THE RISE AND FALL OF BLACK SLAVERY by C. Duncan Rice

THE RISE AND FALL OF BLACK SLAVERY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A genuinely unique survey of slavery and anti-slavery efforts in the Western hemisphere from the 17th through the 19th centuries. Rice, a Yale professor, combines blunt detachment with profuse but streamlined documentation and source guidance for the reader. The book amounts to a series of polemics. Most important is Rice's challenge to recent emphasis on the more benign aspects of slave societies. A slaveowner, he says, had a clear economic choice: either to ""prolong the [slaves'] working life at the cost of lowering his immediate return,"" or to ""work them to death and replace them with the extra short-term profit their work gained."" What Rice shows is that slavery combined the most inhumane aspects of feudalism with the most savage impulses of capitalists to shirk the expenses of maintaining a work force in good condition and to avoid investment in labor-saving technology. Rice also points out that we simply take it for granted that in North and South America, a forced-labor system was established to exploit the New World's wealth. The tragedy, he adds, is that blacks served the purpose far better than scarce and unruly white people, or intransigent Indians; and the ""skin"" burden on Negroes, unlike freed serfs, persisted. A succinct and convincing refutation is provided of the widespread notion that Brazilian slave society represented a one-big-happy multiracial family; indeed, Rice comments, it is especially shocking that planters lacking in race prejudice could be so brutal. On the subject of abolitionism, the book is less devastating. Rice disputes, in provocative but unfulfilled fashion, whether slave profits actually fueled the Industrial Revolution and whether it was actually the free-trade capitalist interests who bolstered British abolitionist campaigns. The contributions of the Edinburgh Enlightenment to anti-slavery theory are examined while Rice deplores the excesses of William Lloyd Garrison and historians' exaggeration of his role. The book is academic in two senses--it remains somewhat removed from the moral passion of the slaves and abolitonists, while simultaneously enabling students to identify the questions at stake, and to appreciate the richness of the subject.

Pub Date: July 22nd, 1975
Publisher: Harper & Row