Slavery’s Capitalism: Mortgaging Slaves

On March 6, 1841 in Baton Rouge Louisiana, Amos Adams purchased a slaved named Liverpool from John Dunbar. Sheriff Henry Fowler confiscated the slave and him up for sale. According to a court order, Sarah J. Jewel (a relation to Dunbar) owed the Bank of Louisiana money a morgage. The court considered Liverpool as Jewel’s property and the bank ordered the sheriff to arrest Liverpool and turn him over to the bank for collateral. This was unknown to Adams. He claimed that he bought Liverpool without any knowledge of Dunbar’s debt to the bank. He chided the bank and sheriff for confiscating Liverpool without any warning. Dunbar, then, petitioned to sue the bank, the Sheriff,f and Dunbar for illegaly confiscating his ‘poperty.’

Slaves provided Southerners with capital, which they could mortgage to aquire more capital. The financial status of slaves and its contribution to American capitalism has become a major topic in the New History of Capitalism. Mortgaging slaves helped build Louisiana’s infrastructure, but to what extent remains unknown.

Petition 20884503


Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind (1751): Benjamin Franklin, Creating a White Nation

Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who winks at us.  George Washington’s colleagues found it hard to imagine touching the austere general on the shoulder, and we would find it even more so today.  Jefferson and Adams are just as intimidating.  But Ben Franklin, that ambitious urban entrepreneur, seems made of flesh rather than of marble, addressable by nickname, and he turns to us from history’s stage with eyes that twinkle from behind those newfangled spectacles… We see his reflection in our own time.

                                                –Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life[

The English make the principal body of white people on the face of the earth. I could wish their numbers were increased.  And while we are, as I may call it, scouring our planet, by clearing America of woods, and so making this side of our globe reflect a brighter light…why should we in the sight of superior beings, darken its people?  Why increase the sons of Africa, by planting them in America, where we have so fair an opportunity, by excluding all blacks and tawneys, of increasing the lovely white and red?

                                                            Benjamin Franklin, Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind (1751)[2]

Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin evokes familiar praise for America’s founding fathers often located in popular narratives about American history.   Isaacson believe ‘Ben’ stands out from the other founding fathers as an accessible, friendly, but extremely intelligent average joe.  “he was America’s best scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, and business strategists.” By portraying himself as a backwoods sage,” Isaacson argues, Franklin tried “to create a new American archetype.”  After all, “We see his reflection in our own time.” Maybe Franklin succeeded in creating this new archetype, but no in the way Isaacson imagines.  

The election of Donald Trump to the American presidency shed light on the prevalence of slavery, invisible to so many white Americans.  We have not come a long way since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.  And if anyone has doubt whether Trump’s base is racist, let us remember that former Klan Wizard David Duke encourages fellow white-supremacist to support Trump.  As most minorities know, race did not disappear. Although writers celebrate American exceptionalism and hero-myths of the founding fathers, many other scholars show that that race was a central concern in colonial and antebellum America.  In fact, race is a quintessential aspect of American history.

Franklin’s Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind portrays two important historical perspectives—American exceptionalism and Universal History—and their relation to racism.[3]  American exceptionalism is predicated on the idea that America differs in kind with any other nation.  Franklin viewed America as the “city upon the hill” a beacon for modernity and the Enlightenment.   American exceptionalism focuses on the idea that it was created consciously created through a rebellion and a utopian vision of working republic, where all people—white men—were created equally.  America did not have the long history of monarchies and traditions that obscured Reason’s search for truth.  

Franklin argued that the main duty of a founding father was to civilize a territory.  During the Enlightenment, scholars developed Universal History, which suggested that all human societies followed the same path of development. Although there were variations according to specific scholars, the most prevalent timeline of development suggested: in the beginning were hunters and gathers (known as savages). The second stage was pastoralism or husbandry where societies depended on animals and simple horticulture (referred to as barbarians).  Scholars argued that agriculture, the third stage, was quintessential component of civilization.   Scholars also considered a fourth stage—commerce.  

            John Locke stated that “in the beginning everything was America,” meaning that indigenous American presented an early stage in social development and that the land was untouched by civilizing factors— agriculture.[4]It was the duty of America’s founding fathers to implement civilization.  “America is chiefly occupied by Indians, who subsist mostly by Hunting.” Hunters and gatherers owned no land (private property), which was a quintessential aspect of civilization.  The founding fathers of a nation, according to Franklin, were to start factors of civilization e.g. private property and agriculture. 

Hence the Prince that acquires new territory, if he finds it vacant, or removes natives to give his own people room; the Legislator that makes effectual laws for promoting of trade, increasing Employment, improving land by more or better Tillage; providing more food by Fisheries; securing property, &c. and the man that invents new trades, arts or manufactures, or new improvements in husbandry may be properly called Fathers of their Nation, as they are the cause of the generation of multitudes, by the encouragement they afford marriage.[5]

Once the founding fathers eradicated Native Americans, white people could easily settle the land, but they needed laborers for their plantations. Britons made the mistake of using Africans for slavery.  This affected Europeans’ work ethic.  “The negroes brought into the English Sugar Islands have greatly diminished the whites there; the poor are by this means deprived of employment.”[6]In the Northern colonies, slaves are not in as high demand as the sugar plantations.  However, “slaves also pejorate the Families that use them; the white children become proud, disgusted with labour and being educated in idleness are rendered unfit to get a Living by industry.”[7]Slavery, in other words, made white people lazy. 

            Franklin’s study of populations reflects a trans-Atlantic interest in the study of populations for reasons of state.  “Demographic concerns shaped projects of social engineering, Empire building, and economic improvement” Ted McCormick, from above quote.  In the History of Sexuality, Foucault argued that “one of the great innovations in the techniques of power in the eighteenth-century was the emergence of ‘population’ as an economic and political problem.”⁠[8]Foucault revealed how discourses created both an epistemology and ontology of the subject of the discourses i.e. knowledge of sexuality created and defined sexuality itself. For Foucault, ‘populations,’ aided in creating biopower over people.  Biopower, according to Foucault, is a type of knowledge/ power over biological subjects, a power that creates standards of normativity, ideal kinds of biological states, etc.  Slave populations presented Europeans with an easy means of manipulating populations through labor organization.  Franklin’s essay can be seen as a form of bio-power on a large scale, as he wanted populations to be controlled so that only whites inhabited America. 

           At the end of the essay, Franklin tells readers who should inhabit America: “the number of purely white people in the world is proportionably very small.  All Africa is black or tawny.  Asia chiefly tawny.  America (exclusive of the newcomers) wholly so… the Saxons only excepted, who with the English make the principal body of white people on the face of the earth.  I could wish their numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, scouring our planet, by clearing America of woods, and so making this side of our globe reflect a brighter light to the eyes of inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the sight of superior beings, darken its people?  Why increase the sons of Africa, by planting them in America, where we have so fair and opportunity, by excluding all blacks and tawneys, of increasing the lovely white and red?  But perhaps I am partial to the complexion of my Country, for such kind of partiality is natural to Mankind.”[9] 

Franklin’s essay portrays a nation engineered using biopower to create a haven of white Europeans.  This rhetoric continues in today’s racial divide with Trump as the front man “to make America great again.”  He spent most of his presidency undoing the policies of Barack Obama.  Although Obama was a typical imperialist, he was also a black man and this infuriated Trump and his followers.  America is far from an egalitarian nation stratification between race, class, and gender is a hallmark of American history.  Franklin’s essay is one voice among many that sought to engineer a white populace.

[1]Isaacson, Walter. 2004. Benjamin Franklin. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[2]Benjamin, Franklin. n.d. “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, 1751”. Ardent Media. Accessed January 10, 2019.

[3]Here I use ‘racism’ loosely.  Racism as we know it today, emerged in the 19thcentury, when thinkers tried to apply biological aspects to different people.  As we know, there is no biological determinant of race e.g. all humans are part of the same species.  In the eighteenth century, there was no concept of race, Enlightenment thinkers offered theories about the effect of climate on societies that made nations differ from each other.

[4]Lowi, Theodore J. 1996. The End of the Republican Era. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 3.

[5]Benjamin, Franklin. n.d. “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, 1751”. Ardent Media. Accessed January 10, 2019, 221.



[8]Foucault, The History of Sexuality, 25.

[9]Benjamin, Franklin. n.d. “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, 1751”. Ardent Media. Accessed January 10, 2019, 224.

Re-Posted from the Many-Headed Monster, by Brodie Waddell

Integrating Histories of London, c.1500-1800

Posted on January 7, 2019 by manyheadedmonster

[Dom BirchEsther Brot and Jonah Miller are doctoral students at King’s College London. In this post, they set out why and how they think the diverse histories of early modern London can be integrated with each other and with larger national narratives, reflecting on a workshop on this topic that they ran in autumn 2018.]

Between 1500 and 1800 the city of London changed—a lot. It was over this period that we begin to see the development of a London that we might recognise. By the end of the eighteenth century the city had many of its modern-day hallmarks: political power was linked to the metropolis, it was a driver of fashion and popular culture, it was a centre of a globalised world, and the city had grown to include what would have previously been considered its suburbs. The existential changes in London’s nature, and the way in which the history of London can be linked to the history of England, make it a compelling place to study. Understanding early modern London means understanding how it transformed from its medieval origins to an archetype of modernity. This field of study has, however, faced several difficulties recently. So, with this in mind, in October we brought together a group of historians whose work on London we felt is particularly innovative to talk through what, exactly, early modern London was.

The idea for this workshop originally came from the recognition that we were all working on the history of London in some capacity. This may sound obvious but as historians we’re often trained to think of the work we do in certain ways. We all think of ourselves as social historians and within that label as social scientists (Dom), historians of government (Esther) or cultural historians (Jonah). Despite these different fields of study, we were all researching groups of people who lived in London and would often find ourselves together in the London Metropolitan Archives—using sources from London. It then became apparent that this wasn’t an issue faced by us alone. There are plenty of historians working either in or on London who wouldn’t see themselves as historians of London. They might instead have as a primary motivator a historical theme (religious history) or a group of people (foodsellers or guild members). We thought it would be worthwhile to bring these different perspectives together for a discussion on early modern London more generally, and to ask what different focuses and methods could bring to the study of the city.

Braun and Hogenberg (1560-72) London map

London in the late sixteenth century: too big for one historian?

As we started to plan the workshop it became obvious that there are many issues in the history of London that can’t be solved by one single historian, or a small group of historians. One recurring issue is that the study of London in this period is so broad. London was a very different place in 1500 than it was in 1800, for a variety of reasons including demographic, religious and political change over the period. Does it really make sense to assume that we can have a coherent picture of London that spans the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? If it doesn’t, where and how do we split the period? The existing scholarship on the city has tended to fall into two sets of writing: pre-1650 and post-1650. This seems to make intuitive sense: Londoners’ experience of either half of the mid-seventeenth century was likely to be very different, given the impact of the civil war and the fire of London. The cityscape as well as society and politics changed over this period. If this existing split in the scholarship made sense, we wanted to know how far we should push it. Should and would historians feel comfortable talking about an early-early modern and late-early modern London as separate entities of enquiry?

These temporal issues aside, London remains a difficult place to write coherently about. Being in London could mean very different things depending on where you lived and worked. The city of London itself was subject to different rules and regulations than the suburbs (i.e. anything outside the city walls). These two areas also had different demographic make-ups. How, then, do we, as historians, write about these different Londons? To take a modern example, Deptford, Islington and the Barbican are all part of London—but the experiences of those living there differ in important ways. We wanted to know how we can be attuned to the nuances of London’s history when writing about it.


Records created by one of the many Livery Companies

A related issue is that of London’s many jurisdictions and institutions. Writing about London often means relying on a set of institutional records. Using London’s church court records, for example, tells us a lot about how early modern Londoners went about getting married, cheated on their partners, or slandered each other in the streets. These records also give us a history of the diocese of London—which, at that time, included a good part of Essex, Middlesex and Surrey. Using records from the Old Bailey Online gives a different picture of London: one defined by criminal behaviour and marginal forms of action. The livery company archives tell us a lot about the livery companies themselves, as well as the artisans and tradespeople that belonged to them. But, again, the information here is circumscribed—it pertains to certain groups of people and sets of practices. Trying to fit work on different institutions and archives into a broader picture of early modern London is a difficult task, and as we noted above not one likely to be achieved by a single historian.

These are all substantial issues in themselves, but they are compounded by the fact that the historiography of this field is uneven. The history of London has, therefore, been defined by a few foundational texts and ideas. Ian Archer and Valerie Pearl, in the nineties, focused on how London was governed and whether it was a ‘stable’ society. Jeremy Boulton wrote a key study of neighbourhood and mobility based around the London suburb of Southwark. Many of us wanting to do quantitative work on London use the work of Steven Rappaport as a starting point. And much of the later history of London has been defined by the study of crime and criminals by Tim Hitchcock and Robert Shoemaker. Each of these themes and focuses have limitations—Southwark and criminals were not representatives of all of London.  So, for us, there remains the question of how we write about London in ways that engage with this previous scholarship but are not completely defined by it.

With these issues in mind we put our workshop together, inviting academics who we felt could give new and exciting perspectives on the history of London. The aim was to discuss these problems in more detail, trying to find attitudes and methods that could address them. We wanted to understand how new generations of historians could seek to write an ‘integrated history of London’ that could be, at once, specific and general. We wanted this workshop to be the start of collaboration and conversation between historians working on London. We hope that by bringing individuals into contact with each other we could start to tackle some of these big issues in the history of early modern London. And, in turn, we could get a better idea of what early modern London looked and felt like, and what it meant to be an early modern Londoner.

As part of this, posts from three of the speakers at the workshop will follow:

  • Jennifer Bishop, ‘Histories of London, c.1500-1650: Space, Narratives and Numbers’ (10 January 2019)
  • Brodie Waddell, ‘Histories of London, c.1650-1800: Institutions, Work, Poverty and Crime’ (14 January 2019)
  • Richard Bell, ‘Histories of London, 1640s to 1660s: Continuities and Turning Points’ (17 January 2019)

More importantly, we hope that the other participants in the workshop and readers of the posts will join the conversation by posting comments or questions here or on twitter (#IntegratingHistories2019).


Spectres of Modernity


Perspectives on History: the newsmagazine of the American Historical Association

A Pedagogical Experiment

Dane Kennedy | Dec 17, 2018

How do we help students understand that history has relevance to their lives? This is an enduring challenge: every generation of students—indeed, every cohort—is shaped by its own distinct array of experiences. In order to make history meaningful to them, we need to connect it to their interests and concerns, finding new ways to make our classrooms places where the past informs the present. It was in this spirit that I decided to update one of my courses last spring. I did so by adapting the History and Policy Education Program(HPEP) offered by the National History Center, which I direct. The program offers a curricular model that history faculty can use to connect their course content to contemporary policy concerns.

A British squadron sails from Hong Kong to attack Amoy or Xiamen in China, 1841.A British squadron sails from Hong Kong to attack Amoy or Xiamen in China, 1841. Rundle Burges Watson.Wikimedia…

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England Takes Advantage of Corporate Entities in the 17th an 18th centuries


In 1750, An act for extending and improving the trade to Africa, incorporated the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa as a non-profit regulated company to “facilitate Britain’s African trade” by governing and maintaining a series of trading establishments on the African coast.[1] The purpose of the company was to protect free trade, a role the state would later adopt.  The CMTA replaced the bankrupt Royal African Company. Regulated companies differed from joint-stock companies in that members of regulated companies did not participate communally to enhance the price and thus wealth of stockholders.[2]  The company did not sell shares, nor cold coastal employees partake in the slave trade for their own personal gain. Private merchants paid the CMTA 40 shillings a year for the use of the forts on the African coast. Parliament provided most of the company’s finances through an annual stipend. The main purpose of the company was to protect free trade and avoid competition between the company and private merchants. According to historian Christopher Brown, in The British Government and “the Slave Trade: Early Parliamentary Enquiries, 1713-83,” the 1750 Act “aimed to resolve the long-standing tension between a joint stock corporation that had long since lost its commercial standing and the individual traders who conducted the commerce, but had no institutional recognition.”[3] The CMTA was an attempt to synthesize corporatism with free trade, debates surrounding the company reveal insight into the changing roles and relationships between the state, corporations, and private merchants during Britain’s expansion as the prominent commercial Empire.

