Originally posted on Progressive Geographies: Colin Gordon reviews The Cambridge Foucault Lexicon in History of the Human Sciences (requires subscription). I hope a preprint will appear on Colin’s academia.edu page soon. It’s a very detailed review of a huge work, covering a wide range of the entries – and briefly mentioning my entry on ‘space’…

via Colin Gordon reviews the Cambridge Foucault Lexicon in History of the Human Sciences — Progressive Geographies

Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development

Reblogged from H-Net Reviews:

Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development. Providence, Rhode Island / Cambridge, Massachusetts: Sven Beckert, Harvard University; Seth Rockman, Brown University, 07.04.2011-09.04.2011.

Reviewed by Shaun Nichols
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (May, 2011)

Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development

For generations, historians have struggled to excavate the roots of what Kenneth Pomeranz has called the “Great Divergence”: namely, how and why did the nineteenth century see northwestern Europe—and later, the United States—so abruptly burst forth in an unprecedented explosion of industrial growth while so much of the world lagged behind in a preindustrial past. Pomeranz himself pointed to two key dissimilarities: access to coal, and access to the vast resources of the American continent cultivated largely through coerced and slave labor. Yet despite Pomeranz’s provocative insight, historians have been ultimately reticent to chart a common history of these two institutions that so indelibly marked the global history of the nineteenth century: capitalism and slavery.

Moreover, since the end of the American Civil War, American historians have been only too eager to make slavery out to be merely a “southern problem,” thereby conveniently exculpating the north from its role in the development and promulgation of this abhorrent institution. Indeed, the northern United States, it is so often claimed, represented the modernizing impulse of industrialization itself: the infinite productive capacity of free laborers and yeoman farmers in an open market. The south, on the other hand, was locked in hopeless stagnation—inextricably wedded to its endless wealth of homegrown cotton founded upon the sweltering sin of its peculiar institution: slavery. Only the cataclysm of Civil War could have possibly brought the simmering conflict between these two oppositional systems to a head, and thus pave the way towards the ascendance of liberal capitalism.

Yet in the last two decades, popular consciousness has increasingly diverged from the discourse of many American historians. Indeed, just as many Americans before the Civil War candidly acknowledged the ways in which slave-grown cotton was at the foundation of America’s growing industrial ascendance—it was, after all, the United States’ most valuable export, as well as the essential resource bringing specie into the nation’s fledgling banks—popular discourse has once more returned to seeing the reverberations of slavery’s past all around us. Activists from the reparations movement have exposed the ways in which Northern companies directly benefited from it; American universities have dug into their archives, consciously striving to disentangle their own links to it; and economists have produced a veritable corpus of econometric research compellingly demonstrating how slave labor undergirded America’s industrial revolution. American historians, however, have remained strangely aloof from these developments.

Curiously, the connections between modern institutions and slavery’s past had become so patently self-evident that it seemed to warrant little further research. Yet nothing could be less true. Indeed, highly charged statements of northern “complicity” in southern slaving—whether true or not—mask a far more complicated, contradictory, and often disconcerting historical reality. And although much is already known about the abstract linkages between northern industry and southern slavery, there still exists little scholarly research on the precise connections between these two key enterprises once central to American economic development. With these questions in mind, Sven Beckert, Laird Bell Professor of History at Harvard University, and Seth Rockman, Professor of History at Brown University, brought together seventeen scholars for a conference aimed at painting a very different picture of American economic development. Indeed, how might American history look different once we invite the possibility that perhaps the industrialization of the north and the proliferation of slavery in the south were not rival developments, but rather, transformations deeply embedded within one another? What were the precise connections between the burgeoning economic institutions of the north—banks, merchant establishments, trading firms, commercial shippers, and industrial manufacturers—and the slave plantations of the south? And ultimately, how might an understanding of slavery’scapitalism alter our understandings of the development of the American economy and its particular place in world history?

The conference opened at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island on April 7 to a wonderfully provocative keynote address by Brown University President RUTH SIMMONS (Providence) on how the university itself can play a key role in fostering open, public dialogue—even on contentious issues like the history of slavery. After three days and six panels, the conference ended at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 9, 2011.

The first panel, “Finance,” explored the intricacies of how slavery was capitalized and funded. First, JOSHUA D. ROTHMAN (Tuscaloosa) traced the ways in which speculation in slave labor further inflated the financial “bubble” of the 1830s that culminated in the Panic of 1837. Indeed, Rothman detailed the ways in which northern financial markets supplied the loans (based on the potential return, in labor, of plantation slaves) which effectively made this speculative economic boom—and subsequent bust—possible. BONNIE MARTIN (University Park) then interrogated the ways in which the mortgaging (often repeated mortgaging) of slaves brought in much-needed cash and capital to the south. Yet Martin ultimately emphasized that northern banks and merchants were actually much less involved in this process than the complex neighbor-to-neighbor networks which permeated local southern communities. Finally, KATHRYN BOODRY (Cambridge) compellingly detailed the ways in which slavery was just one part of a larger, integrated Atlantic economy of cotton, capital, and textile manufacturing.

The second panel, “Development,” explored the institutional force and coherence of slavery. First, JOHN MAJEWSKI (Santa Barbara) presented a paper that sought, if not for just a moment, to take Abraham Lincoln seriously in his fears that slavery might have spread north. Indeed, Majewski showed how in the so-called “limestone south”—northern Virginia, the Kentucky Bluegrass region, and the Tennessee Nashville Basin—the natural, built, and cultural environment did not look all too different from the north. Thus, he concluded that slavery perhaps did have the potential to be a national institution, arguing that the defining factor that inhibited its growth in any given area was not climate or economics, but conscious political decision-making. STANLEY ENGERMAN (Rochester) then presented, arguing that although it was undoubtedly true that northern merchants were involved in the financing of slavery, whether or not the slave trade was necessary to northern economic development is a very different and far more complicated question. Indeed, Engerman pointed out that many other national economies thrived in this period without slavery. Thus, he ultimately asked whether slavery undergirded New England’s industrial ascendance, or whether it was the very success of New England’s economy that made slavery such a thriving institution.

Before the next panel started, conference co-convener Seth Rockman reminded the audience that we should be hesitant to rush into abstruse theoretical debates about questions of “what exactly is capitalism?” and to what degree it is merely synonymous with “economic development.” He argued that although, historically, there may have been other nations exhibiting capitalism without slavery, this does not preclude the simple fact that nineteenth-century America did indeed witness the institutional development of both slavery and capitalism. Thus, Rockman argued that we should continue to keep our sights set on telling a better American economic history, not on redefining the very theoretical foundations of capitalism itself.

In the last panel of the day, “Commerce,” ERIC KIMBALL (Greensburg) asked how we might then quantify“complicity”: which is to say, how might we quantify the level of involvement most northerners had with the slave trade? By exploring the connections between West-Indian sugar plantations and northern industries like lumber and whaling, Kimball made a compelling argument that northern manufacturing and resource extraction was indelibly linked to slavery’s profitability. Next, CALVIN SCHERMERHORN (Phoenix) showed how the coastwise slave trade was itself an integral part of United States’ developing commercial shipping network. Finally, DANIEL ROOD (Worcester) detailed the ways in which the wheat-flour economy of the antebellum era was instrumental in pioneering new methods of business integration, foreign trade, and technological change.

The last day of the conference, held at Harvard University, opened with a morning panel dedicated to “Plantation Practices.” First, EDWARD BAPTIST (Ithaca) delivered a gripping account of slaves’ daily experiences in the “push system” of the Deep South: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. In Baptist’s telling, it was a world in which the ever-increasing demand for profit was satiated by pushing slaves harder and harder and by whatever means necessary. In a chilling conclusion, Baptist recalled a former slave’s reminiscences about his master’s “whipping machine”: a hand-operated spinning wheel of four to five whips. Thus, Baptist ultimately showed how the ever-looming threat of violence formed an oft-overlooked foundation of the explosion of productivity the United States experienced during the nineteenth century. IAN BEAMISH (Baltimore) then showed how “agricultural improvement” groups in the nineteenth-century south were in constant dialogue with industrialists in the north, mutually participating in movements to modernize, rationalize, and enumerate agricultural production. Finally, CAITLIN ROSENTHAL (Cambridge) presented her challenge to the all-too-common assumption that modern managerial expertise first emerged out of the large-scale enterprises of the late-nineteenth-century north. Indeed, Rosenthal carefully detailed the ways in which antebellum southern planters were remarkably meticulous accountants and numerate managers, ultimately suggesting that perhaps the overarching need to “control” and “master” slaves itself pushed these planters to develop incipient forms of managerial control.

In the next panel, “Human Capital,” DAINA RAMEY BERRY (Austin) examined the ways in which slaves were capitalized, commodified, and assigned financial value—both before birth and long after death—showing how planters insured their slaves and sought recompense when slaves died unexpectedly. Next, AMY DRU STANLEY (Chicago) interrogated why arguments over whether slavers bred their property were so powerful and controversial in the antebellum period. Moreover, she poignantly detailed the ways in which the meaning of love itself became a contested terrain for pro- and anti-slavery advocates. Indeed, to Stanley, these debates ultimately centered on the fundamental issue of how far the market itself would be allowed to penetrate into the most hallowed spheres of human existence.

The last panel of the day, “Institutions and Ideas,” scrutinized the institutional and ideological foundations of slavery. First, CRAIG WILDER (Cambridge) investigated the ways in which the wealth derived from Caribbean sugar plantations undergirded the rise of the American college in the eighteenth century. Next, ANDREW SHANKMAN (Camden) detailed the profound sense of intellectual crisis Jeffersonian democrats faced in the Panic of 1819—what he called the first crisis of both capitalism and slavery. Indeed, as Shankman pointed out, although slavery may have been one of the foundations of capitalist ascendance in the nineteenth century, for those committed to Jefferson’s vision of an “Empire of Liberty,” the daily reality of a developing “Republic of Slavery” was nevertheless deeply troubling. STEPHEN CHAMBERS (Providence) then delivered his study of how a rising cadre of powerful New England merchants used the power of the United States’ budding diplomatic state apparatus to secure trade channels for their Cuban sugar plantations, thus revealing the remarkable degree to which Cuban investments shaped early-American foreign policy. In the last paper of the day, ALFRED BROPHY (Chapel Hill) demonstrated the ways in which the developing American legal framework of the nineteenth century supported both burgeoning capitalist markets and the expanding institution of slavery.

In a concluding discussion led by Beckert and Rockman, many audience members raised questions about the precise interactions between slavery and capitalism, as well as their mutual conflicts and contradictions. Beckert concurred that these questions indeed required further study, adding that whereas the last generation of historians had shown that slavery indeed had a history, it was now our job to explicate more fully the minute ways in which slavery formed a national system inextricably linked to the history of both American and world-capitalist development. Similarly, Rockman added that although the conference had clearly shown that the American Civil War was certainly not caused by the ineluctable contradiction between free and slave labor, more work still needed to be done to uncover alternative origins for the war. Indeed, if slavery and capitalism were not as oppositional as we once thought, what then were the roots of the awful violence and terrible destruction of the American Civil War? It was upon this question that the conference adjourned.

Conferece overview:

Panel 1: Finance
Chair: Michael Vorenberg, Brown University

“The Contours of Cotton Capitalism: Speculation, Slavery, and Economic Panic in Mississippi, 1832-1841”
Joshua D. Rothman, University of Alabama

“Neighbor to Neighbor: Local Lending Networks Building Economies by Mortgaging Slaves”
Bonnie Martin, Southern Methodist University

“The Common Thread: Cotton, Slavery and the Development of Merchant Banking”
Kathryn Boodry, Harvard University

Comment: Elizabeth Blackmar, Columbia University

Panel 2: Development
Chair: Ted Widmer, John Carter Brown Library

“Defining the National Mainstream: Slavery, Capitalism, and the Limestone South”
John Majewski, University of California–Santa Barbara

