George Gordon, Lord Byron

THE PRISONER OF CHILLON My hair is grey, but not with years, Nor grew it white In a single night, As men's have grown from sudden fears: My limbs are bow'd, though not with toil, But rusted with a vile repose, For they have been a dungeon's spoil, And mine has been the fate of those To whom the goodly earth and air Are bann'd, and barr'd--forbidden fare; But this was for my father's faith I suffer'd chains and courted death; That father perish'd at the stake For tenets he would not forsake; And for the same his lineal race In darkness found a dwelling place; We were seven--who now are one, Six in youth, and one in age, Finish'd as they had begun, Proud of Persecution's rage; One in fire, and two in field, Their belief with blood have seal'd, Dying as their father died, For the God their foes denied;-- Three were in a dungeon cast, Of whom this wreck is left the last. There are seven pillars of Gothic mould, In Chillon's dungeons deep and old, There are seven columns, massy and grey, Dim with a dull imprison'd ray, A sunbeam which hath lost its way, And through the crevice and the cleft Of the thick wall is fallen and left; Creeping o'er the floor so damp, Like a marsh's meteor lamp: And in each pillar there is a ring, And in each ring there is a chain; That iron is a cankering thing, For in these limbs its teeth remain, With marks that will not wear away, Till I have done with this new day, Which now is painful to these eyes, Which have not seen the sun so rise For years--I cannot count them o'er, I lost their long and heavy score When my last brother droop'd and died, And I lay living by his side. They chain'd us each to a column stone, And we were three--yet, each alone; We could not move a single pace, We could not see each other's face, But with that pale and livid light That made us strangers in our sight: And thus together--yet apart, Fetter'd in hand, but join'd in heart, 'Twas still some solace in the dearth Of the pure elements of earth, To hearken to each other's speech, And each turn comforter to each With some new hope, or legend old, Or song heroically bold; But even these at length grew cold. Our voices took a dreary tone, An echo of the dungeon stone, A grating sound, not full and free, As they of yore were wont to be: It might be fancy--but to me They never sounded like our own. I was the eldest of the three And to uphold and cheer the rest I ought to do--and did my best-- And each did well in his degree. The youngest, whom my father loved, Because our mother's brow was given To him, with eyes as blue as heaven-- For him my soul was sorely moved: And truly might it be distress'd To see such bird in such a nest; For he was beautiful as day-- (When day was beautiful to me As to young eagles, being free)-- A polar day, which will not see A sunset till its summer's gone, Its sleepless summer of long light, The snow-clad offspring of the sun: And thus he was as pure and bright, And in his natural spirit gay, With tears for nought but others' ills, And then they flow'd like mountain rills, Unless he could assuage the woe Which he abhorr'd to view below. The other was as pure of mind, But form'd to combat with his kind; Strong in his frame, and of a mood Which 'gainst the world in war had stood, And perish'd in the foremost rank With joy:--but not in chains to pine: His spirit wither'd with their clank, I saw it silently decline-- And so perchance in sooth did mine: But yet I forced it on to cheer Those relics of a home so dear. He was a hunter of the hills, Had followed there the deer and wolf; To him this dungeon was a gulf, And fetter'd feet the worst of ills. Lake Leman lies by Chillon's walls: A thousand feet in depth below Its massy waters meet and flow; Thus much the fathom-line was sent From Chillon's snow-white battlement, Which round about the wave inthralls: A double dungeon wall and wave Have made--and like a living grave Below the surface of the lake The dark vault lies wherein we lay: We heard it ripple night and day; Sounding o'er our heads it knock'd; And I have felt the winter's spray Wash through the bars when winds were high And wanton in the happy sky; And then the very rock hath rock'd, And I have felt it shake, unshock'd, Because I could have smiled to see The death that would have set me free. I said my nearer brother pined, I said his mighty heart declined, He loathed and put away his food; It was not that 'twas coarse and rude, For we were used to hunter's fare, And for the like had little care: The milk drawn from the mountain goat Was changed for water from the moat, Our bread was such as captives' tears Have moisten'd many a thousand years, Since man first pent his fellow men Like brutes within an iron den; But what were these to us or him? These wasted not his heart or limb; My brother's soul was of that mould Which in a palace had grown cold, Had his free breathing been denied The range of the steep mountain's side; But why delay the truth?--he died. I saw, and could not hold his head, Nor reach his dying hand--nor dead,-- Though hard I strove, but strove in vain, To rend and gnash my bonds in twain. He died--and they unlock'd his chain, And scoop'd for him a shallow grave Even from the cold earth of our cave. I begg'd them, as a boon, to lay His corse in dust whereon the day Might shine--it was a foolish thought, But then within my brain it wrought, That even in death his freeborn breast In such a dungeon could not rest. I might have spared my idle prayer-- They coldly laugh'd--and laid him there: The flat and turfless earth above The being we so much did love; His empty chain above it leant, Such Murder's fitting monument! But he, the favourite and the flower, Most cherish'd since his natal hour, His mother's image in fair face The infant love of all his race His martyr'd father's dearest thought, My latest care, for whom I sought To hoard my life, that his might be Less wretched now, and one day free; He, too, who yet had held untired A spirit natural or inspired-- He, too, was struck, and day by day Was wither'd on the stalk away. Oh, God! it is a fearful thing To see the human soul take wing In any shape, in any mood: I've seen it rushing forth in blood, I've seen it on the breaking ocean Strive with a swoln convulsive motion, I've seen the sick and ghastly bed Of Sin delirious with its dread: But these were horrors--this was woe Unmix'd with such--but sure and slow: He faded, and so calm and meek, So softly worn, so sweetly weak, So tearless, yet so tender--kind, And grieved for those he left behind; With all the while a cheek whose bloom Was as a mockery of the tomb Whose tints as gently sunk away As a departing rainbow's ray; An eye of most transparent light, That almost made the dungeon bright; And not a word of murmur--not A groan o'er his untimely lot,-- A little talk of better days, A little hope my own to raise, For I was sunk in silence--lost In this last loss, of all the most; And then the sighs he would suppress Of fainting Nature's feebleness, More slowly drawn, grew less and less: I listen'd, but I could not hear; I call'd, for I was wild with fear; I knew 'twas hopeless, but my dread Would not be thus admonishèd; I call'd, and thought I heard a sound-- I burst my chain with one strong bound, And rushed to him:--I found him not, I only stirred in this black spot, I only lived, I only drew The accursed breath of dungeon-dew; The last, the sole, the dearest link Between me and the eternal brink, Which bound me to my failing race Was broken in this fatal place. One on the earth, and one beneath-- My brothers--both had ceased to breathe: I took that hand which lay so still, Alas! my own was full as chill; I had not strength to stir, or strive, But felt that I was still alive-- A frantic feeling, when we know That what we love shall ne'er be so. I know not why I could not die, I had no earthly hope--but faith, And that forbade a selfish death. What next befell me then and there I know not well--I never knew-- First came the loss of light, and air, And then of darkness too: I had no thought, no feeling--none-- Among the stones I stood a stone, And was, scarce conscious what I wist, As shrubless crags within the mist; For all was blank, and bleak, and grey; It was not night--it was not day; It was not even the dungeon-light, So hateful to my heavy sight, But vacancy absorbing space, And fixedness--without a place; There were no stars, no earth, no time, No check, no change, no good, no crime But silence, and a stirless breath Which neither was of life nor death; A sea of stagnant idleness, Blind, boundless, mute, and motionless! A light broke in upon my brain,-- It was the carol of a bird; It ceased, and then it came again, The sweetest song ear ever heard, And mine was thankful till my eyes Ran over with the glad surprise, And they that moment could not see I was the mate of misery; But then by dull degrees came back My senses to their wonted track; I saw the dungeon walls and floor Close slowly round me as before, I saw the glimmer of the sun Creeping as it before had done, But through the crevice where it came That bird was perch'd, as fond and tame, And tamer than upon the tree; A lovely bird, with azure wings, And song that said a thousand things, And seemed to say them all for me! I never saw its like before, I ne'er shall see its likeness more: It seem'd like me to want a mate, But was not half so desolate, And it was come to love me when None lived to love me so again, And cheering from my dungeon's brink, Had brought me back to feel and think. I know not if it late were free, Or broke its cage to perch on mine, But knowing well captivity, Sweet bird! I could not wish for thine! Or if it were, in wingèd guise, A visitant from Paradise; For--Heaven forgive that thought! the while Which made me both to weep and smile-- I sometimes deem'd that it might be My brother's soul come down to me; But then at last away it flew, And then 'twas mortal well I knew, For he would never thus have flown-- And left me twice so doubly lone,-- Lone as the corse within its shroud, Lone as a solitary cloud, A single cloud on a sunny day, While all the rest of heaven is clear, A frown upon the atmosphere, That hath no business to appear When skies are blue, and earth is gay. A kind of change came in my fate, My keepers grew compassionate; I know not what had made them so, They were inured to sights of woe, But so it was:--my broken chain With links unfasten'd did remain, And it was liberty to stride Along my cell from side to side, And up and down, and then athwart, And tread it over every part; And round the pillars one by one, Returning where my walk begun, Avoiding only, as I trod, My brothers' graves without a sod; For if I thought with heedless tread My step profaned their lowly bed, My breath came gaspingly and thick, And my crush'd heart felt blind and sick. I made a footing in the wall, It was not therefrom to escape, For I had buried one and all, Who loved me in a human shape; And the whole earth would henceforth be A wider prison unto me: No child, no sire, no kin had I, No partner in my misery; I thought of this, and I was glad, For thought of them had made me mad; But I was curious to ascend To my barr'd windows, and to bend Once more, upon the mountains high, The quiet of a loving eye. I saw them--and they were the same, They were not changed like me in frame; I saw their thousand years of snow On high--their wide long lake below, And the blue Rhone in fullest flow; I heard the torrents leap and gush O'er channell'd rock and broken bush; I saw the white-wall'd distant town, And whiter sails go skimming down; And then there was a little isle, Which in my very face did smile, The only one in view; A small green isle, it seem'd no more, Scarce broader than my dungeon floor, But in it there were three tall trees, And o'er it blew the mountain breeze, And by it there were waters flowing, And on it there were young flowers growing, Of gentle breath and hue. The fish swam by the castle wall, And they seem'd joyous each and all; The eagle rode the rising blast, Methought he never flew so fast As then to me he seem'd to fly; And then new tears came in my eye, And I felt troubled--and would fain I had not left my recent chain; And when I did descend again, The darkness of my dim abode Fell on me as a heavy load; It was as is a new-dug grave, Closing o'er one we sought to save,-- And yet my glance, too much opprest, Had almost need of such a rest. It might be months, or years, or days-- I kept no count, I took no note-- I had no hope my eyes to raise, And clear them of their dreary mote; At last men came to set me free; I ask'd not why, and reck'd not where; It was at length the same to me, Fetter'd or fetterless to be, I learn'd to love despair. And thus when they appear'd at last, And all my bonds aside were cast, These heavy walls to me had grown A hermitage--and all my own! And half I felt as they were come To tear me from a second home: With spiders I had friendship made And watch'd them in their sullen trade, Had seen the mice by moonlight play, And why should I feel less than they? We were all inmates of one place, And I, the monarch of each race, Had power to kill--yet, strange to tell! In quiet we had learn'd to dwell; My very chains and I grew friends, So much a long communion tends To make us what we are:--even I Regain'd my freedom with a sigh.


Recently I read a piece by an American living in Europe, recounting how he had found himself in heated argument with a Frenchman who hammered him with America's rap sheet of historical faults and crimes -- it looked like the usual list, if you're familiar with that dreary experience. Among them, of course, was slavery. The American wrote that he largely conceded the point of slavery to his foe, remarking only that it was not really an American institution, just a Southern one. This seemed lame to me, not only because it was, in fact, a national institution, as I have been at pains to tell people for some years now,">as I have been at pains to tell people for some years now, but because the American could have turned the tables nicely on the Frenchman, if he'd known a little more about French history. So, in case this ever happens to you, be prepared. Here's a primer. Really, the essential numbers can be summed up like this: Slaver voyages: France, 4,200; British North America/United States, 1,500. Slaves transported: France 1,250,000, British North America/United States, 300,000. Slaves delivered to: French West Indies: 1,600,000, British North America/United States, 500,000.*In the history of the Atlantic slave trade, the French turned four times as many Africans into slaves as the Americans did, they used them far more brutally, and French slavers not only got a head-start on Americans, they continued the slave trade -- legally -- until 1830, long after the rest of Europe had given it up. And they kept at it clandestinely until after the U.S. Civil War. France officially abolished slavery in its colonies only 14 years before Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and then only under pressure from slave uprisings. The French New World settlers outstripped the Americans in their greed for slave labor. When the U.S. acquired Louisiana from France, the first governor sent out from Washington reported back that, "No subject seems to be so interesting to the minds of the inhabitants of all parts of the country which I have visited as that of the importation of brute negroes from Africa. This permission would go further with them, and better reconcile them to the government of the United States, than any other privilege that could be extended to this country. ... White labourers, they say, cannot be had in this unhealthy climate." French interlopers had jumped into the Atlantic African slave trade in the early 16th century, a century before the first Yankee set sail for Africa. Nearly 200 ships bound for Sierra Leone sailed from three Norman ports between 1540 and 1578. A Portuguese renegade, sailing under the French flag as Jean Alphonse, was one of the pioneers of the "triangle trade" between Africa, the New World and Europe. The French government sought to promote plantation economies in its West Indies colonies. With capital, credit, technology -- and slaves -- borrowed from the Dutch, these islands began to thrive as sugar export centers. The Dutch established the first successful French sugar mill in 1655. By 1670, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Christopher had 300 sugar estates. Realizing slaves were the key to this, a monopoly Compagnie des Indes Occidentales, largely financed by the state, was organized in 1664. A French fleet took many factories from the Dutch in Gorée and the Senegambia in the 1670s. In 1672, the French