The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823by David Brion Davis

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  • Board of Trustees, Boston University

    The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823 by David Brion DavisReview by: James A. RawleyThe International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1 (1976), pp. 118-119Published by: Boston University African Studies CenterStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/217402 .Accessed: 09/05/2014 18:27

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  • 118 BOOK REVIEWS 118 BOOK REVIEWS

    aim of offering a "representative spread of opinion"-although it is possible to sympathize with them in this, since it is principally the result of a decision to comply with current Rhodesian censorship laws in order not to lose the right of distribution in the country. The main sources for the work are the Rhodesian national newspapers, the Rhodesia Herald and the Sunday Mail, occasionally supplemented by the official record of parliamentary proceedings and selected government publications, the British "quality" press, and the minor Catholic journal Moto. As a result the attitudes recorded are not, and cannot, be representative of all sections of Rhodesian opinion, however much one may be per- suaded of the integrity of the sources actually used. The inclusion of Moto is certainly no counter to the overwhelming weight given to the Rhodesia Herald, and in this respect it is not clear why the Zambian newspapers have not been used more extensively. One reference to the Zambia Daily Mail (p. 71) implies that they are in principle an accept- able source, and they would certainly provide a greater corrective to the Rhodesia Herald than the British Daily Telegraph.

    Ultimately, the value of the work lies not in the direction its sponsors claim, but as a further and not inconsiderable contribution to the grow- ing body of literature on white politics in the area. It certainly has more to say about the interests and motives of the rulers than the ruled, and it is to be hoped that in future issues some attempt will be made to redress this imbalance.

    CHARLES PERRINGS

    University of London

    THE PROBLEM OF SLAVERY IN THE AGE OF REVOLUTION, 1770-1823. By David Brion Davis. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1975. Pp. 576. $17.50; $5.95 paper.

    In this learned and intricate book David Brion Davis provides a sophis- ticated exploration of the intellectual history of the international anti- slavery movement. Laudably, he examines ideas not in the abstract but in their political and economic contexts. The book is a sequel to his Pulitzer-Prize-winning 7he Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Ithaca, 1966), which elaborately traces the emergence of the percep- tion that slavery is immoral. He now pursues his antislavery theme through the period when most of the Atlantic nations abolished the African slave trade; he has stopped short, in 1830, of the actual eman- cipation of slaves by the great slaveholding nations, and one may hope that he will extend his analysis into the later era.

    aim of offering a "representative spread of opinion"-although it is possible to sympathize with them in this, since it is principally the result of a decision to comply with current Rhodesian censorship laws in order not to lose the right of distribution in the country. The main sources for the work are the Rhodesian national newspapers, the Rhodesia Herald and the Sunday Mail, occasionally supplemented by the official record of parliamentary proceedings and selected government publications, the British "quality" press, and the minor Catholic journal Moto. As a result the attitudes recorded are not, and cannot, be representative of all sections of Rhodesian opinion, however much one may be per- suaded of the integrity of the sources actually used. The inclusion of Moto is certainly no counter to the overwhelming weight given to the Rhodesia Herald, and in this respect it is not clear why the Zambian newspapers have not been used more extensively. One reference to the Zambia Daily Mail (p. 71) implies that they are in principle an accept- able source, and they would certainly provide a greater corrective to the Rhodesia Herald than the British Daily Telegraph.

    Ultimately, the value of the work lies not in the direction its sponsors claim, but as a further and not inconsiderable contribution to the grow- ing body of literature on white politics in the area. It certainly has more to say about the interests and motives of the rulers than the ruled, and it is to be hoped that in future issues some attempt will be made to redress this imbalance.

    CHARLES PERRINGS

    University of London

    THE PROBLEM OF SLAVERY IN THE AGE OF REVOLUTION, 1770-1823. By David Brion Davis. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1975. Pp. 576. $17.50; $5.95 paper.

    In this learned and intricate book David Brion Davis provides a sophis- ticated exploration of the intellectual history of the international anti- slavery movement. Laudably, he examines ideas not in the abstract but in their political and economic contexts. The book is a sequel to his Pulitzer-Prize-winning 7he Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Ithaca, 1966), which elaborately traces the emergence of the percep- tion that slavery is immoral. He now pursues his antislavery theme through the period when most of the Atlantic nations abolished the African slave trade; he has stopped short, in 1830, of the actual eman- cipation of slaves by the great slaveholding nations, and one may hope that he will extend his analysis into the later era.

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  • BOOK REVIEWS 119

    The student of African history will find little of direct concern to him or her in this book. Nor is there much about the black except for the in- surrectionaries of St. Domingue and Toussaint L'Ouverture. Davis is intent upon the white man's perception of slavery, and using with con- summate skill a comparative approach to history he focuses on En- gland, the United States, and France. Scattered passages about Sierra Leone illustrate his antislavery analysis, but add nothing to African scholarship; a rather brief treatment of the attack on the slave trade em- phasizes the shifting interests of slave-trade diplomacy from the time in 1774 when the United States prohibited the trade as a weapon against British imperial policy to the post-Napoleonic era, when "England had succeeded in using abolitionism as a moral validation of her triumphant commercial empire" (p. 71).

    Davis's interpretation of history tilts heavily toward materialism, which he defines as ideological interests and power. Acknowledging the significant studies of racial attitudes by such scholars as Winthrop D. Jordan and George M. Fredrickson,1 he nonetheless declares, "My own research has persuaded me that, so far as slavery is concerned, racist arguments often served as an excuse for motives that were less easy to acknowledge" (p. 14). True, but what cannot be blinked away, so far as blacks are concerned, is that white racism existed before Negro slavery began, was directed against both free and unfree Negroes dur- ing the slave era, and has endured the century and more since eman- cipation. Four centuries of discrimination against persons of black skin color suggest that white racism itself was a potent motive.

    If throughout a masterly study Davis has underplayed the Negro, he ends his book with a striking and academically curious note. He invokes Hegel's dialectic of independence and dependence, and he depicts the master "trapped by his own power, which he can only seek to main- tain" (p. 561). Davis's closing words seem to be a summons to blacks: "That man's true emancipation, whether physical or spiritual, must al- ways depend on those who have endured and overcome some form of slavery" (p. 564).

    Occasionally abstruse, always detailed, and often a gloss on other scholars, Davis's book is a landmark in the literature of antislavery and intellectual history.

    JAMES A. RAWLEY

    University of Nebraska

    'George M. Fredrickson, The Blackh Image in the White Mind (New York, 1972); Winthrop D. Jordan, White over Black (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1968).

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    Article Contentsp. 118p. 119

    Issue Table of ContentsThe International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1 (1976), pp. 1-186Front MatterKerma: The Rise of an African Civilization [pp. 1 - 21]Gujarat and the Trade of East Africa, c. 1500-1800 [pp. 22 - 44]Public Opinion and Colonial Policy in Nineteenth-Century Sierra Leone [pp. 45 - 67]Notes and DocumentsThe Book of the Zenj and the Miji Kenda [pp. 68 - 73]Gusii Oral Texts and the Gusii Experience under British Rule [pp. 74 - 80]Gusii Oral Texts [pp. 81 - 82]Captain Harry Dean: Pan-Negro-Nationalist in South Africa [pp. 83 - 90]

    Book Reviewsuntitled [pp. 91 - 100]untitled [pp. 100 - 103]untitled [pp. 103 - 111]untitled [pp. 112 - 113]untitled [pp. 114 - 115]untitled [pp. 115 - 116]untitled [pp. 117 - 118]untitled [pp. 118 - 119]untitled [pp. 120 - 121]untitled [p. 122]untitled [pp. 123 - 125]untitled [pp. 125 - 126]untitled [pp. 126 - 128]untitled [pp. 128 - 129]untitled [pp. 129 - 131]untitled [pp. 131 - 134]untitled [p. 134]untitled [pp. 134 - 135]untitled [pp. 136 - 140]untitled [pp. 140 - 144]untitled [pp. 144 - 146]untitled [pp. 146 - 150]untitled [pp. 150 - 153]untitled [pp. 153 - 155]untitled [pp. 155 - 158]untitled [pp. 158 - 159]untitled [pp. 159 - 160]untitled [pp. 160 - 161]untitled [pp. 161 - 163]untitled [pp. 163 - 165]untitled [pp. 165 - 169]untitled [pp. 169 - 170]untitled [pp. 171 - 172]untitled [pp. 172 - 173]untitled [pp. 173 - 175]untitled [pp. 176 - 177]untitled [pp. 177 - 180]untitled [p. 180]untitled [pp. 180 - 183]

    Books Received [p. 186]Back Matter [pp. 184 - 185]

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