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Race and Revolution by Gary B. Nash

Race and Revolution

by Gary B. Nash

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Gary B. Nash, Race and Revolution (Madison, 1990), chapter 2, "The Failure of Abolitionism."

Nash addresses the perplexing question of why slavery was not abolished as part of the Revolution in America or indeed as part of the Constitution. A frequently deployed, yet facile, argument is that rabid pro-slavery rhetoric from S. Carolina and Georgia, which intimidated the "anti-slavery north". He begins by showing the neither Georgia nor S. Carolina was powerful enough at the time of the Convention do exert this kind of pressure. Indeed, they were both threatened by Indians and Georgia had the Spanish to contend with to the South. They needed the support of the other states for defense. Then he turns to the question of Northern views and actions toward slavery. In a turn reminiscent of Charles A. Beard's economic interpretation of the Constitution, he points to the personal economic motivations of northerners. Freeing slaves had a personal cost for slave owners, north and south, that neither was willing to pay. Pointing to the cases of prominent antislavery agitators like the Presbyterian Revered Francis Allison who extended his slaves servitude in his will and Benjamin Rush who held a slave while leading the abolitionist cause in Pennsylvania. Then he turns to the case of abolition legislation, citing the case of PA which freed slaves' children when they turned 28 and thereby effectively extended slavery into the mid-19th century and effectively using up the productive years of those slaves who were to be manumitted.

Two main problems faced those who wanted to free slaves - how do you compensate masters and how do you incorporate slaves into free society? On the economic question, begins with a consideration of whether it would have been possible to compensate slave owners out of the sale of government-owned lands. In this counterfactual exercise, he determines that it would have been possible to compensate slave owners handsomely out of this source of revenue, but they never considered it. Then he considers the fate of actual antislavery petitions to the Congress in 1790 presented by PA Quakers. The Foster Committee Report, produced as a result of the Quaker petitions, was tabled by the Congress and nothing was done with it. The North, reasons Nash, moved away from concrete action against slavery in order to keep the southern states' behind the Hamilton internal improvements plan. Therefore, the North sacrificed the moral cause of antislavery once again to their own financial interests. In considering the second question of what to do with the freed slaves, Nash looks to the Virginian St. George Tucker's writings. Tucker wrote immediately in the aftermath of the 1790 census, which showed growing numbers of black slaves in Virginia and a slave rebellion in the Caribbean (Toussant L'Overture?). He proposed that emancipation's financial impacts be mitigated by postponing manumission and that the social question be solved by stripping free blacks of civil right and liberties and settling them in frontier territories. Appealing in his Dissertation on Slavery to the self-interest of his fellow Virginians, he offered a way to avoid slave rebellion. Yet, the invention of the Cotton Gin made slavery increasingly more profitable in the south. When you add in growing northern racism, and the growing economic entanglements of the north with the cotton economy of the south, such appeals were doomed.

By ducking the question of slavery, the North is equally to blame with the South for causing the Civil War.
1 vote mdobe | Jul 24, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0945612214, Paperback)

The most profound crisis of conscience for white Americans at the end of the eighteenth century became their most tragic failure. Race and Revolution is a trenchant study of the revolutionary generation's early efforts to right the apparent contradiction of slavery and of their ultimate compromises that not only left the institution intact but provided it with the protection of a vastly strengthened government after 1788.
Reversing the conventional view that blames slavery on the South's social and economic structures, Nash stresses the role of the northern states in the failure to abolish slavery. It was northern racism and hypocrisy as much as southern intransigence that buttressed "the peculiar institution." Nash also shows how economic and cultural factors intertwined to result not in an apparently judicious decision of the new American nation but rather its most significant lost opportunity.
Race and Revolution describes the free black community's response to this failure of the revolution's promise, its vigorous and articulate pleas for justice, and the community's successes in building its own African-American institutions within the hostile environment of early nineteenth-century America.
Included with the text of Race and Revolution are nineteen rare and crucial documents—letters, pamphlets, sermons, and speeches—which provide evidence for Nash's controversial and persuasive claims. From the words of Anthony Benezet and Luther Martin to those of Absalom Jones and Caesar Sarter, readers may judge the historical record for themselves.
"In reality," argues Nash, "the American Revolution represents the largest slave uprising in our history." Race and Revolution is the compelling story of that failed quest for the promise of freedom.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:08 -0400)

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