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World Association of International Studies

Post Danes as Colonizers
Created by John Eipper on 04/26/17 3:33 AM

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Danes as Colonizers (Leo Goldberger, USA, 04/26/17 3:33 am)

In response to Holger Terp's post (April 24th) in which JE wondered about Denmark's stance on the humanity scale back in the days of its Virgin Islands ownership, I share his curiosity and am especially curious about learning what the archival records have to say about the motivations behind the decision to abolish the slave trade as early as the 1840s, some 20 years before the US.

As I recall from my history lessons as a youngster growing up in Denmark--where the central focus was on memorizing the lineage of our kings and their political decrees since the days of the Vikings--it was King Fredrick V who proposed the regulations for a more humane treatment of the slaves in the Virgin Islands. He in turn was followed by Fredrick VI's proposal to abolish slave trade altogether in 1778--though it took some eighty years to actually implement this dictate, back in 1848.

I always wondered about Fredrick VI's motivation. As the son of the young King Christian VII--who suffered from schizophrenia and was largely ignored as a ruler and maltreated as well, Fredrick VI strove to improve the lives of the oppressed peasant population in feudal Denmark at the time, as well as ordering the release of the slaves in the Danish V.I. from their bondage and intolerable living conditions. Do the archival records Holger Terp refers to speak at all to that interpretation of family dynamics?

Incidentally, while I welcome the recent WAIS focus on instances of oppression across the globe, I do question the use of the Holocaust designation as the over-arching category for these posts. In my view, such a generalization tends to diminish its unique reference to instances of systematic genocide.

JE comments:   Britain was the first of Europe's Caribbean colonizers to abolish slavery, beginning in 1834. Denmark followed suit in 1846, two years before France.  The Dutch Caribbean maintained the institution for another fifteen years, until 1861.

Leo Goldberg makes a great point about the misuse of the term "Holocaust."  The topic or heading of a WAIS post is automatically maintained throughout the entire discussion, unless I specifically change it.  Now we are in the Denmark category, but this could mutate into a discussion of Dutch colonization, or something totally tangential.

A question for the Floor:  is it appropriate to speak of the transatlantic slave trade as a Holocaust?  Or how about a lower-case holocaust?  I would say yes, as it refers to the systematic and intentional destruction of a people.

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  • Abolition and Emancipation are Not the Same Thing (David Pike, -France 04/26/17 7:49 AM)
    These days it is rare for me to post on WAIS, but I returned to Paris yesterday from Madrid, and later this spring I may write to say that my life has taken a most auspicious turn. (And it is not another book contract!)

    So I can seize the leading post of the morning, that of Leo Goldberger (April 26) on Denmark and slavery, and re-enter a topic that was important for me at Stanford. I studied it under Sir Harold Mitchell, Bart. who was one of Bolivar House's four Lecturers. (Two others were James Taylor and Burnett Bolloten, but I forget the name of the third. Letzinger?). Sir Harold was the leading authority at the time on the Caribbean, and some WAISers must have known him. He had estates in Jamaica and Brazil and other places, where he offered careers to some of us students, but it was to his Chateau de Bourdigny near Geneva that he invited me to spend the summer of 1962 as his research assistant on Europe in the Caribbean.

    So now to the point. Leo writes of Denmark's decision "to abolish the slave trade as early as the 1840s." "Abolition" is a technical term. Putting an end to European slavery required two separate champions, for two separate stages. "Abolition" was the term for ending the slave trade, and that was the life's work of Granville Sharp. "Emancipation" meant the end of slavery as such, and that consumed the life of Wilberforce. Abolition was introduced into the British Empire in 1807, and all the European empires followed in the same decade. Abolition was carried out with energy, but it was held back until the United States agreed to join in 1842 (check date). As for Emancipation, after 1848 there were only three states in the Western world still in the slavery business: Brazil, Spain in Cuba, and the US.

    JE comments: This distinction warrants further discussion. In the US, abolition and emancipation are used interchangeably.  As schoolchildren we learned to conflate: "President Lincoln abolished slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation."  My understanding is that the US abolished the importation of enslaved people at virtually the same time (1808) as the UK.  This date is largely forgotten in history, as the Emancipation Proclamation overshadowed it on January 1st, 1863.  Even that measure outlawed slavery only for the states in rebellion.  Border states Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware would wait until the 13th Amendment in 1865.

    If you're a WAISer or a friend of WAIS, thank Sir Harold Mitchell.  His $5000 donation in the 1960s formed the seed money for our endowment. 

    So thank you, Sir Harold!  And please, David--give us a hint of your auspicious news!  I have auspicious suspicions, but I'll keep mum.

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    • Abolition vs Emancipation; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 05/01/17 7:34 AM)

      Gary Moore writes:

      In response to David Pike (April 26th), John E is right that in the US, abolitionism and emancipation
      were synonymous.  All those Antebellum slave owners
      weren't hollering about "emancipationists," and the trade
      itself had long since been outlawed. And yes to Timothy
      Ashby on how the slave trade was not "the systematic and
      intentional destruction of a people"--but it was a parasitic depredation
      on many different peoples.

      JE comments:  I'm going to stick (stubbornly) to viewing slavery as a "systematic destruction."  Can't "destruction" be defined in ways other than liquidation?

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  • Was the Transatlantic Slave Trade a Holocaust? (Timothy Ashby, -Spain 04/26/17 12:28 PM)
    John E asked earlier today (April 26th):  "Is it appropriate to speak of the transatlantic slave trade as a Holocaust? Or how about a lower-case holocaust?" He further offered, "I would say yes, as it refers to the systematic and intentional destruction of a people."

    The transatlantic slave trade was not a "systematic and intentional destruction of a people." There was never an intent to destroy Africans as a people. Slaves were an economic commodity, a form of capital, and actually were more valuable than white indentured servants during the colonial period. Slaves died during the middle passage due to the horrifying conditions aboard the ships, which was largely due to ignorance of disease. Captains of slave ships received bonuses for delivering as many live Africans to the New World slave markets as possible.

    Although white indentured servants could achieve freedom and own property after their period of servitude, their lives were largely nasty, brutish and short. During the 17th century, indentured servants suffered an appalling death rate. 50% of all white servants in the Chesapeake colonies of Virginia and Maryland died within five years of their arrival. In many respects, the status of white servants differed little from that of slavery--they could be bought, sold, or leased and they could also be punished by whipping. (I have a 1740s account of my ancestor Captain Thomas Ashby ordering the whipping of a man and a woman, his indentured servants, who ran away.)

    JE comments:  The children of dead indentured servants could also be held accountable for their parents' debts. This according to my latest read, Nancy Isenberg's White Trash (2016), which despite its trashy title, is a provocative history of social class in the United States.  In fact, there was less incentive to keep an indentured servant alive than a slave, given that a slave held permanent commercial value to the owner.  Masters could, and often did, work their indentured servants to death.

    Was African slavery a "systematic and intentional destruction"?  Enslavement doesn't incentivize death, but it is undoubtedly a type of destruction.

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  • Pre-Modern Danish Society; Georg Brandes (Holger Terp, Denmark 04/27/17 4:05 AM)
    In the Middle Ages, Denmark-Norway was an extremely violent society, where the monarchs ruled over their subjects with an iron hand.

    There were corporal punishments and death sentences for even the smallest offenses, and exile was common for people who dared to question the king's power or policy. The population consisted of slaves or soldiers or both, and the oppression was systematic and total. Denmark was then a militarized kingdom.

    For the years 1799-1849, I have not been able to find a single publication or article about Danish society. This democratic literature does not appear until the 1850s. How did the citizens react to the unrighteousness? They ceased to deal with politics altogether, or they emigrated.

    Denmark's strict punishment practices in the Middle Ages have been documented by the historian Tyge Krog in his book Enlightenment and Magic: Enforcement and corporal punishment in the first half of the 18th century:  2000.

    And after all, humanism emerged in 1870 with the modern breakthrough of Georg Brandes.

    JE comments:  I've always wondered how the Scandinavian countries transformed from the Hobbesian nastiness of the Medieval and Pre-Modern periods to become the tolerant welfare states of today.  Holger Terp reminds us of the contributions of Georg Brandes (born Morris Cohen, 1842-1927), who wrote against the hypocrisy and prudish sexuality of Danish society.  How could Brandes be so influential?  He is almost unknown in the Anglo world.

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  • Was the Transatlantic Slave Trade a "Holocaust"? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 04/27/17 4:43 AM)

    Gary Moore writes:

    Briefly on Leo Goldberger's (April 26) reservations about calling the transatlantic
    slave trade a Holocaust (before I turn to the religious questions laid out so cogently
    yesterday by Ric Mauricio and David Duggan).

    Yes, Leo is right, the transatlantic slave trade wasn't a Holocaust. But yes, change
    the capital and it was a holocaust. And no, it wasn't genocide, no matter what liberal
    theologizing might say, because genocide is very specifically defined. But yes, it can be
    called a crime against humanity.

    And JE beat me to the punch on pointing out Denmark
    wasn't uniquely enlightened when it abolished its slave trade in 1848, since Britain
    did so on a much larger scale in the 1830s, and the US forbade importation of slaves
    as early as 1808, in an arrangement that went back even earlier to the formulation of
    the Constitution. Though polemics may always distort these things, they do matter,
    for a simple reason: if not tied down, polemics would distort them even more.

    JE comments:  Shall we settle on labeling slavery a Crime against Humanity?  No one can call that into question.  Or maybe they can--consider that for centuries, the Peculiar Institution was legal.

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