A brilliant synthesis of African and African-American history that shows how slavery differed in different regions of the country, and how the Africans and their descendants influenced the culture, commerce, and laws of the early United States.
... more than 900 pages long, encompassing an almost unimaginable breadth of research, information and ambition ... Drawing on extensive recent work by historians on the demographics of the slave trade, Fischer traces the multiple African sources of the waves of importations from the 17th to the early 19th century, offering a rich portrait of the variety of cultures and places from which captives came ... Fischer juxtaposes his scholarship with brief biographical portraits of African Americans who embody aspects of the larger regional context. He has been hailed as an accomplished historical storyteller who can capture a general reader, and those skills are evident here ... Although his detailed analysis focuses on the colonial period and the early 19th century, he not infrequently skips over decades and even centuries, introducing a kind of timelessness into his interpretation by compressing chronology and suggesting that the traits he has identified persist into the present ... He does not ignore or minimize the brutality, cruelty and injustice of slavery and racism, but this is nonetheless a celebratory narrative that belies his declaration in the introduction that he 'does not begin with predominantly positive or negative judgments about the main lines of American history' ... fundamentally an appreciation of the place of Black people in America past and present, as well as an appreciation of the nation of which they became a part ... As he acknowledges, good history does indeed require us to go beyond both celebration and condemnation. Perhaps the debate his new book is likely to generate can help move us toward that goal.
This story is just one of hundreds, many eye-popping, in David Hackett Fischer’s new book exploring how African slaves are as much founders of America as are the iconic and familiar figures of her Founding Fathers ... For many years there has been a perspective on American slavery by the public that one could describe as either the Pollyanna view or the lachrymose view. Fischer shows us the story is far more complex and, frankly, far more fascinating ... Fischer’s book is an inquiry into what happened when Africans and Europeans came to North America, and the growth of race slavery collided with the ideas of freedom and liberty and rule of law. Like the ophthalmologist’s phoropter, Fischer, through prodigious research, proceeds to reveal a world that is clearer, more precise, richer, and revealing ... African Founders is a Promethean work, a truly magisterial and magnificent book of cultural history that extracts from potentially dry demographic data a riveting story that, in the words of another Pulitzer Prize winning historian, Gordon S. Wood, transcends all our current historiographical debates of slavery.
He argues that historians should not focus solely on the tragic moral paradox of racism and slavery without also considering the positive, enduring impacts that enslaved and free Africans have had on the United States’ founding ideals ... This riveting, extensive study will prove invaluable to students of the history of slavery and African American history.