Slavery in the US: liberation from above?

Submitted by Matthew on 1 March, 2013 - 5:28

Sacha Ismail is wrong, I think, against Eric Lee (Solidarity 274). Sacha doesn’t like Eric’s basic point — that the US slaves were liberated “from above” by a white man, using a “white state”.

Of course liberation would have been better coming from the action of the slaves themselves, rising in armed revolt and winning their own freedom, arms in hand. Abolition won this way — and the self-confidence and self-organisation gained — would have made the racist counter-revolution of the 1870s onwards much harder to carry through.

But it didn’t happen that way. Slavery was abolished by Sherman’s army and Lincoln’s legislation. Black units fought bravely (eventually, when they were allowed, and under white officers).

Sacha notes that many slaves were able to run away. But they were able to do so because of the power of the Northern state, and the pressure of the Union armies. And running away from a master is not the same thing as a mass, armed slave rebellion.

Of course, it would have been better otherwise. But it didn’t happen that way.

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