government offered a bounty of 10 livres per slave transported to the French West Indies. This spurred the formation of a second monopoly company, Compagnie du Sénégal, founded in 1673. By 1679 it had 21 ships in operation. French slavery totals in the 17th century were lower than they might have been due to incompetence, bankruptcies, and mismanagement and strict royal rules about buying from, or selling to, other empires. By the 1720s, however, French private traders had broken the monopolies and the slave trade boomed under the French flag. During the 1730s alone, the French shipped probably more than 100,000 slaves from Africa. The government raised the bounty per slave delivered to 100 livres, and in 1787 upped it again to 160. By the 1760s the average number of slaver ships leaving French ports was 56 a year, which does not sound like a large number, but they were big ships, averaging 364 slaves per boat. The attendant horrors of the Middle Passage, of course, were multiplied in the bigger ships. In 1767 the French overtook the British in sugar production for the first time. Conditions on sugar plantations were harsh (though French sugar colonies were no better or worse than Spanish, Dutch, or British ones). During the eight-month sugar harvest, slaves sometimes worked continuously almost around the clock. Accidents caused by long hours and primitive machinery were horrible. In the big plantations, the captives lived in barracks; women were few and families nonexistent. Compared to this, North American cotton plantation slavery featured much less ferocious labor and allowed family units to exist. Which is one reason France required a steady flow of thousands of slaves a year -- to replace the ones the French had worked to death -- while America's slave population grew naturally even after the U.S. slave trade had ended. Nantes by far was France's leading slave port. Between 1738 and 1745, Nantes alone carried 55,000 slaves to the New World in 180 ships. All told, from 1713 to 1775 nearly 800 different vessels sailed from Nantes in the slave trade. But Bordeaux, Le Havre, and La Rochelle were leaders in the trade, too. Saint-Malo, Harfleur, and Rouen also played a part. French slave ships bore such ironic names as Amitié (La Rochelle) and Liberté (belonging to Isaac Couturier in Bordeaux). The novelist Chateaubriand's father, of Saint-Malo, was active in the slave trade in the 1760s. In 1768, Louis XV expressed his pleasure at the way "les négociants du Port de Bordeaux se livrent avec beaucoup de zèle au commerce de la traite des nègres." In the late 1660s, the French settled the abandoned western half of the island of Santo Domingo, and by the early 1680s this new colony, which the French called Saint-Domingue, had 2,000 African slaves. By the 1740s, Saint-Domingue had replaced Martinique as the empire's largest sugar producer. Its 117,000 slaves that year represented about half the 250,000 slaved in the French West Indies. Coffee, introduced in 1723, only made the plantations more profitable -- and increased the demand for slaves. By the late 1780s Saint Domingue planters were recognized as the most efficient and productive sugar producers in the world. The slave population stood at 460,000 people, which was not only the largest of any island but represented close to half of the 1 million slaves then being held in all the Caribbean colonies. The exports of the island represented two-thirds of the total value of all French West Indian exports, and alone were greater than the combined exports from the British and Spanish Antilles. In only one year well over 600 vessels visited the ports of the island to carry its sugar, coffee, cotton, indigo, and cacao to European consumers." [Herbert S. Klein, "The Atlantic Slave Trade," Cambridge, 1999, p.33]To keep the supply of African captives flowing, the French government had permanent establishments at the Senegal River and Whydah on the Gold Coast. French free traders worked seasonal camps from the Senegal to the Congo and even East Africa, where they became serious competitors to the Portuguese in Mozambique. The slaves they bought there went to the French Indian Ocean island colonies, which also were thriving on sugar exports. Slavery went deeper than this in French society. In the 17th century, the French navy galleons were manned by slaves, including hundreds of Turks (some of them captured by the Austrians after the Siege of Vienna). In 1679, the Senegal Company provided 227 African slaves for this purpose. Nor was their slaving activity limited to Africans. As late as 1820s the French were engaged in a slave trade in Sumatra, on the island of Nias (in the news recently as an earthquake site), taking 1,000 slaves a year from there to Ile de Bourbon (modern Réunion). The rise of the French slave trade meant the number of black Africans living in France grew. A law of 1716 clarified their position by allowing masters from the islands to keep their slaves captive while in France. But a law of 1738 decreed black slaves could not stay in France more than three years, otherwise they would be confiscated by the Crown (and likely put to work on the royal navy's galleys). The motive for this was the French authorities' eagerness to preserve their nation's racial purity, as illustrated by a royal declaration of 1777 which forbade entry of any black into France because "they marry Europeans, they infect brothels, and colors are mixed." The restrictions rarely were enforced, however, and six years after the 1777 decree a ministerial circulaire complained that blacks continued to be imported. Merchants in Nantes kept so many black men and women in their fine houses that they could give négrillons or négrittes to members of their household as tips, and by the time of the Revolution there were enough nègres in Nantes to form a battalion (which got a dreadful reputation for murder and pillage). The leading figures of the Enlightenment condemned slavery, but they made little impact on French popular or political opinion. Abbé Raynal in 1770 published a book (in Amsterdam) arguing that slavery was contrary to nature and thus wrong. The clergy of Bordeaux, however, demanded it be prohibited as an outrage to religion and the parlement of Paris ordered it burned by the public executioner. The French Revolution brought such antislavery men to power. English abolitionists like Thomas Clarkson were delighted and encouraged the French liberals to put their words into action. The Declaration of the Rights of Man in August 1789 had stated, "Men are born free and are equal before the law." So you might think, in the interest of consistency, the French would have ended the slave trade and liberated their chattels at that time. You'd be wrong. A Société des Amis des Noirs had formed. One of its leaders was Condorcet, who urged France to follow the example of America, which had set an end date to the slave trade and where leaders from all sections looked forward to the day, expected soon, when American slavery would die a natural death. Condorcet held up America as an example to France in this regard because America's leaders knew they would "debase their own pursuit of liberty if they continued to support slavery." But the négriers of Nantes were powerful and influential. The Constituent Assembly took up the topic of the slave trade in March 1790. So far from curtailing slavery or the slave trade, it simply passed a decree, "Whoever works to excite risings against the colonists will be declared an enemy of the people." The French Assembly even had the equivalent of the American three-fifths clause, which gave the West Indian colonies 10 deputies in Paris, even though they numbered only a few tens of thousands of free settlers. But the Assembly rejected a few free mulattoes who turned up among the West Indian deputies and refused to seat them. Shortly afterwards, a delegation from the newly founded and revolutionary Armée Patriotique of Bordeaux reached Paris and told both the Jacobin Club and the Assembly that five million Frenchmen depended on the colonial commerce for their livelihood, and that both the slave trade and West Indian slavery were essential for the prosperity of France. Another committee was then entrusted to make a report on slavery. That body, however, did little more than denounce attempts to cause risings against the colonists. Mirabeau was shouted down when he tried to oppose this. The assembly voted for the committee's proposals for inaction and, until 1793, the French slave trade continued to receive a subsidy in the form of a bonus for every slave landed. Nantes in fact enjoyed its best year ever as a slave city in 1790, sending forty-nine ships to Africa. For the slave merchants in that politically radical city, the word "liberty" seems to have signified the idea that the slave trade should be open to all. [Thomas, p.522]Mulattos in Saint-Domingue, learning that their hopes for equality in the new system had been quashed in the Assembly, rose in revolt, and turmoil spread through the colonies. This forced the leaders of the Revolution to reopen the issue and condemn slavery -- in principle. It was not enough. Saint-Domingue's slaves then rose in a bloody insurrection. There were 450,000 blacks, most of them slaves, against only 40,000 whites (mulattoes numbered about 50,000). Finally, in August 1791, the Assembly declared anyone who landed in France to be free, but it was too late to save Saint-Domingue. The British had occupied the colony and re-instated slavery, and by the time they handed it back to France at the Peace of Amiens (1802) the French had gotten over their flirtation with emancipation and were back in the slavery business. Saint-Domingue fell in the only successful slave revolt in history and was reborn as the free nation of Haiti. Meanwhile the shortage of sugar in Paris that resulted from the slave revolt precipitated the riots that brought the Revolution crashing down from its high ideals into authoritarian repression. In 1794 the Convention in Paris declared the universal emancipation of slaves, but it did not actually outlaw the slave trade. Yet even this proved unenforcable; the colonies required slaves, and under Napoleon, slavery was reintroduced. The French never recovered Haiti, though they coveted it for a generation, and France's slave trade had been temporarily shut down by the Napoleonic Wars. But after the restoration of the Bourbons the French retained Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana on the South American continent, all major sugar-producing colonies. If it had not been for British pressure, the slave trade might still be tolerated in France. But the British had taken a strong anti-slavery position. The French press railed at the British for using morality as a cloak for their supposed desire to rule the world. And the French desire to keep the British at bay, and to compete with them in the seas, seems to have had a lot to do with the French decision to turn officially against the slave trade. But it also is true that an abolitionist movement had taken root among the fashionable in Paris, headed by Madame de Staël and the Marquis de Lafayette. It