CMTA archives provide scholars with indispensible information on a breadth of topics ranging from the regulations of trade to relations between company employees and African communities on the coast—especially the Fante. Despite a wealth of scholarship published about these relations, scholars sometimes confuse the CMTA with the Royal African Company, but these were two distinct companies. For instance, historians Randy Sparks and Rebecca Shumway refer to the CMTA as the Royal African Company. Part of the reason for this confusion stems from title of the archives. One of the main sources for insight into life on the African coast comes from the treasury records (T 70) of both companies. Unfortunately the title of the series holding both the Royal African Company and the CMTA’s records are titled: Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading with Africa and successors.[4] Eveline Martin’s “The English Establishments on the Gold Coast in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century,” provides a detailed study of the companies constitution and provides further sources for reading about the company.[5]

The company consisted of a governing Committee, in England, and Council of governors on the coast lead by the Governor of Cape Coast Castle. Nine men ran the Committee; three men were elected from each of England’s main slave port cities—Bristol, Liverpool, and London. According to Martin, “the functions of this Committee bear no comparison with the powers possessed by the Directors of the Joint-Stock Companies.”[6] Their main function, Martin argues, was to obtain the annual stipend from Parliament and use it to purchase the necessary supplies for the coastal staff. Although the company was independent from the state, the Board of Trade oversaw complaints leveled at the CMTA when they occurred and even launched several investigations.[7] On the coast, the acting Governor of Cape Coast Castle led a council of officers, as mentioned above. The forts were organized in a hierarchical fashion, when officers moved up in rank, they would move to the next fort in the hierarchy.

Several excerpts from the 1750 Act help explain the role and intentions for creating the company. For instance, “It shall not be lawful for the Company established by this Act, to trade to or from Africa in their corporate or joint Capacity, or to have any joint or transferrable Stock, or to borrow or take up any Sum or Sums of Money on their Common Seal.”13  Section XXIV reads, “no Officer or any other Persons to be employed by the said Committee… at any Time hereafter, in any Manner, or on any Pretence, obstruct or hinder any of his Majesty’s Subjects in Trading and that the Forts.”14  Section XXVI and XXVII state that the Warehouses, and Buildings, already erected, or which shall hereafter be erected, by the said Company, shall be applied and appropriated wholly to the Maintenance, support, and Improvement of the Forts and Settlements already” and that the forts and other buildings “shall be free and open to all his Majesty’s Subjects.”15  The Act prohibited officers from trading for profit or hindering the trade of British merchants and stated that the forts were to be kept open for private merchants. Officers, however, violated each of these measures.

The CMTA had three major tasks. First, company employees were supposed to maintain the to assist private merchants and help expedite slaving voyages. Company officers, or chiefs, were supposed to assist merchants by keeping the forts supplied with slaves to sell private merchants.[8] Secondly, the forts acted as important signs of possession to deter European rivals from establishing trade on the coast. This meant that the forts were supposed to have working armaments. Chiefs were also supposed to raise the British flag to help as a deterrent. Thirdly, company officers were to maintain friendly open relations with the local African communities. This involved paying rent, giving presents (dashees), participating in local courts (palavars), and complying with other Fante norms. The British established themselves on the coast at the invitation of African merchants and the Fante made sure the company knew that they [the Fante] were in charge.[9]

Payment of coastal officers created problems for the company and prevented officers from fulfilling the three main goals of the CMTA mentioned above. Private merchants accused officers of trading slaves for their own private profit. Joint-stock advocates accused chiefs of neglecting their duties, by letting the forts fall apart, thereby endangering the trade against European rivals.

Europeans and Africans on the Gold Coast traded in goods not species.  The Governing Committee, in England, provided coastal employees with goods, which they were supposed to trade for slaves.  Which goods the Committee sent depended on Fante demand, but there was often a lag between when the goods were purchased, sent, and the changing demand of the Fante.  This meant that employees often received goods that were out-of-fashion.  To make matters worse, employees were also paid in tradable goods. To keep the forts filled with slaves, the forts had to be supplied with enough goods that were in high demand on the coast or else the forts would not be able to purchase slaves from the local community. The Committee, also, paid the officers in goods, which they were supposed to trade with the Fante for their income. Thee Fante did not depend on Europeans for subsistence economy, they traded with Europeans for luxury (or non essential items), if a certain good went out of fashion, company officers were in trouble. Officers found that it was easier to trade slaves using company stores. Although some officers greatly benefited—such as Richard Brew—others traded merely to survive—Philip Quaque.  Either way, officers spent much of their time trading for their own sustenance or livelihoods, which lead to competition with private merchants.

