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June 3, 2008: Ten Years Ago on Grasping Reality

Holly Brewer: Slavery, Sovereignty, and “Inheritable Blood”: Reconsidering John Locke and the Origins of American Slavery: "I contextualize Locke’s ideas and actions with regard to slavery in the empire...

...to argue that we need to begin with different assumptions and questions. Those policies did not emerge from Locke, but instead from those he argued against: the Stuart kings. To understand the origins of slavery, we need to pay more attention to how various laws and policies enabled it across the empire, to who was behind those policies, to who profited the most from those policies via customs on imported staple crops, and to how those policies were initially rationalized. Slavery was created in legal pieces—pieces written, approved, and rationalized in hierarchical political contexts by Charles II and his brother James II. They had origins in older feudal law, with new innovations to make them more capitalist—but the larger rationale was in principles of absolutism and the divine rights of kings. There are powerful connections between monarchy, oligarchy, lordship, and slavery; all emphasize hereditary status. It took force to implement and get access and control enslaved labor and collect taxes; the power of empire was critical to each part of slavery’s development. When Locke had real power in the 1690s on the Board of Trade, he helped to reform Virginia laws and government, objecting especially to royal land grants that had rewarded those who bought “negro servants”...


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