European slave traders’ adherence to African customs

deliberated. European slave traders’ adherence to African customs, as well as
their ability to manage their crew, often determined the outcome of the voyage.
In the case of the Hare, Kelley shows the volatility of the slave trade by
describing episodes like when some of the Hare’s crewmembers jumped ship
for a longboat off the African coast, or when Captain Godfrey executed an
African who had led an attack on a different slave-trading vessel. Kelley weaves
together these examples of peril and violence with less dramatic, yet frustrating,
everyday occurrences on the voyage, like when the ship’s stove caught fire
during the journey back to North America.
Scholars who research slavery in North America will appreciate Kelley’s
microhistory because it examines the gritty details of slave trading within the
context of the larger forces at play within the eighteenth-century Atlantic
world. The strength of Kelley’s approach is that it concretizes the experience
of both slave traders and those enslaved, and moves from detail to broader
context effortlessly. In one passage, Kelley reconstructs life in “working
Newport” with its “seamen, longshoremen, coopers, caulkers, glaziers, braziers, sailmakers, riggers, and porters,” and in another he sketches out the
contours of British mercantilism (p. 18). Ultimately, Kelley’s well-researched
exploration into the lives of Africans enslaved in British North America during
the late eighteenth century is an indispensable study of the Atlantic slave
Clark University Ousmane K. Power-Greene
The American Revolution, State Sovereignty, and the American Constitutional
Settlement, 1765–1800. By Aaron N. Coleman. (Lanham, Md., and other
cities: Lexington Books, 2016. Pp. xii, 259. $95.00, ISBN 978-1-4985-
The American Revolution, State Sovereignty, and the American Constitutional Settlement, 1765–1800 offers itself as a revisionist history of the
American Founding that corrects what author Aaron N. Coleman calls the
“nationalist” conventional wisdom (p. 3). Scholars in thrall to this syllabus of
errors, including major figures in the field, are said to have read their approval
of later centralization back onto the Founding era. The nationalist interpretation has not adequately appreciated that state sovereignty was the basis
of the Revolution and the Union, and that it endured throughout the Founding
era, despite the contrary designs of Alexander Hamilton and his Federalist
allies. This thesis is pursued through all the major events of the period: from
the rationale for the separation from Britain through the Kentucky and
Virginia Resolutions. The argument is well grounded in primary sources and
conversant with the vast literature on the subjects it addresses, and this book
stands as a competent expression of the state-centered perspective on the
A major theoretical pillar of Coleman’s argument, adopted from Michael
Oakeshott by way of M. E. Bradford, is the distinction between a nomocratic
and a teleocratic political order. A nomocratic order lays out processes and
methods for addressing common concerns, for making decisions, and for
The Journal of Southern History, Volume LXXXIII, No. 3, August 2017
limiting power. A teleocratic order aims to achieve a specific philosophical
objective or grand political project. This distinction is invoked throughout the
book, though not in the depth of Oakeshott or Bradford. In practice, Federalists
are condemned as teleocratic for wanting to centralize power in the federal
government; Anti-Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans are valorized for
wanting the opposite. Sometimes (and without explanation) the former term is
rendered as “teleological.” The reader is left to wonder whether this difference
is intended to carry any meaning. Nevertheless, by use of this distinction, and by
other indications, it is clear that the author has subtly but designedly aligned
himself with Bradford’s version of traditionalist-localist constitutional conservatism. Thus the revolt of 1776 is tendentiously described as “secession from
the British Empire”; similarly, New Hampshire’s ratification of the Constitution
completed “the secession from the Articles of Confederation” (pp. 39, 127). Are
we thus meant to regard that later and infamous attempted secession as just one
more legitimate appeal to state sovereignty? Coleman offers a large clue in the
conclusion’s statement that it was Abraham Lincoln and the “Federalist-cumRepublican vision of the sovereignty of national government that emerged
triumphant during the Civil War, and became enshrined in the Fourteenth
Amendment” (p. 237). The Civil War resulted in the “second American
constitutional settlement that governs America today” (p. 238). To suggest that
our modern Leviathan derived from the Federalists and Lincoln, rather than the
Progressives and their heirs in the New Deal and Great Society, is to misunderstand the foundation and salvation of limited republican government in
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the causes of its erosion in the
twentieth century.
It is quite debatable, often on the author’s own evidence, whether the
“constitutional settlement” of the book’s title was ever truly settled. The book
portrays Federalists as teleocratic backsliders, promise breakers on the topic of
state sovereignty and the limits it was meant to impose on the federal government. But this interpretation overestimates the amount of theoretical clarity
and agreement that existed. The desire for a stronger central government that
could affect citizens directly and defend them adequately coexisted with the
desire for limits on its reach in deference to the local authority of the states. Just
how to balance these imperatives was not something agreed to once and for all
and then deviously abandoned. It was worked out over time as the Constitution
was interpreted and put into effect (two inseparable facets of the same process).
Constitutional politics happened. Interests and principles clashed; institutions
were designed on paper and then functioned in reality.
In sum, this book gives us a rich redescription of the Founding from a
convinced perspective, but it is skewed by insufficient appreciation that the
action it reports was always a political contest over constitutional meaning—not
apostasy by one group against the true faith retained by another. Finally, in this
reviewer’s opinion the volume is marred by poor editing. Every few pages there
are typographical errors, grammatical errors, missing words, or distracting
malapropisms that undermine the expression of the author’s ideas and reflect
poorly on the publisher.
Georgia Southern University Johnathan O’Neill
The Journal of Southern History, Volume LXXXIII, No. 3, August 2017
Copyright of Journal of Southern History is the property of Southern Historical Association
and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without
the copyright holder’s express written permission. However, users may print, download, or
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