“Did Slavery Need Capitalism, or did Capitalism Need Slavery?”
Stanley Engerman, University of Rochester

Comment: Kaivan Munshi, Brown University

Panel 3: Commerce
Chair: Cécile Vidal, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales

“Quantifying Complicity: New Englanders and the Slave Economies of the West Indies”
Eric Kimball, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg

“The Coastwise Slave Trade and a Mercantile Community of Interest”
Calvin Schermerhorn, Arizona State University

“Slavery, Technology and the Richmond-Rio Circuit”
Daniel Rood, American Antiquarian Society

Comment: Ronald Bailey, Savannah State University

Panel 4: Plantation Practices
Chair: Joyce Chaplin, Harvard University

“The Whipping Machine”
Edward Baptist, Cornell University

“Improving the South: Plantation Slavery and American Industrialization”
Ian Beamish, Johns Hopkins University

“From Slavery to Scientific Management: Accounting for Mastery”
Caitlin Rosenthal, Harvard University

Comment: Lorena Walsh, Colonial Williamsburg (retired)

Panel 5: Human Capital
Chair: Richard Rabinowitz, American History Workshop

“‘Broad is de Road dat Leads ter Death’: Human Capital & Enslaved Mortality”
Daina Ramey Berry, University of Texas

“Slave Breeding: An Antebellum Argument over Commodity Relations, Love, and Personhood”
Amy Dru Stanley, University of Chicago

Comment: Walter Johnson, Harvard University

Panel 6: Institutions and Ideas
Chair: John Stauffer, Harvard University

“‘The Very Name of a West Indian’: Atlantic Wealth and the Rise of the American College”
Craig Wilder, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“Capitalism, Slavery, and Mathew Carey’s 1819”
Andrew Shankman, Rutgers University–Camden

“‘No God But Gain’: The Business of Cuba and U.S. Foreign Policy”
Stephen Chambers, Brown University

“Utility, Slavery, and Market in American Legal Thought”
Alfred Brophy, University of North Carolina School of Law

Comment: James T. Campbell, Stanford University

Slave Revolts



In an interview with Amy Goodman, from Democracy Now, historian Gerald Horne argues that more attention should be given to slave resistance, for instance:

It’s well known that the Africans in the Caribbean were very much involved in various extermination plots, liquidation plots, seeking to abolish, through force of arms and violence, the institution of slavery. Unfortunately, I think that historians on the North American mainland have tended to downplay the restiveness of Africans, and I think it’s done a disservice to the descendants of the population of mainland enslaved Africans. That is to say that because the restiveness of Africans in the United States has been downplayed, it leads many African Americans today to either, A, think that their ancestors were chumps—that is to say, that they fought alongside slave owners to bring more freedom to slave owners and more persecution to themselves—or, B, that they were ciphers—that is to say, they stood on the sidelines as their fate was being determined. I think that both of these books seek to disprove those very unfortunate notions.



Horne is right in suggesting that the historiography of North American slavery has downplayed slave revolts. Up until the 1970s, some scholars still portrayed American (U.S.) slavery as a benevolent, albeit strange, institution.[1] According to historian Marcus Rediker, this also applies to slave ship revolts.[2]   The Slave Trade Database and David Richardson’s four-part series on Bristol, Africa, and the Eighteenth-Century Slave Trade to America offer many accounts of slave revolts aboard ships.[3] Slave Revolts in the West Indies, such as Tacky’s Rebellion (1760) were prevalent. In fact, slaves, in the West Indies, Louisiana, and elsewhere, successfully broke away from their European captures and formed maroon communities. The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), initiated by slaves, eventually lead to the emancipation of Haiti from the French. And in 1811, slaves in Louisiana led the largest slave rebellion in North American.[4]

American and British feared slave revolts and this fear influenced political views and legislations. Trevor Burnard, for instance, in Master, Tyranny, and Desire, writes about how Britons fear of their large slave population created a sense of egalitarianism between Britons of high and low class.[5] In the Caribbean and North America, settlers were often afraid of the growing African populations and sought better means to protect themselves against possible rebellion. Benjamin Franklin, for instance, believed that reliance on slave labor lead to the “darkening” of America.[6]

Slave resistance, however, occurred in many different forms, not just large-scale rebellions:

The term “maroons” refers to people who escaped slavery to create independent groups and communities on the outskirts of slave societies. Scholars generally distinguish two kinds of marronage, though there is overlap between them. “Petit marronage,” or running away, refers to a strategy of resistance in which individuals or small groups, for a variety of reasons, escaped their plantations for a short period of days or weeks and then returned. “Grand marronage,” much less prevalent, and the topic here, refers to people who removed themselves from their plantations permanently. Grand marronage could be carried out by individuals or small groups, or it could be the result of plantation-wide breakouts, or even colony-wide rebellions.[7]

Whether as “Petit Marronage” or “Grand Marronage,” slaves were not simply complacent. Horne’s works seek to disprove the idea that Africans willingly accepted their lot. His work is important because he seeks to revise the history of slavery by focusing on the agency of slaves—agency, which Eurocentric white histories have obscured and erased.

The question this blog addresses is, will Horne’s writing help change popular American history? If so, how? Moreover, what can we do to make sure that works like Horne reach broader audiences?


[1] THIS CITATION NEEDS TO BE CONFIRMED, PLEASE DON NOT CITE UNTIL CHECKING THORNTON’S WORK: THORNTON, J. K. (1992). Africa and Africans in the making of the Atlantic world, 1400-1680. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press; Introduction.

[2] REDIKER, M. (2007). The slave ship: a human history. New York, Viking.

[3] http://www.slavevoyages.org; Richardson, David. 1986. Bristol, Africa and the eighteenth-century slave trade to America: Vol. 1 the years of expansion 1698-1729. Gloucester [England]: Printed for the Bristol Record Society by Alan Sutton Pub.

[4] By Littice Bacon-Blood, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune  Email the author | Follow on Twitter on January 03, 2011 at 9:45 PM, updated January 04, 2011 at 5:10 PM; RASMUSSEN, D. (2011). American uprising: the untold story of America’s largest slave revolt. New York, NY, Harper: ‪On to New Orleans!: Louisiana’s heroic 1811 slave revolt

[5] BURNARD, T. G. (2004). Mastery, tyranny, and desire: Thomas Thistlewood and his slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican world. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press; HALL, D. (1989). In miserable slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750-86. London, Macmillan.

[6] Observations concerning the increase of mankind, peopling of countries, &c

by Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790

[7] ARTICLE, Maroons and Marronage, Marjoleine Kars in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414, Published online July 2013 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0229: http://oxfordindex.oup.com/view/10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0229




The Counter Revolution of 1776, Amy Goodman interviews author Gerald Horne on his new book


All writing and interview from Democracy Now:


As the United States prepares to celebrate Independence Day, we look at why July 4 is not a cause for celebration for all. For Native Americans, it may be a bitter reminder of colonialism, which brought fatal diseases, cultural hegemony and genocide. Neither did the new republic’s promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” extend to African Americans. The colonists who declared their freedom from England did not share their newly founded liberation with the millions of Africans they had captured and forced into slavery. We speak with historian Gerald Horne, who argues the so-called Revolutionary War was actually a conservative effort by American colonists to protect their system of slavery. He is the author of two new books: “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America” and “Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow.” Horne is professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in Chicago with our next guest. Juan González is in New York.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, next weekend, the United States celebrates the Fourth of July, the day the American colonies declared their independence from England in 1776. While many Americans will hang flags, participate in parades and watch fireworks, Independence Day is not a cause for celebration for all. For Native Americans, it is yet another bitter reminder of colonialism, which brought fatal diseases, cultural hegemony and full-out genocide. Neither did the new republic’s promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness extend to African Americans. As our next guest notes, the white colonists who declared their freedom from the crown did not share their newly founded liberation with the millions of Africans they had captured and forced into slavery.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Gerald Horne argues that the so-called Revolutionary War was actually a counterrevolution, in part, not a progressive step forward for humanity, but a conservative effort by American colonialists to protect their system of slavery.

