Book Review: Chained to History: Slavery and US Foreign Relations to 1865


by Steven J. Brady

Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2022. Pp. viii, 232. Notes, bibliographic essay, index. $39.95. ISBN: 1501761056

Slavery and U.S. Foreign Relations

In Chained to History, Prof. Brady (George Washington) addresses the critical topic of slavery in its complete scope and shows the how the practice of human bondage significantly impacted American foreign policy from the foundation of the Republic.

Slavery was an important factor in the territorial growth of the United States during the era of “Manifest Destiny”; Jefferson purchased Louisiana from France in 1803 partly to prevent anti-slavery sentiment spreading from the French colony; Monroe acquired Florida from Spain in 1819 in part because it had become a refuge for fugitive slaves; Tyler engineered the annexation of Texas in 1845 because its rich cotton lands permitted the expansion of slavery.

Moreover, slavery influenced the nation’s ability to interact with other counties. President John Quincy Adams envisioned the U.S. as becoming a leader amongst the new nations which emerged in the Americas during the early nineteenth century, but because the new nations in Latin America had largely abolished slavery, he was unable to send a delegation to the Congress of Panama in 1826. In part this was due to opposition to “foreign entanglements” from John C. Calhoun, his vice-president, and further opposition from then-Senator Andrew Jackson, and other slave state political leaders. Of course, Simon Bolivar’s stand that the existence of slavery in the U.S. was inconsistent with the aims of the conference didn't help.

Prof. Brady further argues that slavery, and Southern fear for the preservation of slavery, complicated the diplomatic relations of the United States with the Atlantic world, in which slavery was in decline. He notes instances in which slavery influenced foreign policy decision making, which often impeded the country’s ability to interact with other nations.

For example, relations with Spain were complicated by the desire of slaveholding elements in the U.S. to acquire, firstly Florida, which was successful, and later Cuba, which was unsuccessful. Similarly, opposition to the arrest by the Royal Navy of American ships suspected of engaging in slave smuggling (banned by the U.S., but widely practiced), South Carolina’s “Negro Seaman’s Law”, which locked up Black crewmen of foreign ships arriving in Charleston, and so forth, strained relations with Britain, which were not mended until the end of slavery during the Lincoln administration.

Chained to History offers a valuable analysis of how slavery affected American foreign policy from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, a subject which Brady argues needs to be seen as an important factor in the history of the United States. Particularly valuable for students of the slavery, the Civil War, or American foreign relations, it's a good read for anyone interested in American history and society..


Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews here include, Lincoln Comes to Gettysburg, Passing Through the Fire: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in the Civil War, The Summer of ’63: Vicksburg and Tullahoma, Crosshairs on the Capital: Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington, Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee's Army after Appomattox, Voices of the Army of the Potomac, The Record of Murders and Outrages, Gettysburg 1963, No Common Ground, Confederate Conscription and the Struggle for Southern Soldiers, Stephen A. Swails, and  The Great ‘What Ifs’ of the American Civil War



Note: Chained to History is also available in e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi   

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