The extensive complaints against the company created debates in England about the role and merits of free trade, joint-stock trade, and the government’s responsibility in a commercial Empire. As mentioned above, the complaints were often leveled at company officers. In the public sphere, contemporaries did not take into account the effects of the Fante on the company or the overall mismanagement of supplies.  Historians, until recently, also overlooked the power of the Fante on the coast and the effects of their dominance on political debates involving the CMTA in England.  For instance, when slave prices rose, new goods were needed, and payments to the Fante increased for various reasons, the Committee would have to ask for more money from Parliament, which lead to heated debate over the company and the conduct of its employees on the coast.  These debates raised questions about who and how to govern and protect the Empire’s trade–joint-stock companies?  Regulated companies?  The state?   In other words, a transnational study of the CMTA from 1750 to 1777 should provide insight about how cross-cultural interactions affected English politics.[10]

The following is a list of works about cross-cultural relations on the African Gold Coast involving the CMTA

Martin, Eveline Christiana. “The English Establishments on the Gold Coast in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century,.”5 (1922)

Reese, Ty M. ” Eating” Luxury: Fante Middlemen, British Goods, and Changing Dependencies on the Gold Coast, 1750-1821.”The William and Mary Quarterly66, no. 4 (2009): 851-872.

———. “An Economic Middle Ground?: Anglo/African Interaction, Cooperation and Competition at Cape Coast Castle in the Late Eighteenth Century Atlantic World.”Interactions: Regional Studies, Global Processes, and Historical Analysis

———. “‘Sheep in the Jaws of So Many Ravenous Wolves’: The Slave Trade and Anglican Missionary Activity at Cape Coast Castle, 1752-1816.”Journal of religion in Africa34, no. 3 (2004): 348-372.

———. “We Must Keep Black Men of Power in Our Pay”: The Reliance of the English Slave Trade on African Labor.”Proceedings of the Ohio Academy of History(1999): 51-62.

Reese, Ty M.. “Controlling the Company: The Structures of Fante-British Relations on the Gold Coast, 1750–1821.”The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History41, no. 1 (2013): doi:10.1080/03086534.2013.762162.

———. “Facilitating the Slave Trade: Company Slaves at Cape Coast Castle, 1750–1807.”Slavery & Abolition31, no. 3 (2010): doi:10.1080/0144039x.2010.504538.

Shumway, Rebecca. The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Boydell & Brewer, 2014.

Sparks, Randy J. Where the Negroes Are Masters. Harvard University Press,

[1] Eveline C. Martin, “The English Establishments on the Gold Coast in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5 (January 1, 1922): 167–208; Ty M. Reese, “Facilitating the Slave Trade: Company Slaves at Cape Coast Castle, 1750-1807,” Slavery & Abolition 31, no. 3 (September 2010): 363.   The forts and other settlements under the companies jurisdiction lied “between the Port of Sallee in South Barbary, and the Cape of Good Hope,” see: Geo. II. c. 31. See: Donnan, Elizabeth. Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America. The Eighteenth Century Volume II Volume II. 1931, 474ff.

[2] Leonard W. Hein, “The British Business Company: Its Origins and Its Control,” The University of Toronto Law Journal 15, no. 1 (January 1, 1963): 144, doi:10.2307/824910; M. Schmitthoff, “The Origin of the Joint-Stock Company,” The University of Toronto Law Journal 3, no. 1 (January 1, 1939): 77, 79, 80, 81, 92, 94, 95,

[3] Christopher Leslie Brown, “The British Government and the Slave Trade: Early Parliamentary Enquiries, 1713-83,” Parliamentary History 26, no. 4 (2007): 27.

[4] For more information on the classification of African Companies, please see: Jenkinson, Hilary. “The Records of the English African Companies,.”6 (1912).

[5] Martin, Eveline Christiana. “The English Establishments on the Gold Coast in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century,.”5 (1922)

[6] Martin, Eveline Christiana. “The English Establishments on the Gold Coast in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century,.”5 (1922), 172.

[7] Ibid., 174.

[8] Slaving voyages were funded by plantation owners and other merchants, they set a quota for the amount of slaves they wanted to purchase. Someties, the slave ship captain would coast up and down the shore until he purchased enough slaves to fill the quota. Coasting could take weeks or months, during which time, captains would have to purchase provisions for the crew and slaves they already had on board. The settlements were meant to help expedite the voyages. A chief was supposed to keep the fort “stocked” with slaves using goods provided by the governing Committee in England, who received finances from Parliament.

[9] Ty M. Reese, “Controlling the Company: The Structures of Fante-British Relations on the Gold Coast, 1750–1821,” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 41, no. 1 (2013): 105, doi:10.1080/03086534.2013.762162.

The people vs tyranny: the secular martyrdom of John Lilburne, Michael Braddick

The English activist John Lilburne (1615-57) is now remembered as one of the leading Levellers – campaigners for a government based on popular sovereignty, two centuries before the advent of mass representative democracy in Europe. But that was only part of a longer public career in which he took on every government he lived under, displaying extraordinary courage and fortitude, and in the process championing legal rights that are important to us all.

For example, having been arrested on suspicion of importing illegal books in 1637, Lilburne refused to plead. For this contempt of court, he suffered a fearsome beating through the streets of London, as he stumbled from Fleet Prison to Westminster yard, tied at the ‘cart’s arse’. He received 500 strokes from a triple-corded, knotted whip, which left his shoulders swollen like ‘penny loaves’ and his back striped with ‘welts like tobacco pipes’. Placed in the pillory, he was gagged so roughly that his jaw bled. This aimed as much to humiliate as to silence him – gagging was fit for animals, not the son of a gentleman.

Lilburne triumphed over these torments, though, distributing the very tracts he was accused of importing, and forcing the Privy Council to change the choreography of future punishments to avoid a repetition of this embarrassment. All the same, he subsequently languished in prison for three years, refusing to submit to the authority of the court, before he was released by Parliament along with other victims of Charles I’s regime. He later declared himself a man who did not fear ‘Greatnes or Threatning’ and it is hard to disagree. This punishment for contempt was later overthrown, establishing an important precedent for the right to remain silent.

This was the first of his many brushes with the law, but the cause for which Lilburne suffered shifted across the years. He was tempted into the trade in illegal books because he thought that servants of anti-Christ had taken control of the English Church, making it part of that ‘smoaky pollitique State of the Crowned Locusts or Roman Clergy’.

However, 12 years later, we are on more familiar ground. The regime that had executed Charles I put Lilburne on trial for treason, claiming that he had incited the army to mutiny when he urged them to protect the people from the new government’s incipient tyranny. Now self-consciously defending ‘the common freedome of the People’, Lilburne denounced the new government as a self-interested faction.

This dramatic change in Lilburne’s political anxieties is intrinsically interesting – the journey from an apparently absurdly hyperbolic argument that seems downright loopy for many modern readers to a much more recognisable set of fears. But it also reveals the broader creativity spawned by this political crisis, a period the historian J G A Pocock called the ‘epic years’ of the English political imagination.

Lilburne’s faith remained important throughout his life. Indeed, he often took on the mantle of the Christian martyr. He hoped to prove the righteousness of his cause through his willingness to suffer for it, while revealing the hypocrisy of his persecutors by forcing them to show their teeth. He also constantly referred to biblical history and scriptural example to explain what his sufferings were really all about: why other people should care.

These sufferings were genuine. Following that fearsome beating in 1638, he had been imprisoned in conditions that were at times appalling, perhaps even life-threatening. Twenty years later, dead at the age of 42, he had spent more than half of his adult life in prison or exile, and survived three trials for his life. He had also seen very active military service in the parliamentary armies. In all this, he consistently claimed that his religious faith gave him the necessary strength to endure and prevail.

It is striking, though, that he never claimed to suffer for a particular religious group. Instead, he said his battle was for the legal freedoms due to all Englishmen: ‘There [is] not one particular I have contended for, or for which I have suffered, but the right, freedom, safety and wellbeing of every particular man, woman and child in England.’ He struggled on behalf of all those born to these rights, even those whose religious opinions he knew to be false.

Put another way, he was consistently prosecuted for what he published not what he did; and he consistently wrote about his legal rights not his faith. His was a secular martyrdom.

This takes us to the heart of a larger and longer transition in European politics. The Reformation had made religious difference central to political life. Regimes now had religious identities – as Catholic, Lutheran or Calvinist, for example – and that created a pressure to suppress alternative and potentially subversive versions of Christianity. It also lent an edge to international rivalries, giving religious justifications for war.

Lilburne emerged from this world of Reformation politics but expressed his religious conscience in a very different way, based on a sharp distinction between the civil state and the ecclesiastical state. The civil state was governed by human laws, which he acknowledged to be binding. He consistently said that he would submit to just prosecution according to the law of the land.

The ecclesiastical state, by contrast, was governed by scripture. The Church was not a national body, and it was not under the jurisdiction of national governments. For Lilburne, religious conscience (and that of his religious enemies) was regulated by God, not the government.

He did not fight to achieve a religious reformation, therefore, but against civil tyranny – ‘not in the least, in opposition to a just Government, having alwaies … had the Law of England on his side’ (my emphasis).

These arguments take us from a world of Reformation politics – in which the key political questions were about the purification of Church and society inspired by a vision of the true faith – towards a world of Enlightenment politics – where the key political questions are about our rights and duties as subjects or citizens.

It was a larger and longer transition of course, but in that transition Lilburne’s arguments survived better than those of his more explicitly religiously engaged contemporaries. They were important to radicals of the 1790s, to the British Left in the 19th and 20th century, to 20th-century libertarians and (for example) to Hugo Black, a relatively conservative judge in the US Supreme Court in 1937-71. In fact, we are still having some of the same arguments, and we share many of his concerns in a way we do not with most of his contemporaries.

Lilburne’s experience was unique, of course, but it reflects broader features of life during civil war and revolution. Having taken up arms against the king, he had a kind of Animal Farm moment, realising that the parliamentary pigs might be no better than the royalist humans had been. This convinced him that the war was not really between king and parliament, so much as between the people and tyranny.

Many others experienced this kind of epiphany, often prompted by the same crisis moments, although they took very different paths. Lilburne’s experience was in that sense just one particularly striking indication of how profound a crisis the English Revolution really was; and the transformation of his political views is but one example of the remarkable creativity it spawned.

The Common Freedom of the People: John Lilburne and the English Revolution by Michael Braddick is published via Oxford University Press.

Michael Braddick

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Universal History


The early modern period challenged traditional European thoughts.[1] The scientific revolution, modern philosophy, the commercial revolution, the industrial revolution, and European expansion all challenged traditional European thoughts about the world. Cultural exchanges, at the heart of expansion, influenced what would become Universal History. Before the 19th century, before racial theories, Europeans believed humans were the same throughout, though they believed cultures differed, but they considered these differences conventional. Historians and proto-anthropologists believed that social growth developed through stages and these stages applied to all societies—this was Universal History. Universal history influenced writers of the Enlightenment, such as Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, Hegel and Marx. Today, the residue of Universal History is alive and well, especially in development theories and policies. Post-modernism critized Universal History as grand narratives based on Eurocentrism. Post-colonial writers were among the most fervent attackers of Universal History. Although they undermined the intellectual foundations of UH, its thought and policies continue to haunt the world—as Brett Bowden notes in The Strange Persistence of Universal History in Political Thought (2017).


