Slave Country tells the tragic story of the expansion of slavery in the new United States. In the wake of the American Revolution, slavery gradually disappeared from the northern states and the importation of captive Africans was prohibited. Yet, at the same time, the country's slave population grew, new plantation crops appeared, and several new slave states joined the Union. Adam Rothman explores how slavery flourished in a new nation dedicated to the principle of equality among free men, and reveals the enormous consequences of U.S. expansion into the region that became the Deep South.
Rothman maps the combination of transatlantic capitalism and American nationalism that provoked a massive forced migration of slaves into Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. He tells the fascinating story of collaboration and conflict among the diverse European, African, and indigenous peoples who inhabited the Deep South during the Jeffersonian era, and who turned the region into the most dynamic slave system of the Atlantic world. Paying close attention to dramatic episodes of resistance, rebellion, and war, Rothman exposes the terrible violence that haunted the Jeffersonian vision of republican expansion across the American continent.
Slave Country combines political, economic, military, and social history in an elegant narrative that illuminates the perilous relation between freedom and slavery in the early United States. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in an honest look at America's troubled past.
Rarely is an author's first book so mature in its balance and authority. Rothman sets out to explain "why slavery expanded" under the leadership of members of the revolutionary generation and their successors, and why it expanded especially into the Deep South of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, lands that were part of the Louisiana Purchase. The settlement of the lands southwest of the original coastal Southern states by slave-owning planters set the stage for the Civil War. The speed and form of settlement of those territories as their economy became based on cotton and, to a lesser extent, sugar cultivation were inconceivable without the use of slaves. If Rothman's broadly researched work doesn't offer any fresh interpretations of the peculiar institution, he chooses his illustrative stories with great skill and has mastered the existing literature. The realities of slavery appear in all their vividness, as does the distinctiveness of the white cultures of the region, especially Louisiana's. One comes away from this readable, energetic work by Rothman, an assistant professor of history at Georgetown, appreciating how much the nation's vaunted past--its military successes, its democratic growth, its economic might--owes to the enslavement of people out of Africa. 2 b&w photos, 2 maps. (Apr.)
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Harvard University Press
April 29, 2007
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