Review: Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery

by James Durney on August 19, 2009 · 4 comments

Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery
by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, Jenifer Frank

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (August 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345467833
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345467836

Over stated, simplified and questionable

ComplicityHowTheNorthPromotedProlongedAndProfitedFromSlaveryThis is history for people who do not read history and have little intention to change.  The authors are reporters who were horrified to find slavery existed in Connecticut.  After that startling discovery, they proceeded to establish that slavery was common in America.  Next, they made the equally startling discovery that Northerners profited from both the slave trade and dealing with slaveholders.  I feel that this was news to educated people is the most upsetting part of the book.

This book attempts to be several things at once.  First, the book wants to expose slavery in Northern America.  The first five chapters present an account of this.  The author’s wishing to make their abhorrence of slavery clear, never missing a chance to “flog a dead horse”.  That very few are in favor of slavery never seems to occur to them.  The second part of the book deals with the international slave trade and New England and New York’s role.  In the years prior to the Civil War, New York City has very close ties to the South and to an illegal international slave trade.  The chapter on kidnapping and selling free Blacks is one of the best in the book.  The last part of the book overreaches trying to prove Northern complicity in “race science” and the Ivory Trade.  By this time, most readers of history will have serious doubts about the book and recognize they are reading for enjoyment not solid information.

The book will appeal to those who wish to prove their anti-slavery credentials, those who wish to show America to be a raciest society and Lost Cause Tradition adherents.  This last group will use the information to say there was “no difference” between North & South on slavery.

The book is not footnoted.  Notes, based on direct quotes, may be found in a notes section.  These notes are so poor as to be useless.  The best they do is direct you to the bibliography, where you find the majority of books are contemporary works.  The major value of this book is in being a quick read and inexpensive.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Harry August 19, 2009 at 8:39 am

Thanks, Jim. Nice review. I doubt we’ll hear of this book again. I mean, who would go about casting pearls from this book before evil Yankee swine? I can’t imagine anyone, say, in the CW blogosphere doing that, can you? 😉

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Naim Peress August 19, 2009 at 11:30 am

I’m from New York and I was shocked to read that the mayor of our city in 1860 wanted to secede from the Union. We have a long history of complicity with slavery.

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elektratig August 19, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Ouch!

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James Durney August 20, 2009 at 9:42 am

The view that the North was anti-slavery and fought to end Southern slavery, isn’t historical. For the most part America was anti-black and against the expansion of slavery. At the sametime, the North worked with the South with few problems. “Clash of Extrems” is an excellent book lookin at business dealings not slavery as a major factor in the war.

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