Slavery Defended

I don’t know who stocks the shelves of my college library, but they forgot to burn this book.  Peering into the back, I notice I’m the first one to check it out since February of  ’86.  Saner times, the 80’s.

And, God help me but, “Slavery Defended”, (edited by Eric L. McKitrick) has ruined me.  From this point on, I’ll be a more consistent Southern apologist, but it’ll be at the expense of a good name.  The book has convinced me that slavery, as it was known in Dixie, was not only morally-permissible, but a moral good.  *The* ideal organization for civilized society.

It’s a wonderful feeling: not being constrained by popularity.

I don’t even know any Kinists who would argue for the moral superiority of a slave-based social order.  Even among the most adamant of White Nationalist pagans, I’ve not heard slavery seriously defended as an institution. The anti-slavery meme has so thoroughly penetrated our nation that no one takes it seriously any longer.

Nevertheless — my ancestors faced canon-fire for their beliefs.  I can take a few jabs from pretentious liberals.

That McKitrick’s book was published at all in this country is miraculous.  It was published in 1963, so I’m guessing the complete domination of all publishing and educational institutions by the liberal elite, was not yet solidified.  McKitrick (associate professor of history at Columbia University) however, is all the more baffling since he takes a very fair, almost sympathetic position towards the essays in his book.  His brief commentary at the beginning of each article is sometimes critical, sometimes supportive, but always informative.  He’s obviously not an advocate of slavery.  But on the other hand, he doesn’t want the pro-slavery tradition suppressed by academia.  He says this in the introduction:

“Nothing is more susceptible to oblivion than an argument, however ingenious, that has been discredited by events; and such is the case with the body of writing which was produced in the antebellum South in defense of Negro slavery.  In the one hundred years since emancipation, almost the whole of that work has remained superbly unread.  What we know about the pro-slavery intellectuals and their writings is known not directly but through tag-names and hearsay.  History books refer to them, but with a flicker of impatience, having little time to spend on crackpots.”

This book has introduced me, not only to the major premise in the pro-slavery position, but to many of the great Southern thinkers who attempted to defend an institution that represented their entire way of life.  To read the articles of men like John Calhoun, George Fitzhugh, and Edmund Ruffin, in their frank and open (almost casual) defense of the unspeakably-taboo subject of slavery, was like hearing echoes of the past.  Polemics of ghost-men.  More than once, while reading this book, I wished that I could sit with these men — just for five minutes — and soak up their passion and integrity.

These are not essays chosen for their naivete’, so that a liberal editor can take easy pot shots at the authors.  No, McKitrick, it seems, really has chosen a sampling of the best, brightest, and most intellectually rigorous essays in defense of Slavery that Dixie produced.

John Calhoun has three articles (one of which I cited in my last blog).  The statesmanship inherent in his writing demonstrates why his name comes to mind when people think of an excellent politician.

George Fitzhugh’s “Sociology for the South” is maybe the most brilliant essay of all the ones I’ve read.  Fitzhugh is certainly the giant of Southern apologetics.  His comparison of Free-Market economics with “warfare” was one I’ve been making for awhile, thinking it was original.  If you read any essays out of this entire book, make sure it’s Fizthugh’s.

If George Fitzhugh is my favorite of the intellectuals for his arguments, Edmund Ruffin has to be my favorite for his passion.  According to McKitrick’s introduction, Ruffin was given the honor to fire the infamous first shot on Fort Sumter.  And, upon hearing of the collapse of the Confederacy in 1865, he “seized a pistol and blew out his brains.”  An honorable patriot to the end.  His essay “The Political Economy of Slavery” attempts to systematically interact with the economics of a slave society.

Kinists and Christians of all stripes, may be interested to turn directly to Thornton Stringfellow’s (a Baptist minister from Culpepper County, Virginia) article “A Scriptural View of Slavery”.  The premise is that God sanctions slavery all throughout the Bible, in many cases, explicitly, and in other cases, implicitly (by blessing slave-owners).

There is a review of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by George Frederick Holmes and an essay on the cotton industry by David Christy.  Also, perhaps more beneficial than all the essays is the “further reading” section in back of the book, which lists an extensive bibliography of pro-slavery works.

Since I don’t think the contents are listed on Amazon, I’ll provide it here for interested parties:


Introductory Essay … The Defense of Slavery, by eric L. McKitrick                                                                                   pg. 1

John C. Calhoun … Disquisition on Government                                                                              pg. 7

… Speech on the Reception of Abolition Petitions                                                                                   pg. 12

… Speech on the Importance of Domestic Slavery                                                                                     pg. 16

Thomas R. Dew … Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature                                                                               pg. 20

George Fitzhugh …  Sociology for the South                                                                                        pg. 34

Henry Hughes … A Treatsie on Sociology                                                                                  pg. 51

William J. Grayson … The Hireling and the Slave                                                                                         pg. 57

Edmund Ruffin … The Political Economy of Slavery                                                                                      pg. 69

Thorton Stringfellow … A Scriptural View of Slavery                                                                                     pg. 86

George Frederick Holmes … Review of Uncle Tom’s Cabin                                                                                        pg. 99

