SLAVERY IN THE STRUCTURE OF AMERICAN POLITICS, 1765--1820 by Donald L. Robinson

SLAVERY IN THE STRUCTURE OF AMERICAN POLITICS, 1765--1820

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Robinson develops David Brion Davis's theme of slavery's integral rote in early national growth. He proves the thesis that the Founders and the Southern planters foresaw, not the imminent extinction of slavery, but the threats posed by abolition. Robinson's historiography is however generally far more valuable than his interpretations. He shows how slaves vexed the military strategy of the British and American sides (how to use them to fight while keeping them under control), and goes on to discuss how, after the Constitution ""rewarded slaveowners"" a la Lynd, the South maneuvered to deprive the federal government of the power to emancipate slaves. There is a full if rather disjointed account of sectional strains up through the Missouri Compromise: how they affected foreign policy and how the Civil War was a matter of race relations, not slavery per se, because ""blacks had no permanent, stable place in egalitarian America."" Some will find Robinson's discussions of race, racism and slavery rather simplistic, with their causal emphasis on prejudice, and their lack of reference to Plumb, Genovese, and other writers on the subject (indeed, references to Davis, Lynd et al. are confined to the footnotes). The economic treatment is excellent in spots (on slavery in Manhattan, on the exigencies of tobacco farming) but superficial in others (though he's read Starobin, Robinson claims a priori that industrial slavery was inefficient). He understands the importance of slavery as a mode of primitive capital accumulation, but in his conclusion that ""The real reason slavery had to be abolished was not that it inhibited development, but that as long as it existed the morality of the government was corrupt"" he begs, muddles, and telescopes the issues. However, one can bracket Robinson's general interpretations while making the most of his plentiful, readable scholarship and his acute chartings of specific political crosscurrents. Notes, index. The second volume in Rossiter's Founding of the American Republic series, the book should draw broad attention.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1970
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich