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.