Slavery: History and Historians

By Peter J. Parish | Go to book overview
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7
Slavery and Southern White
Society

In the words of one prominent South Carolina planter, "Slavery informs all our modes of life, all our habits of thought, lies at the basis of our social existence, and of our political faith."1 Millions of his Southern white contemporaries, whether or not they themselves owned large numbers of slaves, would surely have agreed, and those who viewed the South from outside would scarcely have dissented. It was after all slavery which defined the South, and which differentiated it from the rest of the United States.

There has been a tendency among some recent historians to question the extent of the differences between North and South and to draw attention to their similarities.2 This has served as a healthy reminder of what the two sections had in common--above all perhaps their common American character. The South yielded to no other part of the country in its patriotic ardor; indeed, it can be argued that, when a feeling of Southern nationalism developed in the mid nineteenth century, it was in fact a displaced version of Southerners' American nationalism. They felt that the Northern majority had taken over American nationality and converted it to its own ends, and that the South was the defender of the true and original American faith.3

It is impossible to set slavery aside from any discussion of the similarities or differences between North and South. To say that it was "only" slavery which distinguished the one region from the other is akin to saying that it is "only" religion which divides Northern Ireland from the Irish Republic. Slavery permeated almost every aspect of the

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