For more, Professor Horne joins us here in our Chicago studio. He’s the author of two new books: The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America and another new book, just out, Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow. Professor Horne teaches history and African American studies at the University of Houston.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. So, as we move into this Independence Day week, what should we understand about the founding of the United States?

GERALD HORNE: We should understand that July 4th, 1776, in many ways, represents a counterrevolution. That is to say that what helped to prompt July 4th, 1776, was the perception amongst European settlers on the North American mainland that London was moving rapidly towards abolition. This perception was prompted by Somerset’s case, a case decided in London in June 1772 which seemed to suggest that abolition, which not only was going to be ratified in London itself, was going to cross the Atlantic and basically sweep through the mainland, thereby jeopardizing numerous fortunes, not only based upon slavery, but the slave trade. That’s the short answer.

The longer answer would involve going back to another revolution—that is to say, the so-called Glorious Revolution in England in 1688, which, among other things, involved a step back from the monarch—for the monarch, the king, and a step forward for the rising merchant class. This led to a deregulation of the African slave trade. That is to say, the Royal African Company theretofore had been in control of the slave trade, but with the rising power of the merchant class, this slave trade was deregulated, leading to what I call free trade in Africans. That is to say, merchants then descended upon the African continent manacling and handcuffing every African in sight, with the energy of demented and crazed bees, dragging them across the Atlantic, particularly to the Caribbean and to the North American mainland. This was prompted by the fact that the profits for the slave trade were tremendous, sometimes up to 1,600 or 1,700 percent. And as you know, there are those even today who will sell their firstborn for such a profit. This, on the one hand, helped to boost the productive forces both in the Caribbean and on the mainland, but it led to numerous slave revolts, not least in the Caribbean, but also on the mainland, which helped to give the mainlanders second thoughts about London’s tentative steps towards abolition.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Gerald Horne, one of the things that struck me in your book is not only your main thesis, that this was in large part a counterrevolution, our—the United States’ war of independence, but you also link very closely the—what was going on in the Caribbean colonies of England, as well as in the United States, not only in terms of among the slaves in both areas, but also among the white population. And, in fact, you indicate that quite a few of those who ended up here in the United States fostering the American Revolution had actually been refugees from the battles between whites and slaves in the Caribbean. Could you expound on that?

GERALD HORNE: It’s well known that up until the middle part of the 18th century, London felt that the Caribbean colonies—Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, in particular—were in some ways more valuable than the mainland colonies. The problem was that in the Caribbean colonies the Africans outnumbered the European settlers, sometimes at a rate of 20 to one, which facilitated slave revolts. There were major slave revolts in Antigua, for example, in 1709 and 1736. The Maroons—that is to say, the Africans who had escaped London’s jurisdiction in Jamaica—had challenged the crown quite sternly. This led, as your question suggests, to many European settlers in the Caribbean making the great trek to the mainland, being chased out of the Caribbean by enraged Africans. For example, I did research for this book in Newport, Rhode Island, and the main library there, to this very day, is named after Abraham Redwood, who fled Antigua after the 1736 slave revolt because many of his, quote, “Africans,” unquote, were involved in the slave revolt. And he fled in fear and established the main library in Newport, to this very day, and helped to basically establish that city on the Atlantic coast. So, there is a close connection between what was transpiring in the Caribbean and what was taking place on the mainland. And historians need to recognize that even though these colonies were not necessarily a unitary project, there were close and intimate connections between and amongst them.

AMY GOODMAN: So, why this great disparity between how people in the United States talk about the creation myth of the United States, if you will—I’m not talking about indigenous people, Native American people—and this story that you have researched?

GERALD HORNE: Well, it is fair to say that the United States did provide a sanctuary for Europeans. Indeed, I think part of the, quote, “genius,” unquote, of the U.S. project, if there was such a genius, was the fact that the founders in the United States basically called a formal truce, a formal ceasefire, with regard to the religious warfare that had been bedeviling Europe for many decades and centuries—that is to say, Protestant London, so-called, versus Catholic Madrid and Catholic France. What the settlers on the North American mainland did was call a formal truce with regard to religious conflict, but then they opened a new front with regard to race—that is to say, Europeans versus non-Europeans.

