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Revolutionary Emancipation

Slavery and Abolitionism in the British West Indies

Claudius K. Fergus

Publication Year: 2013

Skillfully weaving an African worldview into the conventional historiography of British abolitionism, Claudius K. Fergus presents new insights into one of the most intriguing and momentous episodes of Atlantic history. In Revolutionary Emancipation, Fergus argues that the 1760 rebellion in Jamaica, Tacky’s War—the largest and most destructive rebellion of enslaved peoples in the Americas prior to the Haitian Revolution—provided the rationale for abolition and reform of the colonial system. Fergus shows that following Tacky’s War, British colonies in the West Indies sought political preservation under state-regulated amelioration of slavery. He further contends that abolitionists’ successes—from partial to general prohibition of the slave trade—hinged more on the economic benefits of creolizing slave labor and the costs of preserving the colonies from destructive emancipation rebellions than on a conviction of justice and humanity for Africans. In the end, Fergus maintains, slaves’ commitment to revolutionary emancipation kept colonial focus on reforming the slave system. His study carefully dissects new evidence and reinterprets previously held beliefs, offering historians the most compelling arguments for African agency in abolitionism.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

The intellectual controversy over Britain’s abolition of its transatlantic slave trade and colonial slavery is well known; a brief comment on some of the seminal contributors to the debate puts the current study into perspective. Given the modern Caribbean’s proud tradition of radical intellectualism, it is hardly surprising that radical Pan-Africanism under the influence of international socialism of the 1930s...

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1. Explicating the “Grand Evils” of Colonialism

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pp. 1-22

When the French National Assembly legislated the general abolition of slavery in 1794, the slave trade was also abolished ipso facto. On the contrary, British abolitionists doggedly justified distinguishing slavery from the slave trade on the teleological premise that no other evil “was comparable to that of the African Slave Trade.”1 Contemporary voices explicitly acknowledged two evils of the colonial system: the barbarism of African enslavement and the horrors...

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2. Humanity Enchained

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pp. 23-35

The Navigation Acts ended the short era of proprietary government but not the rule of the plantocracy.1 One of the Crown’s major con-cessions was nonintervention in domestic slavery. The planter-dominated assemblies The Navigation Acts ended the short era of proprietary government but not the rule of the plantocracy.1 One of the Crown’s major concessions was nonintervention in domestic slavery. The planterdominated assemblies aggressively defended this compromise as a right of charter beyond the reach of Crown and Parliament. No party seriously considered the humanity of the enslaved until the onset of proprietary amelioration in the 1760s. For the next four decades embryonic...

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3. Pragmatizing Amelioration and Abolition

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pp. 36-51

Slavery reform and antislavery were contradictions inherent within slavery itself. Not surprisingly, both statutory amelioration and proselytizing, the two major facets of British slavery–era trusteeship, had their origins in the West Indies. Amelioration was the cornerstone of trusteeship, proselytizing its corollary. This perspective implicitly acknowledges a subaltern agency while transferring the accreditation for the genesis of British trusteeship from Edmund Burke to Edward Long.1 Long was ...

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4. Abolitionism and Empire

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pp. 52-66

To situate Edmund Burke’s role in British imperial trusteeship, it is necessary to consider the significance of India in the emerging moral imperium. India features prominently in major studies on Britain’s adoption of trust, yet there is a tendency among scholars to misconstrue Burke’s significance to, as well as his motive for, trusteeship in India. A royal charter granted the East India Company full proprietary control over British India, including the executive, the military,...

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5. The Haitian Revolution and Other Emancipation Wars

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pp. 67-94

The Haitian Revolution climaxed almost three hundred years of sustained revolutionary emancipationism. It was the pivotal moment in the contest between the right of Africans to liberty and the right of Europeans to property in them. It also provides the key to the ebb and flow of abolitionism between 1791 and 1807. The Haitian Revolution went beyond its French counterpart to break the chains of private ...

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6. From Revolution to Abolition

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pp. 95-109

Britain’s capture of Trinidad in 1797, its defeat in St. Domingue, and the success of West Indian gradualism were pivotal events in the countdown to abolition. Metropolitan civil society involvement was unquestionably intrinsic to the politics of abolitionism, but the larger undercurrent of change in parliamentary abolitionism flowed from events and developments in the colonies. Implementation of the final ...

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7. Imperatives of Creole Colonization

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pp. 110-122

Within four months of Canning’s Creole colonization blueprint, the British government was moving full speed to implement some of its key proposals. Secretary of state for the colonies Lord Hobart explained to Governor Picton, “The peculiar situation of the West Indian Colonies at the present period, and the opinions which have been expressed in this Country against permiing...

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8. New-Modeling in Action

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pp. 123-141

The adoption of Canning’s vision for Trinidad as a new colonial paradigm linked the island’s destiny to the future of colonial slavery. The contradictions inherent in the Trinidad model climaxed in Jamaica’s Baptist War, compelling the abandonment of gradualism and the adoption of a new remedy in immediate emancipation. Postabolition colonial policy was overshadowed by the Felony Act and the contentious ...

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9. The Launch of Imperial Amelioration

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pp. 142-160

Postconquest economic policy in Trinidad frustrated the limited objectives of amelioration. The lure of Trinidad’s virgin soils and high sugar prices presented major challenges to the imperial government’s policy of curbing the plantation revolution. Despite the largely successful land policy, sugar estates increased from 192 to 221 between 1802 and 1813.1 Although the average plantation labor force was...

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10. Constitutional Militancy

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pp. 161-175

In accordance with the amelioration ordinance, legal bales between enslavers and enslaved were fought at three levels. Minor domestic offenses were decided by the protector or his assistants.1 Complaints of serious infringements of the law, including capital offenses, were adjudicated in the criminal courts.2 An intermediate jurisdiction was created by the proclamation of 23 June 1824. This amendment was expressly designed ...

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11. Breaking the Chains

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pp. 176-198

By the 1820s it was evident that colonial reformers had to contend with a rapidly industrializing metropolitan economy, central to which was the need to transform the volatile labor system for optimum productivity and security. There was yet no urgency to suggest, however, that radical change was on the horizon. Even the intervention of the metropolis in amelioration was experimental, focused largely...

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12. Conclusion

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pp. 199-202

The problem of security created by insurrectionism of the enslaved across the British colonies from the mid-eighteenth century arrested the aention of key spokesmen of empire, leading to the imperial adoption of amelioration as the flagship policy to validate and cushion the abolition of the slave trade. The dramatic failure of amelioration as a system of social control compelled metropolitans to concede ...


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pp. 203-250


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pp. 251-252


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pp. 253-258


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pp. 259-271

E-ISBN-13: 9780807149898
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807149881

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World