Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
From the author of the widely acclaimed King Leopold's Ghost comes the taut, gripping account of one of the most brilliantly organized social justice campaigns in history - the fight to free the slaves of the British Empire.
In early 1787, 12 men - a printer, a lawyer, a clergyman, and others united by their hatred of slavery - came together in a London printing shop and began a remarkable grass-roots movement, battling for the rights of people on another continent. Masterfully stoking public opinion, the movement's leaders pioneered a variety of techniques that have been adopted by citizens' movements ever since, from consumer boycotts to wall posters and lapel buttons to celebrity endorsements.
A deft chronicle of this groundbreaking antislavery crusade and its powerful enemies, Bury the Chains gives a little-celebrated human rights watershed its due at last.
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|Listening Length||13 hours and 45 minutes|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||July 24, 2018|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #73,221 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#249 in Great Britain History (Audible Books & Originals)
#901 in World History (Audible Books & Originals)
#1,475 in Discrimination & Racism
Top reviews from the United States
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He breaks the narrative of British abolition into five parts. The first, “World of Bondage,” sets the stage for the dramatic struggle of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He emphasizes the wealth and allure of the sugar industry, which promised “independence and excitement in a way that carrying cargo on a fixed route back and forth across the English Channel never could.” Moreover, the absentee Caribbean sugar plantation owners of the 1780s were every inch the multimillionaire railroad barons and dot.com billionaires of their day, the richest and most innovative businessmen of their time, envied equally by the downtrodden and old money aristocrats. Indeed, the West Indies were “the Middle East of the late eighteenth century”; sugar was like oil and “freedom, not slavery, was the peculiar institution.” The author marshals some truly stunning statistics to defend his case. For instance, in 1773, the relatively tiny island of Jamaica alone produced five times more income for England than all 13 original colonies combined (and the French colony of St. Domingue – today’s Haiti – out-produced Jamaica by an order of magnitude); the tiny island of Grenada produced 8 times more than all of British Canada. All of this wealth, generated mainly from sugar, but also from coffee and tobacco, was produced by slave labor, a system of extreme brutality and exploitation that made the Caribbean a slaughterhouse for African slaves (e.g. roughly 500K slaves were imported to the American South and 4M were alive at the time emancipation; over 2M slaves were brought to the Caribbean but only 600K survived to see freedom).
In addition to putting British slavery into context, Hochschild also introduces several key characters to his half-century narrative, such as John Newton, a former slave ship captain turned pious convert to Evangelical Christianity and author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”; Olaudah Equiano (aka Gustavus Vasa), an African slave whose example and memoirs would inspire millions; and Granville Sharpe, the English gentleman who would provide the influence and political access to kick start the process of abolition.
The second section, “From Tinder to Flame,” introduces the man clearly at the heart of the British abolitionist campaign and a personality the author clearly seeks to resurrect from the historical ashes: Thomas Clarkson, a divinity student who, in 1785, dedicated his life to the mission of abolition. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously stated: “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man;” it is noteworthy that he chose Clarkson as the personification of Abolition (along with Luther for the Reformation, Fox for Quakerism, and Wesley for Methodism). The author stresses the originality and perceived impossibility of the task at the time. “In all of human experience,” Hochschild writes, “there was no precedent for such a campaign… The abolitionists were pioneers in forging a central tool of modern civil society.” The author equates the attempt to abolish slavery in late eighteenth century Britain to trying to eradicate gasoline-powered cars in the early twenty-first century. In this section, Hochschild also introduces the man most commonly associated with British abolitionism, the conservative Christian MP William Wilberforce. It was to be one of history’s great political partnerships. Each man reinforced the other. “Clarkson, the agitator, needed Wilberforce, the insider.”
Section three, “A Whole Nation Crying with One Voice,” chronicles the shockingly rapid growth of the abolition movement in the years after the American Revolution. Several publications proved critical in generating a public interest campaign that today we would call “viral.” First was the publication of the memoir “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, of Gustavus Vasa the African,” which presented a firsthand account of the horrors of the African slave trade. Second, the author heaps encomiums upon the “Abstract of the Evidence”, a crisp summary of over 1,700 pages of House of Commons testimony on the slave trade from the early 1790s. “A masterpiece of force and clarity” and “one of the first great works of investigative journalism,” Hochschild surmises that Clarkson’s effort is “probably the most widely read piece of nonfiction antislavery literature of all time.” Third, there was the printing of the famous diagram of the slave ship “Brookes,” familiar to any American high school student today, that graphically depicted the inhumanely cramped conditions of the middle passage journey to the Caribbean. Finally, the famed potter Josiah Wedgwood designed a logo for the abolition movement depicting a kneeling African in chains, imploring, “Am I not a man and a brother?” It was perhaps the first example of a modern political campaign button. These efforts quickly caught the public’s imagination; ultimately “more people signed the [anti-slavery] petitions than were eligible to vote for Parliament.”
