From Publishers Weekly
Two law professors make slavery the motor driving the Revolutionary period in this provocative if not always convincing study. Southern colonists, they contend, feared that British court rulings against slavery in the motherland and newly assertive British claims of legislative supremacy over the colonies meant that Britain would restrict or abolish slavery in America; they therefore took the lead in pushing for outright independence and demanded assurances from Northern colonies that slavery would be protected in the new nation. Slavery also dominated the Constitutional Convention, which only succeeded, the authors argue, because of an informal grand compromise giving the South the three-fifths clause (counting slaves toward a state's House representation) in exchange for the Northwest Ordinance banning slavery north of the Ohio River--and implicitly permitting it to the south. Blaming spotty records and backroom deal making, the authors often build their case on speculation, circumstantial evidence and interpretations of Revolutionary slogans about "liberty" and "property" as veiled references to slavery; they must often argue around documentary evidence showing Revolutionary leaders' preoccupation with other controversies that did not break down along North-South fault lines. Their reassessment of the centrality of slavery during the period is an intriguing one, but many historians will remain skeptical. Agent, Ronald Goldfarb. (Feb.)
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*Starred Review* In a startling and necessary book, one of the most important publications on the topic of black history to appear this season, the authors, both law professors with backgrounds in civil rights, chart a bold course through the history of the revolutionary period in American history and arrive at nontraditional but effectively expressed and well-defended conclusions. Their basic premise is that slavery cast its shadow over the founding of the republic, not simply the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention. The Blumrosens peer further back than that convocation in Philadelphia, convened to revise the union of former colonies, and discover within the early provenance of the movement toward revolution--the movement toward one
united nation free and independent, that is--the southern colonies' fear that Britain would outlaw slavery and the northern colonies' acceptance of the continuation of slavery where it previously existed. Although this work is not for the casual reader, the serious student of history will come away informed and challenged. See also Steven M. Wise's Though the Heavens May Fall
(p.936) for another historical account of the issue of slavery within the British Empire. Brad HooperCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved