The Foreign Service Journal, June 2022

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JUNE 2022 93 A Disturbing Chapter in U.S. Diplomatic History Chained to History: Slavery and US Foreign Relations to 1865 Steven J. Brady, Cornell University Press, 2022, $39.95/hardcover, e-book available, 240 pages. Reviewed by Joseph L. Novak Steven J. Brady’s new book, Chained to History: Slavery and US Foreign Relations to 1865 , places a spotlight on the efforts of slaveholding interests to manipulate U.S. foreign policy to their advantage in the decades before the Civil War. Chained to History ’s inescapable conclusion is that slavery “shaped early American foreign relations from the beginning of the nation until the eradication of the institution itself.” As deftly related by Brady, a diplo- matic historian at George Washington University, enslavers became increas- ingly alarmed in the early to mid-19th century that slavery was under concerted multinational attack by abolitionists. They were also rattled by periodic rebellions by enslaved persons such as that led by Nat Turner in Virginia in 1831. Even as their fears grew, enslavers’ profits were spiking as cotton production spread its brutal tentacles through the Deep South and toward the Southwest. To “preserve and protect” their increasingly lucrative “peculiar institution,” they aggres- sively sought tomaintain their leverage over U.S. government decision-making. Polonius states in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”: “Though this is madness, yet there is method in’t.” This is a highly accurate encapsulation of American foreign policy during the antebellum decades. Even while proclaiming adher- ence to such grand principles as “all men are created equal,” the United States repeatedly distorted its foreign policy in order to defend slavery. Foreign powers were not fooled by the U.S. government’s smokescreen of high-minded declara- tions amid its selective efforts to make the world safe for slavery. Brady cites a British envoy prodding Secretary of State Louis McLane in 1833 on Ameri- can pretensions. The envoy pointedly told McLane that the U.S. government’s continued “subserviency to the feelings of their Slave-holders” would “do infinite mischief” to perceptions of the United States in Europe. In setting out his case, Brady acknowl- edges that he is relying on earlier scholarly groundwork. The two most noteworthy among the studies cited are Don E. Feh- renbacher’s The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery (2001) and Matthew Karp’s This Vast Southern Empire: Slave- holders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy (2018). Both books are masterful in providing a comprehensive perspective on the pervasive influence of slaveholders. Chained to History lucidly illustrates the separate strands of U.S. policy affected by the clout of enslavers. The slavehold- ers lobbied Washington, for example, to buy Cuba with the aim of adding it as a slave state, stepping back only when Spain expressed no interest in pursuing a deal. They were more successful in gaining Texas’s annexation as a slave state in 1845 and in undermining U.S. cooperation in international initia- tives focused on ending the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The section examin- ing U.S. foreign policy toward Haiti is particularly well written and convinc- ing. As made clear by Brady, there were pronounced similarities between the American and Haitian revolutions as reb- els successfully fought to overthrow Euro- pean colonizers. That said, the United States peremptorily refused to recognize Haiti when it declared its independence in 1804. Chained to History makes explicit that slavery proponents pushed for this non- recognition policy because they feared that Haiti’s revolution of enslaved persons would be replicated elsewhere. Brady underscores that “slavery was viewed as a national security issue,” and, thus, the U.S. government sought to isolate Haiti. Although trade ties did move forward, Washington did not recognize Haiti until 1862. This compares to its relatively rapid recognition in the 1820s of several Latin American countries that overthrew Span- ish and Portuguese rule. Julia Gaffield’s superb Haitian Connections in the Atlan- tic World: Recognition After Revolution (2015) further documents the interna- tional challenges faced by Haiti in the decades after it became independent. The author is at his best in providing vignettes that vivify his larger points. BOOKS Foreign powers were not fooled by the U.S. government’s smokescreen of high-minded declarations amid its selective efforts tomake the world safe for slavery.