Race and Revolution: A book review
American Revolution remains the cornerstone of Democracy the world over. It has helped shape the History of the world and its perception of Freedom, democracy and Human values. However it is a historic anomaly that the abolition of slavery, then rampant in the various states of U.S.A as slave-ownership or slave trade, did not coincide with its independence but actually took more than a century to take effect. This question is often glossed over in the historic and heroic accounts of the story of American Revolution. This is where Gary. B. Nash has tried to fill the vacuum by trying to bring to the foreground the sentiments present during the American Revolution towards Abolitionism and the counter points that shaped history.
Nash’s book deals primarily with the strong impulse of Abolitionism present in the Revolutionaries and the compromise, which helped deflect their attention from this social malice to concentrate on the seemingly more urgent matter of their liberation from colonial rule. Gary Nash argues that generations of historians – prebellum and antebellum – had led to the collective camouflage of the abolitionist sentiments heightened in achievement during the consensus historian’s era. As he quotes Lynd in his works, “tolerance towards the institution of slavery and intolerance toward the abolitionist movement are attitudes usually found together, for they support and supplement each other” (Gary. B. Nash, 1990, page xvi)
Nash argues, that though a series of generations of Historians had argued to the contrary, there were some strong reasons to make it an opportune moment for the abolition of slavery. Though the consensus historians argue that the resistant south would have endangered the union if abolitionists were persistent, it can also be seen through Nash’ argument that the precariously placed south states would have gone along even on this contentious issue had there been more vigor and attention added to tackling Slavery. It was also, as Nash claims the era with an over riding sentiment for ridding the American society of its long-standing ill ness. Therefore Revolutionists missed their rendezvous with History in not being to carry out their humanitarian agenda of Slavery-abolition.
Nash cites several aristocratic Leaders of the generation in his documents who argued that Slavery “is a violation of both justice and religion: that it is dangerous to the community in which it prevails” (Gary. B. Nash, 1990, page 92). Equal rights movements also had their seeds in such arguments of the revolutionists who argued that “ as freedom is unquestionably the birth-right of all mankind, of Africans as well as Europeans, to keep the former in a state of slavery is a constant violation of that right, and therefore of Justice” (Gary. B. Nash, 1990, page 92)
Though the Constitution conveniently side stepped the issue of Slavery abolition and excused itself the need to revisit the profitable but highly nefarious trade in the Southern states in 1808, the voices of dissent were recorded. There were vociferous opponents to this compromise formula who cited the basic tenet of American constitution –“All men are born free and equal” as being directly in opposition to slavery.
Nash presents a lot of evidence in the form of documents from the revolutionary periods, which support his claim of a strong current of Abolitionism present during the Revolution.
What Race and Revolution achieves is to put the entire question of abolition of Slavery in historical perspective and avoid glossing over the issue, which had been widely practiced by Historians. Revolution was a step towards establishing arguably the most humanitarian constitution and social system in the world. Though it was not complete in itself, to it can be traced the more widely impacting movements of Equal rights movements all over the world, anti-apartheid, and anti-racist stands of almost all the civilized nations of the world. Nash helps us understand that Revolution was not the failure of the struggle for Racial equality, rather it was the first step towards achieving that most noble of goals.
Gary. B.Nash. Race and Revolution The Inaugural Merrill Jensen Lectures 1990, New York: Madison House