David Christy … Cotton Is King                                                                                          pg. 111

James Henry Hammond … “Mud-Sill” Speech                                                                                     pg. 121

Josiah Nott … Types of Mankind                                                                                  pg. 126

Samuel Cartwright … The Prognathous Species of Mankind                                                                                   pg. 139

Nehemiah Adams … A South-Side View of Slavery                                                                                     pg. 148

Edward A. Pollard … Black Diamonds                                                                                 pg. 162

J. D. B. DeBow … The Interest in Slavery of the Southern Non-Slaveholder                                                                       pg. 169

Suggestions for Further Reading                                                                                   pg. 179

For the time they were written, these essays represent the cutting-edge of scientific thought on racial issues.  Henry Hughes, for instance, was the first American to use Auguste Comte’s newly coined term “Sociology” in the title of a book.  The South, it seemed, had scientific fact on her side.

So, what is the argument for slavery?

When Americans think about this issue today, they tend to think of it in isolation — abstracted from all political and social institutions.  They think about the morality of one human owning another.  They seldom think of slavery in terms of a political and social, even “economic” institution.  Our contemporary colleagues are not alone in this.  Appealing to Edmund Burke, Thomas Dew has this to say:

“No set of legislators ever have, or ever can, legislate upon purely abstract principles, entirely independent of circumstances, without the ruin of the body politic, which should have the misfortune to be under the guidance of such quackery.  Well and philosophically has Burke remarked, that circumstances give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing color and discriminating effect.  The circumstances are what render every political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind, and we cannot stand forward and give praise or blame to anything which relates to human actions and human concerns on a simple view of the object as it stands, stript of every relation in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction.”

Obviously then, “slavery” in the South — as an institution — must be critiqued in its concrete context and not abstractly, as Dew concludes:

“The historical view which we have given of the origin and progress of slavery, shows most conclusively that something else is requisite to convert slavery into freedom, than the mere enunciation of abstract truths, divested of all adventitious circumstances and relations.”

When people scoff at slavery, I’ve usually replied by asking them if they support America’s penal system.  “Well, why shouldn’t we?”, they ask.  When I point out that it’s just another form of slavery, they hoot-n-holler, but eventually have to admit that, under certain conditions, slavery is perfectly acceptable.

This is similar to the path taken by the authors of these essays.  They look at Southern social institutions as a whole, and treat the South as an entirely different economic system than the “free-labor” based, industrialized North.  The distinction between workers and the “Capitalists” is drawn repeatedly.  It’s argued that, in the absence of mitigating and formal institutions (like slavery), the Capitalist has no motivation to provide for his workers and, in effect, is actually at war with them and they, with him.  Furthermore, the unique economic situation created by slavery creates social stability and fosters cultural creativity among the ruling class.

Henry Hughes further highlights the economic distinction between the two paradigms by calling the Slave-system “Warranteeism” and the Northern system, a “Free Labor” economy.   In a Warrantist social-order, society is structured so that each class is “warranted” in providing for the other.   I’ll have to reserve an in-depth comparison of the two systems for some other blog as I’m still digesting these insights and marveling at how closely they resemble later ideals of British Distributism and Southern Agrarianism.  The Southern Agrarians inherited their economic criticisms of industrialism from the authors of these essays.

Much is also made of the Negro’s advanced position under slavery.  They learned to read, write, perform a trade, learned religion, and attained a higher form of civilization than they ever have in history.  This, combined with their status as slaves — who are provided for their entire lives, regardless of the health of the economy — make slavery an ideal situation for the Negro as well as for their white masters.

Seeing a critique of slavery as a critique of an entire social-order, was new to me.  These authors make it clear that a certain sort of unrestricted free-market ideology is disastrous for the human spirit, society, and the peace of a community.

Another interesting aspect of the essays was the prophetic accounts of what society would be like if the slaves were emancipated and given legal and political equality with the whites.  Thomas Dew has amazing foresight on this issue:

“Two totally different races, as we have before seen, cannot easily harmonize together, and although we have no idea that any organized plan of insurrection or rebellion can ever secure for the black the superiority, even when free, yet his idleness will produce want and worthlessness, and his very worthlessness and degredation will stimulate him to depths of rapine and vengeance…Let Virginia liberate her slaves, and every year you would hear of insurrections and plots, and every day would perhaps record a murder; the melancholy tale of Southhampton would not alone blacken the page of our history, and make the tender mother shed the tear of horror over her babe as she clasped it to her bosom; others of a deeper dye would thicken upon us; those regions where the brightness of polished life has dawned and brightened into full day, would relapse into darkness, thick and full of horrors.

He was right…

…Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land.

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18 Responses to Slavery Defended

  1. shotgunwildatheart says:

    Yes! I decided to buy a copy (so I don’t have to keep checking this one out from the library) and got it used on Amazon for 1 cent! Imagine that.

    • brocktownsend says:

      That’es a deal. Seems to me I’ve seen it reprinted and if I come across it, I’ll let you know.

  2. Lynne Neal says:

    Just glanced through your article Shotgun. SPLENDID. Looking forward to reading it in its entirety sometime this weekend. Thank you lad!

  3. thewhitechrist says:

    Yes, my brother. I found this book for $5.00 in an antique mart in Wisconsin, that sadly, closed due to the ‘economic miracle’ known as the Obamanation.

    For some other articles to add to your burgeoning knowledge of the Truth, here are some urls:–-the-word-of-god/

    Now, the question comes. Who will write a study guide for this book for homeschoolers? He he he…..

    “Let God be true, though every man a liar…”

    – Fr. John+

  4. Another great piece Shotgun! I’m reminded of how woefully unread I am in the old Southern classics. Though I have read and deeply benefitted from reading “I’ll Take My Stand,” which as you note was one of the offspring of the group that is collected in “Slavery Defended.” Another very helpful, though far more recent work, that sheds a lot of light on the nuances of slavery is Richard Weaver’s “Southern Tradition at Bay,” as I’m sure you’re already aware.

    I have some great agrarian reading ahead of me, having secured some copies of the books of Donald Davidson.

  5. Servantofchrist says:

    I’ll have to get my hands on one of these. Although, I doubt California has any.

    Now, you think slavery is good ( God certainly has no issue with it. We are called His slaves and servants), but what about the way we received them? They were stolen from their homes and shipped across the ocean in conditions that were inhumane. Surely we shouldnt treat humans this way.

    There are other issues, too. But, these have to do with each owner on an individual basis. Just like there are good, loving parents… There are horrible and abusive ones. Viewing owners of slaves this way, would put the blame of mistreatment on the individuals’ shoulders and not on the idea.

    As unpopular as it may be, I’ve always agreed with slavery. Blacks had nice lives then and crime was down. Unfortunately, a lot of White men and women abused their power and caused unnecessary violence towards Blacks in these days.

  6. Lynne Neal says:

    ServantofChrist: Good comments. I would only disagree with one thing and that is your last sentence. From my small study of history of the South and of the other states at that time of history, I would say that there were SOME (rather than “a lot”) slaveholders who abused their power. Slaves were costly and valuable to their owners. It would have been ludicrous for the owners to abuse them. Generally slaves were well taken care of…from cradle to grave.

    • brocktownsend says:

      They were stolen from their homes.

      Normally they were sold by their brethren who had captured them in wars. Their choice was death or slavery courtesy of their own race.

  7. shotgunwildatheart says:

    Pretty much everything we were taught about the South in government school (as well as by pop-culture) is an outright lie and needs to be verified by independent research before we believe it.

    There are all sorts of myths about how horrible it was in the south for negros. All black women were viciously raped by fat, ugly and out of shape whites. And there were millions of lynching deaths (supposedly).

    All of these myths, lies and half-truths in pop-culture have culminated into a general view of Dixie by most Americans today, that is completely absurd, unflattering, and aimed at robbing us of our identity as proud southern patriots.

    My friend (and Kinist extraordinaire) Phinehas Fury has written a wonderful article that begins unpacking the “Lynching” mythos:

    • Servantofchrist says:

      It’s funny how much I believed everything I was taught in school. Up until highschool, I questioned nothing. And, I never questioned history books (unless it was talking about evolution). Now, I’m astonished by how naive I was, and still am. It’s caused me many “a-ha” moments, and has brought me to question so much. I’ve began to wonder what I can believe. The internet is no help. There’s just too much information. It’s nigh unto impossible to decipher truth from lie. I thank God that I can trust His word.

      I’d love to have a personal lie detector.

      • Lynne Neal says:

        SofC: We’ve all been brainwashed to greater or lesser extent. Thank GOD for opening our eyes to the truth about some very important issues.
        Amen to your comment!

  8. Howdy says:

    Thank you for pointing us to this work!

  9. shotgunwildatheart says:

    Thanks for posting, H.

    This is one of those books that takes a brave soul to read and an even braver soul to discuss in public.

  10. Joe says:

    Throwing people — of any race — into slavery, forcing them at the point of the gun and the wipe, to spend all the days of their lives on this earth to serve you so you can feel special and chosen, is disgusting and putrid ; How atavistic and talmudic : A redundancy.

    Do your own (expletive deleted) work, or go kill yourself if you’re so (expletive deleted) useless you can’t do your own work. Your bible is for (expletive deleted), if your bible truly justifies slavery.

    Christ came to free us from the pharisees, not to throw anyone — of any race — into slavery ; Slavery being the epitome of putrid talmudic pharisaism : How atavistic and disgusting of you to try to justify slavery.

  11. shotgunwildatheart says:

    Thank you for the kind words, Joe. I really appreciate your well-reasoned arguments and sober judgment. Come back often.

  12. Scott Terry:
    You wrote, “That McKitrick’s book was published at all in this country is miraculous.”
    I suspect you misunderstand the motives that a professor and his publisher might have. A publisher is often looking for something both timely and original. Certainly race relations were a major issue in 1963.
    As the author-editor remarked, in the comments you quote, the perspective of slave-defending Southerners before the Civil War was largely overlooked by historians at mid-century.
    I doubt your belief that the publisher intended this book as a manifesto defending slavery. Instead, they were presenting a compilation of period writings with scholarly commentary.


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