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Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves [Hardcover]

Adam Hochschild
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 7, 2005 0618104690 978-0618104697 New title
From the author of the prize-winning King Leopold's Ghost comes a taut, thrilling account of the first grass-roots human rights campaign, which freed hundreds of thousands of slaves around the world.
In 1787, twelve men gathered in a London printing shop to pursue a seemingly impossible goal: ending slavery in the largest empire on earth. Along the way, they would pioneer most of the tools citizen activists still rely on today, from wall posters and mass mailings to boycotts and lapel pins. This talented group combined a hatred of injustice with uncanny skill in promoting their cause. Within five years, more than 300,000 Britons were refusing to eat the chief slave-grown product, sugar; London's smart set was sporting antislavery badges created by Josiah Wedgwood; and the House of Commons had passed the first law banning the slave trade.
However, the House of Lords, where slavery backers were more powerful, voted down the bill. But the crusade refused to die, fueled by remarkable figures like Olaudah Equiano, a brilliant ex-slave who enthralled audiences throughout the British Isles; John Newton, the former slave ship captain who wrote "Amazing Grace"; Granville Sharp, an eccentric musician and self-taught lawyer; and Thomas Clarkson, a fiery organizer who repeatedly crisscrossed Britain on horseback, devoting his life to the cause. He and his fellow activists brought slavery in the British Empire to an end in the 1830s, long before it died in the United States. The only survivor of the printing shop meeting half a century earlier, Clarkson lived to see the day when a slave whip and chains were formally buried in a Jamaican churchyard.
Like Hochschild's classic King Leopold's Ghost, Bury the Chains abounds in atmosphere, high drama, and nuanced portraits of unsung heroes and colorful villains. Again Hochschild gives a little-celebrated historical watershed its due at last.

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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: 8.9 x 6.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #301,283 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Adam Hochschild's first book, "Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son," was published in 1986. Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times called it "an extraordinarily moving portrait of the complexities and confusions of familial love . . . firmly grounded in the specifics of a particular time and place, conjuring them up with Proustian detail and affection." It was followed by "The Mirror at Midnight: A South African Journey," and "The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin." His 1997 collection, "Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels," won the PEN/Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay. "King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa" was a finalist for the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award. It also won a J. Anthony Lukas award in the United States, and the Duff Cooper Prize in England. Five of his books have been named Notable Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review. His "Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves" was a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award in Nonfiction and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History.

"To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918," Hochschild's latest book, was a New York Times bestseller. It was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction and won the 2012 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Nonfiction.

The American Historical Association gave Hochschild its 2008 Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service, a prize given each year to someone outside the academy who has made a significant contribution to the study of history.

"Throughout his writings over the last decades," the Association's citation said, "Adam Hochschild has focused on topics of important moral and political urgency, with a special emphasis on social and political injustices and those who confronted and struggled against them, as in the case of Britain's 18th-century abolitionists in 'Bury the Chains'; 'The Mirror at Midnight', a study of the struggle between the Boers and Zulus for control over South Africa in the 19th-century Battle of Blood River and its contentious commemoration by rival groups 150 years later; the complex confrontation of Russians with the ghost of Stalinist past in 'The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin'; and the cruelties enacted during the course of Western colonial expansion and domination, notably in his widely acclaimed 'King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa', among his many other publications. All his books combine dramatic narratives and meticulous research. . . .

" 'King Leopold's Ghost' had an extraordinary impact, attracting readers the world over, altering the teaching and writing of history and affecting politics and culture at national and international levels. Published in English and translated into 11 additional languages, the book has been incorporated into secondary school curricula and appears as a key text in the historiography of colonial Africa for college and graduate students. But it is within Belgium that Hochschild's work has had the most dramatic impact, demonstrating the active and transformative power of history. The publication of 'King Leopold's Ghost' forced Belgians to come to terms for the first time with their long buried colonial past and generated intense public debate that so troubled Belgian officials that they reportedly instructed diplomats on how to deflect embarrassing questions that the book raised about the past. The book offered welcome support for others in Belgium who sought acknowledgment and accountability for Belgian actions in the Congo. . . . Few works of history have the power to effect such significant change in people's understanding of their past."

Hochschild teaches narrative writing at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. He and his wife, sociologist and author Arlie Russell Hochschild, have two sons and two granddaughters.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The struggle for abolition in the British Empire March 30, 2005
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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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
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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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and inspiring book May 30, 2005
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This book should be on every bookshelf!
The research and detail that went into writing this book is a testament to what a good author Adam Hochschild.is and I want to see what else he has written. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended for history lovers or humanitarians
Quintessential book about not just the abolitionist movement in Britain, but about the first calculated human rights movement in the world. Read more
Published 7 months ago by J Clessas
5.0 out of 5 stars Never give up
This well-written history of the anti-slavery movement is a discovery. Everyone who gets discouraged by evil and suffering in the world, everyone who thinks they can't make a... Read more
Published 9 months ago by D. Page
4.0 out of 5 stars Good
Very informative. It can be a little confusing at times, because of sudden changes in characters. Good in general.
Published 9 months ago by Ignacio R Camacho
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed with careful research
Fascinating history of the abolition movement in Britain. Easy to read for the uninformed. I'll look for more of his works.
Published 11 months ago by kingsriter
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book!
This is a history book that reads like a novel. It's also really inspiring as the story of the first major human rights campaign in history. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Jane Kristof
2.0 out of 5 stars Helpful, but incomplete
Wonderfully written and provocative to understand the story lines...however he keeps a good bit of Wilberforce's contribution away from the story while also presenting him largely... Read more
Published 14 months ago by nathan_knight
5.0 out of 5 stars I did not know history could be this fascinating
The book reads like a novel - setting up characters, weaving them together, occasionally filling in details on a new player to the story. Read more
Published 17 months ago by M. Crum
5.0 out of 5 stars Bury the chains transforms your understanding of the slave trade
This book is highly readable, and full of insights that never came up in my history books at school or since. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Tricia woodhead
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative, easy to read, but not for relaxation
This is not a relax and read book. I find it more text-like and therefore reading a chapter a day. I'm learning a lot and find it interesting.
Published 18 months ago by Nana2four
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