By Walter Johnson
When Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory, he expected an “empire for liberty” populated through self-sufficient white farmers. Cleared of local americans and the remnants of eu empires by means of Andrew Jackson, the Mississippi Valley was once reworked as a substitute right into a booming capitalist financial system commanded via prosperous planters, powered by way of steam engines, and depending on the coerced exertions of slaves. River of darkish Dreams locations the Cotton country on the middle of globally webs of trade and exploitation that prolonged throughout oceans and drove an insatiable starvation for brand spanking new lands. This daring reaccounting dramatically alters our figuring out of yank slavery and its function in U.S. expansionism, worldwide capitalism, and the approaching Civil War.
Walter Johnson deftly strains the connections among the planters’ pro-slavery ideology, Atlantic commodity markets, and Southern schemes for worldwide ascendency. utilizing slave narratives, well known literature, felony documents, and private correspondence, he recreates the harrowing info of lifestyle less than cotton’s darkish dominion. We meet the arrogance males and gamblers who made the Valley shimmer with promise, the slave buyers, steamboat captains, and retailers who provided the markets, the planters who wrung their civilization out of the minds and our bodies in their human estate, and the real believers who threatened the Union by means of attempting to extend the Cotton state on a world scale.
yet on the middle of the tale Johnson tells are the enslaved those that pulled down the forests, planted the fields, picked the cotton—who worked, suffered, and resisted at the darkish underside of the yankee dream.
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Extra info for River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom
Matilda Houstoun deÂ� scribed what she had obvious at the deck of the Leonora while she had traveled from Louisville to New Orleans: “We had a few horses and mules and an unlimited variety of what are referred to as ‘deck passengers. ’ The latter consisted largely of emigrants from eire, loafing characters from the North, and German settlers with a truly small amount of cash of their wallet. . Â€. Â€. [They] have been uncovered to all of the inclemency of the season, and . Â€. Â€. the sufÂ�ferings, rather these of the Â�women and youngsters have been serious. ” Houstoun went directly to deÂ�scribe (in a fashion that used to be most likely intended to be satirical) the callous lightheartedness with which these within the cabin appeared these at the deck. One afternoon, she recalled, her staff used to be momentarily frozen through the cry of “Man overboard! ” through aid on the consciousness that “it was once ‘only one of many deck passengers’ and never one in whom we have been that used to be at that second suffering for all times within the speedy present. ” the subsequent morning there have been 130 r i ver o f d a r ok d r ea ms lllllllllllllllllllllll mordant jokes “at breakfast approximately what percentage deck passengers were misplaced in a single day. ”4 For Houstoun, those incidents appeared exemplary; their protagonists have been “specimens,” “characters,” “western men,” “immigrants,” representatives of “a race of singular beings. ”5 category variations between whites have been made concrete aboard the Leonora; transformations that may another way were neglected or papered over with the huge sloganeering of “white supremacy” have been day-by-day acted out at the deck. either Matilda Houstoun and Harriet Martineau spoke of the crying of the kids at the deck, no longer quite a bit simply because they empathized with their plight (or that of the parents), yet as the noise the youngsters made intruded at the different passengers’ sleep. Houstoun additionally said the best way “even the cabin” used to be “impregnated” with the odors of the deck, a sensation of violation she shared with David Stevenson, who wrote that the deck of a Western steamboat “generally provides a scene of dirt and wretchedness that baffles all deÂ�scripÂ�tion,” yet which he contrasted with the “plentiful provide of clean air” to be had to cabin passengers. To nineteenth-Â�century observers, who could have linked shut quarters and fetid air with the miasmas they proposal prompted sickness, the contaminating smells of the deck held the specter of contagion. whilst a guy died at the deck of the Henry Clay, Harriet Martineau remembered, the captain had his physique faraway from the boat and laid underneath a tree at a woodlot, “hoping that this incident could be omitted in complete silence, as he was once nervous that there might be no alarm approximately sickness at the boat. ” And there have been, fiÂ�nally, what the traveller Robert Baird termed “scenes of surprising depravity . Â€. Â€. disgusting to evÂ�ery virtuous brain. ”6 Segregation on Western steamboats (like segregation wherever else) either reflected and reproduced speÂ�cific anxieties approximately difference—about what, precisely, was once threatening to wealthy white humans approximately negative white humans.