" in
an age of sharp class conflict, it attracted the crucial support of Lords Grenville,
Grey, Derby, and other enlightened members of the oligarchy along with middle-class
evangelicals and plebeian radicals like Robert Wedderburn, the son of a Jamaican
slave woman, who preached to crowds in a large Soho hayloft chapel, calling
for a republican revolution in England and a mass insurrection of West Indian
Except for some inconsistent rhetoric, Blackburn recognizes the contributions
slaves and free blacks made to their own emancipation without succumbing to
the romantic view that the black masses finally intimidated British policy makers,
forcing them to choose emancipation as the only alternative to revolution. As
Stedman's Narrative makes clear, the victories of black rebels in Suriname
and Berbice failed to shake the resolve of the slaveholding Dutch. Even
the traumatic lesson of the Haitian revolution did not deter the French from
restoring slavery in Guadeloupe and shipping at least 125,000 new slaves to
their Caribbean colonies after the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars. Despite
major slave revolts in Barbados in 1816, in Demerara in 1823, and in Jamaica
in 1831, Blackburn concludes that for British rulers this slave resistance was
not by itself "a decisive consideration."
Thanks to the restraint of the slaves, who hoped to strengthen the hand of
their antislavery friends in Britain, these nineteenth-century revolts resulted
in few white casualties. In Stedman's time the Guianese rebels had killed and
terrorized whites throughout the interior. But in Demerara, one of the Dutch
Guianese colonies later annexed by the British, thousands of rebels apparently
inflicted only one casualty upon the governor's outnumbered forces, and were
content to demand "Our right" and to plead for their own lands and
three days a week to work for themselves. For this insubordination some 250
slaves were killed and many more flogged or imprisoned.
In the great Jamaican revolt of 1831 slaves burned cane fields and destroyed
hundreds of buildings but killed few whites. Some 540 slaves were either executed
or killed in the fighting by black and white colonial troops. As Blackburn points
out, "the very revulsion prompted by the idea of slavery can lead to an
over-simplified view of how easy it was to end it
. The odds were stacked
against slave resistance
. Unifying the oppressed was extraordinarily difficult."
If Britain had been willing to pay the political and economic costs, the West
Indian garrisons could easily have been reinforced and slave resistance could
have been contained, as it had been during the previous two centuries.
This conclusion should not distract attention from the decisive impact on British
public opinion of slave resistance and free black demands for equal rights.
While much is still to be learned about the convergence of events that led to
British emancipation, Blackburn goes beyond previous historians in illuminating
the cumulative effect of diverse forces and the way antislavery became intermingled
with other social and political contests. In the last analysis, the connection
between capitalism and antislavery was indirect, in the sense that antislavery
sentiment was promoted, however erratically, by the class conflicts and governmental
structures that industrial capitalism produced.
Blackburn explicitly rejects the view that abolitionism was an instrument of
capitalist "social control." He acknowledges that "abolitionism
as an ideology was capable of directly articulating a fairly comprehensive projection
of bourgeois ideals and capitalist disciplines." Yet in various countries
the movement tended to alienate industrialists and business leaders and attract
bourgeois reformers who had, he writes, "a generous and even utopian side
to them." Major abolitionist leaders, such as Joseph Sturge in England,
Victor Schoelcher in France, and (though not mentioned by Blackburn) Wendell
Phillips in the United States, "remained eminently bourgeois without ever
being in the mainstream or even specifically pro-capitalist." The one point
missing in this otherwise accurate analysis is the central importance of religious
commitment, at least among the British and American foes of slavery, blacks
as well as whites.
Blackburn, whose treatment of United States history is rather superficial,
gives little attention to race. And he is no doubt right when he concludes that
"the blockages and delays encountered by British and French abolition stemmed
more from the solidarity of the propertied classes than from racial solidarity."
In the United States, however, historians have often begun with the central
issue of "race relations" and have then approached slavery and antislavery
as subsidiary parts of this larger field. This description applies to the work
of the eminent Stanford historian George M. Fredrickson, who moved from a brilliant
chapter on "The Meaning of Emancipation," in The Inner Civil War:
Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union (1964), to write The
Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny,
18171914 (1971) and White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American
and South African History (1981).
In The Arrogance of Race Fredrickson has assembled seventeen essays
that diverge sharply from Blackburn's work in tone, method, and assumptions,
to say nothing of style. This is not to imply that Fredrickson is in any way
parochial, since he has been a pioneer in comparative history and devotes one
essay in this volume to an analysis of white responses to slave emancipation
in the American South, Jamaica, and the Cape of Good Hope. In his introduction
and in the two essays published here for the first time, Fredrickson acknowledges
his great intellectual debt to Max Weber, who has long provided him with a "pluralistic,
multicausal approach as a point of departure for historical analysis,"
in contrast to "a Marxist class determinism or an idealist cultural determinism."
Since Blackburn has also adopted a pluralistic, multicausal approach, one must
still ask how the concept of race fits in with Fredrickson's laudable goals.
Having been attacked by neo-Marxians for elevating race above class, Fredrickson
shows that he has always opposed the attempts by some historians
to find the origins of American racism in a cluster of deeply rooted or primordial [antiblack] sentiments brought from Europe by the early colonists and to play down the impact of the social and economic circumstances associated with the rise of plantation slavery.
He has insisted, however, that "racism, although the child of slavery,
not only outlived its parent but grew stronger and more independent after slavery's
Fredrickson has an admirable ability to move from abstract theory to specific
historical events, allowing each level of analysis to illuminate the other.
His essays in The Arrogance of Race always show a sophisticated grasp
of social theory as he moves from the limitations of planter-class paternalism
to Lincoln's views of racial equality; from the historiographical legacy of
C. Vann Woodward to the connections between colonialism and racism within "the
full spectrum of multiracial societies resulting from the expansion of Europe
and the development of a world capitalist economy." Written with clarity
and elegance, this collection reconfirms Fredrickson's reputation as our leading
authority on racism, antiracism, and the racial attitudes of whites.
Despite the strengths of Fredrickson's approach, the meaning of race itself
remains curiously elusive. To what extent is race an ideological construction?
How do we account for a man like Stedman, who for years fought black rebels
and defended slavery and yet condemned racism as a moral insult to humanity?
How could a black Jamaican-born tailor like Robert Wedderburn attract such an
enthusiastic following among London's most oppressed and poverty-stricken whites,
when in contemporary American cities a similar class of whites rejoiced in burning
and looting black homes, schools, and churches? Why did definitions of blacks,
mulattoes, quadroonsthe very concept of "race"differ so
dramatically from one slaveholding region to another? Or for that matter, why
did the recent riot in Nanjing become the occasion for such soul-searching by
Chinese and Westerners over racism in China, a country far removed from any
heritage of black plantation slavery? Are the concepts of race and class to
be given equal ontological weight, as Fredrickson implies when he calls for
an "interactionist approach" that refrains from giving theoretical
priority to either category?
These are not questions one would expect to see resolved in a collection of
essays concerned with biographical case studies, the historiography of southern
race relations, and the promise of the comparative method. Whatever ambiguities
still adhere to the historical construct "race," Fredrickson has led
the way in lucidly tracing and analyzing the history of racism in America. And
about the reality, iniquity, and persistence of American racism there can be
 Trumbull, who had watched the Battle of Bunker Hill from a distance, painted
this scene in London in 1786. It now hangs in the Yale University Art Gallery.
As Hugh Honour points out in his magnificent new work, The Image of the Black
in Western Art, Vol. IV: From the American Revolution to World War I, Part I:
Slaves and Liberators (Harvard University Press, 1989), Trumbull's painting
bore strong thematic and stylistic resemblances to John Singleton Copley's The
Death of Major Peirson, in which a beplumed black soldier, fighting with the
British who are resisting a French invasion of the Channel Island of Jersey,
aims in Copley's words "his musquet at the French officer by whom his master
was slain" (pp. 4144). The two paintings, intended for American and
British audiences respectively, reflect the fact that blacks fought on both
sides in the American Revolution, many escaping by this means from slavery (for
further illustrations and historical information, see Sidney Kaplan, The Black
Presence in the Era of the American Revolution, 17701800, Smithsonian
Institution Press, 1973).
 Stedman later mentions the "Havock" of the Battle of Bunker Hill
(p. 558) and encounters Tory refugees in Suriname, as well as American seamen
who denounced Lord North and swore they would be willing to die in defense of
 The English word "maroon" and the French marron derived from
the Spanish cimarrón, which first referred to domestic cattle that roamed
off into the hills of Hispaniola. See Richard Price, ed., Maroon Societies:
Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979),
and Gad Heuman, ed., "Out of the House of Bondage: Runaways, Resistance
and Marronage in Africa and the New World," Slavery and Abolition: A Journal
of Comparative Studies, Vol. 6, No. 3 (December 1985). For fascinating accounts
and illustrations of the persistence of maroon culture in modern Suriname, see
Richard Price, First-Time: The Historical Vision of an Afro-American People
(Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), and Richard Price and Sally Price, Afro-American
Arts of the Suriname Rain Forest (University of California Press, 1980).
 In effect, Palmares, the mocambo or "African state" in Brazil,
fits this description. This large community of fugitive slaves resisted conquest
through most of the seventeenth century. Unlike Haiti, of course, it did not
have a formal constitution based on principles of the Euro-American Enlightenment.
 In the 1790 Narrative Stedman avoids this term but refers to piranhas snapping
off "the fingers and breasts of women and private Parts of Men." This
passage was deleted from the 1796 edition and Thompson deleted the more graphic
phrase from his edition of the Journal.
 The Prices point out that Stedman himself censored the impersonal, commercial
sexual exchanges recorded in his diary. He did make it clear, however, that
European men were drained to exhaustion by their frequent relations with remarkably
athletic black and mulatto women.
 In an endnote the Prices carefully consider and then reject the possibility
that Stedman's views on slavery may have hardened after 1790 and that he himself
may have been responsible for some of the changes in the 1796 edition that they
attribute to William Thomson, who had accepted commissions to write proslavery
tracts at the time he was revising Stedman's manuscript. Their reasoning is
partly convincing, but to this reviewer they fail to give sufficient weight
to the proslavery passages in the 1790 manuscript and to the probable effects
on a professional soldier and patriot of the "Black Jacobins" of Saint
Domingue, Guadeloupe, and Grenada, who were killing thousands of Stedman's comrades.
 For an informative description and analysis of proslavery ideology in Britain
and the northern United States, which drew on the counterrevolutionary reaction
of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, see Larry E. Tise, Proslavery:
A History of the Defense of Slavery in America, 17011840 (University of
Georgia Press, 1988).
 See especially Roger Norman Buckley, Slaves in Red Coats: The British West
India Regiments, 17951815 (Yale University Press, 1979), and David Geggus,
Slavery, War and Revolution: The British Occupation of Saint Domingue, 17931798
(Oxford University Press, 1981). This conclusion applies mainly to colonies
populated by overwhelming black majorities. At the end of the eighteenth century
Cuba and Puerto Rico had only begun to develop plantation economies.
 Blackburn appears to find determinism in my own Slavery and Human Progress,
which implies that "the unfolding of events is already pre-programmed"
and which risks "trapping us in a closed history where the imperative of
progress cannot be escaped"; that was certainly not the message I intended
to convey, though such idealistic determinism can be seen in many of the nineteenth-century
writers I discussed.
 See my review in this journal, March 31, 1988.
 This dubious thesis, which is reduced to ruins by Blackburn's narrative
and explicit attack, can be found in Thomas L. Haskell, "Capitalism and
the Origins of the Humanitarian Sensibility, Part 1," American Historical
Review, Vol. 90, No. 2 (April 1985), pp. 339361; "Capitalism and
the Origins of the Humanitarian Sensibility, Part 2," American Historical
Review, Vol. 90, No. 3 (June 1985), pp. 547566. Critiques by John Ashworth
and the present reviewer appear, along with a lengthy reply by Haskell, in the
same journal, Vol. 92, No. 4 (October 1987), pp. 797878.
 Blackburn discusses Stedman's 1796 Narrative in an endnote and quotes from Stedman the remarkable statement of a defiant rebel who in 1757 described to a representative of the government the slaves who had been abused and finally driven to the woods, "who by their sweat earn your subsistence, without whose hands your colony must drop to nothing, and to whom at last, in this disgraceful manner, you are glad to come and sue for friendship." Blackburn also refers to the black rangers recruited by the British and to black maroon leaders in Saint Domingue who practiced voodoo and cooperated with the British. He makes no effort to explain this betrayal of black solidarity.
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