Challenging the Boundaries of Slavery

David Brion Davis, Author Harvard University Press $18.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-674-01182-3
Davis' brief but insightful analysis of the forces leading to the rise and fall of New World slavery is more than a precis of his past writing on the subject, as the author highlights movements and moments seldom linked to slavery or abolition. However, even an expert historian cannot thoroughly review world slavery in one chapter, and Davis's 30-page first section""The Origins and Nature of New World Slavery"" contains some glaring omissions. His survey of human bondage features an important discussion of""white"" and Muslim slavery, but Ira Berlin, Ronald Segal and others, including Davis himself, have performed much more thorough dissections of the institution's complex history. In his second chapter,""1819: A New Era,"" Davis parses two seeds of abolition: Justice Marshall's decision in McCulloch vs. Maryland, which limited state's rights, and William Ellery Channing's""Baltimore Sermon,"" which laid out a reformist, liberal vision of Christianity that encompassed human perfectibility. Finally, Davis traces American abolitionist thought from the American Colonization Society through Garrison to Lincoln, and outlines the fearful southern reaction--which set the stage for the Civil War--in defense of their sacred institution. However, these chapters ignore the contribution of late-18th century Quakerism, which is cited in many other works, including Davis's own, as the wellspring of American abolitionism. Many readers will also feel he overstates slavery as a casus belli. Still, Davis is an accessible writer who effortlessly blends oft-overlooked demographic trends with oblique micro-histories, and his short book certainly is a useful and enjoyable companion to his other, more comprehensive studies of the""Great American Problem.""
Reviewed on: 11/03/2003
Release date: 11/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 128 pages - 978-0-674-03025-1
Paperback - 115 pages - 978-0-674-01985-0
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