Scholarly article on topic 'Rebecca Hartkopf Schloss . Sweet Liberty: The Final Days of Slavery in Martinique . (Early American Studies.) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2009. Pp. vi, 300. $39.95.'

Rebecca Hartkopf Schloss . Sweet Liberty: The Final Days of Slavery in Martinique . (Early American Studies.) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2009. Pp. vi, 300. $39.95. Academic research paper on "Political Science"

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Academic research paper on topic "Rebecca Hartkopf Schloss . Sweet Liberty: The Final Days of Slavery in Martinique . (Early American Studies.) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2009. Pp. vi, 300. $39.95."

Caribbean and Latin America

Jeremy D. Popkin's book is riveting. Structured around the burning of the prosperous colonial town of Cap Francais on the northern shore of the French colony of Saint Domingue in June 1793, it tells the story of the circuitous and, Popkin argues, utterly unpredictable road to the abolition decrees of 1793 in Saint Domingue, and February 4, 1794 by the National Convention in Paris. Like every good storyteller, Popkin keeps his narrative thread tightly wound. Background information and events that take place before and after the drama are blended in through flashbacks and foreshadowing. Popkin has a remarkable ability to breathe life into dense and distant rhetoric and a surprising talent for revealing hidden traces of hypocrisy and deception. This is good writing in the best sense of the term—a fine-grained study of leaders who, in difficult circumstances and almost against their will, did some good.

The main figures of the story are the French civil commissioners Leger-Felicite Sonthonax and Etienne Polverel, who arrived in Saint Domingue on September 13, 1792. Toussaint Louverture emerges only toward the end of the time period covered by Popkin. Despite its title, Popkin's book is not a sweeping analysis of slave revolution or the heroics of emancipation. Quite to the contrary, it tries to recover a delicate infra-history of the political and personal struggles surrounding slavery and abolition, in which the accidents of human judgment, miscalculation, irrational commitment, and brute chance are entangled in a web of uncertain intentions and unpredictable outcomes. Although Sonthonax and Polverel despised black slavery, they had arrived in Saint Domingue to save the insurgent colony for France, not to abolish slavery. Popkin convincingly shows that the Jacobin National Convention in Paris, and Maximilien Robespierre in particular, by no means supported the granting of immediate general liberty. While Popkin clearly does not mean to deny the historical importance of the first universal emancipation decrees, he does want to disrupt the narratives of certain left-liberal historical epics with their trust in human agency, the power of constitutions, and the democratic propensities of former slaves. In one of the book's more tantalizing remarks, Popkin suggests that, contrary to popular assumptions, the main effect of constitutionally guaranteed universal rights may not have been an acceleration of the emancipation process but the creation of an impasse between rights to liberty and rights to property—an impasse that could only be resolved through violence (p. 19). Violence indeed. In the end, it seems that abolition decrees were passed by leaders who never had any intention of going so far, so quickly, yet had their hands forced by circumstances.

Popkin knows that he is playing with fire: "To suggest that the connection between 1791 [the outbreak of the slave insurrection] and 1804 [Haitian Independence] was . . . highly contingent, that it depended on the outcome of a crisis that was not directly produced by the insurrection and that might have had very different results, is to challenge deeply held beliefs about the power

of libertarian ideals and of human agency" (pp. 9-10). According to Popkin, the turning point in the history of the Haitian Revolution and Atlantic slavery resulted from a sequence of events that had little to do with the struggle against slavery—without which things might have developed very differently.

Certainly, Popkin makes a strong case for considering the burning of Cap Francais a watershed moment in the history of the event we now call the Haitian Revolution. His documentation seems impeccable. After reading the ten chapters—two of them looking back at the slave society prior to the insurrection and the rest moving forward in an intricate pattern of overlapping time-frames—one has a vivid sense of the volatility and unpredictability of a story that connects two places caught in violent revolution, the future unknown. But doubts remain. Sonthonax and Polverel probably would not have been sent to Saint Domingue had the slaves not risen up in 1791. Does that simple fact not constitute a causal link between the burning of Cap Francais and antislavery? Should Sonthonax, four months before issuing the first universal abolition decree and steadily edging toward the final step, really be called a "gradualist" (pp. 248, 258, 260)? Metropolitan "gradualists" thought it would take years, perhaps generations, to turn slaves into potential citizens, and most thought so on racialist grounds. Last, and perhaps most important, Popkin has some fascinating things to say about the maneuvering of the leaders of the former slaves in an important chapter titled "The Road to General Emancipation." Their political vision, particularly on the issue of royalism, however, remains underdeveloped. This is regrettable since the latter speaks directly to the value of emancipatory metanarratives. It seems to me that the royalism of the insurgent slaves challenges not only the claims of certain grand narratives of emancipation, but also the proposition that all explanation needs to be sought in the realm of contingency. What it does call for is a thorough reconstruction of the constitutive terms of political theory, beyond the conventional constraints set by Jacobin historiography and constitutional republicanism of the French or U.S. cast.

This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the Haitian Revolution, the history of abolitionism, French colonial history, or the racial politics of revolutionary France. It is also an intriguing case study in the debate over historical methods and the difficult relationship between political theory and political history.

Sibylle Fischer

New York University

Rebecca Hartkopf Schloss. Sweet Liberty: The Final Days of Slavery in Martinique. (Early American Studies.) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2009. Pp. vi, 300. $39.95.

What is the relationship between racial categories and economic factors in the early nineteenth-century Atlantic world? Rebecca Hartkopf Schloss struggles productively with this and other challenging questions while

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Reviews of Books

presenting a survey of Martinique's history from 1802, the year the island was returned to France from revolutionary-era British occupation, to 1848, the year abolition definitively came to France's Caribbean colonies. Her book presents a major contribution to a field dominated in recent years by scholarship on Saint Domingue and the Haitian Revolution. After 1804, Martinique was the largest of the remaining French colonies in the Caribbean. Although the early nineteenth century has often been treated as a brief extension of the colonial ancien regime, the new political and economic realities of the period in Martinique mean that this century must be understood on its own terms. Using this background of overlapping Caribbean and French contexts, Hartkopf Schloss provides an able and thorough account that focuses on the way identity (whether racial, gendered, local, or metropolitan) was "defined, challenged, and policed" in the final phase of French slave society. Her research should be of interest to historians of race and slavery in the antebellum South, Brazil or Cuba, and others seeking an Atlantic framework of comparative analysis.

Much of the work takes on the question of "white hegemony" and examines the way planter elites enforced the separation of races and promoted ideals of white behavior in order to maintain the island's social hierarchy. Hartkopf Schloss uses the wave of legislation in the 1760s and 1770s that dramatically constrained the rights of free people of color as a starting point, and claims that questions of white honor and racial separation became even more important as economic and political pressures mounted. The planter elite, the author argues, sought to constrain the rights of free people of color while also stigmatizing the behavior of poor whites. At times, these groupings and their motivations can come across as a bit too instrumental as Hartkopf Schloss tends to speak of them en bloc, ascribing a collective will that may well be overstated. The category of petit blanc, for example, is not one that was used by contemporaries, and groups together diverse social types (urban artisans, dockworkers, plantation managers) in a potentially anachronistic way that ascribes more class and race-based coherence than may have been the case.

The book's analysis of the elite's institutional and ideological strategies to maintain a racial hierarchy focuses on formal ordinances promulgated by the island's governing council. But the period's anti-miscegenation laws and sumptuary legislation also remind us that some segments of these different groups thought mixing was acceptable. The biggest demographic story of the period covered by the book—the explosion of the population of free people of color—is itself evidence that official ideology and social practice were fundamentally at odds, and that such laws cannot stand in for the larger population's worldview. Also, while Hartkopf Schloss argues strongly that these strategies were aimed mainly at controlling free people of color, poor whites, and elite white women, there is reason to believe they were motivated at least as much by concern over those elite white men who did not subscribe to the same rigid

worldview, who socialized with free people of color or were more lenient with their slaves. Of course, planter rhetoric was also aimed at a metropolitan audience. What comes across most clearly is how ineffective elites were in this period, and how similar their visions of white victimization and heroic martyrdom were to those articulated in the eighteenth century. This ineffectiveness means that Hartkopf Schloss's emphasis on "the role race would play in the definition of French national identity" is not fully fleshed out.

Though Hartkopf Schloss frames much of her discussion in terms of demands for citizenship rights and participation in the nation, whether on the part of the creole elite, gens de couleur, or the enslaved, the book devotes little attention to how the French Revolution led members of these different groups to imagine and articulate claims to active participation in the nation, as opposed to being good subjects of the king. The interesting overview of the period of British occupation from 1809 to 1814, a largely understudied topic, would be a good place to get a sense of how the language of imperial supplication shifted in different periods and contrasted in the Restoration era, July Monarchy, and Second Republic. In the end, Hartkopf Schloss's important book reminds us of the "ad hoc nature of the colonial project," reflecting the way institutional and ideological structures shifted in contingent ways over time.

John Savage

Lehigh University

Gale L. Kenny. Contentious Liberties: American Abolitionists in Post-Emancipation Jamaica, 1834-1866. (Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900.) Athens: University of Georgia Press. 2010. Pp. xi, 257. $44.95.

I have always wondered what accounts for such a concentration of Disciples of Christ Churches within the narrow confines of Jamaica's neighboring districts of West Rural St Andrew and South Eastern St Mary parishes. Thanks to Gale L. Kenny's book, I now have a better understanding of the early years of this denomination. Kenny analyzes nineteenth-century American and British imperial history from the perspective of American abolitionists and missions among the black population of Jamaica during the early post-emancipation period (1839-1866). She begins the story of the American Missionary Association's (AMA) "civilizing mission" in Jamaica with the entry of five recent graduates of Oberlin, one of the first multiracial and coeducational colleges in the United States and a "hotbed of radicalism, in Jamaica." These liberal abolitionist missionaries preached the doctrine of personal liberty, yet within the context of strict church discipline they aimed to balance freedom and independence with the demands of Christian morality. Their emphasis was on eradicating licentiousness, sexual immorality, debauchery, and drunkenness—sins that slavery had inflicted on Jamaican society. Their "civilizing mission" hoped to promote abolition in the United States by demonstrat-

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