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“I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery… We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience… George Washington

Recently a member of the chattering classes – at their quadrennial exposition to offer a head chatterer to the nation – observed how the Anglo-Americans who settled Texas and ultimately made it a free nation were nothing but a bunch of opportunistic land grabbers  and drunkards. The unspoken subtext would include that they did not respect the rights of indigenous peoples, women or vegans and that whatever catalogue of wrongs they were guilty of it was not redeemed in the bargain by their being heroes.

As to the specific charge that they were opportunistic about land that has the distinct ring of truth to it. The speaker’s ancestors – the conquistadors – had been even more opportunistic and less cognizant of the rights of the indigenous peoples which is why their successors – not exactly humanitarians themselves – had the land to “sell” to settlers in an attempt to prop up their own crumbling society.

As for the Anglo-Americans being heroes – and although most were Anglo-American the Texan roster at San Jacinto included men from Austria, Canada, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal and Scotland – the sacrifices of James Grant’s men at Agua Dulce, of William Barret Travis and his men sacrificed  at the Alamo, of William Ward defeated at Refugio,  of  Amon B. King’s men  executed near Refugio and of James Walker Fannin and his army put to death near Goliad  speaks for itself in mute testimony far more eloquent than anything the chattering classes have ever offered the nation.

The entirety of their argument has always been and probably always will be a grievance that the Anglo-Americans – or maybe more comprehensively Americans of northern European extraction [for the most part non-hyphenated Americans] – are GUILTY, and especially so since they will not, Christ-like, take the sins of the world as their burden and surrender themselves to crucifixion. No where is the argument more stridently stated than in any discussion about slavery where our current most vehement form of racism is the assertion that America owes everything to the descendents of slaves [which conveniently include all black people including our own Kenyan[sic] chatterer in chief].

The most worthwhile aspect of Robert Harms book is that it deals with the colonial period before the United States of America existed. The founding fathers did not invent slavery nor was it the exclusive business of the South. We were dealt a bum hand – which we did not play very well – and this book has some good accounts of how the cards were shuffled, cut and dealt. It will not convince any of the chatterers as any appeal to reason and fact in the face of their brand of opportunism is preordained to fail but for the rest of us it is good to know where we came from and how we got here in hopes that we may find a better route.

The Diligent : a voyage through the worlds of the slave trade New York : Basic Books, c 2002 Robert Harms Slave trade Africa, West History 18th century, Diligent (Ship) Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xxx, 466 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 417-451) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  

The slave trade is one of the best known yet least understood processes in our history. The popular image of traders in slave ships going to Africa and rounding up slaves as if they were cattle is not only historically inaccurate, it also disguises the fact that the slave trade was a highly organized Atlantic-wide system that required close collaboration at the highest levels of government in Europe, Africa, and the New World.

The Diligent: Worlds of the Slave Trade, is based on the  journal of French lieutenant Robert Durand who participated in the slave trade, and supplementing it with a wealth of archival research, Yale historian Robert Harms re-created in astonishing detail the voyage of the French slave ship the Diligent.

We have histories of the slave trade but The Diligent is something entirely different: a deep bore into the economic, political, and moral worldviews of the participants on all sides of the trade, complete with a vivid dramatis personae. Nobody who reads this book will ever look at the slave trade in the same way again.

 

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