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

By David F. Ericson | Go to book overview

6

James H. Hammond
Slavery and Union

The multiple meanings of the “house divided” argument structured James Henry Hammond's political career. At various times in his career as governor of South Carolina, United States representative and senator, and local statesman-in-waiting, Hammond took four different positions on the argument. Early in his career, he professed to see the union as a house divided ideologically between a South committed to slavery and a North committed to freedom. In the middle years of his career, he insisted that the union was not a house divided because Southern slavery was not really slavery nor was Northern freedom really freedom. Later in his career, he portrayed the union as a house in the process of dividing physically over the fate of slavery. Finally, on the eve of the Civil War, he viewed the union as a house divided but now contended that this condition need not be fatal to it. His apparent shift from disunionism to unionism in the late 1850s seemed as dramatic and sudden as the Garrisonians' parallel shift from disunionism to unionism.1 But neither the Garrisonians nor Hammond would have taken the positions they did if their earlier positions had not been carried forward in their later ones. In Hammond's case, he would not have taken the position late in his career that the union could remain indefinitely a house divided if he had thought the union was as divided as he sometimes claimed it to be early in his career.

Scholars have attempted to track Hammond's career on the unionism-disunionism dimension.2 This effort has proved very difficult. At each stage of his career, Hammond seemed to combine unionism with disunionism, fluctuating not on the question of whether the union was, ceteris paribus, a mutually beneficial arrangement but on the question of whether it could survive its divisions over slavery. Because Hammond never did advocate disunion, it is probably best to call him a

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Part I 1
  • 1: The Liberal Consensus Thesis and Slavery 3
  • 2: The Antislavery and Proslavery Arguments 14
  • Part II 37
  • 3: Child, Douglass, and Antislavery Liberalism 39
  • 4: Wendell Phillips Liberty and Union 62
  • Part III 91
  • 5: Dew, Fitzhugh, and Proslavery Liberalism 93
  • 6: James H. Hammond Slavery and Union 121
  • Part IV 155
  • 7: The “house Divided” and Civil-War Causation 157
  • Notes 167
  • Index 235
  • About the Author 241
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