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on 27 July 2015
David Brion Davis, the Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University, has written a splendid summary of the history of slavery in the New World.
He sums up, “the peoples of West Africa, as well as those of every maritime nation in western Europe and every colony in the New World, played a part in the creation of the world’s first system of multinational production for what emerged as a mass market – a market for slave-produced sugar, tobacco, coffee, chocolate, dye-stuffs, rice, hemp, and cotton. For four centuries, beginning in the 1400s with Iberian plantation agriculture in the Atlantic sugar island off the African coast, the African slave trade was an integral and indispensable part of European expansion and the settlement of the Americas.”
“the entire New World enterprise depended on the enormous and expandable flow of slave labor from Africa. … By 1820 nearly 10.1 million slaves had departed from Africa for the New World, as opposed to only 2.6 million whites, many of them convicts or indentured servants, who had left Europe. … From 1820 to 1880 the African slave trade, most of it now illegal, continued to ship off from Africa over 2.3 million more slaves, mainly to Brazil and Cuba.”
He points out, “In Paris, on April 4, 1792, the new Legislative Assembly decreed full equal rights for all free blacks and mulattoes in the French colonies. This act, granting full racial equality as a matter of law, was one of the truly great achievements of the French Revolution, but it has seldom been noticed in history textbooks.” And, “on February 4, 1794, the French National Convention outlawed slavery in all the French colonies and guaranteed the rights of citizenship to all men regardless of color.”
Napoleon III and the Liberal leaders William Gladstone and Lord John Russell wanted Britain to join the American civil war on the side of the slaveholding South. Gladstone was the son of the rich absentee owner of thousands of West Indian slaves. Huge mass meetings in Britain forced Lord Palmerston’s Liberal government to turn down the French proposal for joint intervention.