Blogs > Liberty and Power > Simon Schama and His New Book on Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution

Nov 11, 2007 4:08 am

Simon Schama and His New Book on Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution

Go here to read an interesting interview with the historian Simon Schama. (Be advised that this article will go behind subscription at 7 pm EDT on Sunday, September 4.) His new book Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (BBC Books, 2005; not yet published in the U.S.) tells the story of how some of King George’s commanders provided sanctuary and freedom to (some) fugitive slaves. Order the book here.

Says Schama,"I was very concerned that it not replace American self-congratulation with British self-congratulation," he says, noting that the British often broke their word and sold ex-slaves down the river (not merely a metaphor, alas). He adds that"What's shocking is not that we [the Brits] betrayed them; what's shocking are the moments of genuine integrity," when the duffer Whig aristocrats who led King George's armies kept promises of freedom and protection to the fugitive slaves. In an ocean of opportunism, these points of honour shine:"The message here is - don't forget little moments that are really moments of extraordinary grandeur."

As for US readers, Schama hopes that his cliché-busting story of (some) virtuous Brits and (some) hypocritical Patriots will offer an alternative to the" consolatory" history they love, about"the wisdom, nobility and foresightedness of the Founding Fathers. All of which is true, but is used somehow as a balm against self-interrogation. That gets up my nose - it really does."

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