Slavery And The Making Of America, by James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton
In reading a book like this, one has to be aware of the fact that the authors almost always bring some sort of biased perspective into what they are writing. Admittedly, this book is far better than some of the screeds I have written on the subject, but even here, there are at least a few ways that the authors try to avoid the obvious implications of the reality that Europeans were a peripheral player in the African slave trade and were highly dependent on local sourcing of slaves. The authors note that this was an immensely traumatic experience, but they are quick to blame the Europeans for their insatiable desire for unpaid labor and try very hard to avoid placing proper responsibility on the African themselves, including trying to deny the parallels that existed between slavery in Africa and slavery under European and American rule. One can sense in this book that the authors are struggling with the implications of historical truth regarding slavery and seek to slant the balance against whites and in favor of blacks–and this is certainly true as well when the authors celebrate black pride but are awkwardly silent about white pride. If this book is better than the average of its kind, it still falls short of genuine justice.
This book is between 200 and 250 pages long, and the pages are large ones, of close to 8 1/2″ x 11″ size. The book is then divided into six chapters. After an introduction, the first chapter discusses the African roots of colonial America (1) by looking at the African society that slaves left behind and that influenced a great deal of American culture, if in indirect and often unacknowledged ways. After that the authors talk about slavery from the American Revolution to the Cotton Kingdom, discussing how while slavery slowly was legislated out of existence in the North, that it became even more entrenched in the south thanks to the accident of the cotton gin (2). After that comes a look at Western Expansion, including the expansion of slavery and the movement of many slaves (and masters), as well as resistance (3). This is followed, unsurprisingly, by a chapter on slave resistance (4), which took place in many forms, again, not all of which were recognized at the time or for long afterward. After this comes a look at the hard-won freedom of blacks during the Civil War (5), in ways that were often forced on unwilling Americans. The book then concludes with a chapter on a discussion of the creation of freedom during and after the war (6), after which there are notes, a chronology, suggestions for further reading, and an index.
Still, if one is going to look at a book that discusses slavery and the making of America, this book does offer at least some valuable entrances into that question. Slavery’s importance in American history is subtle and complex, and far more wide-reaching than is often viewed to be the case. In many ways, the existence of slavery sensitized Americans to issues of liberty. Perhaps without the experience of seeing the freedom denied to people on account of their status colonial Americans would have been less sensitive to the sort of denial of their freedoms that the British sought in seeking to claim an authority over them that was not limited by custom or by consent. Hypocrisy often gives a decidedly fierce edge to the desire to avoid being exploited or avoid having one’s double standards applied to oneself, and that was as true of colonial and antebellum Americans as it is to contemporary progressives. The divine fire of justice seldom rages as hot in those who have no bad faith in their own dealings with others. Those who are in fact decent and just people are far less quick to condemn others to harsh judgment, but those whose judgment against others is tinged with uncomfortable self-loathing find it easy to be intolerant and harsh towards others. This book gives some glimpse as to why that is the case.