“Candid Reflections:” The Idea of Race in the Debate over the Slave Trade and Slavery in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries

  • Peter J. Kitson
Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)


In describing the natural world, Enlightenment and Romantic natural philosophers may well, for the most part, have been attempting to assert a Baconian objectivity and disinterestedness in their work in trying to describe the world as they saw it. With the privilege of hindsight we can see how their works were infiltrated with assumptions and prejudices about society, race, and gender that rendered their speculations and hypotheses anything but neutral and the belief that such neutrality was possible, illusory. However, what happens when such ideas are taken out of the arena of an allegedly objective science and are, instead, put into a polemical context in which they can be used as evidence for the support of a political or economic position? What happens when the participants in a debate have a vested interest in employing (or not employing) arguments that they may or may not believe, but the presence of which may convince others or their deliberate withholding may fail to prevent others from taking up a position? Historians of transatlantic slavery have long accepted the presence and importance of racial ideas in the debate about slavery and the slave trade and they have debated the nature of the relationship between capitalist expansion and the development of racial and racist ideologies.


Slave Trade Black Skin African Slave Human Difference Race Thinking 
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© Peter J. Kitson 2007

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  • Peter J. Kitson

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