The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of Americaby Published 18 Apr 2014
|The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America.pdf|
|Publisher||New York University Press|
Ida B. Wells and Cheikh Anta Diop Award Recipient for Outstanding Scholarship and Leadership in Africana Studies
The successful 1776 revolt against British rule in North America has been hailed almost universally as a great step forward for humanity. But the Africans then living in the colonies overwhelmingly sided with the British. In this trailblazing book, Gerald Horne shows that in the prelude to 1776, the abolition of slavery seemed all but inevitable in London, delighting Africans as much as it outraged slaveholders, and sparking the colonial revolt.
Prior to 1776, anti-slavery sentiments were deepening throughout Britain and in the Caribbean, rebellious Africans were in revolt. For European colonists in America, the major threat to their security was a foreign invasion combined with an insurrection of the enslaved. It was a real and threatening possibility that London would impose abolition throughout the colonies--a possibility the founding fathers feared would bring slave rebellions to their shores. To forestall it, they went to war.
The so-called Revolutionary War, Horne writes, was in part a counter-revolution, a conservative movement that the founding fathers fought in order to preserve their right to enslave others. The Counter-Revolution of 1776 brings us to a radical new understanding of the traditional heroic creation myth of the United States.
"The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America" Reviews
This is a powerful, scholarly, well-informed overview of how the pervasive spread not just of slavery, but of slavery of Africans, was importantly connected to the American Revolution.
As part of this, Home shows that, decades before the Somerset decision of 1772 that freed a slave brought from Virginia to England, Americans (or proto-Americans, or mainlanders) feared just such a ruling.
Home leads up to this by showing that both the colonies and London, before 1700 in the Caribbean and by soon after on mainland North America, the English feared that France and Spain would encourage English slaves, in both locations, to either revolt or run away. Next came struggles on wanting to control slaves vs. having ever more of them brought into slavery.
Other subcurrents run through this. Until 1689, the British Crown had a monopoly on slave trading. After that, private traders gradually began taking more of the trade. That, in turn, connected to relations between the British sugar islands in the Caribbean and the mainland.
Meanwhile, the 1700s have three major wars between Britain and the two Catholic powers, who also generally seemed to view Africans with not quite as much disfavor and given them a few more chances at emancipation.
All of this ties together after 1763, when France and Spain no longer threaten the American colonies. Nine years later, Somerset squares the circle ... even as slave owners north, like John Hancock and James Otis, as well as those south, talk about rights and hint at revolution.
Horne traces the deliberate creation and cultivation of anti-black racism and an artificial white identity in the British American colonies, and makes the case that the American revolution was significantly inspired by a perception that London was on the brink of abolishing of slavery.
I'm only giving this book five stars because it's such an important topic and Horne does manage to communicate his points; the way in which he does so is so tedious that I'd probably subtract two stars for it in any other book. At least three quarters of this book should be replaced with a schematic time-line and a table of population figures; instead, Horne laboriously goes over the same handful of types of events repeating dozens of times (skirmishes with neighbouring European colonies or natives/escaped slaves being harboured by neighbouring European colonies or natives/slave revolts and the fear thereof) in the purplest prose possible, pushing his thesaurus well beyond where it will actually go ("Madrid was denuded of about 20% of its entire navy...").
Still, it is an important book, and it pairs well with one like There Are No Slaves in France to demonstrate the important differences in anti-black racism in the US versus Europe itself, as well as the artificialness of white identity and why it's much more of a fringe belief in Europe than in the US today. The bit of the that gets the most press—that the founding myth of the US is just that—is almost the least important aspect of it.
Gerald shows Americans what led the colonists to revolt against England was the Somerset Case of 1772 and Dunmore’s Edict of 1775. The potential of Britain outlawing slavery soon in the colonies became the revolutionary tipping point. English like Samuel Johnson, saw colonists pratting on about ‘liberty’ while happily completely depriving their slaves of it. Even New England was making a killing in profits from the slave trade; it wasn’t just the southern colonies. To unite the country, the future United States faced a public relations problem; it had to create a heroic creation myth for the new nation that wasn’t based on sociopathic capitalist greed: a.k.a. its intended enslavement of one race for profit and its benevolent genocide of another race displaced for their land (settler-colonial). Thus, the American Revolution was not fought for ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’ (and especially not for Blacks, Native Americans, women, and indentured servants), but was fought for “the reassertion of slaveowner control over the enslaved black population in the new republic.” Gerald Horne shows how America in effect created the first apartheid state (Noam Chomsky in his ‘Who Rules the World?’ confirms Gerald’s thesis). Gerald laments how the United States, founded on liberty (in theory) has spent all its history since depriving other countries and peoples of it. This is an important book because this is the one that finally destroys the white supremacist American Creation Myth (liberty and freedom for who?) and offers a fitting cover…
After just the prologue and intro, I was already riveted and fascinated by the ideas and interpretations based on extensive research reaching back before 1776 and beyond the borders of the 13 colonies. I’ve been grappling with the question of slavery’s place in the Revolution and development of the US post-independence, and was fascinated to see the sense Horne made of it based on his wide-angle, counter-hegemonic lens.
It was such a revelation--and I thought I was well-educated about slavery and about the American Revolution and the early years of the republic, and how they intertwined. Reading Horne's book, I feel profoundly ignorant. His historical scope reaches back to the Glorious Revolution (1688) in England and the privatization--and consequent proliferation--of the slave trade; the French and Spanish colonies and their relationship to African slaves in the British colonies; the Caribbean Island plantations and the violent uprisings of slaves there and their influence on the mainland; the creation of a category of Whiteness meant to paper over religious, ethnic and class differences and possible only in contradistinction with African blackness; and the active, angry, dangerous and continuous rebellions of the Africans themselves, sometimes in conjunction with the Spanish and/or the French and/or the Indigenous population.
Horne leads the reader through first-hand accounts and the debates and news of the day to show how London's fear of African insurrection led them on a path towards abolition while leading the American colonists to double-down on the lucrative slave trade. But the enslavement of the Africans was a two-edged sword--the more Africans were in the colonies, the more the white colonists feared them. Meanwhile, London's push towards abolition (motivated in great part on the same fear) pushed the North American colonists further towards revolution, or as Horne defines it, vis a vis the Africans, a counter-revolution.
Horne traces the ripples of the revolution and the African role in it through to the current racism in our society, arguing persuasively that you cannot understand it fully until you see it in its full context in the long view of history.
The Counter-Revolution of 1776 is fascinating, well-researched, funny, insightful, accessible and a constant challenge of our frame of reference about the founding of the US.
The book examines the fact that the more radical sects of the Revolution were abandoned for a fairly conservative movement that meant to protect North American economic interests rather than any sort of typical revolutionary agenda. It was a very good , well researched read, but I wish the author looked more at the dismay felt by the many poor , young radicals that first joined the Revolution only to have their plans and agenda scrapped.