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Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves New title Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 004-6442104692
ISBN-10: 0618104690
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Men from England bought and sold me,/ Paid my price in paltry gold;/ But, though theirs they have enroll'd me,/ Minds are never to be sold." So went "The Negro's Complaint" by noted 18th-century poet William Cowper—written, says Hochschild, as an op-ed piece would be today, to spread the message of England's fledgling movement to abolish the slave trade. Hochschild, whose last book, King Leopold's Ghost, was a stunning account of the ravages perpetrated by Belgium on the Congo, turns to a more edifying but no less amazing tale: the rich, complex history of a movement that began with just 12 angry men meeting in a printer's shop in London in 1787 and, within a century, had led to the virtual disappearance of slavery.The men who met in James Phillips's print shop included Quakers, Evangelical Anglicans and a young Cambridge graduate who had had an epiphany about the evils of slavery while on the road to London. The last, Thomas Clarkson, became an indefatigable organizer, carrying out the first modern-style investigation into human rights abuses. Granville Sharp was an eccentric but socially respected man of progressive ideas who dreamed of founding a colony of free blacks in Africa. Within a short time these men and their colleagues had created a mass movement that included the first boycott, in which hundreds of thousands of Britons, chiefly women, refused to buy slave-made sugar from the Caribbean; petitions from all over the country flooded into Parliament; and a mass-produced drawing of a slaver's lower deck, showing where the slaves were densely crowded for the middle passage, became the first iconic image of human oppression.Hochschild tells of this campaign with verve, style and humor, but without preaching or moralizing, letting the horrific facts of slavery in the Caribbean (far more brutal than in the American South) speak for themselves. And he refuses to make saints out of the activists; while highlighting bravery in the face of death threats and physical violence by promoters of slavery, the author equally points out their foibles and failings, and the often ironic unintended consequences of their actions. Along the way, Hochschild illuminates how Britain's economy was dependent upon the slave trade, why England's civil society was particularly hospitable to a movement to abolish that trade, and the impact on the movement of the French Revolution and the particularly bloody slave uprising in French St. Domingue (today's Haiti). It's a brilliantly told tale, at once horrifying and pleasurable to read. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
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From The New Yorker

Hochschild's history of British abolitionism notes that ending slavery would have seemed as unlikely in eighteenth-century England as banning automobiles does today. Despite the "latent feeling" among intellectuals that slavery was barbarous, Caribbean sugar plantations were seen as a necessary part of the economy. Prefiguring many social movements to come, the anti-slavery crusade was driven by the partnership between a committed activist, Thomas Clarkson, and a connected politician, William Wilberforce. It was Clarkson and his Quaker associates who pioneered the use of petitions, eyewitness accounts, and even an early, innocent form of direct-mail solicitation. Hochschild argues that the violent techniques of naval press gangs primed England's populace to consider the plight of the slaves. His capacious narrative is both disturbing and fascinating, and not without its ironies: when Parliament finally did abolish slavery, in 1833, plantation owners were generously compensated for their loss of "property."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; New title edition (January 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618104690
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618104697
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #440,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Bury the Chains recounts the story of the struggle for abolition in the British Empire. Author Adam Hochschild, concentrates on the fifty-year period leading up to the eventual emancipation throughout the British possessions in 1838. Hochschild's recent work King Leopold's Ghost also covered the topic of indigenous peoples oppressed by imperialist Europeans.

Starting in 1787 the work covers the efforts of a group of 12 men and those they inspired to work towards the abolition of the Slave Trade. During this time, Parliament was always a step behind popular opinion, which grew increasingly more anti-slavery with each passing year. It was not until Parliament itself was reformed in the 1830s that the necessary legislation could be passed to reflect the sentiment of the nation.

The book highlights many of the activists whose names have become footnotes to History. Olaudah Equiano was a freed slave who worked all his life to better the plight of Africans. His autobiography was a bestseller in its day and helped to spread the idea that Blacks could succeed as freemen. Granville Sharp, a musician, used his vast family connections to keep the issue in the public eye for decades. James Somerset sought his freedom in a landmark trial in 1772, which declared that all slaves were free once they came to England. An Anglican minister, Thomas Clarkson, worked for decades with politician William Wilberforce to show the evils of the slave trade.

Anti-Slavery activists created a public relations campaign that would seem right at home to the modern reader. Buttons, pins, posters, book tour, and other PR techniques were employed to win over the minds of the population. Clarkson developed a display of the shackles used by owners and toured through England and Scotland.
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Format: Hardcover
In reading this excellent book, it is important to not read more into it than its narrow subject matter, for example, to not conclude that anti-slavery views and activism did not begin anywhere until the late 18th century, and the small number British abolitionists whose activities Hochschild so well narrates. Many were opposing slavery long before, e.g.,

(a) Samuel Sewall, Selling of Joseph: A Memorial (Boston: Green and Allen, 1700);

(b) Ralph Sandiford, A Brief Examination of the Practice of the Times (Philadelphia: Franklin and Meredith, 1729);

(c) Benjamin Lay, All Slave-Keepers That Keep The Innocent in Bondage, Apostates (Philadelphia: Ben Franklin, 1737).

Note also abolitionist writings such as by

(a) Abolitionist Rev. Theodore D. Weld, The Bible Against Slavery (New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1837), tracing condemnations of slavery back to the Bible, the Law of Moses, and Ancient Israel;

(b) Abolitionist Rev. George B. Cheever, God Against Slavery and the Freedom and Duty of the Pulpit To Rebuke It, As a Sin against God (Cincinnati: American Reform Tract and Book Society, 1857), tracing condemnations of slavery back to the Bible, the Law of Moses, Ancient Israel, the prophet Jeremiah, and Ancient Judah;

(c) Abolitionist Rev. John G. Fee, An Anti-Slavery Manual, or, The Wrongs of American Slavery Exposed By the Light of the Bible and of Facts, with A Remedy for the Evil, 2d ed.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. Hochschild tells an important story very powerfully and with great feeling and humanity. And he has some facinating heroes and villains, because this is a tale of human beings at our very best and at our very worst.

Hochschild shows us the developing moral insight of abolitionist leaders like Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharpe and the Quakers, who somehow understood something early on that was unclear to many Britons: that slavery was evil. He also limns the amazing life of Olaudah Equiano, who knew slavery from personal experience, and shows how a small group was able to move millions of people its cause--and even get hundreds of thousands to give up sugar in their tea.

Also--and very importantly--Hochschild shows how eventual emancipation was not a gift from European and American humanitarians, but at least partially the result of a long struggle in the slave colonies by the slaves themselves, generations of whom proved willing, again and again, to die for their freedom. It is interesting that the slave revolts in the West Indies were often a setback in public opinion for the British abolitionists: apparently it was easier to accept the idea that slavery was evil than it was to get to the idea that slaves have an inherent right of armed resistance.

Meticulous and detailed research and a passionate yet thoughtful writing style are great strengths of this book. Hard to put down, and hard to stop thinking about even months after finishing it.
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