The Debate over Slavery: Antislavery and Proslavery Liberalism in Antebellum America

The Debate over Slavery: Antislavery and Proslavery Liberalism in Antebellum America

The Debate over Slavery: Antislavery and Proslavery Liberalism in Antebellum America

The Debate over Slavery: Antislavery and Proslavery Liberalism in Antebellum America


In 1914, H. Rider Haggardadventure novelist, diplomat, farmer, lawyer, and, above all, renowned author of such classic and influential bestsellers asKing Solomon's MinesandShereturned to South Africa, the country that had fired his literary imagination, for the first time in a quarter century.

Haggard, whose work is today considered a prototype of colonial literature, barely recognized the Africa of his youth. The discovery of gold, the destruction of the Zulu kingdom, and the aftermath of the Anglo-Boer war had all radically transformed the political, cultural, and often physical landscape.

No longer the diehard imperialist of his youth, when conquest and colonization were the order of the day, Haggard toured southern Africa extensively during this trip, acquiring an impression of black politics and even meeting the first president of the African National Congress, John Dube. This is the chronicle, in Haggard's own hand, of that journey.

A remarkable literary find, written by a man who helped shape Western perceptions of Africa, this hitherto unpublished manuscript presents a portrait both surprising and in some ways familiar of Africa and of a central figure in the literature of African colonialism.


This book is a study of American antislavery and proslavery rhetoric spanning the years from 1832 to 1861. Throughout, I assume that rhetoric mattered. Rhetoric mattered in this period of American history not because the antislavery and proslavery arguments themselves abolished the Southern institution of racial slavery or prevented the institution from being abolished without a civil war or because those arguments themselves caused the Civil War. Rather, rhetoric mattered because the particular forms that the antislavery and proslavery arguments took during the antebellum period significantly affected the course of events that led to disunion, civil war, and emancipation.

The antislavery and proslavery arguments unsettled the public mind into believing that the nation was a house divided against itself that could no longer stand. Perhaps a nation half free and half slave could have continued to exist indefinitely into the future if sectional antislavery and proslavery rhetoric had not been introduced. When this sectional rhetoric was introduced, however, it deepened the divisions within the nation and made it less likely that the country could continue to exist as it had in the past.

The consensually and progressively liberal nature of antislavery and proslavery rhetoric contributed to this outcome. Because the two sides appealed to similar ideas for such divergent ends, it became increasingly apparent that the differences between them were fundamental. Because the two sides applied liberal ideas to the particular circumstances of their own society with such diverse results, it became more and more difficult to dismiss the conflict between them as peripheral to the future of a nation conceived in liberty.

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