David Brion Davis

American historian

David Brion Davis (February 16, 1927 – April 14, 2019) was an American intellectual and cultural historian, and a leading authority on slavery and abolition in the Western world. He was a Sterling Professor of History at Yale University, and founder and director of Yale's Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition.


  • Writing home in 1946, he told his parents that he wanted to study history because he hoped that a knowledge of the past might “make people stop and think before blindly following some bigoted group to make the world safe for Aryans, Democrats or Mississippians.”
  • Nothing is proved by the expectation of some Northerners that the clause would eventually put an end to slavery, for there was widespread confusion of "slavery" with the "slave trade." Both American and British abolitionists assumed that an end to slave imports would lead automatically to the amelioration and gradual abolition of slavery.
    • The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823, page 129. [2]
  • One cannot question the genuineness of Jefferson’s liberal dreams. He was one of the first statesmen in any part of the world to advocate concrete measures for restricting and eradicating Negro slavery.

Quotes about Davis

  • The historian Eric Foner said of him, “No one did more to inspire the revolution in historical understanding that places slavery at the center of American history and indeed the history of the West.” [3]
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