This article focuses on the impact of the colonial issue on Revolutionary France particularly during the late 1780s and early 1790s. It demonstrates the importance of the slave colonies in the French economy and the French public sphere after the Seven Years War. In particular, the boom in Saint-Domingue created tensions between planters and merchants on the one hand and whites and free people of colour on the other. The stakes of colonial conflict became completely intertwined in the revolutionary dynamic, as failure by the ‘Friends of the Blacks’ during the National Assembly contributed to radicalizing political divisions among patriots. The colonial issue remained high on the agenda, although most of the changes came from the colonies themselves, especially after the slaves’ insurrection. But beyond the 1794 abolition decree, historiography should expand its analysis to fully understand how imperialism informed citizenship in a revolutionary age.
Christopher Leslie Brown
In 1760, the ownership of African slaves was common across the Americas, ubiquitous in Atlantic Africa, and tolerated if not always officially permitted in much of Western Europe. By 1820, a new moral critique of colonial slavery and the Atlantic slave had led to the first organised efforts for their abolition. It would seem that the revolutionary era brought with it the beginning of the end for slavery in the Atlantic world. Yet, at the same time, there had never been more slaves in the Americas than there were in 1820. The expansion of the Atlantic slave trade and its increasing concentration on Brazil had profound consequences for the peoples and societies of West Africa. The Age of Revolutions was an era of spectacular growth in the institution of slavery in the Americas, when considered from a hemispheric perspective. This article suggests that the history of warfare has particular relevance to the history of slavery, and, as will become apparent, anti-slavery, in the Atlantic world.