The Atlantic Slave Trade and the War of 1812
This essay argues that rhetorical and material gaps have limited scholars’ ability to see the connections between Atlantic slavery and the War of 1812, and it outlines these limits as created by contemporary conceptual changes in the meaning of trade, ideologies of neutrality and “free trade,” as well as current-day nation-centered historiography and the problem of missing archival records. By turning to French shipping records, the essay outlines the difficulty of documenting contraband and illicit activities, and draws connections between neutrality disagreements, early nineteenth century U.S.-French commerce, slavery, and the War of 1812. The essay suggests that a better understanding of wartime trade agreements and the related issue of neutrality, more careful attention to the conceptual disaggregation of foreign from internal slave trade, and an awareness of the gaps in the archive are all necessary to challenge and amend the heretofore-isolated narratives of the Atlantic slave trade and the War of 1812.
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