There appears to be two kinds of political history: that which is hidden from us completely by the special interests, and that which can be dug up and exposed when it is "safe". Rough Crossings by Simon Shama is of the latter, and will stir up a storm of indignation when it is published in the USA in 2006.
Starting even before the Revolutionary War, so-called American Patriots and the "founding fathers" exhibited the same kind of special interest/self interest that schoolchildren today are taught is beneath public service. Patrick (Give me liberty or give me death!) Henry could not for the life of him understand why he should free his own slaves. Thomas Jefferson's first declaration of independence in 1775 cited the British government's rumored incitement of Negroes to rise up for their freedom as one of the prime movers of the colonies to break free of the tyranny of England.
He was proven right in that tens of thousands of slaves ran away to fight on the British side, against the colonists. The "Patriots" killed every runaway they could find before they got to the English ships. (The same was to occur in 1812, when the British and the Americans clashed again)
The British, who of course taught the Americans everything they knew about slavery in the first place, had only recently begun to abhor it. Using the courts, English activists were able to obtain the freedom of people who were being captured in England to be shipped off to sugar plantations. The British public, caught up in this humanitarian, headline-making campaign, was offended by the tyranny of the Americans, just as the Americans were offended by the tyranny of the British in things like taxation. The result was armed conflict.
Word of successes in English courts gave hope to the American slaves, and the southern slaveholders clearly only joined the revolution to protect slavery, as they would again in the Civil War 90 years later. Meanwhile, Jefferson had a change of heart and included much more humanitarian wording in the next draft of the declaration of independence. It was edited out to avoid offending the new southern allies the Patriots had acquired.
During the war, Patriot General Sumter took to awarding slaves to soldiers for voluntary service, and sometimes also in lieu of pay. No sooner had the war ended, than black soldiers were rounded up and sent back to their owners, or auctioned off. It was actually a top priority of the Americans. Henry Laurens, a man who skimmed 10% on slave sales in the colonies, managed to insert a clause in the peace treaty that Negroes and other American property would not be carried away in the British withdrawal. the Land of Liberty made no pretence of equality.
There follows great diversions - to new settlements in Sierra Leone and in Nova Scotia, with possibly the most important development of North America's first black political leader, Thomas Peters, fifty years before Frederick Douglass. Peters worked tirelessly on both sides of the Atlantic to obtain the rights promised by the Crown.
In the early 1800s, failing to get an acutal law abolishing slavery through the House of Commons, MPs apparently agreed with testimony such as the Lord Mayor of London's, who claimed ending slavery would end the market for rotten codfish. This was apparently a delicacy shipped to the Caribbean, to be forced down the throats of slaves, who were force fed with iron bits and clamps holding their mouths open.
The struggle has obviously continued - to this day - but the book is a well documented adventure of it in the present tense, complete with Perfect Storms that make Hurricane Katrina look like a spring shower, and brutality only non-fiction could get away with.