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Black Experience and the Empire$
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Philip D. Morgan and Sean Hawkins

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199290673

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199290673.001.0001

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From Slaves to Subjects: Envisioning an Empire without Slavery, 1772–1834 1

From Slaves to Subjects: Envisioning an Empire without Slavery, 1772–1834 1

(p.111) 5 From Slaves to Subjects: Envisioning an Empire without Slavery, 1772–18341
Black Experience and the Empire

Christopher L. Brown

Oxford University Press

Emancipation mattered to the black experience in the British empire because it reordered relations between captive Africans, colonial elites, and the British state. It established the metropolitan government as the ultimate arbiter of social and labour relations in the colonies. Emancipation has sometimes been characterized as an instance of British humanitarianism. And there can be no doubt that the abolitionists believed themselves to be acting in the best interests of enslaved Africans. Yet the emergence of an emancipationist ethos depended as much upon a metropolitan reconsideration of imperial interests as a deepening concern with the situation of enslaved men and women. That reassessment — and its characteristic preoccupation with the promotion of imperial power, authority, and the rule of law — conflicted with the more restricted interests of the slaveholders who, in their dominions, saw themselves as rulers not colonists, and their labourers as chattel slaves not British subjects. As early as the era of the American Revolution, a small circle of thinkers interested in imperial questions had described the ways that gradual emancipation might serve the broader end of enhancing state power. This chapter focuses on the origins, character, and legacy of these ideas.

Keywords:   Africans, slavery, emancipation, British empire, British slave trade

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