João José Reis
Although slavery was not abolished in Brazil until 1888, slave revolts were frequent and remarkable for their ambitions, success, and diversity of participating elements. Two urban revolts of the nineteenth century were especially significant. First, the Tailor’s Rebellion of 1798, in Salvador, the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia, drew on the assistance of freedmen, people of mixed race, and even craftspeople of Spanish descent. The second was a Muslim-inspired and Muslim-directed uprising of slaves in Bahia in 1835, organized by African-born freedmen and slaves who had attained an Islamic education in West Africa before enslavement. This Muslim revolt is particularly fascinating because of the role of written documents, here deployed as protective amulets, among the members of the slave resistance. This excerpt from a book by a Brazilian scholar attempts to demonstrate the role of the written word in this rebellion, illustrating another, and less frequently recognized, “power” within historical documents.
João José Reis, Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia, trans. Arthur Brakel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 99–103.
John Locke (1632–1704), the noted English philosopher, scientist, and political theorist, was one of the leading intellectuals of his age and one of the most influential architects of the modern western world. Like his French counterpart René Descartes, Locke came from a respected family and did well in school, directing his studies at Oxford University for a career as a physician. But Locke’s interests were much broader than medicine, and with the assistance of influential friends such as Lord Shaftesbury, he was appointed to a series of governmental positions following the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689 that brought William of Orange and Mary to the throne. In his Two Treatises of Civil Government (1690), Locke argued against the Divine Right Theory and began to formulate and espouse a liberal political philosophy based on the notions of natural rights, limited government, and the legitimate right of people to rebel against tyranny.
But although Locke may be best known for his political theories, he was also deeply interested in epistemology and the ways in which people acquire knowledge. In his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (1690), Locke expressed frustration with overly abstract forms of thought, which he believed only yielded meaningless and futile discussions of truth and reality. Instead, Locke argued that all knowledge was based on data acquired by the dual process of sensory experience (what he called “sensation”) and subsequent mental thought and analysis (“reflection”). By stressing the importance of observation, the collection of evidence, and inductive reasoning, Locke defined a mode of inquiry called empiricism, which became the foundation for the scientific method so important to the discoveries and technological innovations of the modern world.
In the reading that follows, Locke carefully advances his new theory of human understanding. He begins with his statement of purpose, which he claims is to know and understand the limits of human knowledge. He then proceeds to explain his ideas of “sensation” and “reflection,” as well as his assertion that people are born lacking all innate ideas.
John Locke, The Works of John Locke, a New Edition, Corrected, Vol. 1 (London: Thomas Tegg, 1823): 1–2, 13, 82–84, 86–87, 90–91, 96–98, 99–103, 153–54.
John A. Hobson
John Atkinson Hobson (1858–1940) grew up during an economic depression in England that ultimately shifted his intellectual interests from literature to economics. One of his major contributions is the theory of under-consumption, which argues that low consumer demand and high supply of goods will lead to a sluggish economy. Hobson also held that imperialism could be stripped down to economic interests by the mother country: it was no more than a search for new capitalist markets. This selection explores Hobson’s observed relationships among economy, international struggle, imperialism, and nationalism.
From John A. Hobson, Imperialism and the Lower Races. New York: James Pott and Co., 1902, part II, chapter IV.
Like the American Declaration, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is a stirring statement of Enlightenment principles concerning both the individual’s role in the state and the ultimate source of all government. When the Third Estate reconstituted itself as the National Assembly in June 1789, among the first measures it considered was a universal declaration of the rights and duties of individual French citizens. A proposal was made by the Marquis de Lafayette to this effect in July, but swift-moving events in Paris, such as the fall of the Bastille on July 14, moved the Revolution in new directions. Undaunted, a subcommittee continued to debate the document, editing a draft proposal of 24 articles down to 17. Like the Declaration of Independence in the American colonies (1776), this document was a compromise statement, drawn up and edited by committee.
Lynn Hunt, ed. and trans., The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History (Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 1996), 77–79.
Olympe de Gouges
Women were not included among the new officeholders of Revolutionary France, nor were they members of the National Assembly, which supposedly represented all members of the country’s Third Estate. An immediate question arose concerning the extent to which the benefits of the Revolution should be extended to females (as well as to slaves throughout France’s global empire). Some men did advocate the extension of these rights and privileges, but women also took action in their own cause. Among these was the “Cercle Social” (Social Circle), a group of female activists who coordinated their publishing activities on behalf of women and their own goals in the developing Revolution.
One of the leaders of this group was Marie Gouze (1748–1793), who, under her pen name “Olympe de Gouges,” attacked both the institution of slavery and the oppression of women in 1791. A playwright, pamphleteer, and political activist, de Gouges published this thoughtful meditation on what the National Assembly should declare concerning “the rights of woman” (as opposed merely to “the rights of man”). Other members of the Social Circle were arrested as the Revolution entered its radical phase, but Olympe de Gouges was executed by guillotine in November 1793.
Lynn Hunt, ed. and trans., The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History (Boston: Bedford St. Martin–s, 1996), 124–126.
Rhode Islanders were the principal American slave traders during the eighteenth century, during which a total of approximately 1,000 slave-trading voyages set out from the colony to Africa. The “triangular trade” between the Atlantic seaboard, the Caribbean, and West Africa was the main source of great wealth for many families in this small British settlement. Among these families was that of John Brown, whose donation to a struggling college in Providence would lead to the renaming of the institution in his honor. Aware of their university’s explicit connection to the profitable and lethal slave trade, archivists at Brown University have attempted to tell the full story of voyages like that of the Sally. In the excerpts that follow, lines from the ship’s log are annotated with details of the events they describe.
John Carter Brown Library, http://cds.library.brown.edu/projects/sally/documents.html
Bernardino de Sahagún
The document included here contains descriptions of the monumental and agonizing events of the Spanish conquest of Mexico from the Aztec perspective. It was compiled at the behest and under the supervision of a Franciscan friar, Bernardino de Sahagún (149—1590). Sahagún had arrived in New Spain, as the territory had been designated by Cortés, in 1529 at the age of thirty. He soon acquired a sophisticated mastery of Nahuatl, the Aztec language, and over the years he collected an invaluable mass of material relating to preconquest life of the native peoples. Beginning in 1547, the material was acquired by native Americans who were taught to write and who recorded the memories of elderly nobles who had witnessed the events. Later, Sahagún put the material together and edited it, finishing his General History of New Spain in 1577. Although the text was compiled under Spanish auspices and given final form by a Spanish Franciscan priest, it nonetheless imparts a sense of how the events of the conquest were perceived by the Aztecs themselves.
Excerpted from The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico, edited and with an introduction by Miguel Leon-Portilla (Boston: Beacon Press, 1962), 22–31, 33–35, 40–41, 51–52, 63–68.
This autobiography of a slave who would emerge as a leading voice in the abolitionist cause has been enormously significant for understanding Atlantic slavery. Equiano claimed to have been born a prince among the Igbo people of modern Nigeria around 1745, kidnapped as a child, and transported across the ocean to the West Indies and Virginia. Named by his first (of several) masters after the sixteenth-century king Gustav I of Sweden, “Gustavus Vas[s]a” would travel throughout the southern American colonies and the Caribbean, always longing to achieve his freedom. Shaming his Quaker master into honoring a promise, Equiano was freed in 1765, but he continued to suffer the indignities and risks attending a free black man living in a slave society. His published memoir was designed to galvanize antislavery forces, and his work elicited sufficient sympathy and respect to contribute to the abolition of the British slave trade (though not slavery itself) in 1807.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed., The Classic Slave Narratives (New York: Mentor, 1987), 99–100, 102–103.
In 1789, Olaudah Equiano published his autobiography, titled The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African, written by himself. The title is most appropriate, for there is little doubt that he did indeed live a very interesting and exceptional life. Born around 1745 in what is now southeastern Nigeria, he was only eleven years old when he and his sister were kidnapped by African slave traders, brought to the coast, and sold to a European slave merchant. He was then shipped across the Atlantic to the West Indies, enduring and surviving a horrific experience during the “middle passage.” He was subsequently sent to a plantation in Virginia, where he was purchased by Captain Michael Pascal, an officer in the Royal British Navy. Equiano served Pascal well for several years, acting as a shipboard powder boy during several campaigns of the Seven Years’ War. While living in England, he was able to receive some schooling, and he converted to Christianity.
His next master, a Philadelphia businessman named Robert King, returned Equiano to the West Indies and employed him as a shipping clerk. Equiano took advantage of his tolerant Quaker master and his commercial travels to engage in some petty trading of his own, and he eventually saved enough to purchase his freedom in 1766. He continued his maritime voyages as a free man for several years, joining expeditions to the Mediterranean, Central America, and a near-fatal exploratory voyage to the Arctic. He later joined the British abolitionist movement and became a popular speaker against slavery and the slave trade in England. In 1787, he was briefly involved with an ill-fated project to repatriate free blacks to Sierra Leone, but he was forced to resign after he complained about corruption and mismanagement within the organization. He returned to his speaking tours across England and wrote his autobiography, which sold very well in Great Britain and the United States. By most accounts, he died in 1797, with his final wish to return to Africa as a missionary unfulfilled.
The reading consists of excerpts taken from Equiano’s autobiography. Although originally written to promote the abolitionist cause, his accounts of his experiences seem mostly accurate. His story begins with his description of village life in Africa prior to his capture. Here he acknowledges that Africans had their own institution of slavery, but he strives to make a clear distinction between it and the slavery that he experienced and witnessed in the Caribbean. He then recounts the manner in which he was captured, brought to the coast, and transported to the West Indies. His detailed and moving description clearly conveys the shock and subsequent demoralization that accompanied the loss of freedom and removal from one’s ancestral home. It is also interesting to compare his story with the account found in Jacques Barbot’s journal and to identify, analyze, and explain the ways in which they are similar and different. The next section focuses on Equiano’s experiences in the Caribbean, his views on African–European relations, and his unceasing efforts to win his freedom. Through his own example, he illustrates the behaviors and attitudes required for slaves to make the most of their situation. The reading ends with his final plea for abolition, in which he crafts an argument that blends both moral and economic factors in support of ending the trade in slaves.
Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African, written by himself, in Equiano’s Travels, ed. Paul Edwards (Oxford: Heinemann Press, 1996): 1–3, 6–9, 13–14, 22–28, 57–67, 143–46. Copyright © 1996 Heinemann Publishers.
Nzinga Mbemba (Afonso I)
A Portuguese sailor came into contact with the Kingdom of Kongo, which occupied a vast territory along the Congo River in central Africa, in 1483. When he returned in 1491, he was accompanied by Portuguese priests and Portuguese products, and in the same year the Kongolese king and his son were baptized as Catholics. When the son succeeded his father in 1506, he took the Christian name Afonso and promoted the introduction of European culture and religion within his kingdom. His son Henrique was educated in Portugal and became a Catholic bishop. However, Afonso’s kingdom began to deteriorate in subsequent decades, as the Portuguese made further inroads into his territory, pursuing ruthless commercial practices and trading in slaves captured in his dominions. In 1526, the king sent desperate letters to King João III of Portugal, urging him to control his own subjects and to respect the alliance—and the common Catholic faith—that bound the Europeans and the Africans together.
In 1807 most of the countries involved in the centuries-long Atlantic slave trade signed an international agreement to abolish the shipments of Africans to the western hemisphere. The British Royal Navy established a west Africa duty station to intercept smugglers of contraband human cargo. Africans freed by the British were returned to Freetown in Sierra Leone. Surrounded by strangers and often far from their native lands, many stayed to be educated at schools set up by the Church of England’s Church Missionary Society (CMS). Often they converted to Christianity, and their knowledge of two very different worlds helped European missionaries to reach peoples of the interior.
Perhaps the most famous African to follow the path described above was Samuel Crowther (c. 1806–1891). As a young teenager Crowther was captured and sold to Portuguese slave traders. Leaving the Nigerian port of Lagos, the ship carrying him to South America was spotted by a Royal Navy squadron, which took Crowther and his fellow captives to Freetown. There Crowther was one of the first students at the Church Missionary Society’s Fourah Bay College. He became a teacher and evangelical Christian with strong ideas on the value of the Christian message for Africans. In 1841 he joined the First Niger Expedition to explore commercial and missionary opportunities away from the Nigerian coast. The mission is usually considered a failure. As was frequently the case, most Europeans could not survive the diseases they encountered in the African interior, and many of the party died. But Crowther proved himself to the British as a translator and intermediary with the village peoples. In 1842 he was sent to England for training and ordination in the Church of England.
When Crowther returned to Africa, the mission he established among the Yoruba people became a model for others. As much as possible, each mission community became self-sufficient, so that it would not be dependent on the villages around it. The residents grew cash crops that authorities hoped would replace revenues lost with the abolition of slavery, ran schools for the young, wore western clothes, and accepted any tribal peoples who wished to receive education and learn of the Christian religion. Crowther was so successful in managing the Yoruba and Niger missions that he was invited back to England to be consecrated as bishop of the Niger territories, a huge tract reaching from Nupe in the north to the Niger Delta along the coast. He was the first African to reach such a position in the Anglican Church.
Samuel Crowther, Journal of an Expedition up the Niger and Tshadda Rivers. London: Church Missionary House (1855): xiii–xviii.
A prominent Liberian, West African, and pan-African figure, Edward Wilmot Blyden advocated for the rights and abilities of Africans (and people of African descent) to govern themselves. Born in the Virgin Islands to free black parents in 1832, he lived briefly in Venezuela and the United States before emigrating to Liberia at the age of eighteen. Liberia had been founded by liberated American slaves on the west coast of Africa in 1822, and Blyden was fully engaged in the project of establishing a Liberian identity, based on the intellectual and political development of the nation’s citizens. Blyden was appointed professor of classics at Liberia College in 1862. In his quest to make the college (the first secular English-speaking institution of higher learning in sub-Saharan Africa) more relevant to Liberia, he began teaching Arabic in 1867. He was also a significant figure in Liberian politics, serving as secretary of state (1864–1866) and an advisor to the reformist President Roye after 1870. In this address, celebrating Liberian independence, Blyden compares his nation’s constitution with that of the United States, promoting the benefits of reform and self-government for his fellow citizens.
Black Spokesman: Selected Published Writings of Edward Wilmot Blyden, ed. Hollis R. Lynch (London: Frank Cass, 1971), 77–79.
Born in Dublin to a Protestant father and a Catholic mother, Edmund Burke (1729–1797) struggled to build a political career in Georgian England. Having established a reputation for brilliant thinking and speaking, he entered Parliament in 1766. One of his principal causes in the 1760s and 1770s was the defense of the American colonists in their conflict with the mother country. Burke opposed the English government’s position that England was sovereign over the colonies and could tax the colonists as she saw fit. By contrast, Burke insisted that a “right” was not an abstract principle and that policy should be guided by actual circumstances. When the French Revolution began in 1789, Burke surprised some of his political allies by speaking against it, mainly because he believed that “reason” and “rights” were not absolute principles that justified violent change. His statement against the extremes of revolution, published in November 1790, became the basis for a form of political ideology known as conservatism.
Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. Thomas H. D. Mahoney (Indianapolis: Liberal Arts, 1955), 66, 68–69, 70–71, 73–74.
As a young man in England, Thomas Paine worked a series of low-paying, menial jobs, from most of which he was quickly fired, being perceived as an uncooperative “troublemaker.” In 1774, at the age of 37, seeming to be a total failure in every profession he had attempted, he hired passage on a ship to the American colonies. Fortunately, Paine had a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin, whom he had met after a scientific lecture in London. On the strength of this letter, Paine found employment as a printer and writer in Philadelphia, and soon became the editor of a journal called the Pennsylvania Magazine. Incensed by the abuses to which the colonists were subject, he encouraged his fellow Americans to make a formal break with Britain. He also wrote and published a series of editorials protesting the American institution of slavery, castigating those who were agitating for their own “liberty” while denying it so cruelly to others.
Paine published his thoughts on independence in pamphlet form in January 1776 under the title Common Sense. So popular was the document that General Washington ordered that it be read aloud to his troops as they froze along the Delaware River on Christmas Eve 1776. Declaring, “These are the times that try men’s souls,” Paine continued to offer encouragement to the soldiers in pamphlets later published as The American Crisis, and his efforts on behalf of the American cause were recognized by many of the founding fathers of the country during the Revolution.
When he heard about the storming of the Bastille in Paris in July 1789, Paine rushed to France to be a part of this new revolution. Soon afterward, he had the honor of delivering the key to the Bastille’ from the Marquis de Lafayette to Washington, at which time, he declared, his heart “leaped with joy.” When Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution were published in 1790, Paine felt he had been betrayed by his former friend, with whom he had had many conversations and a meeting of minds in the American cause. As a result, he published The Rights of Man, a strong rebuke of Burke’s philosophy and commentary, in February 1791. The work was dedicated to the first president of the United States, George Washington.
The Life and Major Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Philip S. Foner (New York: Citadel, 1945), 316–317, 340–341.
Jacques Barbot (also known as James Barbot) was born around 1650 to a Protestant family in Saint-Martin on the Ile de Re, near the French seaport of La Rochelle. Little is known about his early life, but it is likely that he was engaged in commerce at an early age. The Barbot family had a long history in maritime trade, and Jacques’ younger brother Jean became involved in slave trading at an early age, organizing voyages for the Royal Africa Company, one of the largest slave trading companies in Europe. In 1685, both Barbot brothers emigrated to England following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which had granted religious toleration of Protestantism in France. Once settled in England, they started their own commercial firm, assisted by additional investors and speculators.
Their first slaving expedition in 1697 ended in a disastrous shipwreck. The next year they tried again, purchasing the Albion-Frigate and refitting it for slaving operations. Jacques accompanied the Albion-Frigate on its maiden African voyage to New Calabar, along what was then known as the “Slave Coast.” The ship left England in 1698, carrying 24 guns, 60 men, and a cargo of manufactured goods worth 2,600 pounds sterling. In little more than three months’ time they purchased 648 slaves and enough food and provisions for the “middle passage,” or the trip across the Atlantic. The trip was not entirely successful: midway through the passage, the slaves found an opportunity to revolt, and in the ensuing fight three sailors and twenty-eight captives were killed before Europeans regained control.
Slave journals such as Barbot’s were written primarily to instruct future travelers and traders about Africa, so they are a very useful historical source for understanding the organization and operation of the slave trade, although from one perspective. Barbot’s journal reveals that slave trading was a dangerous but potentially very lucrative enterprise. Tropical fevers, competition from European rivals, profit-seeking African sellers, and the perilous “middle passage” made slave trading a risky business but one worth pursuing when one compares the purchase costs with the sale prices. It is also interesting to note the character of African–European relations as portrayed by Barbot and his attitudes concerning Africans and their culture. His account of African involvement in the trade, particularly the special role played by local leaders, also provides a glimpse into the impact of the slave trade on African society.
Jacques Barbot’s account has been preserved in his brother Jean Barbot’s English account of his voyages, published in 1732. The selections in this reading come George Francis Dow, ed., Slave Ships and Slaving (Salem, MA: Marine Research Society, 1927), 73–87.
Simón Bolívar (1783–1830), the eventual liberator of northern South America from Spanish control, was born in Venezuela but profoundly influenced by the culture of peninsular Spain and the European Enlightenment. He visited Spain in 1799, and traveled to Paris to witness Napoleon’s coronation as emperor in 1804. Bolívar aspired to bring the values of the Enlightenment, and particularly the notions of liberty and popular sovereignty, to his homeland. Having declared an independent Venezuela in 1812, he was driven into exile in British Jamaica after with the landing of a Spanish expeditionary force in 1815. In 1816, he returned with a military force and assumed the presidency of “Gran Colombia” in 1822. The following letter is renowned for its expression of Bolívar’s ambitions, at a time when the outcome of “liberation” from Spain seemed uncertain.
Selected Writings of Bolivar, trans. Lewis Bertrand (New York: Colonial, 1951), as edited in: http://faculty.smu.edu/bakewell/BAKEWELL/texts/jamaica-letter.html.
Voltaire (the pen name of François-Marie Arouet) epitomized the Enlightenment. His Dictionnaire philosophique (Philosophical Dictionary), the first edition of which appeared in 1764, distilled his thought on philosophical matters in what he self-deprecatingly called an “alphabetical abomination.” Voltaire invariably found ways to deploy humor in the pursuit of serious moral, religious, and ethical truths, as the continued popularity of his “contes philosophiques” (philosophical tales), including Candide, Zadig, and Micromégas, attests.
In this “dictionary,” arranged alphabetically according to the entry’s title (in French), Voltaire tackled matters like atheism, fanatacism, the soul, superstition, and tolerance. His tone is always light and witty, despite the weightiness of (and the violence associated with) the subject matter. Inspired by ongoing court cases and interrogation methods, Voltaire added the following essay on the use (and, in some countries, disuse) of torture as a legal instrument to the 1769 version of the Dictionary. His satirical approach resonates today, as issues of what constitutes torture and how it ought to be applied continue to dominate our political discourse.
Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary, ed. and trans. Theodore Besterman (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1972), 394–396.
Domingo Faustino Sarmiento
The journalist and eventual Argentine president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811–1888) is most famous today for his novel Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism (1845), a sharp and daring satire of the caudillo Juán Manuel de Rosas. His indictment of Rosas, thinly disguised as the biography of another brutal dictator (called Juán Facundo Quiroga), was written while Sarmiento was an exile from the regime. Representing the government of Chile, Sarmiento traveled throughout Europe, North Africa, and North America, observing local political and social conditions closely and comparing them with what he knew of Argentine society. The result is a fascinating travelogue of his impressions of and reactions to the people of the United States, with vivid descriptions of many of its manmade and natural wonders. Nevertheless, his hopes for his native Argentina were never very far from the foreground, as this excerpt reveals.
Domingo Faustino Sarmiento’, Travels in the United States in 1847, trans. Michael Aaron Rockland (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1970), 164–166.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo
The best Spanish source on the Aztec–Spanish encounter was written by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, an old campaigner from Cortés’s army. Born and raised in a poor family in Spain, Díaz began his military career as a common soldier. In 1514, he went to America to serve with the Spanish forces opening up the “New World,” and he made two previous expeditions to the Yucatan prior to the one led by Hernando Cortés in 1519. According to his own accounts, he took part in over one hundred battles and was present at the surrender of Tenochtitlan in 1521. After having read a published account of the conquest that he considered a distortion, Díaz set about writing his own account during the 1560s, when he was already an old man. He finished it when he was seventy-six years old. Though he had sent a copy to Spain, the work was not published until the next century, well after his long and eventful life had ended in 1581. The drama of the events and the intimacy and novelty of his observations make this a remarkable historical source.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo, The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, vol. 1, Hakluyt Society, Second Series, XXIII (London, 1908), 132–35; vol. 2, Hakluyt Society, Second Series, XXIV (London, 1910), 4–18, 37–38, 39–40, 44, 55–58, 59–60, 69–79, 84–88.
United Nations General Assembly
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, was one of the most significant and lasting results of the Second World War. The League of Nations, created after the First World War, had failed to prevent the beginning of another, even more catastrophic and costly conflict. The United Nations was planned throughout the war as a substitute mechanism for global peace and security, but world leaders also believed that a document was necessary to affirm the rights of individuals throughout the entire world. A formal drafting committee, consisting of members from eight countries, was charged with the task. The committee chair was Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of President Roosevelt and a strong advocate for human rights in her own right. By its resolution 217 A (III), the General Assembly, meeting in Paris, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eight nations abstained from the vote, but none dissented.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/)