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Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
American Slavery, American Freedom

American Slavery, American Freedom

by Edmund S. Morgan
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"Thoughtful, suggestive and highly readable."—New York Times Book Review

In the American Revolution, Virginians were the most eloquent spokesmen for freedom and quality. George Washington led the Americans in battle against British oppression. Thomas Jefferson led them in declaring independence. Virginians drafted not only the Declaration but also the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; they were elected to the presidency of the United States under that Constitution for thirty-two of the first thirty-six years of its existence. They were all slaveholders. In the new preface Edmund S. Morgan writes: "Human relations among us still suffer from the former enslavement of a large portion of our predecessors. The freedom of the free, the growth of freedom experienced in the American Revolution depended more than we like to admit on the enslavement of more than 20 percent of us at that time. How republican freedom came to be supported, at least in large part, by its opposite, slavery, is the subject of this book. American Slavery, American Freedom is a study of the tragic contradiction at the core of America. Morgan finds the keys to this central paradox, "the marriage of slavery and freedom," in the people and the politics of the state that was both the birthplace of the Revolution and the largest slaveholding state in the country.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393324945
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 09/19/2003
Edition description: REV
Pages: 454
Sales rank: 142,869
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Edmund S. Morgan (1916–2013) was the Sterling Professor Emeritus at Yale University and the recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the Pulitzer Prize, and the American Academy’s Gold Medal. The author of The Genuine Article; American Slavery, American Freedom; Benjamin Franklin; and American Heroes, among many others.

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American Slavery, American Freedom 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
mdtwilighter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was looking forward to this book because the concept seemed pretty interesting. The relationship between the American founding principle of freedom and the harsh contradiction of slavery has always fascinated me. I thought this book would give me some insight into the subject, but I'm sorry to say that the book had little to do with slavery or freedom, at least as far as I could tell. While it was a nice chronicle of the early struggles of the Virginian settlers and the tobacco industry there, it didn't mention slavery or the value of freedom of the settlers that often. It would have been better titled "Jamestown: 1550 to 1700"
dougwood57 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Edmund Morgan departs from his usual topic of colonial New England for this painstaking, yet incisive examination of colonial Virginia. Morgan finds Virginia to be a most inhospitable place after the arrival of Europeans. It became inhospitable for the Indians because of the Europeans attitudes and actions towards them (that is, after the Indians kept them alive for the first number of years). Morgan's focus, however, is on the Europeans (almost entirely English) and their relations amongst one another and vis a vis the Crown in England.For many years, the English struggled to survive. They either could not or would not perform the tasks necessary to feed themselves. Once tobacco emerged as a cash crop it became almost impossible to get any English Virginian to grow mere corn. The death toll of diseases and, yes, starvation, were fearsome. Despite regular and sizable infusions of new immigrants, the population of Virginia grew at a snail's pace.Early Virginia verged on the lawless. The English elites sent to govern the colony instead took the lead in exploiting the labor of servants and small landholders. After tobacco prices dropped, the only people making money in Virginia were the members of the Royal Council who flagrantly used their places to assign government revenues to themselves.Small landholders had very little ability to resist the council members. Large landholders had collected many of their acres without actually farming it (in violation of the law). This artificial scarcity of good land pushed the small landholders farther away from the main settlements, which exposed them top greater risk of Indian attacks. Bacon's Rebellion in 1676 was more the result of small landholders' desire to exterminate the local Indians than an attack on Governor Berkeley's administration.The Crown began to pay a bit more attention to the plight of the small landholders, but progress in that direction remained slow - until the advent of slavery. As Morgan tells it, slavery was slow to catch on in Virginia mainly because of the frightful death rate of new servants. Slaves were simply too costly to risk. Once the survival rate improved, it made economic sense to invest in slaves (obviously the slaves took a different view of the matter, but were powerless to act on those views). Slaves brought greater prosperity to white Virginians. Small landholders were able to obtain a greater voice in the government (usually as voters and supporters not as actual candidates for office). The large landholders did not resist this power-sharing because they viewed their interests as much aligned with the small landholders. They all raised and sold tobacco, they all paid the tobacco-related fees and taxes imposed by the royal government, and they all owned slaves to grow the tobacco.Thus, when they promoted liberty and freedom, the Virginians had little to fear that "the mob" would get carried away with leveling tendencies because there was no mob available; there was no pool of unattached roaming poor or of poor laborers. Morgan is not arguing that "a belief in republican equality had to rest on slavery, but only that in Virginia (and probably other southern colonies) it did. The most ardent republicans were Virginians, and their ardor was not unrelated to their power over the men and women they held in bondage." Virginians could espouse republican equality because they had removed the poor from the equation.Morgan's book was intended for an academic audience. He presents evidence of life in early Virginia at a level of detail beyond the interest of most readers (the word excruciating come to mind). And he takes a good long time getting to his thesis just mentioned. A further caveat, the book is also not much about slavery, which does not enter into the book until the 80 pages or so. Nonetheless, despite these shortcomings for the typical reader, I highly recommend Morgan's book for anyone with an interest in history or the development of American poli
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