“Alexander Hamilton’s program of national industrial development could have made slavery obsolete without bloodshed, according to Spannaus’ provocative historical study.
The author, a historian, advances an economic analysis of American slavery as a brutal, backward system of production that was incompatible with a dynamic modern economy. Such an economy was envisioned, she observes, by Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Treasury Secretary, in his 1791 Report on the Subject of Manufactures. His report advocated a national bank to channel government revenue into industrial investments, the nurturing of an industrial manufacturing economy with tariffs to protect domestic manufacturers, and federal spending on roads, canals, and other infrastructure. Hamilton believed that this “American System” would make labor more productive with technology and machinery while fostering creative innovations by workers and businessmen. This economic juggernaut, Spannaus argues, would have outcompeted and peacefully swept away a Southern slave economy that relied on unskilled labor and denied enslaved workers the opportunity to develop their talents. Unfortunately, the author contends, Hamilton’s agenda was fought by Southern planters and “sabotaged” by President Thomas Jefferson, a slave-owner who championed small farmers, hated industry, and cut federal infrastructure spending. Spannaus asserts that matters would only get worse under President Andrew Jackson, who eliminated the government’s Bank of the United States, cut protective tariffs, and canceled canal projects. Challenging The 1619 Project and other scholarship that puts slavery at the heart of American society and economic development, Spannaus instead locates the center of the American experiment in the abolitionist movement that started in the 17th century and in Hamilton’s tacitly anti-slavery industrial policy. She supports her argument by citing a wealth of statistics and period thinkers, from Cotton Mather to Frederick Douglass, conveying it all in lucid, down-to-earth prose infused with sparks of passionate advocacy, as when she denounces revisionist historians’ “lies, distortions, and…glaring omissions of the leading international battle many American patriots waged against the scourge of slavery from the earliest days.” Hamilton’s growing reputation as the most progressive of the Founders will be further enhanced by this trenchant interpretation of his economic thinking.
A stimulating take on the intersection of American slavery and economic policy.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“Nancy Spannaus demonstrates how the South’s slavocracy for decades used its grip on U.S. political power to stymie both a rising abolitionist movement and Alexander Hamilton’s comprehensive 1790s plans for nationwide economic modernization. The slavocracy’s victory was pyrrhic; Abraham Lincoln’s 1860s administration smashed it, abolished slavery, and promoted Hamiltonian modernization. The United States quickly became the world leader in manufacturing. Sadly, more than a century and a half later, some wounds of these old battles still have not healed. That makes Defeating Slavery a timely read.” — Richard Sylla, author of Alexander Hamilton: The Illustrated Biography
“Impressively researched, Spannaus’s book offers a history of how slavery defined the early constitutional and national debate, as well as insight into how the Jeffersonians and Jacksonians sabotaged Alexander Hamilton’s American System of economic development and derailed the antislavery path of the Founders. It came down to the Whigs and Abraham Lincoln to resurrect Hamilton’s principles – and an inevitable Civil War – to bring an end to slavery. That discussion is cause enough to read this book, but Spannaus also enlightens readers on the degree our current political dilemma relies on this same ‘free labor’ vs ‘free trade’ dynamic and proposes a framework for restoring political and economic systems that work for all Americans. This book is not to be missed.” – David J. Kent, author of Lincoln: The Fire of Genius: How Abraham Lincoln’s Commitment to Science and Technology Helped Modernize America.
“Nancy Spannaus shows that Alexander Hamilton founded the City of Paterson NJ to launch his ambitious plan to begin transforming a rural agrarian economy based in slavery into a modern industrial economy based in freedom, promoting not discrimination against some but opportunities for all.” – Leonard Zax, city planner and lawyer who was a leader of the effort to create the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park
“In this book Nancy Spannaus offers us an accessible, well-researched, and sophisticated take on the contradictory political economy of slavery and its role in American economic history.” – Christian Parenti, Professor of Economics John Jay College, CUNY, author of Radical Hamilton: economic lessons from a misunderstood founder
March 6, 7 to 9 pm —Author Event at Cascades Public Library, 21030 Whitfield Place, Potomac Falls, Virginia
March 28, 7 pm — Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society book club, zoom. Free. Check at TheAHASociety.org
April 6, 12 to 4 pm, Reston Founders Day book fair, Lake Anne Plaza
April 7 — Book talk at Brunswick public library, 2-3 pm, 915 North Maple Avenue, Brunswick, Maryland
April 20 — 1-3 pm — Book signing at Barnes & Noble, 20427 Exchange Street, Ashburn, Virginia.
April 21, 11 to 4, Kensington Day of the Book Festival, Howard Avenue
May 19 — 6 pm, speaker at meeting of the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia, Maggiano’s Little Italy, Silver Spring, Maryland
Pennsylvania Quaker Anthony Benezet, pictured here teaching African American children, founded the first abolitionist society in the world in 1775.
James Oglethorpe, pictured here, established the colony of Georgia with a total ban on slavery, but waged a losing political battle to keep the colony slave-free.
King George III and his Privy Council repeatedly vetoed American colonists’ attempts to both end the slave trade and slavery. In fact, the British government’s commitment to expanding U.S. slavery lasted up to the Civil War.
Samuel Hopkins, a Congregationalist minister in Providence, Rhode Island, issued a public appeal to the Continental Congress in 1776, demanding that it act to end the evil of slavery.
Over the past four and a half years since I published Hamilton Versus Wall Street, I have worked hard to establish Alexander Hamilton’s identity as the founder of the American System of Economics which built the industrial strength and prosperity of the United States. For a self-published volume, with no company or organization behind it, the book has done relatively well and gained a certain currency in pro-Hamilton circles.
Significantly, other voices have jumped in to advocate for a return to Hamiltonian policies as well.
But three developments in the aftermath of my book’s publication convinced me to embark on a follow-up project of vital interest in our current political climate, which resulted in this book.
The first was the publication of the 1619 Project by the New York Times in August 2019. While purporting to have the honorable aim of upgrading our attention to the role of slavery in United States history, that project primarily took aim at the core noble values which underpin our American republic. It did that by lies, distortions, and most importantly, glaring omissions of the leading international battle many American patriots waged against the scourge of slavery from the earliest days.
The impact of that attack on American identity was then amplified by the second major development, the shocking murder of George Floyd in the spring of 2020, which brought the all-too-real issue of racial discrimination to the fore.
The third development was the publication in late 2020 of a tendentious paper allegedly documenting the role of Hamilton, one of the most anti-slavery founding fathers, as an “enslaver.” Like the 1619 Project, this salvo immediately received broad uncritical support from major news media and history-related institutions.
The aftermath of these three interventions has been an unrelenting, and shockingly effective, campaign to distort the history of the American republic beyond all recognition. This is not an academic matter; it has real consequences for our future as a nation. Unless the broad American public understands the real history of the battle over slavery, its real economic basis and consequences, and the nature of the political battle over its eradication, we are doomed to increasing division, and perhaps even the demise of our constitutional republic. In 2021, I embarked on an intensive study of the battle American patriots waged against slavery. What became clear is that the early abolitionist efforts waged in the Revolutionary era and early decades of the republic have been buried, just as much as the horrors of slavery. Even more suppressed has been the role of economic policy in determining the outcome of the struggle against enslavement.
I realize that my attempt to clarify the nature of our nation’s fight against slavery is necessarily incomplete. Whole books have been written on subjects I cover in a paragraph, or a chapter. You will also find it helpful, if not obligatory, to read Hamilton Versus Wall Street, in order to grasp the full import of his economic perspective.
But I believe my thesis – that the sabotage of Hamilton’s industrialization perspective was crucial to derailing the anti-slavery ferment of the American Revolution, and catapulting us toward Civil War — is a vital contribution to our national discussion right now.
I hope you will read and agree.