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20 May 2016

The benefits of slavery: a Scottish view

"A man's a man for a' that..." 
It is always nice to hear the true voice of a culture in clear song. Here is an example of that principle as it applied to Scotland in Napoleonic times - not that many years after, it should be remembered, Rabbie Burns, the people's poet, had signed up to become an overseer on a slave plantation in the West Indies.

This is an article from the Edinburgh Review of 1805 about a book published by a French lawyer on St Domingo (known today as Haiti) in which the advantages of slavery for the negro are carefully considered in the light of the widespread French horror of equality which set in after the excesses of the Revolution.

In the time of the great Scottish Enlightenment, it is worth remembering that an article like this can start with the following endorsement:

"On looking into this work, we were delighted to find that it contained what we had long been extremely desirous to see, a fair, open and avowed eulogism upon slavery, with a manful and consistent vindication of the slave trade, founded upon an explicit statement of those principles which must necessarily be adopted by its supporters, but which so few of them, among us, can be brought to acknowledge."

One Scot criticising other Scots' hypocrisy: nothing new in that!


By the way, I discovered this article in a reference contained in one of the most interesting books about slavery written recently: "Slavery and Human Progress", by the great Professor David Brion Davis, of Yale University.

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