Southern Slavery and the Law, 1619-1860

By Thomas D. Morris | Go to book overview

12
Obedience and the Outsider

Servants be obedient to them that are your masters.

Ephesians 6:5

Southern slaves maintained, as best they could, ties of kinship and culture.1 But from the perspective of the free, the slave was an outsider without recognizable culture. Patterson defined slavery as the "permanent, violent domination of natally alienated and generally dishonored persons." Finley stressed "kinlessness" as one of the three components of slavery--the other two were the totality of power of the master over the slave and the status of the slave as property. His description of the first was this: the "totality of the slaveowner's rights was facilitated by the fact that the slave was always a deracinated outsider--an outsider first in the sense that he originated from outside the society into which he was introduced as a slave, second in the sense that he was denied the most elementary of social bonds, kinship." David Brion Davis noted the "modernity" of the slave that "lay in his marginality and vulnerability, in his incomplete and ambiguous bonding to a social group." He was a "replaceable and interchangeable outsider." Exemplifying scholars' view of slaves as ultimate victims, Oakes observed that "slavery in the American South shared the basic characteristics of slavery everywhere. Perpetual outsiders, noncitizens stripped of virtually all legal rights, southern slaves were totally subject to the authority of masters, who could be kind or cruel or, perhaps most terrifying, kind and cruel by turns, arbitrarily and without warning." As complete and perpetual outsiders who transferred nothing but bondage to their children, slaves had no rights of any kind. Having no rights they had no duties, as W. W. Buckland observed was the case in Roman law. Without duties, obligations, or rights, all that remained was raw power. This was the view captured wonderfully by Garrison Frazier, the black minister, when he defined slavery in 1864 for General Sherman and Secretary Stanton as submission to "irresistible power." Submission to such power would carry no intrinsic duty or obligation, as Hobbes understood: "slaves, have no obligation at all; but may break their bonds, as the prison; and kill, or carry away captive their master, justly."2

Southern whites hardly saw it that way. They constructed a different social world in which they could live with a system that Hegel described as an "outrage" because

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