- Between Blood & Gold: The Debates over Compensation for Slavery in the Americas by Frédérique Beauvois
Originally published in French in 2013 and translated into English in 2016, Frédérique Beauvois's Between Blood & Gold studies the neglected topic of financial compensation to former British and French slave owners. Looking at the parliamentary debates during the period that led to the abolition of slavery in the British and French colonies, Beauvois rightfully places the complex issue of compensation as a key component in the history of emancipation in the Americas.
This very well organized monograph is divided into four chapters and an epilogue. The book's review of the British and French debates on abolition of slavery is structured around three dimensions: legal, economic and political. Beauvois's arguments are supported by rich archival research. Her primary evidence is found within government minutes and reports as well as writings from both sides of the abolition debate. The foundation of the monograph is found in the first chapter, which identifies the historical actors that were direct or indirect supporters of the institution of slavery. Beauvois also first presents in this chapter her refreshing approach to discussing historical methodology. She relays to the reader the complications of identifying the defenders of slavery, pulling back the curtain on archival and historiographic issues that plague researchers. This trend continues throughout the monograph.
Chapter two examines the legal debate on abolition, placing the supporters of slavery under a legalist label and the abolitionists under the category of humanists. While this theme may be already familiar to historians of emancipation, Beauvois adds to the narrative. The strongest part of the chapter is her examination of the debate concerning expropriation and how it led to an indemnity for planters. Chapter three reviews how the economics of slavery as well as the possibility of the fiscal crisis following abolition drove the parliamentary debates in France and Great Britain. This chapter provides an exhaustive explanation of the fiscal realm of the colonial system and the colossal debts that are not reviewed in traditional scholarship on abolition. In the final chapter of the monograph, Beauvois explores the transatlantic dimensions of the abolition debates, as presented through the colonial lobby. In this chapter, Beauvois pays particular attention to compromises made between the abolitionists and their [End Page 1410] opponents, as well as fiscal incentives given to the colonial states in order for the process of emancipation to be complete.
What is refreshing about Between Blood & Gold, is that in addition to presenting her research, Beauvois reviews current scholarly debates and how these contentions also appear in the archives. An example is the debate regarding slavery's profitability in comparison to free labor, explored in chapter three. While it is a current scholarly debate, it is also a political one that occurs in Britain and France during the nineteenth-century. Beauvois presents both sides of the debate, eventually acknowledging that many contemporary researchers on the topic recognize how profitable that slavery could be, despite the ongoing debate.
While Between Blood & Gold is a wonderful addition to the existing historiography on emancipation in the Americas, there are times when Beauvois is overzealous in her scope. Beauvois adds a comparative analysis to review similar themes in abolition debates throughout the Atlantic World. The United States is cited the most, but she also includes Dutch, Danish, Spanish and Swedish territories in the Americas as well as Brazil. While in some instances, these additions are extremely helpful, at other points it distracts from the author's thesis. Similarly, there is overemphasis on Saint-Domingue and the Haitian indemnity. While this is insightful, the substantial amount of information provided draws the reader away from the other factors and debates that lay the foundation for French abolition in 1848. Finally, the reader would like to see more of what is lacking in the narrative, the colonies. While Beauvois examines the colonial lobby, except from generalities taken from secondary literature, the colonies are mostly...