was built on admiration of the English abolitionists, a rise of Christian morality, and a cult of le bon nègre. They began to circulate petitions and pamphlets. Prominent French writers led the opposition to the change, with racist diatribes against Africans. When the Duc de Broglie became prime minister, he brought abolitionist sympathies and opinions with him into the government. In 1817 the French government published a decree curtailing the slave trade to French colonies, but the enterprising merchants of Nantes and Bordeaux simply switched their destinations to Cuba. The entire slave trade finally was declared illegal in France in March 1818. But that merely converted a tolerated trade to a clandestine one. With the local banks and political interests dominated by slave traders and their money and marriage ties, there was little hope of enforcement. French officers expelled from the Navy after the Restoration had taken up the slave trade. Their comrades still in the fleet turned a blind eye to their activities, or were easily bribed to do so. The French filled in the market for slaves in Cuba and Brazil in place of the Spanish, who had foresaken the trade as immoral. Twice as many ships left French ports on the slave trade in 1819 as had sailed the year before. In 1820, the British Navy's annual report on the fleet's work in interdicting the slave trade noted that the Americans were next to Britain in their "good intentions," "sincerity," and practical work to end the trade. Spain, Holland, and Portugual got bad grades. "But France, it is with deepest regret I mention it, has countenanced and encouraged the slave trade, almost beyond estimation or belief." It was so bad that "France is engrossing nearly the whole of the slave trade," and in the 12 months ending in September 1819 "60,000 Africans have been forced from their country, principally under the colours of France." They were taken mostly to Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Cuba. [Paul Johnson, "The Birth of the Modern," p.330] As late as 1825, slave chains and manacles could be openly purchased in Nantes. On average, French négriers in the 1820s brought in 4,000 slaves per annum. Guadeloupe was the center of this activity, absorbing 38,000 slaves from 1814-1830. Martinique followed with 24,000, and French Guiana with 14,000. "[I]t was an unusual trade in that French merchants from Nantes continued to dominate the trade to the end and were the only Europeans still active in the trade after 1808." [Klein, p.198] As late as 1830, Nantes kept 80 ships engaged in the slave trade. The French, like the Americans, even after they had ended the slave trade refused to stand for the British Navy -- the only maritime power large enough to police the Atlantic -- boarding and searching their vessels. Under cover of national prde, the merchants of Nantes and Bordeaux continued to ship slaves even after the American government had, like the British, begun to use its authority to curb the trade. In 1820, a British cruiser chased a French slaver, La Jeune Estele, whose captain, once he saw himself being overtaken, started throwing barrels overboard. In each was a pair of slave girls, age 12 to 14. Public opinion in Britain was shocked, but in France the people blamed the British. In 1821, an over-zealous U.S. Navy lieutenant named Stockton seized four French-flagged vessels off Africa, convinced that they really were slavers from North America. He manned them with American crews and sailed them to Boston. But the French government was outraged -- at least one of the vessels, La Jeune Eugénie, certainly was French, and it was going for slaves. The French ambassador called on Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and loudly threatened war if satisfaction was not made. President Madison hastily backed down and assured the French that the Americans no longer would search vessels under French or any other foreign flag. Stockton's supicions were reasonable, however. Slave traders of other nations often sailed under the French flag to avoid British searches. Only in 1830, under Louis-Philippe, was the slave trade made a crime and punishment enforced. A treaty with Britain even allowed British naval searches of French vessels in certain cases. Yet as late as 1848, recently imported slaves from West Africa were found on Martinique and Guadeloupe. During the 1840s, the government in Paris talked of the eventuality of emancipation, but it always found a reason not to act. One common excuse was that the government was too cash-strapped to pay the slaveowners the compensation they deserved for the loss of their property. Slavery finally was abolished in Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, and Réunion by the government that came to power after the 1848 revolution, spurred by slave uprisings in the colonies. A year later legislation passed granting the owners of France's 248,560 slaves compensation from a sum of $120 million francs. Even the end was not really the end. From 1850 to 1870 some 18,400 Africans were carried to the French West Indies illegally, probably by Cuban slavers. *Figures are from Hugh Thomas, "The Slave Trade," Simon & Schuster, 1997. The numbers necessarily are estimates, but historians are in broad agreement about them. There's a "low" and a "high" figure for African slavery, and Thomas' numbers represent the low figure. But the overall comparison does not change much if you use the (earlier) higher numbers: Slaves delivered to French West Indies come in as 1,635,700, compared to 559,800 for British North America and the U.S.

Civil War: Economics

"It is curious how indifferent historians have been to the South's complaint about the tariff, often dismissing it as a scapegoat for the section's own economic shortcomings or as a disguised form of slavery conflict," writes historian Clyde N. Wilson (in his section of "Slavery, Secession, and Southern History"). "But the plain truth is that [John C.] Calhoun was entirely correct in his opposition to the tariff. Debates about the actual macro- and micro-economic effects of antebellum protection are beside the point. The South, providing the bulk of the Union's exports, sold in an unprotected world market, while all American consumers bought in a highly protected one. And this was to the benefit of one class, no matter how plausibly disguised as a public boon. "Such exactions are hard to justify at any time, but especially so in a federal Union in which economic interests are regionalized in such a way that the exploitive effect is concentrated. Americans had fought a revolution for smaller grievances. Not to mention, as Calhoun pointed out in the South Carolina Exposition, to the agreement of free traders, that the tariff's 'tendency is, to make the poor poorer and the rich richer.' "But the tariff, like abolition, was also a question of honor. The disingenuous arguments of the protectionists tended, like those of the abolitionists, to dwell upon the moral inferiority and stupidity of southerners in comparison with wise, righteous, industrious New Englanders. Calhoun did not engage in that type of polemic, but he replied to it, again in the Exposition: 'We are told, by those who pretend to understand our interest better than we do, that the excess of production and not the Tariff, is the evil which afflicts us. ... We would feel more disposed to respect the spirit in which the advice is offered, if those from whom it comes accompanied it with the weight of their example. They also, occasionally, complain of low prices; but instead of diminishing the supply, as a remedy for the evil, demand an enlargement of the market, by the exclusion of all competition.' "[1] The commercial and industrial rise of New England in the early 19th century was not an accident. It was a deliberate scheme, in which the South at first willingly participated. All was outlined at the inception of the republic by Alexander Hamilton, and the goal was to increase the prosperity and independence of the whole nation. But the result, from the South's point of view, turned out rather differently. Southern New England was the first section of America to become overcrowded. At the end of the Revolution, it had too many families, not enough farmland, and too few jobs. The federal government set out deliberately to encourage there the commercial trades, especially ship-building and shipping, to save the region from sinking into poverty. The raw material for Northern factories, and the cargoes of Northern merchantmen, would come from the South. Washington's "Farewell Address" makes this economic trade-off the chief practical argument for a continued union of the sections: "The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal Laws of a common government, finds in the productions of the latter, great additional resources of Maratime [sic] and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South in the same Intercourse, benefitting by the Agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand." The July 4, 1789, tariff was the first substantive legislation passed by the new American government. But in addition to the new duties, it reduced by 10 percent or more the tariff paid for goods arriving in American craft. It also required domestic construction for American ship registry. Navigation acts in the same decade stipulated that foreign-built and foreign-owned vessels were taxed 50 cents per ton when entering U.S. ports, while U.S.-built and -owned ones paid only six cents per ton. Furthermore, the U.S. ones paid annually, while foreign ones paid upon every entry. This effectively blocked off U.S. coastal trade to all but vessels built and owned in the United States. The navigation act of 1817 made it official, providing "that no goods, wares, or merchandise shall be imported under penalty of forfeiture thereof, from one port in the United States to another port in the United States, in a vessel belonging wholly or in part to a subject of any foreign power." The point of all this was to protect and grow the shipping industry of New England, and it worked. By 1795, the combination of foreign complication and American protection put 92 percent of all imports and 86 percent of all exports in American-flag vessels. American shipowners' annual earnings shot up between 1790 and 1807, from $5.9 million to $42.1 million. New England shipping took a severe hit during the War of 1812 and the embargo. After the war ended, the British flooded America with manufactured goods to try to drive out the nascent American industries. They