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Cooper, Frederick : University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Frederick Cooper is Charles Gibson Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan.
Holt, Thomas C. : University of Chicago
Thomas C. Holt is the James Westfall Thompson Professor of American and African American History at the University of Chicago.
Scott, Rebecca J. : University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Rebecca J. Scott is Frederick Huetwell Professor of History at the University of Michigan.
Governor Harris's pithy assertion that slavery emancipation necessarily entailed the creation of a new society nicely frames the essential problematic of contemporary studies of postemancipation societies. Yet the novelty of this proposition has scarcely been interrogated, either by Harris's contemporaries or by historians. From the perspective of the twentieth century, emancipation appears as a dramatic historical rupture: beyond slavery lay the transition to a "free" society and the vast social upheavals and transformations that such a transition entailed. From the perspective of earlier generations, however, the freeing of slaves had occasioned no such radical break with the past; indeed, slave manumission had long been an integral part of the very management of slave labor. Why could emancipation not simply be manumission on a larger scale? After all, the newly independent American republics had achieved something of the sort in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Why should a change in the labor system necessitate that a new society be formed? What kind of social transformation did Harris have in mind?
Exactly a decade earlier, during the last full year of apprenticeship (a legally mandated transition period between slavery and freedom), Lord Glenelg, Britain's colonial secretary, had provided a partial answer to at least the second of these questions. Glenelg urged the governors of the British West Indian colonies to amend all laws left over from the slavery era. They should take special note of those laws that made "innumerable distinctions of the most invidious nature in favor of Europeans and their descendants, and to the prejudice of persons of African birth or origin." Not only should all these be abolished, Glenelg insisted, but even "disguised references" should be struck from colonial laws. With these instructions, Glenelg, a former liberal Tory who had converted to Whiggery, offered a much more detailed and far-reaching definition of the meaning of freedom than that which had been suggested just four years earlier, during discussions of the Abolition Act of 1833. "The great cardinal principle of the law for the abolition of slavery," Glenelg wrote, "is, that the apprenticeship of the emancipated slaves is to be immediately succeeded by personal freedom, in that full and unlimited sense of the term in which it is used in reference to the other subjects of the British Crown."
To implement this policy Glenelg ordered that the governors and their attorneys general should survey colonial laws with regard to access to the elective franchise, schools, churches, the militia, and other publicly supported institutions and report on them to his office. They should note any restraints on occupations freedpeople were likely to resort to in lieu of plantation labor, such as peddler, porter, and boatman. They should study the administration of poor relief, vagrancy laws, the tax system, road maintenance, Crown land sales, and prison discipline. All these should be reviewed to ensure that they did not involve any vestiges of racial discrimination. This, Glenelg pointed out, was "the essence of the contract between Great Britain and the colonies."
Glenelg's tenure as colonial secretary lasted little more than a year longer, but his doctrine of civil and political equality continued to inform the policies of his successors, more or less, through the following decade. In 1849, however, Earl Grey, one of Glenelg's successors as colonial secretary, wrote a private and confidential letter to his cousin, Charles Grey, the governor of Jamaica, expressing his mounting concern about what a genuine political democracy for former slaves might portend in managing colonial affairs in that island.
Looking to the comparative numbers of the black & white inhabitants of Jamaica, & to the absence of any real impediment to the acquisit'n of the elective franchise by the former, it seems impossible to doubt that at no very distant period they must acquire a paramount influence in the legislature [and use their power] with little regard to the interests of the planters or even to justice, & that therefore if the planters were wise they wd. use the authority they now possess, not to break down the power of the Crown but . . . to strengthen it.
Grey's letter signaled the beginning of a dramatic policy shift at the Colonial Office. By mid-century Glenelg's confident embrace of political democracy had given way to mounting anxiety that black political power in Jamaica might actually be used in black people's political and economic interests. From that point forward, colonial officials sought ways to blunt the impact of black political participation, first through changes in Jamaica's governmental structure in 1854, then through what amounted to a poll tax on voters in 1859, and finally by abolishing Jamaican self-government altogether in 1866.
The brief interlude that separates these moments in Jamaican emancipation--an interlude not dissimilar to Reconstruction in the United States thirty years later--helps frame the political problem that emancipation posed for the British in particular and for societies espousing liberal democratic values in general. Glenelg's proposal to make, in Frank Tannenbaum's terms, citizens of ex-slaves poses two questions that further refine those initially raised by Lord Harris's statement. First, why should equality and political participation have been considered "the essence of the contract between Great Britain and the colonies"? And second, why was that policy so quickly abandoned? Answering the second question may be overdetermined by the solution of the first, which is in many respects the more puzzling. Britain's was not the first emancipation, and none hitherto had embraced racial egalitarianism as a necessary moral or political corollary to the renunciation of slavery. Indeed, as Tocqueville observed of the U.S. North, site of the first slavery emancipation in the Americas, it sometimes appeared that those free states were more racist than the southern slave states. What, then, was different about the British experience, or, more precisely perhaps, about the timing of its experience, that made racial equality an essential contractual feature of its emancipation policy? Given a better understanding of what made that policy possible in the first place, we might be better able to explain its rapid retrenchment.
One might be tempted to explain Glenelg's policy as simply an expression of contemporary idealism, which was at its high tide following the abolitionist success. But as we have learned from earlier studies of abolitionism, idealism is not temporally transcendent; rather, it is rooted in a social life that is historically specific. Thus idealism, too, must be accounted for historically. In any event, the idealism of Glenelg's doctrine does not appear to have been rooted in the prior antislavery campaign. Although some individuals may have espoused political democracy for former slaves, nothing in the abolitionist campaign as such or in the debates before Parliament suggested that full political rights for blacks would follow as a consequence of emancipation. British abolitionists would have been more likely to press for enlightened but undemocratic dictation of colonial legislation by the home government (over which they might reasonably have expected to exercise more influence than in the colonies) than to trust the fate of reform to local political processes. Abolitionists raised no noticeable outcry in 1839, for example, when the Colonial Office advanced proposals that envisaged elimination of democratic governance in the colonies altogether, nor did they oppose the Crown colony system where it already existed. Indeed, some colonial bureaucrats argued that contraction, not expansion, of democracy would better serve their efforts to manage efficiently the transition from slavery to free labor.
If not from idealism, then, perhaps egalitarian colonial policy was dictated by political expediency, a ploy of colonial bureaucrats to checkmate planter obstructionism by cultivating a competing power bloc in their midst. Discussions between Glenelg and some Jamaican governors lend some support to this scenario, but those discussions did not result in a consistent or sustained policy. The Colonial Office appears to have sought, by its lights, a moderate and judicious approach to colonial politics, neither liberalizing the franchise appreciably nor acceding to the planters' efforts to restrict it. Property, salary, or tax prerequisites were imposed on prospective voters, but given similar restrictions on the electorate in Britain, even a democratically minded contemporary would not have thought them unreasonable. Indeed, the most vocal complaint at the time was that the Jamaican franchise was too liberal! It is true that given the overwhelming black population majority, such suffrage requirements did augur a potential electoral majority of black peasant freeholders, even as they excluded mostø blacks from the polls. By mid-century that black political potential appeared real enough to British policymakers that they began scurrying for legal ways to curtail or constrain it.
Glenelg and his colleagues could conceive of political and social equality as "the essence" of the emancipation contract with freedpeople, not from idealism, pragmatism, or a fit of absentmindedness, but because that policy articulated with broader ideological developments, namely, with a particular moment in the history of classical liberalism. The question of whether freed slaves would become citizens was a peculiarly nineteenth-century query. Irrespective of how it might have been answered, it could not have even been raised before citizenship became the norm of civil status. The rise of the modern nation-state in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries raised the stakes for any general slave emancipation. Once the nation came to be constituted of "citizens" sharing a nationality rather than "subjects" sharing obedience to a monarchy, not only was the basis for inclusion in or exclusion from the nation necessarily transformed, but the question of citizenship as such was inescapably posed. According to Orlando Patterson, all slave systems invoked some kind of ritual process of incorporation as slaves moved from the "social death" of bondage to the civic life of freedom. But one might surmise that as long as all the inhabitants of a polity were subjects firmly located within a status hierarchy, the incorporation of freed slaves occasioned no threat to existing social order. The Age of Revolution, however, had changed the logic, if not the facts, of the social relations within national polities. Thomas Jefferson, perhaps the most powerful rhetorician of the new democratic ideology, was also among the first to sense its larger import: any move to emancipate the slaves confronted the problem of incorporating them as equals into a free society. Like many others to follow--including the northern states that actually freed their slaves--Jefferson, for all his antislavery precepts, could not abide the prospect of equal citizenship for former slaves.
What was unthinkable in the earlier stages of the Age of Revolution had become more palatable in the years of its culmination. By the time Britain emancipated the slaves in its West Indian possessions, it had experienced a half-century of internal political and economic turmoil that not only had made the difficulties of sustaining social order and political legitimacy a paramount concern but also had refined its thinking on that problem. Stable social orders depended on the character of the citizens constituting the polity, and stability of character depended on the efficacy of the key institutions that made the citizen. Different social sectors and bourgeois class strata therefore found common ground in an ideology of domesticity that defined separate but interdependent spheres for men and women, prescribed the attributes of masculinity and femininity, and made the link between home life and statecraft indispensable to the political and the social as well as to the economic order.
Both the initiation of the Glenelg doctrine and its retrenchment are products of this ideological construction. Classical liberalism had served colonial policymakers as an essential guide in the transition from slavery to free labor. Abolitionism and emancipation were in large part the product of that ideology, achieving their greatest success at precisely the moment it became hegemonic in Britain's public discourse, politics, and bureaucracy, and facing their severest crisis as that ideology underwent significant revision and retrenchment. Much as the transition from slavery to wage labor tested the economic tenets of classical liberal democratic thought, the transition from slave to citizen tested its political tenets. To put the argument in its broadest and bluntest form, bourgeois ideology gave rise to the British experiment with slavery emancipation, only to have that experiment expose the ideology's central contradictions; the dominant response to that exposure was a general retrenchment and reformulation of bourgeois freedom itself. In this sense, then, the debates over the political and economic policies appropriate to newly emancipated societies laid bare issues relevant to other human societies that might otherwise have remained unarticulated.
Politics and Society in Classical Liberal Theory
Classical liberal ideology, as it had evolved by the mid-nineteenth century, posited a model of social order in which basic and functional divisions existed between state and civil society and between public and private life. Human activity was allocated among overlapping but different spheres: the administrative and policing activities of the state; the private (non-state) activities that governed and reproduced economic and social life; the public arena (distinct from both civil society and the state) where democratic, collective rule or norm-making transpired; and, finally, the intimate sphere of the home, the patriarchal and conjugal family, where emotional life was nurtured. A key innovation in this theory of social relations was the idea that civil society constituted a private sphere, independent of the state, animated by autonomous individuals rather than by feudal estates, and that, in principle, these individuals each possessed equal access to and control of their persons, resources, and powers. Theoretically, each person (though in fact, each man) possessed equal standing before the law, was capable of accumulating goods and resources in unlimited quantity, and was free therefore to maximize his gains so as to satisfy innate materialist appetites. Given this premise, all relevant social interactions could be modeled on exchange relations and as such were both self-actuated and self-regulating. In short, individual self-interest, uninhibited by state regulation, was expected to inspire greater effort and productivity, thereby enriching society as a whole. Public virtue would be generated out of private vices.
But the notion that a social order could cohere around human greed was not unproblematic, either logically or as a basis for actual social policy. Theoretically at least, the new order of relations in the marketplace had to be linked to a new moral basis for political relations. The state could not just disappear; it had to be reformulated and repositioned. Thus the political counterpart of the competitive, self-regulating economic marketplace was the public sphere, the marketplace of opinion. It was a sphere that was part of, but distinct from, civil society; within it private, educated, and propertied men exercised influence over both the state (lawmaking) and civil life (the various systems of exchange--economic and social--between individuals). Moreover, political and economic relations were not simply complementary, in the sense that both were conceptualized as exchanges between autonomous subjects; they were in fact functionally linked, because the privatized economic and the intimate household spheres were both crucial realms for fashioning those individual subjects who would enter the public sphere. The economic/civil realm produced men of property; the household produced reflective men capable of civilized discourse and norm-governed interactions.
This process of man/citizen-making is sketched out by J*rgen Habermas, who suggests that it was within "the interiority of the conjugal family" that there developed the subjectivity necessary for men to enter the public sphere as autonomous individuals: "For the experiences about which a public passionately concerned with itself sought agreement and enlightenment through the rational-critical public debate of private persons with one another flowed from the well-spring of a specific subjectivity. The latter had its home, literally, in the sphere of the patriarchal conjugal family." That is, the subjectivity of independent, reflecting men, fashioned in the intimacy of the home, produced the civil "opinions" that were exchanged like goods in this market of critical-rational argument. Out of such exchanges came a collective "public opinion," a concept emerging both in Britain and on the continent in the late eighteenth century, making it, temporally and instrumentally, precursor to the political revolutions in France and America, to the industrial takeoff in Britain, and to the abolitionist movement. In many respects, public opinion was visualized as a regulator in politics, comparable to the role Adam Smith's "invisible hand" played in economic life. The legitimacy and authority of public opinion was dependent, however, on there being a process of open and free exchange (i.e., democracy).
But the unstated precondition for this democratic exchange was harmony in the basic purposes and assumptions of the participants, which in turn could arise only from the compatibility of each subject's relation to the whole. Thus an essential condition for admission to the rule-making public sphere at the outset was that one be an educated man of property (in skills or in land); this would ensure a like commitment to preserving a social order that guaranteed property. Also essential to this liberal discourse was the assumption that such citizens would be the progeny of an intimate sphere, the patriarchal, conjugal family, for it was there that innate desires and ambitions for self-aggrandizement were somehow rendered compatible or, quite literally, domesticated.
In sum, then, the "free" and open exchanges in the public sphere presumed a homogeneity of participants, a mutuality of fundamental interests, and, withal, the discussability of differences. Consequently, political life (and democratic practice) was ultimately dependent on similarities in the citizens' location in and relation to the social order. In short, while a democratic political order was required to protect the autonomous private sphere from encroachment by the state or antagonist feudal estates, systematic exclusions from the decision-making realm (the public sphere) were necessary to protect that same social order from challenges by the dispossessed. Over time, the criteria for admission might be expanded, but the fundamental test or principle remained that the new admittees not threaten the social order.
There was, of course, an apparent contradiction between the self-possession and autonomy implied by economic liberalism and the obviously selective dispossession inherent in the constitution of the political sphere. Every member of a society was not just eligible for but compelled to participate in economic exchanges in the civil sphere, but only educated and propertied men were eligible for admission to the public sphere, which controlled the norm-making functions of the whole society. This contradiction could be accommodated in two ways: by defining, de jure, a system in which there was equality of opportunity for eventualø inclusion, or by redrawing the boundaries of membership so that some persons or groups were defined, de facto, outside the public sphere by virtue of their deviance from those "natural" or innate human attributes that equipped one to earn eligibility. Historically, of course, boundaries were drawn so as to exclude whole social categories--racial, national, gender, and class--that were deemed "residual" elements of the social order. At the time of emancipation, however, the operative assumption among the relevant elites was that all men were capable of taking advantage of putatively equal opportunities for acquiring the property, education, or skills that would admit them to the public sphere.
This secular faith notwithstanding, the transition from a slave to a free society eventually exposed the contradictions in liberal ideology, which found expression in the colonial bureaucracy's efforts to formulate emancipation policy. The formation of a free society first required the creation of persons with bourgeois values, which in turn implied state intrusions of totalitarian dimensions into the social sphere. But the policies actually pursued--involving reforms in education, taxation, and labor recruitment--employed indirect rather than direct means to achieve these ends, and, consistent with their ideological presumptions, policymakers undervalued the force of culture and class as factors shaping human desire and social relations. Moreover, there was a blatant contradiction between the notion that workers would imitate the bourgeois private sphere and the planters' demand to control the labor of whole families. These contradictions undercut British designs for a liberal democratic society; the policies failed either to remake slaves into a contented proletariat or to turn slaveowners into bourgeois employers. Out of these failures emerged racist reformulations of the founding liberal doctrine, which elided its inherent contradictions. In the process of trying to envision and legislate how, in Governor Harris's trenchant phrases, a society might be formed as well as a race freed, British policymakers thus exposed both the nature and the limits of their vision.
Liberal Democracy and Emancipation in Jamaica
Skepticism about applying liberal democratic theory to the problem of emancipation--or at least about the mode of application--was a muted oppositional theme in Britain's colonial policy deliberations almost from the outset. Almost concurrently with Glenelg's policy declaration of "full equality," a former Jamaican governor and absentee planter, the Marquis of Sligo, pointed out the pitfalls in achieving a full social transformation in that island under such auspices.
In truth, there is no justice in the general local institutions of Jamaica; because there is no public opinion to which an appeal can be made. Slavery has divided society into two classes; to one it has given power, but to the other it has not extended protection. One of these classes is above public opinion, and the other is below it; neither are, therefore, under its influence; and it is much to be feared, that owing to the want of sympathy between them, to the want of dependence and mutual confidence, to the poorer class being able to provide for the necessities of life without any application to the higher, there never will be in Jamaica, or in any other slave colony, a community of feeling on which public opinion can operate beneficially.
That the aristocratic Sligo offered an analysis of the Jamaican social order replete with the dogma of classical liberalism suggests how hegemonic, even commonplace, such notions had become by the late 1830s. But his doubts about the practical applications of liberal doctrine under Jamaican social conditions expose its general underlying contradictions as well. Sligo recognized that a disinterested public opinion was an essential arbiter among competing interests in a modern society. Such opinion depended, however, on the existence of a public sphere constituted by educated, propertied, private individuals who could engage in what Habermas would describe as a nonantagonistic, rational debate, which was the only avenue to truth and a sound, unbiased public policy. No such public sphere, and thus no "publicity," existed in Jamaica because slavery had produced a society divided into the powerful and the unprotected, the one dominating the public sphere, the other outside it. Neither was reachable by reasoned opinion, and consequently there was no social basis within the society for political legitimacy. It was a situation that imperiled any effort at locally authorized reform. Moreover, under Jamaican conditions (i.e., the growth of its independent peasantry) there was not even the moderating effect of economic ties such as one might find in the rural areas of Britain, where one class was dependent on the other for subsistence and thus both were subject to mutual influences. Instead, two hostile classes with antagonistic interests confronted each other across a social void. The irony, of course, is that the fundamental contradiction that Sligo could see so clearly in Jamaica would soon rupture the self-confident faàade of liberal discourse in the metropolis as well.
Almost simultaneously with the appearance of Sligo's anonymous pamphlet, Henry Taylor, head of the West Indian division of the Colonial Office, wrote a very similar critique of Jamaican society--one aimed at persuading Glenelg to abandon his racially egalitarian policy and impose Crown colony rule throughout the West Indies. A veteran of the botched efforts to convince planters to ameliorate slave conditions during the 1820s as well as of the failure of the apprenticeship system to achieve a smooth transition from slavery to freedom, Taylor had concluded by 1838 that the West Indian legislative assemblies were "by their constitution and the nature of the societies for which they legislated, absolutely incompetent and unfit to deal with the new state of things." With respect to the self-governing West Indian colonies, there was an "inherent and permanent incongruity of the system [of free labor and political democracy] and the state of society." By "state of society" Taylor meant its division into antagonist sections: a black, mostly ex-slave majority; a brown, mostly freeborn plurality; and a white, planter-dominated minority. Under a democratic system, the black majority should rule but was not enabled by education to do so; the brown plurality could rule but was disqualified by alienation from the two other social sectors from doing so; the white oligarchy should not rule, but undoubtedly would. Since the planters could not be convinced by argument to relent in obstructing the necessary transformation of the social order and creation of a civil society, the home government should exert "at once and conclusively, a power which shall overrule all opposition and set the question at rest." In its political features, Glenelg's doctrine clearly was inappropriate in a society thus constituted, because "to force this social change, and yet to leave the political frame-work of the totally different society the same as it was, would seem even in a mere theoretical view to be in the nature of a political solecism."
The critiques of former Jamaican governor Sligo and Colonial Officer Taylor thus framed the limits of democratic reform in former slave societies. Sligo's analysis in particular couples the two core issues for British emancipation policy: on the one hand, the challenge that the transition from slavery to free labor posed to classical liberalism's well-developed economic theory; on the other, the challenge that transforming a slave hierarchy into a liberal democratic society presented to its more inchoate political doctrine. That these challenges were perceived to be interlinked suggests an answer for the question of why Glenelg's policy was proposed in the first place; the fact that that linkage soon came to be seen as perilous to social order in general helps explain its eventual abandonment. But neither Taylor nor Sligo addressed--indeed, they probably could not see--the general contradiction inherent in seeking the legitimacy of democratic rule in a social order ultimately dependent on economic and social inequalities; rather, the "solecism" they saw was the coupling of these imperatives in former slave societies where the public sphere was as yet undeveloped.
Although these dissents from, or reservations about, Glenelg's doctrine remained suppressed themes that would not emerge full-blown until the end of the following decade, they highlighted a polarity that framed a profound though muted tension in policymaking from the very outset. At every level, officials charged with managing the transition from slavery to free labor and building a democratic society were conscious of the functional linkage between the diverse spheres of social relations. Even as Sligo was writing his pamphlet, Special Magistrate Richard Chamberlaine, a native-born Afro-Jamaican, was explaining classical liberal economic doctrine to the newly freed people of St. Thomas-in-the-East, gathered on 1 August 1838 to celebrate their emancipation and the ending of apprenticeship. Chamberlaine wanted them to understand the brave new world they were about to enter, especially the "duties and responsibilities of a rational and unfettered freedom" and their special obligation to prove "that black men are as susceptible of the value and responsibility of freedom as any other race of human beings." Interestingly enough, in the course of this explanation, he made explicit the dependence of civil and public arenas on the proper functioning of an intimate sphere.
In order to meet their responsibilities to enslaved blacks elsewhere, Chamberlaine argued, Jamaican freedmen must remain on the plantations, working diligently for their former masters. They would do this not because of slavish deference, however, nor simply because the survival of the sugar estates required it. Rather, Chamberlaine was confident that their labor would be motivated by refinements in their tastes and expansion of their desires for material goods. No longer content with the crude subsistence of the slave, "a pot of coco soup and herring tail," they would acquire new needs and desires, discovering in the process the iron law that bound the social world to the economic, and the market in goods to the market in labor:
Your wives and your daughters will require their fine clothes for their chapels, churches, and holidays. You will visit your friends with your coat and your shoes, and you will require your dinners prepared for you with some respect to comfort and cleanliness; your soup will be seasoned with beef and pork; and in order to obtain these, the comforts and necessaries of civilized life, you will have to labour industriously--for the more work you do, the more money you must obtain, and the better will you be enabled to increase and extend your comforts.
This passage suggests that one could not appeal to autonomous individuals for ever-expanding expenditures of labor power solely on the basis of their ostensibly innate desires for self-aggrandizement; labor beyond what was necessary to acquire a subsistence required other incentives than the mere material. It was this circle of dependents, "wives and daughters," that moved men to labor beyond the minimum. At the heart of Chamberlaine's message, therefore, was a veritable word picture of an ideal bourgeois domestic scene:
Your wives, hitherto accustomed to be partakers in your daily toils, running to the fields with you in the morning, and returning with you down-spirited and dejected at sun set day by day, bringing no alleviations, will be enabled to remain at home, to look after your clothes, and your children's clothes--your household affairs--your stock--your comfortable dinner, so that whilst you are at work at the field, as the day advances, instead of lagging in your work, you are more cheerful, more industrious, because moving in the certainty of finding every thing comfortable when you get home.
One of the boons of freedom, then, would be this newfound prospect of establishing gendered spheres of activity and authority. Freedmen should remain on the plantations, working for wages to support freedwomen and children at home, who in turn would be dependent and subservient. In the refuge of his home the workingman was served, obeyed, and nurtured. By Chamberlaine's reckoning, this domestic hierarchy and dependence was a key incentive for the freedmen's willing acquiescence to the principles of a bourgeois social order, namely, personal accumulation and deference to proper authority.
Furthermore, he argued, freedmen, though reputedly able to satisfy their basic needs by working just two days each week, should work the other four days as well in order to accumulate savings "for the winter of your days, when you will have no master's bounty or humanity to appeal to." And even as they foreswore paternal dependence on the propertied classes, they should affirm that men without masters must still defer to their betters. All were now "as free as the Queen," and no man was more "free than another," but still it was necessary "for the purposes of civilized society, that there should be gradations of rank in all communities." Freedmen must be civil, respectful, and obedient not only to their masters, but to all in authority over them. The claims of deference and authority were thus extended from the domestic fireside to the public sphere.
Chamberlaine's address assumes, much as Habermas suggests, a very specific subjectivity: that wage-earning men were formed and motivated by the privileges, dependency, and emotional sustenance of the domestic hearth. Assumed also, as Fraser argues, is a thoroughly gendered notion of the respective roles of worker and consumer.
Although this vision was a replica of the ongoing creation of European bourgeois society, its special force in the West Indies probably owed a great deal to that region's fearful counterexample, the Haitian nightmare of former slaves succumbing to an African savagery. This was the image that Henry Taylor had invoked in 1833 when he urged the cabinet to implement emancipation gradually through an apprenticeship system designed to prepare slaves for wage labor. It was also a recurring image in governors' correspondence and travelers' diaries. The fear, as historian James Anthony Froude phrased it in the late 1880s, was that "in a few generations they will peel off such civilisation as they have learnt as easily and as willingly as their coats and trousers." What Chamberlaine described, then, was a process that, in both senses of the word, domesticated savage instincts.
The image of menacing savagery also lurked behind Colonial Secretary Glenelg's other major policy declaration of the late 1830s. Early in 1836, he forwarded to all the West Indian governors a dispatch addressing the problem anticipated with controlling land settlement by freed people after apprenticeship. He began by noting that during slavery, labor could be compelled to be applied wherever the owner desired. But, upon the end of apprenticeship, the laborer would apply himself only to those tasks that promised personal benefit. Therefore, if the cultivation of sugar and coffee were to continue, "we must make it the immediate and apparent interest of the negro population to employ their labour in raising them." Glenelg was apprehensive about their ability to do this, repeating the now familiar Wakefieldian maxim that given the demographic patterns of former slave colonies such as Jamaica--"where there is land enough to yield an abundant subsistence to the whole population in return for slight labour"--blacks would not work for wages. Eventually, a proper equilibrium between land and labor would be established by the inexorable flywheel of natural forces that govern the social order, that is, population growth, but the colonies could not afford the luxury of waiting.
Should things be left to their natural course, labour would not be attracted to the cultivation of exportable produce, until population began to press upon the means of subsistence, and the land failed (without a more assiduous and economical culture) to supply all its occupants with the necessaries of life. As soon as the natural labouring population should thus arise and the growing necessity of making the most of the land should ensure the proper application of their labour, it might be expected that the present staples would again be brought into cultivation. But the depreciation which would take place in property, and the rude state into which society would fall back in the mean time, make it desirable to adopt measures to check this apparently natural course.
Having conceded that the freedpeople's prospective behavior, by Wakefieldian and Malthusian dicta, was natural, Glenelg went on to prescribe the means by which the government would interdict these natural proclivities: it was essential that the former slaves be prevented from obtaining land. While he was uncertain how to proceed with the land that was already in private hands, he recommended that persons without land titles be excluded from occupying Crown lands and that the price be raised so as to keep those lands "out of the reach of persons without capital." Following a policy successfully employed in Canada and Australia during this period, Glenelg recommended that a minimum price be set for all Crown land, that it be sold only to the highest bidder, and that a 10 percent down payment be required for purchase. Furthermore, he recommended that an investigation be launched immediately into the means by which squatters could be prevented from occupying public land.
Lord Glenelg offered the following arguments to justify these extraordinary steps to constrain the free enterprise of the freedpeople. First, the prosperity of any society depended upon maintaining an appropriate balance between labor supply and demand. If that definition of social utility were accepted, then it followed that government intervention was justified to establish conditions for its realization. "In new countries, where the whole unoccupied territory belongs to the Crown, and settlers are continually flowing in, it is possible, by fixing the price of fresh land so high as to place it above the reach of the poorest class of settlers, to keep the labour market in its most prosperous state from the beginning." With this policy the government not only assured an adequate supply of landless laborers to the estates but also boosted the value of land, which in turn would make "it more profitable to cultivate old land well than to purchase new." But the ultimate goal of these economic maneuvers was moral: to domesticate "natural" desires and behavior, to hold safe the boundary between civilized life and a Hobbesian jungle.
The natural tendency of the population to spread over the surface of the country, each man settling where he may, or roving from place to place in pursuit of virgin soil, is thus impeded. The territory, expanding only with the pressure of population, is commensurate with the actual wants of the entire community. Society, being thus kept together, is more open to civilizing influences, more directly under the control of Government, more full of the activity which is inspired by common wants, and the strength which is derived from the division of labour; and altogether is in a sound state, morally, politically and economically, than if left to pursue its natural course.
Thus Glenelg's policy was intended to prevent situations such as those Henry Taylor had conjured up in his 1833 memorandum--scattered villages of former slaves descending rapidly into "savage sloth"--and to foster domestic scenes like the one Chamberlaine described. Glenelg hastened to add, however, that the government's policy was not intended to favor one class over another. The object of the government was not to force the freedpeople to stay on the plantations by depriving them of alternative employment, "but merely to condense and keep together the population in such a manner that it may always contain a due proportion of labourers." Since "the most profitable produce will always afford the highest wages, and the highest wages will always draw the largest supply of labour," the government should not discourage the cultivation of nonplantation crops. "But some security should if possible be taken, that all the territory which is cultivated at all shall be cultivated well. The minimum price of land, therefore, should be high enough to leave a considerable portion of the population unable to buy it until they have saved some capital out of the wages of their industry, and at the same time low enough to encourage such savings by making the possession of land a reasonable object of ambition to all." Thus men hungry for land would first have to be desirous of capital and anxious to accumulate it. Presumably, such men would also be inclined to protect capital accumulation in general. Indeed, it was possibly this latter effect that glossed over--or perhaps resolved--the other glaring contradiction in liberal policy and thought: that a proletariat motivated by bourgeois values and incentives would remain contentedly proletarian.
Clearly Glenelg was also searching for a way to reconcile, rhetorically at least, draconian state intervention with the requirements of the doctrine of full civil equality, which he would articulate just a few months later. His argument exposed, however, the necessary tension between elaborating policy according to the requirements of a liberal doctrine premised on ostensibly natural and innate human desires in a social order premised on material inequality. Natural or not, such desires had to be channeled if social order were to be preserved; this in turn required embracing the necessity for forceful intervention to fashion and reproduce the subjects that the new social order required. Like Magistrate Chamberlaine, Glenelg also envisioned a social order founded on a collectivity of bourgeois-aspiring men; the role of the state was to foster the conditions and institutions that would produce such men.
The Original "White Man's Burden": Fashioning Ex-slaves into Bourgeois Subjects
Glenelg's dilemma prefigured the policy conflicts of the first decade of emancipation. Over that decade both Conservative and Liberal administrations at the Colonial Office invoked the tenets, or at least the language, of bourgeois political economy. It was clear to all, moreover, that bourgeois freedom could not have an immaculate conception; the state must plant and nurture its seed. Indeed, the Jamaican administration of Lord Elgin (1842-46), a Tory appointee, was perhaps the most exemplary of contemporary liberalism. Elgin arrived on the island convinced that the manner in which Britain shepherded its transformation from a slave to a free society would set an example for the world. There was a close connection "between the course of Policy which ought to be pursued here and the interests of Christian civilization both within the Island and beyond it."
Unhesitatingly, therefore, Elgin took up Glenelg's doctrine that it was Britain's obligation to raise the emancipated slave morally, intellectually, and socially as well as to obliterate racial animosities. Consistent with classical liberal theory, he saw material prosperity and moral progress as mutually interactive and inseparable. Recognizing the fundamental division of Jamaican society along class lines--between planters and their retainers on the one side and freedpeople and their supporters on the other--he argued that the main cause of the island's problems was the incomplete deprivation of the means of production from its potential working class. Or, as Sligo had put it, "the poorer class [was] able to provide for the necessities of life without any application to the higher." In the fashion of a classic nineteenth-century liberal, however, Elgin contended that the interests of both classes were in fact compatible and mutual. The solution, therefore, was to find "common ground" on which to found "a scheme of policy sufficiently progressive to contribute towards the development of that new order of social relations into which the materials supplied by Emancipation were about to arrange themselves." The role of government was to get the conflicting parties to recognize their mutual interests, and this would assure prosperity. Thus, having acknowledged class, Elgin sought to deny the incompatibility of antagonistic class interests.
Repeating the standard formula of the day, Elgin insisted that "civilization" would stimulate tastes and habits in the black worker that could only be satisfied with a monetary income. Indeed, his very first tour of the island had convinced him that "civilization, the spread of knowledge, habits of greater expense in respect of living, dress and dwellings, will conspire to render a relapse to a former and lower condition distasteful and I trust improbable." It followed that "the improvement of the negro is the first interest of the Planter."
Planters would have to reform, too. They must be "weaned" away from the coercive management and wasteful cultivation techniques characteristic of slavery. With an abundance of cheap land, it would be impossible to coerce labor by means of immigration or similar measures. Elgin was convinced that the adoption of scientific agricultural practices by the planters and industrial education for the blacks would make the mutual dependence of worker and employer self-evident. Innovation and scientific agricultural practices would call, in turn, for higher skills and intelligence from the laborer and "redeem the pursuits of the husbandman from the discredit into which they had fallen as the avocation of slaves, and thus enlist the hearty co-operation" of friends of the blacks.
Laborers resisted innovation because "they are in some quarters keenly alive to the effect which the proposed change of system may have in reducing the value of their labor." Industrial schools would overcome their opposition by creating "a feeling favorable to the subject by presenting it to the Public in its most attractive guise as connected with questions of scientific and practical interest." Such education would provide a practical "illustration of that coincidence between the material interests of one class and the moral interests of another, the recognition of which is an indispensable condition to social progress in these communities."
Elgin's views were not without seconders among the planter class. Recently arrived from England to superintend his Jamaican properties, John Blagrove jotted into his diary an analysis not entirely dissimilar. He began, predictably, with the declaration that immigration was essential to create labor competition and thereby bring costs down. But he also recognized that the impact of immigration would not be evident for generations hence, after natural increase of the population and acculturation had done their work. "Upon this score--combined with religious & temporal instruction, the promotion of marriage, and increased desire of industrious habits--Jamaica I conceive will yet hold up its head. The present prospects are far from flattering however. Still I see no reason to dispair--by the [illegibleø] assistance & desire of both black & white to conduce to the welfare of one & the other--to lay aside all recollection of Olden Times--& each & all to remember that as Human-beings we are dependent one on the other." Meanwhile, staple production would increase "in proportion [to] the ideas & wants of Jamaica's indigenous 'habitants." Like Elgin, Blagrove was convinced that the moral and religious education of the blacks was vital to the planters' interests.
Meanwhile, the planter-dominated Jamaica Assembly, in which Blagrove sat, not only approved Elgin's enthusiasm for industrial education but did so in language that reflected aspects of the metropolitan view of social order. Schools that coupled labor with moral instruction would be especially useful, the assembly thought, in stimulating the necessary moral regeneration of the workers.
[W]hat has hitherto been defective in the parent ought to be supplied in the tuition of the child; There can be little doubt that these deficiencies in a large and important class of our population are produced in a great degree by an injurious absence of parental guidance and control. At a maturer age these must infallibly result in the want of due appreciation of the restraints of social order; of the advantages of a steady pursuit of domestic happiness and comfort through a course of usefulness; and of a proper understanding of those relative interests in the fair rewards of labour which identify individual with general prosperity.
In this passage, of course, the planters also expressed their skepticism about seeing these citizen-making functions carried out within the freedmen's private households. In time that skepticism would be found among special magistrates and other colonial officials as well, providing common ground for a future agreement to abandon democratic practice.
At this juncture, however, the issue was already moot, because agreement on first principles did not lead to an agreement on an effective educational system. Most of the planters educated their children in England or in private schools on the island and thus were not themselves beneficiaries of the public system; it is also likely that, like planters elsewhere in the Americas, some feared the uncertain effects of education on their labor supply. Consequently, schools remained underfunded and underdeveloped largely because of the planters' resistance to providing adequate funding. Not until six years after emancipation was any significant local public effort made to organize and fund a public education system for the black majority. About Ï1,000 was appropriated in 1844 to finance public education through grants to existing parochial schools, but the system--if it can be called that--remained underfunded and served only a minority of the island's eligible youth. An 1847 report counted 178 schools with a total enrollment of 14,532, which amounted to about 20 percent of the eligible children in a school-age population estimated to be 75,558.
Public schooling also suffered because the Baptist missionaries, whose schools enrolled the majority of freedpeople's children, strongly resisted industrial schools, seeing them as little more than new instruments of planter coercion. Thus the Baptists declined public financial assistance, as did the Church Missionary Society, the Roman Catholics, and the Jewish congregations. Only the Methodists, Presbyterians, Moravians, and the American Congregationalists accepted state funding. By the mid-1850s, therefore, education was declared to be "at its lowest grasp," with "scarcely half as many children receiving instruction as had done so the year before." By 1858 Jamaica had spent about ten times more on the immigration of indentured laborers (Ï231,488) than on public schools.
Much like this debate over industrial education, there followed a series of similar conflicts--over state-funded recruitment of indentured labor, allocation of the tax burden between working and owning classes, and developing systems for the administration of justice--in which notions of liberal statecraft floundered on the shoals of real politics. Whatever "mutuality of interests" planters and freedpeople theoretically shared broke down when decisions were required about specific allocations of scarce resources, rights, and powers. The victims of social inequities sought immediate solutions, which those who benefited from the inequities sought to deny.
But British policymakers not only failed to account for class conflict in their model for democratic reform, they also failed to recognize the extent and power of competing, alternative spheres of publicity in Jamaican life. In their churches, villages, and communities, Jamaican freedpeople nurtured an alternative worldview that proved more resistant to "reformation" than colonial officials had originally foreseen. Consequently, the fashioning of bourgeois man proved a more daunting task than first envisioned. But even as these competing social arenas came gradually into view, they were distorted and misread in official circles. By the time Earl Grey's letter warning of the dangers involved in full political equality was written, official discourse was strongly marked by disgust with the Afro-Jamaicans' "lack of moral progress."
Concurrently with the publication of Thomas Carlyle's infamous "Discourses on the Nigger Question" in 1849, there emerged an official rhetoric indicting the freedpeople's work ethic, family life, and sexuality, sometimes even their very humanity, all part of a general condemnation of their capacity to participate in civil society on the same basis as whites. Thus, even while acknowledging that the prevailing low wages offered "no inducement to the more independent class of people to work on estates," many Jamaican officials insisted that blacks were somehow at fault: "The people betake themselves to the mountains, buy an acre of land, and squat on it. Indolence begets its certain inheritances. We know the rest." The "rest," according to Governor Henry Barkly, writing in 1856 in language reminiscent of Henry Taylor's nightmarish prognosis of 1833, was a dangerously isolated peasantry. Many blacks did not even see whites from one year to the next, Barkly wrote, and obeah practices and other African superstitions and religious beliefs were encouraged by their isolation. During that very year, in fact, colored assemblyman John Castello introduced legislation outlawing obeah, which soon became law.
Thus, despite all evidence to the contrary, there arose the stereotype of "Quashee"--lazy, morally degenerate, licentious, and heedless of the future. By the mid-1850s this characterization laced the special magistrates' reports: the peasantry was unaffected by the moral sanctions of the larger society and adhered to an alternative moral system, it was claimed; for them no shame, but rather a kind of celebrity, attached to criminal convicts, who returned to their communities without stigma. "I regret to state," Special Magistrate Alexander Fyfe reported in 1854, "that I see little improvement in the laboring classes. They work for no prospective or moral object, the incentive is entirely present and physical. They are improvident, reckless of life, and almost indifferent to the ties of kindred. They are scarce grateful for charity in sickness, and whilst they will lavish pounds on a funeral, they grudge a shilling for the medicine which might avert it. Disease entails trouble, death is followed by merriment and feasting." Another magistrate, Robert Emery, added: "Their march back to barbarism has been rapid and successful."
When in 1864 a group of black peasant farmers petitioned Jamaican governor Edward John Eyre for land reform and justice in the local courts, he advised them that the solutions to their problems were moral reformation, piety, and propriety. They must improve in "social habits and in domestic comfort, as well as in material prosperity." They required larger houses so that they could "distribute their families in separate sleeping rooms at night." They must attend more "to their ordinary daily dress, rather than sacrifice that to grand displays on Sundays." The remedy for the larceny of their crops depended upon their own moral choices: they must "improve in civilization," and they must educate their children in religion, industry, and respectability, "both by example and precept."
Though his Victorian platitudes were less than helpful to distressed Afro-Jamaicans, Governor Eyre's address received a favorable reception at the Colonial Office. Indeed, just a year later Henry Taylor drafted a comparable reply to a similar petition, revealing in the process amazing callousness and an obtuse disregard of Jamaican realities. Taylor's response, styled the "Queen's Advice," amounted to a short lecture on classical economics. He advised the land-hungry petitioners that
the prosperity of the Labouring Classes, as well as of all other Classes, depends, in Jamaica, and in other Countries, upon their working for Wages, not uncertainly, or capriciously, but steadily and continuously, at the times when their labour is wanted, and for so long as it is wanted; and if they would use this industry, and thereby render the Plantations productive, they would enable the Planters to pay them higher Wages for the same hours of work than are received by the best Field Labourers in this country; and as the cost of the necessaries of life is much less in Jamaica than it is here, they would be enabled, by adding prudence to industry, to lay by an ample provision for seasons of drought and dearth; and they may be assured, that it is from their own industry and prudence, in availing themselves of the means of prospering that are before them, and not from any such schemes as have been suggested to them, that they must look for an improvement in their condition; and that her Majesty will regard with interest and satisfaction their advancement through their own merits and efforts.
Such determined unresponsiveness by colonial officials at all levels fed a popular discontent that exploded later that year in a bloody rebellion at Morant Bay. Shortly afterward, the British Parliament abolished self-government in Jamaica, acting in response to arguments that Afro-Jamaicans were, as Earl Grey put it to the House of Lords during the debate, "unfit to exercise political power."
It is striking, however, that the Afro-Jamaicans' "unfitness" was coupled with--indeed, was seen to be rooted in--the failure of their households and conjugal arrangements. In the debate, Grey's proposal to strip Jamaicans of political rights was immediately followed by Lord Lyttelton's complaint that "of all the deplorable features exhibited by the Jamaica [parliamentary] papers the most distressing was that describing the demoralized state of the people, especially as regards those in the matrimonial state." Until that was remedied, "no mere political arrangement could confer the least benefit upon the people of Jamaica." It was almost as if a thirty-year discussion had been brought full circle. The earlier debates over the wisdom of slavery emancipation had posited optimism about the "Negro's character," or, more precisely, about the mutability of that character, as grounds for the emancipation experiment. Thirty years later--as the simultaneity of Grey's and Lyttelton's pronouncements confirmed--Britain's Afro-Jamaican subjects were still answerable to a moral and political order that Britons defined. On this occasion, however, they were found falling short of that standard. Their public deficiencies grew out of their private failings, which made them legitimate objects of British hegemony for the foreseeable future.
Thus the Morant Bay Rebellion was taken as an explicit demonstration of the failure of British emancipation policy and as evidence of the former slaves' incapacity for responsible citizenship. The moral contract of emancipation as Glenelg had conceived it would be altered. But it would not be Britain's particular articulation of liberal democracy that was deemed faulty; rather, it was the supposed deficiencies of its beneficiaries. Consequently, the perceived failure of West Indian emancipation resonated with and helped sustain the rise of a virulent official racism, which in turn helped give shape and focus to the racial thought of the larger public. In the rhetorical iconography of the late nineteenth century, people of color were invariably stigmatized as underworked and oversexed, their material interests or drives unaroused while their libidos were out of control. A common theme running through racist thought was that "the natives" had no inner controls and thus required external controllers. Wayward children of the human family, they became fit subjects for a "beneficent despotism." Projected to the world stage, beneficent despotism became "the white man's burden," both justification for and the putative substance of his imperialist adventures.
There is an obvious resonance between the racial justifications for the retreat from the more optimistic hopes of the British emancipation experiment and the subsequent discursive justifications of imperialism; not least of these is that "Quashee" bears a striking resemblance to those characteristics later cataloged under "the peculiarity of the African." Of course, as Frederick Cooper points out below, there was a curious amnesia among twentieth-century European imperialists about that earlier experiment and its implications. Their amnesia should not distract us, however, from grasping both the radical import of nineteenth-century slavery emancipation and the wide-ranging consequences of its flaws. Not only in the British West Indies, but also, as Rebecca Scott shows below, in the United States and Cuba, the abolition of slavery opened space for discussions about a radical transformation of society that entailed much more than the mere manumission of slave laborers. In each case slave emancipation involved potential revisions of the social contract that bound the society together, revisions that embraced--however briefly or ambivalently--aspects of Glenelg's racially egalitarian doctrine. In two of those cases, of course, the broader revisions were incident to revolutionary military conflict; civil wars summoned up visions of a very different civil society. But, as suggested above, the mutual implications of emancipation and the larger social transformations were also rooted in extensive ideological transformations during the nineteenth century.
Recent work in the United States, for example, suggests not only that an ideological revolution was under way in public thought and policy relating to the connections between labor, gender, and domesticity during the emancipation and immediate postemancipation eras, but that it was often specifically linked to the problems and aftermath of slavery emancipation. Other studies go further in linking ideologies and social structures relating to gender roles and identities directly to postemancipation politics and access to the public sphere.ø In sum, all of these works suggest the centrality of ideologies about gender, households, and domesticity to constituting Anglo-American social orders more generally and political order in particular.
The experience of Jamaican freedpeople suggests, however, even more profound contradictions in the ongoing nineteenth-century efforts to reconstruct the social order. Emblematic of many of those contradictions was the treadmill, a device originally designed for British prisons but introduced into the West Indies during the apprenticeship period to "discipline" refractory workers in lieu of the now banned whip. The treadmill consisted of wooden steps around a hollow cylinder on which a prisoner was made to step as the mechanism turned. The effect was to make the prisoner "work." It was, of course, work disembodied of any material object or product and managed by the state rather than a private employer. The prisoners committed to "the workhouses" were apprentices who refused to work on the plantations under the conditions prescribed by the apprenticeship system established by the Abolition Act of 1833. The treadmill was intended, therefore, not simply to punish the workers but to reform them.
Most discussions of emancipation policy--in Britain as elsewhere--picture these workers as male. It is evident, however, that most of the inmates portrayed in the treadmill illustration seen here are female. This is consistent with contemporary discussions and official reports, which invariably portray women as the most rebellious and refractory workers. The fact is that in Jamaica, as in many other slave societies, women constituted the core of the field labor force, especially on sugar plantations. Consequently, in striking contrast to the emancipators' discursive construction of the slave worker as male, slave women were necessarily the principal targets of any effort to instill work discipline in free laborers.
The reality portrayed in the treadmill scene, therefore, not only contrasts sharply with the rhetoric of domestic reformation that pervaded classical liberal ideology and emancipation policy, it underscores one of the fundamental contradictions between the two. The plantations were dependent not simply on proletarian labor but on a female proletariat. The bourgeois domestic scene that Special Magistrate Chamberlaine described, with the dutiful wife preparing supper as the male head of the household made his way home, was at odds with that reality--and, indeed, at odds as well with the state's efforts to achieve a more coercive reformation in the workhouses. Jamaican freedpeople, like those in many other former slave societies, attempted to work a very different social transformation, building on alternative conceptions of gender roles and identities, of family and community. In their view, what lay beyond slavery was a world different not only from bondage but also from the "freedom" sketched in liberal democratic ideologies. Their eventual fate was thus a double tragedy: not only was that alternative worldview denied the political and social space necessary for its realization, but this failure provided the opening for a vicious racism that compromised the efforts of future generations as well.
"Since the publication of the truly pathbreaking books by Frank Tannenbaum and Kenneth Stampp, following World War II, our understanding of New World slavery has been revolutionized by literally thousands of well-researched books and scholarly articles. Yet only a few historians have turned to serious investigations of the meaning of emancipation and the longer-term consequences of racial slavery. Frederick Cooper (for Africa), Thomas C. Holt (for the British West Indies), and Rebecca J. Scott (for Cuba and Louisiana) are the most imaginative pioneers of this scholarship. Their new collaborative work will be essential reading for everyone interested in racial slavery and its intercontinental legacies."
--David Brion Davis, Yale University
"Race, nationality, citizenship, freedom; Cooper, Holt, and Scott; big questions; accomplished scholars; innovative and compelling history. Beyond Slavery is an extraordinary book of breathtaking scope that addresses matters of signal importance."
--Ira Berlin, University of Maryland at College Park
"The essays found here fit neatly together, and the challenge they pose to postmodernist conceptions of the constitutive power of discourse engages directly with recent lively debates among historians. The book will be of great interest to everyone concerned with race, class, and modern intellectual history."
--David Montgomery, Yale University
University of North Carolina Press Web Site, April, 2001
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