Review by Choice Review
Historian Baptist (Cornell) provides a vibrantly and powerfully written survey of the economic powerhouse combination of slavery and cotton and their centrality to the rapid growth of the US economy from the Revolution to the Civil War. Slavery had a pervasive influence in shaping society, culture, politics, finance, and international trade as the number of enslaved people and their productivity continued to increase. Drawing upon impressive archival research, slave narratives, and newspaper accounts, Baptist's vignettes vividly portray enslaved peoples' lives, work, and culture. He depicts the dehumanizing slave trade from the upper South to the expanding cotton regions in the southeast and then southwest as Native Americans were pushed from that region. Baptist masterfully presents slaveholders' efforts to maximize cotton production though mental and physical torture and the financial methods used to purchase more slaves and land. Though some believed slavery was inefficient, the expansion of land and production belies this notion: this economic juggernaut accelerated US capitalism as it supplied cotton to New England and British textile mills and dominated world trade in this commodity. This study should prompt scholars to reconsider the importance of slavery to US development in the antebellum period. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. --Raymond M. Hyser, James Madison University
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Cornell University historian Baptist (Creating an Old South) delivers an unapologetic, damning, and grisly account of slavery's foundational place in the emergence of America as a global superpower, balancing the macro lens of statistics and national trends with intimate slave narratives. Delivered in a voice that fluidly incorporates both academic objectivity and coarse language, the book is organized into chapters named after a slave's body parts (i.e., "Heads" and "Arms"), brutal images reinforced by the "metastatic rate" of the "endlessly expanding economy" of slavery in the U.S. in the first half of the 18th century. The "massive markets," "accelerating growth," and new economic institutions in America's "nexus of cotton, slaves, and credit" lend credence to Baptist's insistence that common conceptions of the slave South as economically doomed from the start are possible only in hindsight. At the dawn of the Civil War, he suggests, the South's perception that it was a "highly successful, innovative sector," was coupled with slave-owners' belief that objections to slavery in the North rested not on moral concerns, but on fears of "political bullying" from the slave states. Baptist's chronicle exposes the taint of blood in virtually all of the wealth that Americans have inherited from their forebears, making it a rewarding read for anyone interested in U.S.A.'s dark history. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A dense, myth-busting work that pursues how the world profited from American slavery.The story of slavery in America is not static, as Baptist (History/Cornell Univ.;Creating an Old South: Middle Florida's Plantation Frontier before the Civil War, 2001) points out in this exhaustive tome. It entailed wide-scale forced migrations from the lower East Coast to the South and West of the economically burgeoning United States. Following tobacco production along the Chesapeake Bay, slavery was embraced in the newly opened territories of Kentucky and Mississippi, where slaves were force-marched in coffles, separated from families, bought and sold to new owners, and then used to clear fields and plant indigo and the new cash crop, cotton. Although some advanced attempts to ban slaverye.g., in the Northwest Ordinancethe newly hammered-out Constitution codified it by the Three-Fifths Compromise. In the name of unity, the delegates agreed with South Carolinas John Rutledge that religion and humanity [have] nothing to do with this question. Interest alone is the governing principle with nations. Using the metaphor of a trussed-up giant body la Gulliver, Baptist divides his chapters by body parts, through which he viscerally delineates the effects of the violence of slaverye.g., Feet encapsulates the experience of forced migration through intimate stories, while Right Hand and Left Hand explore the insidious methods of the enslavers to solidify their holdings. Baptist moves chronologically, though in a roundabout fashion, often backtracking and repeating, and thoroughly examines every area affected by slavery, from New Orleans to Boston, Kansas to Cuba. He challenges the comfortable myth of Yankee ingenuity as our founding growth principle, showing how cotton picking drove U.S. exports and finance from 1800 to 1860as well as the expansion of Northern industry.Though some readers may find the narrative occasionally tedious, this is a complicated story involving staggering scholarship that adds greatly to our understanding of the history of the United States. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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