chose the port of New York for their dumping ground, in part because the British had been feeding cargoes to Boston all through the war to encourage anti-war sentiment in New England. New York was the more starved, therefore it became the port of choice. And the dumping bankrupted many towns, but it assured New York of its sea-trading supremacy. In the decades to come. New Yorkers made the most of the chance. Four Northern and Mid-Atlantic ports still had the lion's share of the shipping. But Boston and Baltimore mainly served regional markets (though Boston sucked up a lot of Southern cotton and shipped out a lot of fish). Philadelphia's shipping interest had built up trade with the major seaports on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, especially as Pennsylvania's coal regions opened up in the 1820s. But New York was king. Its merchants had the ready money, it had a superior harbor, it kept freight rates down, and by 1825 some 4,000 coastal trade vessels per year arrived there. In 1828 it was estimated that the clearances from New York to ports on the Delaware Bay alone were 16,508 tons, and to the Chesapeake Bay 51,000 tons. Early and mid-19th century Atlantic trade was based on "packet lines" -- groups of vessels offering scheduled services. It was a coastal trade at first, but when the Black Ball Line started running between New York and Liverpool in 1817, it became the way to do business across the pond. The trick was to have a good cargo going each way. The New York packet lines succeeded because they sucked in all the eastbound cotton cargoes from the U.S. The northeast didn't have enough volume of paying freight on its own. So American vessels, usually owned in the Northeast, sailed off to a cotton port, carrying goods for the southern market. There they loaded cotton (or occasionally naval stores or timber) for Europe. They steamed back from Europe loaded with manufactured goods, raw materials like hemp or coal, and occasionally immigrants. Since this "triangle trade" involved a domestic leg, foreign vessels were excluded from it (under the 1817 law), except a few English ones that could substitute a Canadian port for a Northern U.S. one. And since it was subsidized by the U.S. government, it was going to continue to be the only game in town. Robert Greenhalgh Albion, in his laudatory history of the Port of New York, openly boasts of this selfish monopoly. "By creating a three-cornered trade in the 'cotton triangle,' New York dragged the commerce between the southern ports and Europe out of its normal course some two hundred miles to collect a heavy toll upon it. This trade might perfectly well have taken the form of direct shuttles between Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, or New Orleans on the one hand and Liverpool or Havre on the other, leaving New York far to one side had it not interfered in this way. To clinch this abnormal arrangement, moreover, New York developed the coastal packet lines without which it would have been extremely difficult to make the east-bound trips of the ocean packets profitable."[2] Even when the Southern cotton bound for Europe didn't put in at the wharves of Sandy Hook or the East River, unloading and reloading, the combined income from interests, commissions, freight, insurance, and other profits took perhaps 40 cents into New York of every dollar paid for southern cotton. The record shows that ports with moderate quantities of outbound freight couldn't keep up with the New York competition. Remember, this is a triangle trade. Boston started a packet line in 1833 that, to secure outbound cargo, detoured to Charleston for cotton. But about the only other local commodity it could find to move to Europe was Bostonians. Since most passengers en route to England found little attraction in a layover in South Carolina, the lines failed.[3] As for the cotton ports themselves, they did not crave enough imports to justify packet lines until 1851, when New Orleans hosted one sailing to Liverpool. Yet New York by the mid-1850s could claim sixteen lines to Liverpool, three to London, three to Havre, two to Antwerp, and one each to Glasgow, Rotterdam, and Marseilles. Subsidized, it must be remembered, by the federal post office patronage boondogle. U.S. foreign trade rose in value from $134 million in 1830 to $318 million in 1850. It would triple again in the 1850s. Between two-thirds and three-fourths of those imports entered through the port of New York. Which meant that any trading the South did, had to go through New York. Trade from Charleston and Savannah during this period was stagnant. The total shipping entered from foriegn countries in 1851 in the port of Charleston was 92,000 tons, in the port of New York, 1,448,000. You'd find relatively little tariff money coming in from Charleston. According to a Treasury report, the net revenue of all the ports of South Carolina during 1859 was a mere $234,237; during 1860 it was $309,222.[4]