The Tragic Conflict: The Civil War and Reconstruction

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview

44
The Negro Character: A Southern review

General Basil W. Duke

Any attempt to describe the social conditions prevailing in Kentucky and the South before the Civil War -- that epoch which, like a cataclysm, divided the old order from the new -- without mention of the Negro as he was before he became a freedman, must necessarily be incomplete.

The "Negro question" as we have to deal with it to-day is altogether unlike what it was when it conduced so largely to that strife. Quite as perplexing, although, we hope, not nearly so dangerous, it is presented in a totally different aspect. Then it was a sectional issue, now it is a national problem. When the maintenance or the extension of slavery was the subject of dispute, the Negro, as an individual, a personality, was a factor hardly taken into account. The institution of slavery as it affected the interests or might shape the future of the white race-as it might operate to open territory to occupation entirely by slaveholding or by non-slaveholding populations -- was almost exclusively considered in the discussion. The small minority which regarded it purely from a philanthropic point of view was eloquent and insistent but, until debate was succeeded by actual combat, was heard with little favour or patience by the other disputants.

So long as slavery existed, it was impossible to consider the racial question except in its economic phases, or as it appealed to the more benevolent instincts of humanity. The Negro might be treated humanely or cruelly, his master might be kindly and considerate or harsh and unfeeling, nevertheless, as he concerned the public and from every social and political standpoint, he was regarded simply as a chattel.

The great change wrought in this respect by the enfranchisement of the black man and his elevation to the rank of citizen and voter has also utterly

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