Follow-up on the slave trade


Last week I posted about a review in the Times Literary Supplement of David Brion Davis's history of the ending of the slave trade. It generated a couple of interesting responses.

One was from James Bennett, author of the book The Anglosphere Challenge: Why the English-Speaking Nations Will Lead the Way in the Twenty-first Century. Bennett makes the point that slavery was an alien concept in English law but well recognized in the Roman-law-based systems of Spain and other continental countries:

The key was the Mansfield Decision [in Somerset's Case in 1772], in which Lord Mansfield accepted the plaintiff's argument that Common Law had never recognized the status of slave and no English statute had ever created such. Colonial statutes had created the status in the colonies, copied from the Spanish (Roman-derived) slave codes. Roman law had of course supported the existence of slave markets in Iberia before 1492, so there never had been a legal gap there--slavery had been part of Roman, Visigoth, Muslim, and post-Reconquista Iberian societies alike. Until the Barbadians colonized Charleston, and brought Spanish-inspired slave codes with them, Virginia and Maryland had been using cobbled-together adaptations of indentureship and apprenticeship laws to control the chattel slaves that had ended up there. It had not been clear for some decades after 1619 in Virginia whether these Africans and Afro-Latins (the first slave whose name was known was called "Antonio") were to be held for life, or whether their children would be slave or free.

Many were set free at some point in the early years. If there are any descendants of the first Africans brought over, they may well be considered white today, since many of the initial freed slaves intermarried.

The other post comes from Lexington Green on LG reads castoff TLSs from a friend of his brother-in-law. Here he blogs about how Europeans are inclined to abstract thought while the Anglosphere is inclined to concrete examples. Excerpt:

This German intellectual "anti-pragmatism" has a first cousin in the French approach to public affairs, which will famously reject observable facts as being not possible in theory. This presents a problem for Americans. We are, like [John] Keegan's prototypical "Englishman," interested in concrete, measurable things. The EU is somehow, to the European elite, much more than its observable features, its bureaucratic rules and procedures. It is an idea which is somehow better and more important than anything which it actually is or does.

He quotes a 1996 article from the estimable Timothy Garton Ash, and then goes on:

This idea of Europe is part of a "shared mood" which Keegan refers to. Recent American conduct is offensive to that mood. The substantively meaningless Kyoto accord is similar. It was not capable of being enacted into law, let alone put into operation or enforced. It was part of a certain mood of feigned seriousness about "climate change." Bush's unapologetic rejection of the thing has driven many people to distraction. He broke the mood. They want to play make-believe, while Bush and his team think there are more urgent matters at stake.

I noted this same tendency toward abstract thinking several years ago when covering elections in Italy. When I (through an interpreter) asked voters on the street whom they were voting for, they almost invariably responded first by describing their general theory of society, then by fitting recent events into that framework, and only then announcing whom they were voting for. My favorite instance was in the Trastevere section of Rome, where I approached a couple, a woman about 50 and a young man about 25, and asked them whom they favored. I looked to the woman, but--as usual in Italy--she deferred to the man, clearly her son, who presented his general theory, related it to current events, and then announced he was voting for the center right. Then I asked her what she thought. Her instant reply: "Isn't he wonderful?"