Universal History reflected the intellectual precursors to Western hegemony because it claimed that human societies followed the same general laws of progress, which Euro-American countries were examples.  Subsequent universal claims did not stop at society and history, but also claimed superiority over biology and other forms of scientific knowledge (epistemic habitus, norms).  While universalism suggests that all people are generally the same, 19th century science divided people into racial categories, which largely reflected  the social hierarchies found in grand narrative of Universal History.  In the 20th century, two grand narratives competed—Communism and Liberal Capitalism (though they were more alike than people give credit).  Western, and especially American power allowed the West to dictate political economic development programs to make former colonies more like western countries in terms of consumption and production. Today’s political economic divide between the North and South reflect the ‘stages of growth’ presumption inherent in Universal history.

“John Locke’s claim that ‘in the beginning all the world was America,’ is taken to mean that all peoples literally emerged in a stage of nature. According to Gavin Kennedy, Locke’s quote allowed for people to understand that all societies have the same experiences, that the state of nature was natural to all societies.  “The rude societies of America, therefore were a veritable theme park of the lives of Europe’s distant ancestors.”[2]

“The idea of universal history,” according to Bowden, “means that all peoples share the same history… from developing nations, to the affluent West.”  All people, all nations, “can be situated in the narrative of human history on a continuum between start and end point: all are destined to travel the same path and arrive… at the same end point, modernity.”[3]This implies universal freedom and egalitarianism similar to liberalism. Historian Ryan Nisbet, for instance, stated that “no single idea has been more important than…the idea of progress in Western civilization for nearly three thousand years. He suggests “the idea of progress holds that mankind has advanced in the past from some aboriginal condition of primitiveness, barbarism, or even nullity—is now advancing , and will continue…” By the 19th century, Nanneral Keohane argues that progress “became an article of faith.” It was “a universal religion.”[4]One of the defining aspects of the Enlightenment, Bowden tells readers, is progress.  George Iggers states that the “idea of progress in its Enlightenment form represented the first theory of modernization.”[5] The Enlightenment, progress, liberalism, and modernity are all interrelated parts of Western hegemony discoverable through history. Alan Wolfe connects Locke’s comments about the Americans state of nature with liberalism y suggesting “that in the beginning all the world was America is to claim that freedom and equality would become forces too powerful to resist. That, in turn, became the single most influential component of liberalism: the dominant, if not always appreciated, political philosophy of modern times.” LIBERALISM. Liberalism, according to Wolfe spread because of its universal appeal.[6]The Amerindians, for instance, played a significant role in what would come to be called universal history. Adam Ferguson said: “it is in their [American savages] present condition that we are to behold, as in a mirror, the features of our own progenitors; and from thence we are to draw our conclusions with respect to the influence of situations, in which, we have reason to believe, our fathers were placed.”[7]According to author Brett Bowden, by equating Amerindians contemporary lifestyle with that of early Europeans “led to a redefinition of history along a linear time scale providing a secular telos as the basis of the historical process.”

Author Brett Bowden, in The Strange Persistence of Universal History in Political Thought, writes: “The Enlightenment idea of universal history idea holds that all peoples can be situated in the narrative of history on a continuum between that start and en end point, what we call civilization.”[8] Universal history was teleological, it moved toward a goal, a universal goal. Despite racial differences that would emerge in the 19th century, Enlightenment thinkers sought human universalism, but this came at a price for non-Europeans. As we can see, Europeans considered themselves at the top of the proverbial food chain. Not only were they ‘civilized,’ unlike other societies, but they knew of historical stages. Contemporaries ‘discovered’ Universal History through a human faculty of Reason. Reason separates humans from animals, but humans do not always or automatically use Reason, it must be learned and refined or else humans can revert to their animalistic instincts-often referred to as passions. Philosophers like Montesquieu believed climate had a major impact human faculties. In the Torrid Zone, for instance, caused people to revert to their passions at the expense of Rationalism.  They became base, animalistic, etc. Learning to use Reason appropriately i.e. think like Europeans was a quintessential step toward becoming civilized.

For Kant human progress is not only teleological, but it is also accumulative and communitive. Humans transcend barbarism by living together and building civic communities. Reason develops through social living because the animalistic instincts have no part in cooperative endeavors. Human progress is a law of nature, intelligible to those using Reason. Nature’s goal, as mentioned above, is a civic community. “The greatest problem for the human race, to the solution of which nature drives man is the achievement of a universal civic society, which administers law among men.” Commerce, for Kant, is a means of building community. Although history might appear to work in cycles, nature has a plan, even if it is not directly obvious to contemporaries, that’s why the study of history using Reason will allow humans to understand the laws of nature-the laws of history-which expanded on past events toward greater freedom and liberty that can only be achieved through living in a civic cosmopolitan community. The teleological zenith, for Kant, is liberty.

“The only Thought which Philosophy brings with it to the contemplation of History, is the simple conception of Reason; that Reason is the Sovereign of the World; that the history of the world, therefore, presents us with a rational process.” According to Hegel, the development of history has been a rational process. “Nature is an embodiment of Reason; that it is unchangeably subordinate to universal laws.” History is not happenstance even if it seems that way. Investigating Universal History, Hegel argues is akin to investigating the realm of the Spirit, it transcends nature. “On the stage on which we are observing it-Universal History-Spirit displays itself in its most concrete reality.” “History is the progress of freedom.” Each age has a spirit or zeitgeist. History advances to something better, even though through the seasons, it seems like history moves in circles. Development is the Spirit striving to realize itself. History moves toward freedom, realized through the state, this freedom, however, is spiritual freedom. Although Hegel is abstract and not as clear as, say, Smith or even Kant, he presents the ideas of development and teleology of history moving toward something better-this ‘better’ is freedom; just like other Enlightenment thinkers, just like Karl Marx.

Writings form authors such as Montesquieu, Condorcet, Turgot, Kant, and Hegel addressed Universal History from an Eurocentric perspective, often implying that Europeans had reached a stage of development, which other societies had yet to achieve. Embedded in the ideas of universal history was concepts of teleological development. Teleology for Kant and Hegel were quintessential to their ideas of progress and history. However, they did not limit their writings to European societies. In other words, they well knew of different societies and tried to incorporate ‘others’ into their framework even though their writings are overtly Eurocentric.

William Lehmann, in John Millar and the Scottish Enlightenment: family life and world history(2017), writes about the complexity and competition among Scottish writers concerning the political economy. Scottish writers, including Adam Smith, developed a timeline of evolutionary history, which scholars, in the humanities and social sciences, continue to use. Scottish philosophers used a four-stage theory:


  1. Hunting, where property only extended to what one could carry on one person (savagery),
  2. Pastoralism, where shepherding witnessed the development of animal property (barbarism),
  3. Agriculture, where society became settled and landed property became pivotal in the production of sustenance (civilization),
  4. Commercial society, defined by contemporary Europe.


Marx’s dialectic materialism is probably the best-known form of Universal History. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx claims: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” His view of history is like Smith’s, stated above:


  1. Primitive Communism
  2. Empire
  3. Landed Aristocracy
  4.  Bourgeoise Democracy and capitalism
  5. Communism


Each of these stages involve two competing groups. For instance, the landed aristocracy’s nemesis were the capitalist Bourgeoise class. A revolution inevitably results, thus changing the modes of production and this is called the synthesis i.e. it brings in a new era of history.

In, Fukuyama’s claim history had ended after the fall of the Soviet Union was a comment on Marx’s idea that all history was the history of class conflict. For Fukuyama, liberalism defeated Marxism, there would be no historical dialectic from capitalism to socialism to communism, therefore history—as understood by Marx—ended. Marx, however, was not the first to propose universal history, the effects of which became part of the Euro-American mindset.

Events in the 20thcentury challenged the teleology of history and peoples’ hopes that technology would bring about a better world.  Although UH met with challenges, it continued to thrive. Events such as WWI, the Depression, WWII, the holocaust, and end of the old world’s formal empires caused contemporaries to question the West’s moral high ground.  Progress, as faith in technology, faltered when technology was used efficiently to kill people across the world in the two world wars and the rise of fascism.  After WWII Britain and France lost their control over their former colonies through policy and by force from indigenous populace.


However, during this time consumer culture expanded, especially after WWII and the power of the U.S. as the world’s primary global power.  Consumer offered citizens a new faith in plenty.  After the New Deal and the end of the Depression Keynesian capitalism, production, and consumption i.e. economics became the new litmus test for progress and growth.  Through economics, progress could be measured.  Combined with post-colonial nationalism the purview lead to a different relationship between the civilized and uncivilized.

Development theory replaced the moral underpinnings of historical evolution. By measuring development according to a nation’s GNP, economists could measure the rate of growth of any country.  Unfortunately, for post-colonial nations, they did not have the finances to invest in trade and infrastructure, which forced them to accept money from their previous overloads.  This money, lent by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, comes at a high price.

“The idea of modernity and becoming modern is intrinsic to development discourse; both of which are entangled with the idea of progress… In line with the idea of universal history, development discourse suggests that there is really only one way to become modern.”  He continues “Throughout the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, development is over-whelming seen as the vehicle that will help make premodern states and traditional or primitive peoples living within them to become modern.”[9]

Western hegemony and ideas of modernity use universalism in other ways.  For instance, Dipesh Chakrabarty’s, Provincializing Europe. (2009) and Gabrielle Hecht’s. Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade(2012); Objectivity(2010), by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison; The Anatomy of Power:  European Constructions of the African Body(1998), Alexander Butchartchallenge epistemological and even ontological universalism by focusing the creation of the other, the nature of uranium, and objectivity itself.

Universal History also reflect the continuity of thought over the long duree.  This is partly to do with the power of Euro-American thoughts and institutions.  From the 1980s to the early 2000s, scholars challenged modernity, but it still lingers, like a ghost we cannot exorcise.  Universal History lies at the center of modernity and it is one of the most pervasive thoughts in global history.  The problem, may be due to scholars confusing the map for the territory.  It should be thought more as a Weberian ideal-type rather than an ontological reality, but would this solve anything?  I do not know.

–Todd Burst

[1]It is near impossible to incapsulate the entirety of European thought, this is a mere abbreviation.

[2]Bowden, 2; Gavin Kennedy, Adam Smith: A Moral Philosopher and His Political Economy (Basingstoke [England]; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 63,”

[3]Bowden, 3.

[4]Bowden, The Empire of Civilization, 49.

[5]Bowden, 49.

[6]Bowden, The Strange Persistence of Universal History in Political Thought, 2; Alan Wolfe, The Future of Liberalism (New York: Vintage Books, 2010), 3–4.

[7]Ibid. 48

[8]Brett Bowden, The Strange Persistence of Universal History in Political Thought, 2017, 1.

[9]Bowden, Brett. 2017. The Strange Persistence of Universal History in Political Thought. Springer, 72-3.