Leave a comment

Man hath by nature a power to preserve his property – that is, his life, liberty, and estate – against the injuries and attempts of other men… The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property… Government has no other end, but the preservation of property… John Locke

John Locke may be thought of as the intellectual god-father of the colonial republican movement that culminated in the 1776-1783 war of independence from England. His writings on slavery have a certain ambiguity so that he is as often cited by the pro-slavery property rights proponents as he is by the anti-slavery proponents. If his personal actions give any indication then through his involvement in the Royal Africa Company and the Bahama Adventurers he must have been pro-slavery since he profited handsomely from both.


The short answer to the problem of perception that allowed African slavery goes to the heart of the state of nature arguments of the enlightenment. The Africans were perceived as existing in a state of nature and lacking the refinements necessary to civilization. It was therefore a moral obligation that they be managed until such time as they became civilized and the institution of slavery – which had existed since before Biblical times – provided a perfect means while also providing a healthy profit which was the other half of enlightenment [especially English enlightenment] thought.

Morgan provides an interesting sociological insight into the interaction of men with one another in the colonial society and the elements of social advancement. His understanding of the relationship of these men with the African slaves whom they never considered to be more that three fifths of a man is not quite as comprehensive. His understanding of the contemporary views of Locke,  the enlightenment  and the inherent contradictions in those systems of thought seems to be wholly absent. Still a good book a better scholar could revise it into a great book.


American slavery, American freedom : the ordeal of colonial Virginia  Edmund S. Morgan  HBC, 2005, c 1975  Hardcover. x, 454 p. : map ; 24 cm. and printing. Bibliography: p. 433-441. Includes index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

“The men who came together to found the independent United States, either held slaves or were willing to join hands with those who did.” writes Edmund S. Morgan in American Slavery, American Freedom. George Washington, hero of the Revolution, was the master of several hundred slaves. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, owned more than two hundred men. women, and children while defending the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


In this work. Edmund S Morgan investigates the bond between slavery and freedom that lies at the very heart of the Colonial experience. Through a history of Virginia from its earliest settlement through the seventeenth century boom in tobacco, the gradual replacement of servitude with slavery, and the rise of republican ideology, Morgan reveals the deep and interlocking relationship between these seemingly contradictory ideas.

“The key to the puzzle,” Morgan states, “lies in Virginia.” Virginia was the largest off the colonies in territory, in population, in influence and in slaveholding. “Servitude in Virginia’s tobacco fields approached closer to slavery than anything known at the time in England,” Morgan writes. “Men served longer and were  subjected to more rigorous punishment, were trad­ed about as commodities already in the 1620’s.” As previously high mortality rates declined, and as the landless white population grew restless, large planters began to see both the economic and political sense in purchasing slaves rather than hiring white servants for several-year stints.


Soon, as black slaves became isolated by racism and removed from the political equation, poor whites and small planters grew in status, elevated not just in relation to blacks but also in relation to their white superiors. This, Morgan argues, set the stage for the mixture of slavery and freedom we associate with the American Founding: a racially isolated slave population, large planters committed to the countryside, small planters persuaded that white elites worked for their interests, and both classes of whites committed to independence through owning property.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: