The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South: A Study in Social Control

The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South: A Study in Social Control

The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South: A Study in Social Control

The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South: A Study in Social Control

Excerpt

A good many years ago when I first became interested in the South and its problems I ran across in a little volume by John Spencer Bassett, entitled Slavery in the State of North Carolina, a reference to a legal decision by Chief Justice Ruffin of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, which set forth the character of the institution of slavery in such uncompromising terms that I have never since forgotten it, and I can still recall some of its more incisive phrases.

It was a decision, rendered in 1829, dismissing an indictment of a master for an assault upon his slave, the memorable thing about it being the Chief justice's opinion affirming the master's right to inflict any kind of punishment upon his slave short of death. In support of this decision Justice Ruffin cited the fact that, in the whole history of slavery, there had been no such prosecution of a master for punishing a slave, and added, "against this general opinion in the community the court ought not to hold."

It had been said, the opinion continues, that the relation of master and slave was like that of parent and child. But this was a mistake. It was to the interest of the parent to give his son moral and intellectual instruction in order to fit him to live as a free man. The case of the slave was different. What sense could there be in addressing moral considerations to a slave?

The Chief Justice summed up his conception of the relations of master and slave in these words: "The end [of slavery] is the profit of the master, his security, and the public safety; the subject, one doomed in his own person and his posterity to live without knowledge and without the capacity to make anything his own, and to toil that another may reap the fruits. What moral consideration shall be addressed to such a being to convince him, what it is impossible but that the most stupid must . . .

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