Current Issue Article Abstracts

Summer 2020, Vol. 18.3

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Endangered Plantations: Environmental Change and Slavery in the British Caribbean, 1631–1807
Katherine Johnston

Intent on preserving their plantations, eighteenth-century British slaveholders created a rhetoric that naturalized African labor in the Caribbean. Examining this history demonstrates the ways in which slavery and the environment are deeply entwined. In the late eighteenth century, West Indian planters began to fear for the long-term future of their plantations on two fronts. First, planters suspected that their enthusiasm for clear-cutting in attempts to maximize cropland had reduced precipitation and made the climate drier. While medical theories held that less rainfall was beneficial to human health, crops began to suffer from drought conditions. Second, parliamentary hearings on the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade threatened the labor supply on plantations. Seeking to preserve the trade, planters argued that only Africans could perform difficult labor, including clearing wooded land, in the West Indies. A close examination of planters' writings demonstrates that their arguments for African labor were in fact early articulations of environmental racism, as they deliberately placed black bodies in environmentally hazardous situations. Considering climatic change and abolition debates together shows how race is essential to the environmental history of the West Indies.

 

Enquire of the Printer: Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade, 1704–1807
Jordan E. Taylor

In eighteenth-century North America, slavery was a powerful economic pillar supporting the printing business. Runaway advertisements, for example, were a lucrative and consistent source of revenue for printers. But there was another, largely unnoticed link between slavery and print capitalism: thousands of newspaper advertisements directed readers to "enquire of the printer" for information about the sale of enslaved people. These notices put printers in a position to bring together buyers and sellers of enslaved human beings—effectively acting as brokers of the slave trade. Most printers in eighteenth-century North America seem to have engaged in this practice. Despite complaints from a few late eighteenth-century antislavery writers, who recognized the hypocrisy of placing these advertisements alongside materials that advanced a revolutionary vision of political liberty, American printers continued to broker slave sales until their economic incentives shifted in the early nineteenth century. If newspapers aided the creation of American Revolutionary and national politics, as scholars have long argued, they also contributed to the perpetuation of slavery and the slave trade. Print culture was inextricable from the culture of slavery, just as print capitalism was slavery's capitalism.

Binding and Unwinding the British Empire: Philadelphia's German Merchants as Consumer and Political Revolutionaries
Andrew Zonderman

This article explores the German-speaking merchant community that arose in mid-eighteenth-century Philadelphia, and its members' efforts to integrate themselves and fellow Central European immigrants into British systems of commerce, credit, law, and politics. These naturalized merchants developed commercial ties around the Atlantic—in Great Britain, Iberia, and the Caribbean—and worked to align their largely colinguistic customer bases with British tastes and goods. They also sought to assist new arrivals through their civic and political engagement, especially through the newly formed German Society of Pennsylvania. After decades of striving to integrate themselves into the British Empire, Philadelphia's German merchants emerged as vocal critics of Parliament's imperial reforms in the late 1760s. They feared that the new laws subverted their economic gains and equality as naturalized subjects. By the 1770s German merchants financed the Patriot war effort and served within the newly independent Pennsylvania government. The merchants' activities reveal how Central Europeans, despite originating beyond Europe's metropoles, became trans-formative figures in the eighteenth-century Atlantic economy as well as in Great Britain's empire and its fracturing in North America.

American Republicanism at a Crossroads: Canadian "Twin Stars," Annexation, and Continental Order (1837–42)
Julien Mauduit

This article discusses the Canadian republicans' goals during their armed uprising against the British Empire in 1837–38, and analyzes the political and geopolitical North American order in the late 1830s. Whereas the Canadian Rebellion is usually segmented into multiple isolated and short-lived uprisings by historians, this article proposes a more connected North American history that reconsiders the Canadian republicans' ambitions and contributes to a better understanding of the pro-British and conservative American policy during the Jacksonian period. When they rebelled, the republicans, or "patriots," of Lower and Upper Canada envisioned forming sovereign states within the American union. However, although many Americans supported an annexation of the two Canadian colonies, U.S. President Martin Van Buren, the Congress, and Wall Street actively collaborated with the British to crush the attempted revolution. In sharp contrast with the War of Independence and the War of 1812, the United States opposed Canadian republicanism in the late 1830s in order to maintain an Anglo-American continental order. In reaction to this alliance, the revolutionaries began to conceive a new republican experiment, distinct from the "corrupted" American republic, and to imagine a new nation—the "Twin Stars" Republic of the two Canadas.