A Southern Stewardship

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A Southern Stewardship: The Intellectual and the Proslavery Argument Author(s): Drew Gilpin Faust Source: American Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Spring, 1979), pp. 63-80 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2712487 . Accessed: 05/05/2011 17:12Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=jhup. . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

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decades before CivilWar has longpuzzledhistorians. thevery the Yet distastefulnesstheproslavery of argument intrigued has modern scholars, whohave sought understand writers thinkers-individuals to how and in manyways likethemselves-could turn their talents such abhorrent to purpose. we havetoolongregarded proslavery But the argument either as an objectofmoral outrage as a contributing oftheCivilWar.For or cause thosewhoelaborated details, hada different its it To meaning. understand howslavery's apologists cameto embrace unthinkaconclusions find we ble, we mustlook beyond polemics theslavery the of controversy. Many of the bewildering aspects of the defenseof slaveryare best as understood expressions thespecialneedsofan alienated of Southern intellectual concerned class with questions more far-reaching, insome yet waysmore immediately and of personally relevant, therights wrongs than human bondage.The Southern manof minddid notdoubtthatslavery was a social good thatcould be supported rational But by argument. in he as taking thepublicdefense thepeculiar up of institution, sought well to advance his particular a for values and to define himself respected social rolewithin culture a for known itsinhospitality letters. to that Antebellum arSoutherners themselves recognized theproslavery gument wouldachievelittle theideological in between secthe warfare tions."We think is hardly be expected,"one proslavery it to theorist concededin 1843,"thatanything which be said at thislatedate . .. can willat all diminish wrongheaded the and intolerance fanaticism perverse of the Northern This essayist'savowed aim was to do Abolitionists."









American Quarterly

defenders slavery of similarly "good servicewithin borders";other our in more hopedto "fix" thepeculiar institution "infinitely firmly thepubargulic opinion"oftheir ownsection. The importance theproslavery of civilization itself.' ment, theseSoutherners suggest, within lay Southern makeitmorethan just The proslavery argument raisesissuesthat thus not South;itmust another thepeculiarities theperennially of of enigmatic the as be seen merely evidenceof howdifferent Old Southhad become In to justificafrom restofthenation. their the attempt createa rational defenders retionforthepeculiar institutions their of slavery's section, class, butdemvealednotonlytheworld viewoftheSouth'sintellectual in onstrated existenceof widespreadsimilarities outlookamong the on line.The proslavery argument thinkers bothsidesoftheMason-Dixon assumptions shared rested intellectual on valuesand moral-philosophical America. throughout mid-nineteenth-century A number twentieth-century of to historians have sought locate the in of of amongdifferent significance thedefense slavery theinteraction B. exgroups within antebellum the South.In 1936,William Hesseltine planter win to plained movement part an effort theupper-class the as of by to suchas CharlesG. thenonslaveholder his side. Morerecent scholars havecharacterized argument an the as Sellers,Jr.and RalphE. Morrow but other groups with attempt slaveholders establish by to peace notwith contradicby themselves, alleviating by feelings guilt of created nagging tionsbetweenslavery and America'sdemocratic creed. Although both these explanations seem plausible,thereis littleevidenceto support either. of was Overt expression class resentment antagonism rareinthe or Old South;planters' personalpapersexpressfewpangsof conscience abouttheSouthern system.21 [George Frederick Holmes], "On Slavery and Christianity," Southern QuarterlyReview, 3 (Jan. 1843), 252; James Henry Hammond to Nathaniel Beverley Tucker, Feb. 23, 1849,Tucker-ColemanCollection, Earl GreggSwem Library,College of Williamand Mary, Williamsburg, WilliamGilmoreSimmsexpressed his concernwithusingthe proslavery Va. argument counteractthe indifference "our people of the South" in regardto slavery's to of defense. Simms to Hammond, Apr. 10, 1845, Mary C. S. Oliphantet al., eds., Letters of WilliamGilmore Simms, 5 vols. (Columbia, S. C.: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 19521956), 2: 50-51. On the South's general inhospitality letterssee Clement Eaton, The to Freedom-of-Thought Strugglein the Old South (New York: Harper and Row, 1964). 2 Hesseltine, "Some New Aspects of the Pro-Slavery Argument,"Journal of Negro History,21 (Jan. 1936), 1-14; Morrow,"The ProslaveryArgument Revisited," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 48 (June 1961), 79-94; Sellers, "The Travail of Slavery," in Sellers, ed., The Southerneras American (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1960), 40-71. For otherproponentsof thisview see WilliamW. Freehling, Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy South Carolina, 1816-1836 (New York: Harper and in Row, 1966); and James M. McPherson, "Slavery and Race," Perspectives in American History,3 (1969), 460-73.

A SouthernStewardship


WhileSellers,Hesseltine, and Morrowaccurately characterized the defenseof the peculiarinstitution a manifestation stresswithin as of Southern did society, they notseek to relate thesetensions thesocial to locations theapologists of themselves. 1970,however, In David Donald beganto explore social origins someof slavery's the of mostprominent defenders. "All," he found, "wereunhappy men"compensating "sefor verepersonal problems relating their to placeinSouthern society."Their proslavery tracts, concluded, he displayed longing escape thiscrisis a to ofsocialidentity returning a "by-gone by to pastoral Arcadia,"toa world had they lost.Slavery's defenders, Donaldcontended, shared pervasive a 3 "sense ofalienation." These feelings distance of from contemporary the worldare evident throughout proslavery writings. theydid notrepresent defensive But a andhopeless nostalgia. Manyproslavery advocates werehighly critical of theregion whosepeculiar institution hadsetforth justify, they they and to werefar from intheir consistently backward-looking views.James Henry Hammondand WilliamGilmoreSimms,two of Donald's prominent examples, thatSouthCarolina'straditiondirectly opposedthecontrol bound exerted aristocracy within state.Andinstead seeking "pasthe a of toralArcadia,"a number theseSouthern of followed lead the apologists of JamesD. B. De Bow in urging development industrial the of and commercial to enterprise reducedependence theNorth.4 on The dissatisfaction Donald identified characteristic slavery's as of dearoseless from desireto escape thepresent a fenders whathe thanfrom identified anxieties as to "relating their place in Southern society."But Donald's essay does notmakethesourceofthesetensions as clear,for,3 Donald, "The ProslaveryArgument Reconsidered," 12, 16. Donald's interpretation of slavery's defenders seems to fit withinthe genre of "status-anxiety" interpretationsexplanationsof ideologies and social movementsas the resultof concern about changing, usually diminishing social status. Althoughhe does not explicitlyreferto "status-anxiety" in the essay on proslavery, thisframework seems implicit, forexample, in his references as, to Edmund Ruffin "frustrated,"to J. D. B. De Bow as "compensating" for his lack of as social position and to W. G. Simms as worrying about his location "on the fringesof society." Ibid., 10-11. For a similar treatment antislavery,see Donald, "Toward a of Reconsiderationof Abolitionists," in Donald, Lincoln Reconsidered: Essays on the Civil War Era (New York: Knopf, 1956), 19-36. 4 Donald, "The ProslaveryArgument Reconsidered," 17n. For a discussion of the views of Simms, Hammond,George FrederickHolmes, Nathaniel BeverleyTucker, and Edmund Ruffin these issues see Drew GilpinFaust, A Sacred Circle: The Dilemma of theIntellecon tual in the Old South, 1840-1860 (Baltimore:JohnsHopkins Univ. Press, 1977). Fitzhugh also encouragedeconomic diversification. See, forexample, "Make Home Attractive,"De Bow's Review, 28 (June 1860), 624. On De Bow as an advocate of industry see Ottis C. Skipper, D. B. De Bow, Magazinistof theOld South (Athens:Univ. of GeorgiaPress, 1958); J. and the James Dunwoody Brownson De Bow Letters and Papers, ManuscriptDivision, WilliamPerkinsLibrary,Duke Univ.