Slavery in the American Republic
Developing the Federal Government, 1791-1861
David F. Ericson
Many scholars believe that the existence of slavery stymied the development of the American state because slaveholding Southern politicians were so at odds with a federal government they feared would abolish their peculiar institution. David Ericson argues to the contrary, showing that over a seventy-year period slavery actually contributed significantly to the development of the American state, even as a "house divided."
Drawing on deep archival research that tracks federal expenditures on slavery-related items, Ericson reveals how the policies, practices, and institutions of the early national government functioned to protect slavery and thereby contributed to its own development. Here are surprising descriptions of how the federal government increased its state capacities as it implemented slavery-friendly policies, such as creating more stable slave markets by removing Native Americans, deterring slave revolts, recovering fugitive slaves, enacting a ban on slave imports, and not enacting a ban on the interstate slave trade. It also bolstered its own law-enforcement power by reinforcing navy squadrons to interdict illegal slave trading, hiring deputy marshals to capture fugitive slaves and slave rescuers, and deploying soldiers to remove Native Americans and deter slave rescues and revolts.
“Previously, slavery has not been fully incorporated into our understanding of the creation and development of the federal government. . . . Ericson’s book will form an essential part of all future attempts to construct a historically accurate understanding of the early American state.”
—Review of Politics
“Historians and political scientists both stand to gain from this book. David F. Ericson engages profitably with an impressive array of literature from both disciplines, and as a scholar with a foot in both worlds he asks useful questions that may not occur to one immersed only in one of them. Ericson’s volume is an extraordinarily valuable and persuasive expansion of the discussion.”
—Journal of American HistorySee all reviews...
“For students of the history of the early United States, this book holds some value simply as a compendium of concise, detailed accounts of several important and fascinating subjects.”
—American Historical Review
“Ericson’s successful integration of political and sociological theories about state-building, historical sensitivities to change and specificity, and the economic utilization of fiscal data provides a fresh perspective to old debates about the relationship between slavery and American politics. His work offers new ways to explore beyond official policy debates to understand the precise ways in which slavery shaped early governance and left its mark on the American political system.”
—Journal of Interdisciplinary History
“Treating fundamental subjects—war, territory, law, property, labor, and citizenship—this resonant book powerfully advances our understanding of how slavery constituted political life in antebellum America. Its sharply-etched arguments about institutions, power, and policy illuminate how a ‘house divided’ by race and region nonetheless could constitute a tightly connected structure.”
—Ira Katznelson, coauthor of Liberal Beginnings: Making a Republic for the Moderns
“Ericson’s powerful book amply documents how the institution of slavery was not only shaping domestic and foreign policy but also shaping the structure of the federal government itself.”
—James Huston, author of Calculating the Value of the Union: Property Rights, Slavery, and the Economic Origins of the Civil WarSee fewer reviews...
Going beyond Don Fehrenbacher's The Slaveholding Republic, Ericson shows how the presence of slavery indirectly influenced the development of the American state in highly significant ways. Enforcement of the 1808 slave-import ban involved the federal government in border control for the first time, and participation in founding a colony in Liberia established an early model of public-private partnerships. The presence of slavery also spurred the development of the U.S. Army through its many slavery-related deployments, particularly during the Second Seminole War, and the federal government's own slave rentals influenced its labor-management practices.
Ericson's study unearths a long-neglected history, connecting slavery-influenced policy areas more explicitly to early American state development and more fully accounting for the money and manpower the federal government devoted to those areas. Rich in historical detail, it marks a significant contribution to our understanding of state development and the impact of slavery on early American politics.