Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Each morning I check “On This Day,” the last item that shows up in the New York Times online. Here’s this morning’s: “On May 22, 1947, the Truman Doctrine was enacted as Congress appropriated military and economic aid for Greece and Turkey.”

However, on May 22, 1787, something much more momentous occurred. Twelve men met in a printing shop at 2 George Yard in London. According to Alexis de Tocqueville, (1805-1859) a keen observer of civil society in the 19th century, what this meeting launched was “absolutely without precedent…If you pore over the histories of all peoples, I doubt you will find anything more extraordinary.”

How these twelve men struggled and succeeded in launching the monumental effort to abolish Britain’s slave trade is the subject of Adam Hochschild’s Bury the Chains.

In the Introduction, Hochschild reminds us, “At the end of the eighteenth century well over three quarters of all people alive were in bondage of …. slavery or serfdom….Looking back today, what is even more astonishing than the pervasiveness of slavery in the late 1700s is how swiftly it died….The antislavery movement had achieved its goal in little more than one lifetime.”

Hochschild adds, “…it was the first time a large number of people became outraged, and stayed outraged for many years, over someone else’s rights.”

How did the abolitionists succeed? “…because they mastered one challenge that still faces anyone who cares about social and economic justice: drawing connections between the near and the distant…the abolitionists first job was to make Britons understand what lay behind the sugar they ate, the tobacco they smoked, the coffee they drank.”

Not only are we indebted to this small band of citizens who first met on this day two hundred and twenty years ago for spearheading the end of one of the worst of human injustices in the most powerful empire of its time, according to Hochschild, “…they also forged virtually every important tool used by citizens’ movements in democratic countries today.”

SIDEBAR: Bury the Chains was edited by Tom Englehardt, whom I admire tremendously and posted about on February 2, Tom Englehardt, Blogger, Author and Editor. Hochschild says of Tom, “No one was more essential to this book than the country’s best freelance editor.”

On January 21, Tom posted Mired in the Trenches of the Iraq Fiasco by Adam Hochschild.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Thanks for the post.