Author: Gerald Horne
Everybody knows that the American Civil War was about slavery. But contrary to what you may have learned in high school, African slavery was equally important as a trigger of the American Revolution, four score and seven years earlier. At least that’s the surprising argument that historian Gerald Horne makes in The Counter-Revolution of 1776. Supporting his thesis with a copious amount of historical documentation, he presents a thoroughly convincing case and turns the conventional view of the United States’ birth story completely on its head. Unfortunately, while the book is chock full of astonishing historical revelations that I found both illuminating and intriguing, it’s also the most awkwardly written book that I’m ever likely to recommend.
Long before the Battle of Lexington and Concord, having built a vast economic engine and generated massive profits on the backs of African slaves – from New England to Georgia – the European settlers of colonial America were becoming increasingly disturbed as London was gradually leaning toward the abolition of slavery. Unwilling to accept the idea of freedom for Africans or to even consider loosening their cruel bonds a bit, the pro-slavery colonists rallied together to oppose Britain and the hated redcoats.
In great detail, Horne – a professor at the University of Houston – highlights many of the slavery related incidents that eventually culminated in revolution from the British crown. Affronts such as taxes and restrictions on the slave trade, conscription of settlers to oppose the Spanish and the French, and the arming of Africans to defend the crown caused the colonists to eventually lose trust in London’s motivations. In addition, legal decisions and commentary from the eastern side of the Atlantic were increasingly arguing that Africans might actually have some rights as human beings, frequently criticizing the particularly brutal strain of slavery practiced in places like Rhode Island, Virginia and the Carolinas. By providing a slave’s perspective on these pivotal events, Horne lays out an unconventional, but an entirely convincing, interpretation of pre-revolutionary colonial history that I found quite eye-opening.