Hochschild also quickly introduces the two primary opposition leaders to the abolition movement, the fiery American Revolutionary War cavalry hero turned MP, Banastre Tarleton, who passionately represented the political interests of his hometown, Liverpool, the primary slave port in England, and the Duke of Clarence (who became King William IV in 1828), a Caribbean plantation owner who, during his youthful years in Jamaica, was known for “…rashly spewing marriage proposals and cases of venereal disease in all directions.”
The fourth section, “War and Revolution,” describes how the abolition movement, which came within four votes in the House of Commons in 1796, was totally derailed by the war with France and the slave revolt in modern day Haiti. The war with France dramatically curtailed civil liberties in England and made association with any revolutionary ideology – including anti-slavery – immediately suspicious. Wilberforce was a powerful voice for abolition because of his evangelical Christian beliefs, not any sympathy with radicalism, which he detested (he was mortified to learn that the revolution had voted him honorary French citizenship). Clarkson, meanwhile, dropped out of public life.
St. Domingue was “the undisputed crown jewel of all European colonies anywhere,” according to the author, producing 30% of the world’s sugar and half of the world’s coffee. The island produced more than double that of the British West Indies combined and had foreign trade equal to that of the entire fledgling United States. “No colony anywhere made so large a profit for its mother country,” even including India, evidently. In 1791 began “the largest and bloodiest slave revolt the world has every seen.” After years of bloodletting, slavery was abolished in the French empire in August 1793, “arguable the most radical, and most overlooked, act of the French Revolution,” according to the author. He also writes glowingly about Toussaint L’Ouverture and his army of “ragtag, unexpectedly disciplined ex-slaves,” who, once emancipated by France, had to fight the British for six years to keep their freedom.
Perhaps most shocking of all is how much effort both sides expended in trying – and failing – to defeat the slave rebellion. “The British sent more soldiers to the West Indian campaign than it did to suppress the North American rebels two decades earlier, and the war cost far more lives.” The numbers who fought in the Caribbean and the casualty rate is truly staggering. From 1793 to 1801 over 89,000 British soldiers served in the region – 45,000 died, 14,000 were crippled and 3,000 deserted for an attrition rate of 70%. Not surprisingly, “The events of St. Domingue forever changed the way people in Britain thought about their own West Indian colonies.”
In 1802, Napoleon attempted to roll back emancipation and sent an armada with 35,000 troops, the largest force ever to leave France, Hochschild says, to retake St. Domingue. Toussaint was captured and spirited out of the country, to die 10 months later in a prison cell on the French-Swiss border. Nevertheless, the French attempt to conquer the island lasted only 22 months, ended in failure, and claimed the lives of some 50,000 French soldiers, more than were lost at Waterloo.
Finally, “Bury the Chains,” picks up the story nearly two decades after section four ends. Ending the slave trade had many unintended consequences, while some anticipated consequences never materialized. Overnight, Britain went from “chief poacher” to “chief gamekeeper” as the Royal Navy aggressively patrolled the middle passage route hunting illicit slave traders. Captured slaves were repatriated to Africa, where nearly all of them remained slaves, only in their native Africa.
The perceived wisdom was that without a steady supply of new slaves, the institution would quickly die a natural death. However, plantation owners adjusted their behavior under the new conditions, providing for the first time rudimentary medical care and vigorously supporting slave-breeding programs. Thus slavery ended slowly, primarily because the old guards had preached gradualism, even though a new generation of activists, including some women, such as Elizabeth Heyrick, began agitating for immediate and complete abolition. It was at this time that the British Empire experienced the greatest slave revolt in its history, on Jamaica in 1832. Full emancipation came quickly after the revolt was snuffed out. In 1833, emancipation passed both houses of Parliament and plantation owners were granted twenty million pounds in compensation (40% of the national budget). The official day of freedom came on August 1, 1838, a date that many American blacks celebrated instead of July 4th for generations, freeing some 800,000 slaves across the empire, a full half-century after Clarkson kicked off the movement.
The author claims that Wilberforce’s sons essentially wrote Clarkson out of the history of British abolitionism, heaping all praise and credit on their pious father statesman. Also minimized was the influence of the sugar boycotts and slave revolts. It was a narrative – the benevolent Christian Englishman’s victory – that the British public wanted to hear. And, as it turned out, freeing the slaves was “a much easier pill for the country’s ruling elite to swallow than permitting trade unions, banning child labor, recognizing the rights of the Irish, and allowing all Britons to vote.”
All told, a fabulous and engaging story.
Top reviews from other countries
The popular reader will find this book enjoyable whilst the academic will find a wealth of well documented sources for further investigation in the footnotes. You will do well to find anything better on the subject and especially one that is so pleasant to read.
Its probably the best book I've read concerning this appallingly dark chapter of human history - and I've read quite a few.
Interesting how Wilberforce is not portrayed as quite the anti-slavery superhero that he is in other publications and the movie 'Amazing Grace'.
If you're going to read one book about this subject, make it this one