Synopses & Reviews
This book furnishes a panoramic view of slavery and emancipation in the Americas from the conquests and colonization of the sixteenth century to the 'century of abolition' that stretched from 1780 to 1888. Tracing the diverse responses of African captives, The American Crucible argues that while slave rebels and abolitionists made real gains, they also suffered cruel setbacks and disappointments, leading to a momentous radicalization of the discourse of human rights.
In it, Robin Blackburn explains the emergence of ferocious systems of racial exploitation while rejecting the comforting myths that portray emancipation as somehow already inscribed in the institutions and ideas that allowed for, or even fostered, racial slavery in the first place, whether the logic of the market, the teachings of religion, or the spirit of nationalism. Rather, Blackburn stresses, American slavery was novel - and so too were the originality and achievement of the anti-slavery alliances which eventually destroyed it.
The Americas became the crucible for a succession of fateful experiments in colonization, silver mining, plantation agriculture, racial enslavement and emancipation. The exotic commodities produced by the slave plantations helped to transform Europe and North America, raising up empires and stimulating industrial revolution and 'market revolution' to bring about the pervasive commodification of polite society, work and everyday life in parts of Europe and North America. Fees, salaries and wages fostered consuming habits so that capitalism, based on free wage labor in the metropolis, became intimately dependent on racial slavery in the New World.
But by the late eighteenth century the Atlantic boom had sown far and wide the seeds of subversion, provoking colonial rebellion, slave conspiracy and popular revolt, the aspirations of a new black peasantry and 'picaresque proletariat', and the emergence of a revolutionary doctrine: the 'rights of man'. The result was a radicalization of the principles of the Enlightenment, with the Haitian Revolution rescuing and reshaping the ideals memorably proclaimed by the American and French revolutions.
Blackburn charts the gradual emergence of an ability and willingness to see the human cost of the heedless consumerism and to challenge it. The anti-slavery idea, he argues, brought together diverse impulses--the 'free air' doctrine maintained by the common people of Europe, the critique of the philosophes and the urgency of slave resistance and black witness. The anti-slavery idea made gains thanks to a succession of historic upheavals. But the remaining slave systems--in the US South, Cuba and Brazi--were in many ways as strong as ever. They were only overturned thanks to the momentous clashes unleashed by the American Civil War, Cuba's fight for independence and the terminal crisis of the Brazilian Empire.
"A marvelous book--insightful and stimulating--which boldly links the expansion of human rights to Marxist and related views of economic development." James Walvin BBC History Magazine
"One of the finest one-volume histories of the rise and fall of modern slavery." Eric Foner
"Blackburn describes emancipation in all its vexed, indeterminate grandeur, propelled by violent clashes, public debate, harrowing exposés, and the consolidation of new notions of freedom and equality." The Nation
"Of the thousands of historians who have written about Atlantic slavery and its abolition, only a handful have ever given us a really original perspective on that vast subject. Even fewer have proposed a satisfying, or stimulating, general theory about it, an attempt at explaining the rise, fall and enduring consequences of the entire New World slave system across the centuries and continents. Robin Blackburn is prominent--even pre-eminent--among those few." Greg Grandin The Guardian
"Robin Blackburn has already secured his position as Britain's preeminent historian of slavery. This new volume confirms that position." Stephen Howe The Independent
A compelling history of slavery by its foremost historian.
The slave systems of the Americas were to become as large as any in human history, and the huge profits they engendered stimulated capitalist growth in Europe and fostered war and colonial revolt. The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the Americas explores both why Europe's conquest and colonization of the Americas were accompanied by the construction of a variety of racially defined slave systems, and why they were eventually suppressed in a century of abolitionism from 1788-1887. US and British governments have long basked in the view that they played a special role in the eventual victories of anti-slavery. Blackburn insists that we should see the advance of anti-slavery as rooted in much wider social struggles and movements propelled by free people of color, political and religious radicals and slave rebels. He shows how these movements were most effective when they challenged both racism and private property, and that their greatest triumphs coincided with deep-going crisis of the entire social order.
This fascinating book distils Blackburn's extensive and original research into a concise and accessible introduction to the subject.
A landmark history of the rise, abolition, and legacy of slavery in the New World.
The acclaimed historian of slavery Robin Blackburn presents a novel interpretation of slavery and emancipation in the Americas, tracing the importance of the “peculiar institution” to the “Rise of the West” as well as to the discourse of human rights that looms large in local and global politics today. Arguing that watershed events––led or defined by key figures such as Thomas Paine, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Louis Pierrot, Thomas Clarkson, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and Antonio Bento––played a pivotal role not only in the emergence of abolitionist ideas but also in shaping the West, The American Crucible provides a thorough, engaging account of the oppressive regimes of the New World. Blackburn shows how the history of slavery and the movements of opposition helped to forge the political and social ideals we live by today.
The American Crucible
furnishes a vivid and authoritative history of the rise and fall of slavery in the Americas. For over three centuries enslavement promoted the rise of capitalism in the Atlantic world. The New World became the crucible for a succession of fateful experiments in colonization, silver mining, plantation agriculture, racial enslavement, colonial rebellion, slave witness and slave resistance. Slave produce raised up empires, fostered new cultures of consumption and financed the breakthrough to an industrial order.
Not until the stirrings of a revolutionary age in the 1780s was there the first public challenge to the ‘peculiar institution’. An anti-slavery alliance then set the scene for great acts of emancipation in Haiti in 1804, Britain in 1833–8, the United States in the 1860s, and Cuba and Brazil in the 1880s. In The American Crucible, Robin Blackburn argues that the anti-slavery movement forged many of the ideals we live by today.
‘The best treatment of slavery in the western hemisphere I know of. I think it should
establish itself as a permanent pillar of the literature.’ Eric Hobsbawm
From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
Robin Blackburn is a Leverhulme research fellow based at the University of Essex in the UK. He taught as a visitor at the New School for Social Research in New York between 2001 and 2010. He is the author of many books, including The Making of New World Slavery and The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery.