America’s Long Struggle against Slavery

Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Longest Struggle I bought this program to downloaded this on to my iPad and take on vacation, I was unable to watch as difficult if not impossible to download. I wish I had gotten disc instead.
Date published: 2020-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Powerful course This was a powerful course. My only complaint is the lack of objectivity at the end. While I probably agree with everything the professor said I'd prefer to let the record speak for itself. Certain sections were memorable and provoking, eg the relationship between Thistlewood and the enormous number of women he assaulted. I came back to this course to look up those up details about Phibbah for a different context. The professor was passionate and seemed knowledgeable. He presented his case in a systemic way. I don't know what anyone could want from a single history course unless they have an axe to grind. Free free to balance his point of view with others. For an important topic, as everyone can agree American slavery is, everyone should feel obligated to do so.
Date published: 2020-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation from an outsider looking in I watched this course on the Great Courses Plus. Many of the positive reviews echo my opinions. It is hard to understand the critics who say "biased". How are you "biased" about the history of slavery. Some information he left out I think would have been important. I have two books on the History of Indian Slavery. One Third of the slaves on SC plantations in the early 18th century were Indians. Often Indians were sold in the West Indies or traded there three Indians for two Africans. Many of the prisoners taken in King Phillip's War were sold into slavery. It also may have been interesting to cover the Barbary Pirates. While eleven million Africans were taken to the America, many were also taken by Muslim pirates to the Middle East, especially Iraq. And over one million Europeans were taken to North Africa and the Middle East and sold as slaves. But overall this is an important course especially in this day and age.
Date published: 2020-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exemplary I am currently on lecture number 12, Professor Bell is a fantastic orator, The in depth knowledge I have gained has far exceed my expectations. I highly endorse this course for anyone with a passion for the American Revolution. It is an intense course on the issue of slavery during the period.
Date published: 2020-08-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Biased presentation and glosses over many facts Generally the course was informative in that I learned a lot about slavery but the bias in the presentation was screaming from the very beginning. The instructor clearly had an agenda which unfortunately got in his way of presenting a balanced understanding of the subject. Coming from a Yankee with an ancestor that was starved to death and is buried in Andersonville I am sure there is no one around anymore that advocates for slavery but we do want to understand why it occurred and what the issues were on both sides. The professor failed miserably at this objective if indeed it was his objective. There was little to no discussion of why the need for trans Atlantic slavery started in the first place, no comment at all about the cost of the slaves, no discussion at all about the immense amount of money the slave owners had tied up in their slave inventory, no discussion about how most of these plantations were teetering on insolvency. These economic issues were of paramount importance as to why slavery existed then, and also why slavery still exist today. The professor completely ignored these issues and turned most of the lectures into a rant rather than a course. One glaring example was his backhanded slap at the Great Emancipator, Lincoln by truncating his quote just to promote his agenda. He quotes Lincoln only as saying, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it.” The actual quote is, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.". Abraham Lincoln's Letter to Horace Greeley This is just one small example of what awaits you in this course. Basically the course was informative but unbalanced and many important facts about slavery were not presented or hand waved away because of the agenda driven construct. If you want to get a balanced understanding of slavery in the America’s this course is not it.
Date published: 2020-08-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I am a Canadian with a desire to understand the "whys" of people's bias. This course is opening my eyes. It is well done. I'm learning a lot; some of which deeply saddens me enough to cause tears. I do recommend this course, in the hopes that people will be more understanding and accepting.
Date published: 2020-08-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Fatally flawed Lack of Intellectual Objectivity The presentation of facts is very useful. But when the prof gets off into reading the mind of Ben Franklin? He establishes a failure of intellectual discipline and the critical quality of disinterested evaluation. The old and very sick Ben Franklin did indeed become the leader of the Abolitionist Movement. The claim he needed any more personal social recognition is farcical. That a very sick near death and in pain Ben made no personal sacrifice to assume this position? No he repented as good Americans do. Then served. As his repentance and contrition. Ben did all he could to have others take credit for his efforts. So it was very usual he would make the hard personal sacrifice to serve as the Abolitionist leader. Yes, Abortionists burned Constitution by torch light. But this ignorance is why Fredrick Douglas broke from them. Asserting correctly as measured by outcome, that the Constitution was designed to end the contradictory birth defect of slavery. The Framers also understood economics and resulting population gains. That in time the free markets of the North would result in populations dwarfing the imperial planters of the South. Ben established he understood the Wealth of Nations before it was published. Indeed, the preoccupation of politicians was the necessity of ending the sin of slavery without a civil war. Which is why Fredrick Douglas let a rare smile slip when he said let the war come. Likewise the time delay on ending the international African slave trade. The political posturing of a backward racist politician to his base is proof of nothing. Fact is, America banned the international slave crime on the first day possible. Further, sent our very limited navy to enforce it. Thankfully in nearly all other lectures, the profs are careful to mark when they slip from disinterest to their studied reasoned opinions. Even then presenting the opposing or even majority counter position. When done properly, this is one of the most enjoyable elements of The Great Courses. Of course I believe my position is logically superior. But it is the duty of a prof to acknowledge such opposing views. As the most excellent Prof Aldrete practices in the Rise of Rome. He reintroduces all the key elements which cannot be definitively resolved. Then allows his students to reason further. Unfortunately this prof degraded into making what amounts to a legal case. Without the benefit of cross examination. It is terrible practice at any time. But most destructive at times of inflamed uninformed political emotionalism.Which our Framers rightfully feared - greatly. I wish I could award an unqualified 5 Stars as Great Course content usually deserves. But critical portions of these lectures fall far short of the discipline of disinterested instruction. This is a course which despite all the careful vetted information can not be a stand alone source of understanding. Which is a shame. The lecture should be reworked to achieve the critical element of disinterest. .
Date published: 2020-08-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Magnificent, Memorable, Masterfully Taught! This is the history of our nation’s practice of racial slavery that began in 1619, and continued (officially) for some 2 1/2 centuries. We are introduced to numerous villains, victims and heroes, often with brief bios as well as their gripping stories and actions. We become more fully aware of how our Constitution and later legislation and court decisions affected the institution of slavery, often supporting the oppressive practice and its spread. (I now have a much better understanding of the horrific impact and far-reaching implications of the US Constitution’s “Three-Fifths Clause,” which, in effect tipped in favor of slaveholding states the control of political power in all three branches of the government for decades hence). Because of the heart-wrenching subject - the oppressive state, the cruelty endured and the despair felt by millions of people and their ancestors and descendants, this is a difficult course to attend. Dr Bell’s presentment of this material is outstanding, however. He is obviously very knowledgeable, the content of his lectures is well organized, and the material, sensitive though it may be, is shared thoughtfully, straightforwardly and in the best of taste. His speech is clear and refined, well-paced, with a mild British accent (which I found to be charming and very understandable), and his tone is perfect - serious, respectful, passionate, and empathetic. The guidebook, comprehensive at 225 pages long, deserves special mention. There are 161 images, lush, generously sized, mostly period sketches in black and white (public domain), along with other portraits and some familiar artwork, augmented by 13 renderings by contemporary artist Elizabeth Witcher. The inclusion of these enchanting drawings brought the subjects / subject material to life with a vibrancy only art can provide, making the content seem more “up close and personal.” All in all, this was an outstanding course on the subject of racial slavery. The last few chapters dealt briefly with the aftermath of that institution, addressing ongoing racism and, lastly, a modern type of slavery in the form of trafficking. We need no reminders that there is much left to be done in order for our nation (or the world) to achieve genuine racial parity. Two months ago we witnessed the tragedy of George Floyd’s death. Since then we have seen a new spark in our national awareness with regards to racial relations. This course couldn’t be more timely. I would highly recommend this course and implore you to see for yourself what this course has to offer. I would also recommend, as a companion course, “A New History of the American South.” If you sometimes wonder at the racial prejudice expressed by some of our founding fathers and other prominent figures, (i.e. Thomas Jefferson), I would suggest that you consider reading the book, “Stamped From The Beginning,” a brilliant work by Ibram X Kendi - an exhaustive study of the beginnings and history of racism. It answered a lot of questions for me. For now, I thank Dr Bell for his awesome contribution to our better understanding of slavery and racial issues. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to take this course.
Date published: 2020-07-28
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America’s Long Struggle against Slavery
Course Trailer
Understanding the Fight against Slavery
1: Understanding the Fight against Slavery

Begin your course with an exploration of the long war against slavery, which began centuries before the American Civil War. Professor Bell offers a survey of resistance among enslaved Africans in the 17th and 18th centuries and outlines five generational periods in the long struggle to end slavery.

25 min
Origins of Slavery in the British Empire
2: Origins of Slavery in the British Empire

Slavery in the British Empire has its roots in the trading economy of the 16th century. See how the Englishman John Hawkins cut into the Portuguese slave trade in the New World, which led to the founding of the Royal African Company, the largest slaving operation in the Atlantic.

26 min
Opposing the African Slave Trade
3: Opposing the African Slave Trade

The American slave trade began in Africa. It is an uncomfortable truth that African rulers and merchants played a hand in supplying slaves to Europeans. However, a look at the African continent also shows us the first strategies of resistance, from defensively trying to elude capture to offensive efforts to get away from the hellish confinement of European forts.

26 min
Shipboard Rebellion and Resistance
4: Shipboard Rebellion and Resistance

Leaving the continent of Africa, the second place for resistance was aboard the slave ships as they departed for the Caribbean. Although we have limited historical records, this lecture explores the suicides, runaways, and revolts on slave ships, as well as the efforts made by Europeans to control the enslaved.

29 min
A Free Black Family in Colonial Virginia
5: A Free Black Family in Colonial Virginia

Shift your attention to the Chesapeake tobacco economy in the 17th century, a time when colonial law changed in a way that would promote the slave economy. First, you will meet Anthony Johnson, a freed slave who in turn held his own slaves. Then, see how Bacon’s Rebellion paved the way for slave codes that changed the social order in Virginia.

25 min
Quakers and Puritans Join the Fight
6: Quakers and Puritans Join the Fight

Where were the moral voices among white Europeans speaking out against the heinous system of slavery? The American Quaker community had a long history of antislavery activism, from legal pamphlets to spiritual protests. Learn more about the Quaker community, its views on slavery, and its limitations in the early American economy.

29 min
Thomas Thistlewood’s Plantation Revolution
7: Thomas Thistlewood’s Plantation Revolution

One hallmark of the plantation economy in Barbados, Jamaica, and South Carolina is that black slaves outnumbered their white masters by a wide margin. As such, see how whites used dehumanizing tactics to control the slave population. Then review Tacky’s Revolt, one of the largest slave rebellions in the British Atlantic world during the 18th century.

25 min
Phibbah Thistlewood: Sleeping with the Enemy
8: Phibbah Thistlewood: Sleeping with the Enemy

Among runaway slaves, men outnumbered women nearly two to one, but that doesn’t mean women played no role in resistance. As this lecture will make clear, women practiced several strategies for resistance—critically important because of the prevalence of assault on plantations. A woman named Phibbah provides a fascinating case study.

29 min
Slave Insurrections in the 18th Century
9: Slave Insurrections in the 18th Century

Although there may have been several hundred slave uprisings in British North America and the United States, most of them were minor—or possibly even imagined by paranoid slave masters. Here, delve into the Stono Rebellion of 1739, which was the only significant armed challenge to slaveholders’ supremacy on the mainland before the 19th century.

30 min
Maroons: Those Who Escaped
10: Maroons: Those Who Escaped

Runaway slaves in Virginia and the Carolinas had limited options. They could head for the coast or down to Spanish-controlled Florida, but some runaway slaves simply disappeared into the backcountry. Find out where these “maroons” went, how they lived, and what dangers they faced if discovered.

27 min
Three Quaker Activists
11: Three Quaker Activists

Meet three important Quaker activists from the 17th and 18th centuries: a fiery hermit writer named Benjamin Lay, a shopkeeper and essayist named John Woolman, and a schoolteacher named Anthony Benezet, who set up Philadelphia’s first Free African School. Reflect on the transformation in attitudes that was occurring during the 18th century.

29 min
Slavery in the War for Independence
12: Slavery in the War for Independence

While American colonists fought for independence against their British oppressors, the war provided free and enslaved African Americans an opportunity to fight their own war against slavery. Professor Bell introduces you to black militiamen and soldiers on both sides of the Revolutionary War, and reveals the setbacks they faced after the war.

27 min
Taking Slavery to Court
13: Taking Slavery to Court

The American Revolution marked a watershed in the history of opposition to African slavery in America. In northern states, Pennsylvania led the charge in legal changes that would lead to gradual abolition. While abolition efforts failed in southern states, some individual slaves were able to strike deals with their masters for manumission.

28 min
Charles Pinckney’s Counterrevolution
14: Charles Pinckney’s Counterrevolution

While many abolition efforts started to take hold after the American Revolution, an equally powerful revolution was underway to secure the slave system. Here, you will review the reprehensible three-fifths clause and other pro-slavery measures in the 1787 Constitution, which would take antislavery activists decades to undo.

27 min
The Haitian Revolution
15: The Haitian Revolution

Between 1791 and 1804, the Haitian Revolution tore apart a French Caribbean colony. As you will learn, not only was it the single largest slave revolt in the history of the world, it was the only one that had succeeded so far. Delve into this radical and violent revolution to meet the players and uncover what happened in these 13 astonishing years.

27 min
Founding the Free Black Churches
16: Founding the Free Black Churches

There is more to fighting slavery than achieving legal liberty, a simple truth that this country’s first generation of free black leaders discovered in post-Revolutionary War northern cities. See how the expanding free black population in Philadelphia, New York, and elsewhere looked for ways to help themselves.

28 min
The Second Middle Passage
17: The Second Middle Passage

At the turn of the 19th century, social and economic conditions were shifting inside the United States, and President Jefferson signed into law an act prohibiting the importation of slaves. Learn about the mass migration of slaves from Virginia into the Deep South of Louisiana that resulted, and how this migration transformed the country.

27 min
"Our Native Country": Opposing Colonization
18: "Our Native Country": Opposing Colonization

Delve into the colonization movement, an effort that sprang to life in the 1810s to send black people from America to Africa. Consider the questions this movement posed for African Americans: Where was home? Were they African or American? Where did they belong? Investigate both sides of this controversial movement.

30 min
David Walker, Nat Turner, and Black Immediatism
19: David Walker, Nat Turner, and Black Immediatism

Writer David Walker and insurrectionist Nat Turner transformed the debate about slavery in America. Their immediate words and deeds terrorized southern slaveholders as never before and forced legislators to articulate just how far they would go to protect the institution of slavery. Meet these extraordinary men and witness their actions.

27 min
William Lloyd Garrison's "Thousand Witnesses"
20: William Lloyd Garrison's "Thousand Witnesses"

David Walker’s words and Nat Turner’s actions had a galvanizing effect upon white abolitionists, most notably William Lloyd Garrison. See how Garrison and others shifted from an attitude of slow, gradual change to a stance of immediacy. Survey an unprecedented campaign to challenge slaveholders’ moral authority in the 1830s.

26 min
Surviving King Cotton
21: Surviving King Cotton

The mass migration of the Second Middle Passage changed the nature of resistance to slavery. Responding to the threat of separation from their families and opposition to their sale to the Deep South, slaves participated in multifaceted and unrelenting resistance. Survey this struggle and these troubling times.

24 min
Roger Taney: Nationalizing Slavery
22: Roger Taney: Nationalizing Slavery

Learn about the confounding life of Roger Taney, who as a young man turned his back on his family’s tobacco plantation and manumitted many of his own slaves. Yet, as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he dramatically expanded the rights of slaveholders through infamous decisions such as Dred Scott v. Sanford.

25 min
Frederick Douglass and Aggressive Abolition
23: Frederick Douglass and Aggressive Abolition

In the wake of a financial crash in 1837, Garrison’s abolition movement was sidelined, but the 1840s and 1850s saw the rise of an even more radical and aggressive phase of American abolitionism. Meet Frederick Douglass, review his writings, and consider the depictions of suicide in antislavery writing.

24 min
Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harriet Tubman
24: Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harriet Tubman

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a blockbuster novel that depicted the flight to freedom. Consider this depiction from two very different vantages: the world of the author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the life of Harriet Tubman, who was at the center of immediate and decisive steps being taken by enslaved people.

31 min
The Black Heart of John Brown
25: The Black Heart of John Brown

John Brown’s failed raid on Harpers Ferry is one of the most famous antislavery actions before the Civil War. Who was he, and why was this raid so important? Was it an act of revolution or terrorism? Reflect on the irony that he achieved in death what he so palpably failed to achieve in life.

26 min
The Slaves' Experience of the Civil War
26: The Slaves' Experience of the Civil War

From the beginning of the war, enslaved people understood it to be a war of freedom, a war to destroy American slavery. But President Lincoln’s charge was simply to preserve the union. Find out how this tension played out on plantations and battlefields, in Congress and in the White House, during the Civil War.

25 min
US Colored Troops: Those Who Served
27: US Colored Troops: Those Who Served

Continue your study of the Civil War with a look at the role of black soldiers. Review what life was like for them in a predominantly white army, and the ill treatment many received. Then shift your attention to the role of black women during the war, many of whom served as cooks and nurses in Union hospitals. Survey the incredible wartime career of Harriet Tubman.

25 min
Fighting Slavery after Emancipation
28: Fighting Slavery after Emancipation

The end of the Civil War brought legalized slavery in the United States to an end, and 3.5 million freed slaves in the South stepped into an uncertain future. Dive into some of the many challenges Americans—white and black, southern and northern—faced in the subsequent years.

25 min
Slavery by Another Name
29: Slavery by Another Name

Although the 13th Amendment outlawed race slavery in America and the Civil War is far in the past, the legacy of slavery and the fight for equal protection and representation among black Americans has been an ongoing struggle. Reflect on the effects of Jim Crow, the civil rights movement, and the state of race relations in America today.

17 min
Fighting Modern Slavery
30: Fighting Modern Slavery

The history of the early 21st century may show racism is alive and well—but so, too, is slavery. Around the world, 20 to 40 million people are enslaved. To conclude this course, survey several case studies of slaves around the world and in the United States. What lessons can we draw from history?

22 min
Richard Bell

This course offers a different, more complicated version of America's long struggle against slavery.


Harvard University


University of Maryland, College Park

About Richard Bell

Richard Bell is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park. He holds a BA from the University of Cambridge and a PhD from Harvard University. Dr. Bell has won more than a dozen teaching awards, including the Board of Regents’ Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest honor for teaching faculty in the University System of Maryland. He has held major research fellowships at Yale University, the University of Cambridge, and the Library of Congress.


Dr. Bell serves as a trustee of the Maryland Historical Society, an elected member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He is the author or coeditor of multiple journal articles and three books: We Shall Be No More: Suicide and Self-Government in the Newly United States; Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America; and Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home, which received a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award.

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