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American Slavery, American Freedom

Narrated by: Sean Pratt
Length: 14 hrs and 19 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (93 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

"If it is possible to understand the American paradox, the marriage of slavery and freedom, Virginia is surely the place to begin," writes Edmund S. Morgan in American Slavery, American Freedom, a study of the tragic contradiction at the core of America. Morgan finds the key to this central paradox in the people and politics of the state that was both the birthplace of the revolution and the largest slaveholding state in the country.

With a new introduction. Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize and the Albert J. Beveridge Award.

©2003 W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. (P)2013 Gildan Media LLC

Critic Reviews

"Thoughtful, suggestive and highly readable." ( New York Times Book Review)

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

The story of slavery's origins in Virginia

Insanely researched, logically organazied, the final conclusion jawdropps, shames and inspires us to change society.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Roger
  • South Orange, NJ, United States
  • 09-16-14

Explaining the great American contradiction

It’s the huge irony in the creation of the United States: a country dedicated to freedom but founded on the back of slavery. Morgan confronts that irony head-on and seeks to explain how such contradictions could coexist.
He focuses on Virginia, which had the most slaves of any of the 13 colonies and yet also produced the authors of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as well as 4 of the first 5 Presidents.
His argument is meticulously researched and presented in great detail. He argues that improvements in the tobacco market meant planters could afford to make the greater initial investment required to purchase slaves, rather than the contracts of indentured servants. The growth of slavery then significantly curtailed the flow of indentured servants into Virginia. This in turn gradually reduced the size of the white underclass, which had previously threatened the security of the Virginia gentry. Building off the classical notions that first, a successful republic requires virtuous citizens, and second, virtue requires economic independence, Morgan argues that republican ideologists were able to ignore those persons, white or black, who didn’t fit the mold. Since such persons, by definition, could not be good republicans, they were not entitled to the benefits of republican liberty.
When the underclass was white, and the distinction was one of class, there was inevitably class conflict, which occasionally would erupt in violence. When the underclass was composed of slaves, however, and the distinction was racial, then whites could unite to think of themselves as special. As they grew more successful, they could even consider themselves virtuous. They thus could throw off what they saw as the corrupting ways of executive tyranny in the mother country, at the same time subjecting another race to much crueler horrors than those against which they rebelled.
Morgan has some great discussions of intellectual trends, including attitudes towards work, class consciousness and fears of tyranny. He discusses only briefly the traditional classical connection between virtue and the success of a republic, and the book would have benefited from a more thorough discussion.
He also mentions that some Virginians were able to see the inconsistencies between their rhetoric and slaveholding. That discussion too could have been fuller.

10 of 12 people found this review helpful

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This is a good book

This book will open your eyes to a lot of things going on in the world today

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Great historic content

I got this piece because of the Breaking Brown Family Book Club. I’m glad that I did.

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How Slavery Came to be in Colonial Times

The book gives an interesting historical perspective on how Europeans ushered in exploitation of the labor of their fellow man, and how land was stolen for exploration and profit. It also shows the origin of negative attitudes developed toward the slaves, Indians and the poor that still prevailed today. This exploitive ideology that became capitalism, it's marriage with government that was supposed to be built on freedom in fact ushered in oppression worldwide is all carefully laid out in the pages of this book. This read gives you insight into what we are witnessing in today's business, political and racial climate in the United States. It's a hard read until you get to the last five chapters when the author weaves the chapters together into a historical account of how this country was built one exploratative brick at a time. A story of how the few came to crush the lives for generations of the many.

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The most significant book I have read.

I think this book is the most significant book I have ever read/listened to. Dr. Samuel Johnson of England more or less said, Why is it that we hear the loudest calls for liberty from the drivers of slaves? The answer to that very question is the topic of this very book.

The book starts off a bit slowly, but It what it is doing is laying out all the facts, all the evidence, all the sources to explain how colonial Virginia went from utilizing Indentured Servitude as a source of labor, to how it transitioned to using Slavery as a primary source of labor. It explains all the many reasons for this change with a vast array of sources. It explains the significance that Bacon's Rebellion had on this change, an event not taught well in schools. It explains the importance that the Tobacco Economy had on the change as well as the relations with Indians. All of this is explained. And in eventually it explains how all this lead to Southern elites being more populist in their counties to appeal to the descendants of Indentured Servants for votes, and how these men transformed into the yeoman of Republican idealism. Many themes in the book are still very relevant in today's politics and culture.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to understand how Men such as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry could be hailed the greatest champions of liberty at the same time as being slave owners.

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Strong white history of slavery and freedom in Colonial Virginiania

This book is a strong history of the path to slavery in Colonial Virginia. However, it lacks almost any contextual connection to the deeper roots of slavery in North America. This book seems to be written almost as a comparison between the servant class in colonial America and the negro slave, rather than a book on ideas of freedom within a slave state. It’s a great build up to the question the book was meant to answer but is less effective at answering the burning question. How dehumanization takes hold and the idea that freedom and democracy was for white men and never meant for the wider brown world. These are the forces that continue to apply pressure to the darker skinned to this day. I still recommend this read.