Deliver Us from Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South

Deliver Us from Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South

Deliver Us from Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South

Deliver Us from Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South

Synopsis

Escaping historians' long-held fascination with the mature slaveholding society of the 1850s, Deliver Us from Evil recaptures the white South's struggle to reconcile slavery with its Revolutionary heritage from the era of the founders through the Age of Jackson. By focusing on the region'ssearch for answers to its slavery question, this book restores a sense of time and place to the study of slavery thought. The tensions inherent in this contested historical construction of the white South's answers to the slavery question revealed themselves in vigorous debates over theinternational and domestic slave trades, gradual emancipation and the colonization movement, the dangers of slave insurrection and the scope of appropriate security measures, the nature of the evangelical Christian mission to the enslaved, and the effectiveness of paternalism as a mode of slavemanagement. Moreover, contrasting sub-regional political economies and related patterns of racial demography insured that questions relating to slavery were framed differently in different parts of the South. In the upper South, where tobacco had fallen into comparative decline by 1800, debate often centered onhow the area might reduce its dependence on slave labor and "whiten" itself, whether through gradual emancipation and colonization or the sale of slaves to the cotton South. During the same years, the lower South swirled into the vortex of the "cotton revolution," and that area's whites lost allinterest in emancipation, no matter how gradual or fully-compensated. Debate in the cotton South centered on how to manage slavery so that lower South whites were both prosperous and safe. Ultimately, the upper South "answered" the slavery question through efforts to whiten itself demographically,while the lower South's "answer" lay in the contested embrace of racial paternalism as an ideology of slaveholding and as a firm foundation for white democracy.

Excerpt

Anticipating Thomas Jefferson’s personal travail on the subject of slavery, the British literary critic Samuel Johnson taunted the presumed idealism of the American movement for independence by famously asking why the “loudest yelps for liberty” came from the “drivers of negroes.” Johnson’s caustic comment merely highlighted a tension already present in the minds of many southern slaveholders during the founding era. The existence of slavery posed a number of troubling questions for the South. Could slavery coexist with the new nation’s republican ideals? Did the economic benefits of slavery outweigh the costs? Did slavery expand or limit economic and social opportunities for whites? Was there any other way to generate as much wealth in the South as slavery created? Would the wealth held in slaves survive an effort to change labor systems? Could whites ever be safe in a society with large numbers of slaves? Would the spread of evangelical Christianity challenge the dominant slaveholding ethos? Understanding the ideas and interests that shaped the answers to these and other questions about slavery offers a partial answer to Johnson’s sarcastic query. More important, these slavery-related questions—or, when viewed collectively, simply “the slavery question”—and the corresponding search for answers chart the evolution of white attitudes toward the South’s peculiar institution during the early national and Jacksonian eras.

Most of the questions about slavery were the same across the entire slaveholding South, but the answers provided by whites from various parts of the South often differed sharply. In particular, the ideas and interests surrounding slavery in the upper South and lower South evolved along very different trajectories, and the respective answers these two identifiable southern regions developed to the slavery question . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.