This, at once, broadened the base for the settler project. That is to say, they could draw upon those defined as white who had roots from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains, and indeed even to the Arab world, if you look at people like Ralph Nader and Marlo Thomas, for example, whose roots are in Lebanon but are considered to be, quote, “white,” unquote. This obviously expanded the population base for the settler project. And because many rights were then accorded to these newly minted whites, it obviously helped to ensure that many of them would be beholden to the country that then emerged, the United States of America, whereas those of us who were not defined as white got the short end of the stick, if you like.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gerald Horne, as a result of that, during the American Revolution, what was the perception or the attitude of the African slaves in the U.S. to that conflict? You also—you talk about, during the colonial times, many slaves preferred to flee to the Spanish colonies or the French colonies, rather than to stay in the American colonies of England.

GERALD HORNE: You are correct. The fact of the matter is, is that Spain had been arming Africans since the 1500s. And indeed, because Spain was arming Africans and then unleashing them on mainland colonies, particularly South Carolina, this put competitive pressure on London to act in a similar fashion. The problem there was, is that the mainland settlers had embarked on a project and a model of development that was inconsistent with arming Africans. Indeed, their project was involved in enslaving and manacling every African in sight. This deepens the schism between the colonies and the metropolis—that is to say, London—thereby helping to foment a revolt against British rule in 1776.

It’s well known that more Africans fought alongside of the Redcoats—fought alongside the Redcoats than fought with the settlers. And this is understandable, because if you think about it for more than a nanosecond, it makes little sense for slaves to fight alongside slave masters so that slave masters could then deepen the persecution of the enslaved and, indeed, as happened after 1776, bring more Africans to the mainland, bring more Africans to Cuba, bring more Africans to Brazil, for their profit.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to historian Gerald Horne. He’s author of two new books. We’re talking about The Counter-Revolution of 1776. The subtitle of that book is Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. And his latest book, just out, is called Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow. He’s professor of history and African American studies at University of Houston. When we come back, we’ll talk about that second book about Cuba. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Slavery Days” by Burning Spear, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in Chicago. Juan González is in New York. Before we talk about the book on slavery, I want to turn to President Obama’s remarks at the White House’s Fourth of July celebration last year. This is how President Obama described what happened in 1776.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: On July 4th, 1776, a small band of patriots declared that we were a people created equal, free to think and worship and live as we please, that our destiny would not be determined for us, it would be determined by us. And it was bold, and it was brave. And it was unprecedented. It was unthinkable. At that time in human history, it was kings and princes and emperors who made decisions. But those patriots knew there was a better way of doing things, that freedom was possible, and that to achieve their freedom, they’d be willing to lay down their lives, their fortune and their honor. And so they fought a revolution. And few would have bet on their side. But for the first time of many times to come, America proved the doubters wrong. And now, 237 years later, this improbable experiment in democracy, the United States of America, stands as the greatest nation on Earth.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President Obama talking about the meaning of July 4th. Gerald Horne, your book, The Counter-Revolution of 1776, is a direct rebuttal of this, as you call, creation myth. Could you talk about that?

GERALD HORNE: Well, with all due respect to President Obama, I think that he represents, in those remarks you just cited, the consensus view. That is to say that, on the one hand, there is little doubt that 1776 represented a step forward with regard to the triumph over monarchy. The problem with 1776 was that it went on to establish what I refer to as the first apartheid state. That is to say, the rights that Mr. Obama refers to were accorded to only those who were defined as white. To that degree, I argue in the book that 1776, in many ways, was analogous to Unilateral Declaration of Independence in the country then known as Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in November 1965. UDI, Unilateral Declaration of Independence, was in many ways an attempt to forestall decolonization. 1776, in many ways, was an attempt to forestall the abolition of slavery. That attempt succeeded until the experiment crashed and burned in 1861 with the U.S. Civil War, the bloodiest conflict, to this point, the United States has ever been involved in.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Gerald Horne, how does this story, this, what you call, counterrevolution, fit in with your latest book, Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow?

GERALD HORNE: Well, there’s a certain consistency between the two books. Keep in mind that in 1762 Britain temporarily seized Cuba from Spain. And one of the regulations that Britain imposed outraged the settlers, as I argue in both books. What happened was that Britain sought to regulate the slave trade, and the settlers on the North American mainland wanted deregulation of the slave trade, thereby bringing in more Africans. What happens is that that was one of the points of contention that lead to a detonation and a revolt against British rule in 1776.

I go on in the Cuba book to talk about how one of the many reasons why you have so many black people in Cuba was because of the manic energy of U.S. slave traders and slave dealers, particularly going into the Congo River Basin and dragging Africans across the Atlantic. Likewise, I had argued in a previous book on the African slave trade to Brazil that one of the many reasons why you have so many black people in Brazil, more than any place outside of Nigeria, is, once again, because of the manic energy of U.S. slave traders and slave dealers, who go into Angola, in particular, and drag Africans across the Atlantic to Brazil.

It seems to me that it’s very difficult to reconcile the creation myth of this great leap forward for humanity when, after 1776 and the foundation of the United States of America, the United States ousts Britain from control of the African slave trade. Britain then becomes the cop on the beat trying to detain and deter U.S. slave traders and slave dealers. It seems to me that if this was a step forward for humanity, it was certainly not a step forward for Africans, who, the last time I looked, comprise a significant percentage of humanity.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gerald Horne, so, in other words, as you’re explaining the involvement of American companies in the slave trade in Brazil and Cuba, this—that book and also your The Counter-Revolution of 1776 makes the same point that slavery was not just an issue of interest in the South to the Southern plantation owners, but that in the North, banking, insurance, merchants, shipping were all involved in the slave trade, as well.

GERALD HORNE: Well, Juan, as you well know, New York City was a citadel of the African slave trade, even after the formal abolition of the U.S. role in the African slave trade in 1808. Rhode Island was also a center for the African slave trade. Ditto for Massachusetts. Part of the unity between North and South was that it was in the North that the financing for the African slave trade took place, and it was in the South where you had the Africans deposited. That helps to undermine, to a degree, the very easy notion that the North was abolitionist and the South was pro-slavery.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Gerald Horne, what most surprised you in your research around Cuba, U.S. slavery and Jim Crow?

GERALD HORNE: Well, what most surprised me with regard to both of these projects was the restiveness, the rebelliousness of the Africans involved. It’s well known that the Africans in the Caribbean were very much involved in various extermination plots, liquidation plots, seeking to abolish, through force of arms and violence, the institution of slavery. Unfortunately, I think that historians on the North American mainland have tended to downplay the restiveness of Africans, and I think it’s done a disservice to the descendants of the population of mainland enslaved Africans. That is to say that because the restiveness of Africans in the United States has been downplayed, it leads many African Americans today to either, A, think that their ancestors were chumps—that is to say, that they fought alongside slave owners to bring more freedom to slave owners and more persecution to themselves—or, B, that they were ciphers—that is to say, they stood on the sidelines as their fate was being determined. I think that both of these books seek to disprove those very unfortunate notions.

AMY GOODMAN: So, as we move into the Independence Day weekend next weekend, what do you say to people in the United States?

GERALD HORNE: What I say to the people in the United States is that you have proved that you can be very critical of what you deem to be revolutionary processes. You have a number of scholars and intellectuals who make a good living by critiquing the Cuban Revolution of 1959, by critiquing the Russian Revolution of 1917, by critiquing the French Revolution of the 18th century, but yet we get the impression that what happened in 1776 was all upside, which is rather far-fetched, given what I’ve just laid out before you in terms of how the enslaved African population had their plight worsened by 1776, not to mention the subsequent liquidation of independent Native American polities as a result of 1776. I think that we need a more balanced presentation of the foundation of the United States of America, and I think that there’s no sooner place to begin than next week with July 4th, 2014.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Gerald Horne, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Historian Gerald Horne is author of two new books: The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America as well as Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow. He’s a professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston.