Posts Tagged ‘Abolition’

YouTube Video for My Book on Slavery in the British Empire, ‘The Global Campaign’

February 18, 2019

This is the video I’ve just uploaded on YouTube about my two volume book on slavery, its abolition and the campaign against it in the British Empire, The Global Campaign, which I’ve published with Lulu.

The video explains that it grew out of my work as a volunteer at the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, helping to catalogue the archive of government documents that they had been granted by the Commonwealth Institute. I was busy summarizing these documents for a database on materials on slavery the Museum wanted to compile. Going through them, it became clear that the long process of its abolition in the Caribbean was just part of a wider attempt by the British to suppress it right across our empire, from Canada and the Caribbean across the Cape Colony, now part of South Africa, the Gold Coast, now Ghana, Sierra Leone, founded as a colony for freed slaves, central Africa, and what are now Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda, Egypt, the Sudan and the North African parts of the Turkish Empire, to India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Java and Malaysia, and into the Pacific, in Fiji, Australia and the Pacific Island nations. Legislation in one section of the Empire, for example, the Caribbean, was also passed elsewhere, such as Cape Colony, Mauritius and the Seychelles. The British were aided in their campaign to stamp out slavery in Egypt, the Sudan and Uganda by the Egyptian ruler, the Khedive Ismail. They also signed treaties banning the slave trade from East Africa with the Imam of Muscat, now Oman, the ruler of Zanzibar and Pemba and the suzerain of some of the east African coastal states. There was also an invasion of Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, in retaliation for their raiding of the neighbouring British territories for slaves.

As well as trying to suppress the enslavement of Africans, the British were also forced to attack other forms of slavery, such as the forced kidnapping and sale of indentured migrant labourers from India and China in the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’, and the similar enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific for labour on the sugar plantations in Fiji and Queensland.

I also explain how one of the first English-speaking countries to ban slavery was Canada, where enlightened governors and judges twisted the interpretation of Canadian law to show that slavery did not officially exist there.

The video’s about ten minutes long. Unfortunately, I don’t say anything about the role Black resistance to slavery, from simple acts like running away, to full scale rebellions had in ending it, or of colonial governors and legislatures. But the book does mention them.

Here’s the video:

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Sam Seder Attacks Economist Review Defending Slavery

February 22, 2016

This is unbelievable. In this segment from Sam Seder’s Majority Report, Seder rants about a negative review in the Economist attacking Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. The reviewer criticised Baptist’s book for being one-sided. All the Blacks in the book were victims, he complains, and all the Whites were villains. Seder is understandably and rightly outraged by this statement, and goes off on a long rant about how luck Blacks were to be enslaved, when they could simply have been kept in the slave ships and not landed in America, or been eaten by lions back in Africa, rather than captured and sold. It seems that many others were offended too, as the review was pulled from the Economist’s website.

Now depending on how their masters treated them, slaves could enjoy quite a high standard of living. Archaeologists researching Benjamin Franklin’s slaves’ quarters found remains of violins, pipes, and good quality china, as well as quite a varied diet, which included fish. And the defenders of slavery pointed out that the standard of living of their slaves was better than the miserable industrial workers in the north, the ‘factory slaves’, who were free in name only. You can even find examples of slave owners, who risked punishment under the law for trying to give their slaves some education, teaching them to read, for example.

None of which detracts from how monstrous and horrendous slavery actually was. The slave was legally just a mere chattel, subject to extreme punishment for even minor offences, who by law was banned from mixing with Whites. It was the appalling conditions in which slaves were kept, sold and exploited that motivated so many people in America, Britain, Canada and across the world to protest against slavery and demand its abolition. Just how deeply traumatised slaves were simply by the condition of slavery itself can be seen by the fact that, in general, very few former slaves described what their lives were like to their free children and grandchildren. Years ago there was a piece in the Observer about the reparations movement. One of the leaders of the movement explained that it wasn’t just about getting reparations for slavery, it was also to recover some of the lost history. They were afraid that with their grandparents’ generations dying off, Blacks would lose contact with the last people, who had had contact with the slaves. They complained that their slave forebears had never talked to them about what it was like when they were slaves.
I can’t say I’m surprised. People who go through deeply traumatic experiences tend not to talk about them. They just want to forget and move on. Old soldiers, for example, rarely talked about what they did in combat. It was too shocking, too horrific. Similarly, people, who have been raped or sexually assaulted generally don’t want to talk about the experience. They’re too deeply shamed, even though they were not responsible for their assault. So it seems entirely natural to me that a generation of Black Americans, raised in servitude, should have gone through their lives as free people determined not to speak about the condition of degradation they had been born into.

The Economist is, of course, one of the main upholders of capitalist economic orthodoxy. There seems to be very much a movement on the libertarian Right at the moment to try and play down the importance of slavery as a dark smear on American history. Guy Debord’s Cat has several very interesting pieces on how the intellectual heirs of Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises and von Hayek are trying to rewrite the American Civil War to avoid slavery as its major cause. They’re trying to make out it was due to some kind of trade controversy over tariffs. Together with the deeply racist beliefs of Donald Trump’s supports, it shows how frightening reactionary the American Far Right is.

Cruelty by Plantation Masters in the 19th Century and Anti-Aristocratic Sentiment

July 8, 2014

Okay, while we’re on the subject of slavery …

I used to do voluntary work back in the 1990s and early part of this century, cataloguing the government documents on slavery held by one of the local museums. It was interesting work, even if the subject itself is extremely grim. Looking through some the summaries I made this morning, I found one on the official correspondence between Governor Elliot of Nevis, and the Earl of Liverpool in Britain in 1817 regarding the prosecution of a plantation master, Edward Huggins, and his two sons, Peter and Edward, for excessively flogging their slaves. Although the slave trade had been banned throughout the British Empire in 1807, slavery still remained legal until 1833. It was then officially abolished, but effectively continued under the guise of ‘apprenticeship’.

The British had passed a series of measures designed to improve conditions. It was still legal to punish slaves by flogging, but this was limited to about 25 lashes. Which is still extremely unpleasant, but nowhere near as horrific as the hundreds of lashes some of them inflicted on their slaves. From what I can remember, Huggins and his sons had gone way over the 25 lashes. They were arrested and prosecuted. Huggins had been acquitted, and the colonial and British authorities were concerned about the way he had apparently packed the jury with his supporters.

What is interesting is that the correspondence also included observations on the declining ability of the free White population to act responsibly as citizens and legislators. They were also worried by the growth of anti-aristocratic feeling amongst Nevis’ lower classes.

It’s now nearly two centuries later, and we have an aristocratic government trying to bring back all the horrors of the 19th century, and there is a corresponding growth in anti-aristocratic feeling.

The more things change …

Arizona Allows Shops to Refuse Gays – Others Could Soon Suffer

February 27, 2014

There was a headline on MSN News yesterday that Arizona had passed a law allowing shops to refuse to serve gays. This is extremely ominous, not just for gay people, but for other minority groups, including Blacks. Despite the considerable liberalisation of attitudes towards homosexuality and gays over the past forty years or so since the Stonewall riots in America, homosexuality is still extremely controversial even over this side of the Atlantic. A friend surprised me a few years ago by pointing out just how many US states still have laws banning sodomy. These laws not only prohibit homosexuality, but also certain forms of heterosexual sex.

For many people, this is simply a moral issue without any connection to the wider issue of gender, ethnic or religious equality. They see homosexuality and homosexuals as deeply immoral, and clearly want the right to refuse to serve them. It’s a view shared by many over this side of the Atlantic. However, it also has profound and deeply disturbing implications for other groups.

The ideology behind the move appears to me to be not just hostility to gays, but also an attempt to appeal to the issue of personal freedom. Homosexuals are not banned from being served in shops in Arizona, the proponents of the law would argue. It’s just that they’ve given shopkeepers the right and freedom to refuse to serve them.

It’s a right that I’m afraid will be used to justify the passage of laws allowing shopkeepers and employers to refuse to serve and take on other groups, such as those of a different ethnicity or religion. And this is being argued for.

A year or so ago the transatlantic Right were trying to rehabilitate George Wallace, the pro-segregation American politicians left in a wheelchair after an assassination attempt. They argued that despite his support for segregation, Wallace himself was not personally racist. They stated that he was a member of NAACP – the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, one of the major American Civil Rights organisations. They stated that he was one of the first to end segregation in his department store and open it up equally to both Whites and Blacks. His resistance to the end of segregation, it was claimed, came from his belief that the passage of laws demanding the equal treatment of White and Black would be an attack on personal freedom. The argument runs that he wasn’t racist, worked to end racism, but respected the rights of others to be racist in their own business. A similar argument could be used to justify the new law allowing shops to refuse to serve gays.

Other sections of the American right are using similar arguments against Abraham Lincoln and his liberation of the slaves. Guy Debord’s Cat has covered this development in the American extreme Right over on his blog on one of his posts on the weird mental world inhabited by some of the commenters on the Telegraph blogs. Again, there is a serious, respectable historiographical issue concerning Lincoln’s attitude to the slaves. Rather than being a hero of the anti-slavery movement, Lincoln was, it has been argued, personally deeply racist and quite prepared to sacrifice the slaves if it would mean holding the US together. He only liberated the slaves at the very last moment as an attempt to undermine the South. Furthermore, it has been argued, no slaves were actually freed as a result of his legislation.

To many of those on the Right, however, Lincoln is a figure of hate not because of his highly questionable and ambivalent attitude to slavery, but because he passed legislation banning it. This is viewed very much as an attack on personal freedom and the sanctity of private property, and so he has been denounced in some quarters as a ‘Socialist’. It’s a view and argument very much that of the opponents of anti-slavery legislation throughout the world at the time. It’s horrifying that such views are being advanced now.

The Arizona law against gays presents a terrible danger, not just to gays, but also to the whole notion of equality as it has developed since the mid-19th century. There is a real danger of similar legislation being passed allowing the discrimination and subjection of others, whether on the basis of their race or religious beliefs, apart from their sexual orientation. And it will be supported by people claiming not to support racism or religious discrimination personally, but simply defending the personal freedom of those, who are. And that really will be a form of ‘liberal Fascism’, regardless of how Jonah Goldberg and the rest of the American Right feel about the Left.