Monday, May 16, 2016

Manisha Sinha's "The Slave's Cause"

Manisha Sinha is a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities among several others. She is the author of The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina.

Sinha applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Abolitionist pamphlets and images transformed the African Slave Trade from a cog in the imperial machine to an exemplary instance of cruelty and inhumanity. They sought to render the enslaved African visible to the widest possible audience. The plan of the “regulated” slave ship Brooks with its decks of packed humanity, first composed by William Elford and the Plymouth abolition committee and elaborated by the London Committee, became the most circulated broadside of British abolitionism. Mirabeau called it a living coffin. This single image evoked the Middle Passage as experienced by Africans and centered it in abolitionist discourse. In portraying the victimization of Africans by the slave trade and slavery, abolitionists did not render them passive. The iteration of it in 1794 included a shipboard rebellion. Abolitionist art blossomed in the nineteenth century from anonymous depictions to carefully delineated humanistic portraits. In the 1820s, the British Quaker abolitionist Elizabeth Heyrick transformed the the image of the kneeling slave to that of an upright black man with the emphatic statement, “I am a man and a brother.” The Brooks diagram lives on in the modern black artistic imagination.
This paragraph from page 99 of The Slave’s Cause captures well the central arguments of the book even though it presents a snapshot of the long history of abolition, from the colonial era to the Civil War, detailed in it. The book is a movement history of American abolition narrated in a transnational context. It tells the story of not only American abolition but also of British abolition, the Haitian Revolution, the European Revolutions of the 1830s and 1848, and African emigration schemes. In situating the history of abolition in an international context, it uncovers its wide ranging and eclectic radicalism. Recapitulating the history of abolition in the longue duree and told in the broadest setting possible, this book reveals aspects of the movement and its unknown members that remain hidden from history until today. A movement perspective also allows us to uncover the significance of the history of abolition for contemporary activists, who fight against various forms of racial and economic injustice.

The Slave’s Cause argues that slave resistance, rather than bourgeois liberalism, lay at the heart of the abolition movement and inspired black and white abolitionists alike. Abolitionists, pace conventional historical wisdom, were not racial paternalists and economic conservatives but men and women, black and white, free and enslaved who created a radical, interracial social movement that pushed at the boundaries of American democracy. They found common ground in causes ranging from feminism, utopian socialism, pacifism, and anti-imperialism to vindicating the rights of labor, Native Americans, and immigrants. Rather than single issue “monomaniacs” and “fanatics,” as their conservative critics called them, most abolitionists understood that the cause of the slave was linked to a host of other causes. The abolitionist vision, the book illustrates, ultimately linked the slave’s cause to the struggle to redefine American democracy and human rights across the globe.
Learn more about The Slave's Cause at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue