The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation

David Brion Davis, Author
David Brion Davis. Knopf, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-307-26909-6
Reviewed on: 11/18/2013
Release date: 02/04/2014
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This magisterial volume concludes (after The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture and The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution) Davis’s three-volume study of the intellectual, cultural, and moral realities of slavery in the West since classical times. The dean of slavery historians and Yale emeritus professor, Davis has always seen the problem of slavery as a “problem of moral perception” requiring “disciplined moral reflection.” Concentrating in this book on Britain and the U.S., he takes readers through the Civil War. His focus here is the central importance of the Haitian Revolution, of free blacks throughout the world, and of failed American efforts to colonize freed people in other lands—subjects too little emphasized in earlier histories. Differentiating himself from most other historians of slavery, Davis stresses the profound complexities of slavery’s existence, the unintended consequences of approaches to ending it, and the contingencies that accompanied its end in the U.S. and elsewhere. In stately prose and with unparalleled command of his subject, he offers a profound historical examination of the termination of servitude in the West—a termination that, however, failed to end slavery’s accompanying racism, whose consequences remain with us still. While requiring much of readers, this is a book of surpassing importance. (Feb.)
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