The Mighty Experiment

The Mighty Experiment : Free Labor Versus Slavery in British Emancipation

3.8 (10 ratings by Goodreads)
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By the third quarter of the eighteenth century, Great Britain had amassed Europe's largest imperial stake in the transatlantic slave system. During the next three generations the British dismantled that stake in a graduated series of withdrawals. This process has been portrayed, on the one hand, as a rational disinvestment in a foundering overseas system by the world's greatest and most dynamic economic power. On the other hand, it has been assessed as the world's most expensive per capita overseas investment in modern history. In this latter perspective, British anti-slavery was the the crucial element in the greatest humanitarian achievement of all time. For those who actually planned, debated, implemented, and adjusted to the process, ending British slavery was best conceived neither as a timely withdrawal from a failed economy nor an unprecedented national sacrifice. Properly done, it was to be a rational social experiment. Emancipation was designed to simultaneously minimize agitation on both sides of the Atlantic, and to maximize the scientifically proven superiority of free over slave labor.
It would thereby not only benefit planters, consumers, and capitalists within the empire, but also accelerate the peaceful and voluntary surrender of millions of chattels throughout the world. The implementation and evaluation of emancipation turned out to be a far more contentious affair than the originators had anticipated. It absorbed minds of a whole generation of parliamentarians, governments, and journalists. The origin, execution, and public assessment of this great experiment, in its own contemporary terms, is the subject of this study.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 318 pages
  • 164.6 x 243.8 x 27.4mm | 594.22g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 1 line illustration
  • 0195093461
  • 9780195093469

About Seymour Drescher

Seymour Drescher is University Professor of History and Professor of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Econocide: British Slavery in the Age of Abolition (1977), Capitalism and Antislavery (OUP, 1987), and From Slavery to Freedom (1999) and the co-editor of Slavery (OUP, 2001).
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Review quote

Awarded the 2003 Frederick Douglass Book Prize Drawing on an astonishing range of primary and secondary sources, Drescher has produced what must surely be the definitive account of the competing claims of free and slave labour in the 'age of abolition'. English Historical Review Drescher reconstructs this complex narrative with great skill and ingenuity. He also makes a vital and hitherto unexplored connection between the 'failure' of emancipation and growing racialization at home. English Historical Review The Mighty Experiment is hugely impressive, both in terms of its breadth and its historical vision. English Historical Review Drescher breaks new ground in The Mighty Experiment by looking at abolition in terms of the debates between the political scientists of the period. To the extent that he focuses on the economic consequences of abolition, he opens our eyes to aspects of the story absent from the customary self-congratulatory accounts ... outstanding. Howard Temperley, Times Literary Supplement
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Rating details

10 ratings
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5 20% (2)
4 50% (5)
3 20% (2)
2 10% (1)
1 0% (0)
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