Publication Date

Winter 1-2019


John Brown, author of Slave Life in Georgia, published in London in 1854, proffered a radical approach to ending slavery in the USA in step with Marxian economics. In this paper, we will explain how Brown’s representation of subjectivity may have caused critics to neglect it. Brown treats freedom as something foreign and external. He has to learn what freedom means, first through exposure to a model of liberal citizenship and then through the experience of several modulations of fugitive liberty. Brown’s social world is wholly determined by external forces. Whether slave or freeman, he faces ambiguous situations. Is one master better than another? Will he join a community of fugitive slaves in Indiana? Will he seek refuge from slavery as a labourer in a copper mine? Will he accompany a patron to England? Brown’s hesitancy at each of these modalities of freedom takes him to Canada West, where he serves as a carpenter among other fugitives. These Canadian model communities, designed under the purview of white benefactors, also ultimately displease Brown. He finally leaves for England, where he takes up a new charge: a systematic attack on the economic conditions that support the slaveocracy. He aims to undersell southern cotton and dismantle the Southern economy through competition. Despite failing to execute his design, Brown remains an important voice committed to economic intervention rather than moral suasion.


Atlantic Studies





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This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Atlantic Studies on 20/01/2020, available online: