South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948

By David Duncan Wallace | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XLIV
A MATURED SLAVERY ON THE DEFENSIVE, 1820-1860

SAID THE Southern Episcopalian of Charleston of slavery, in March, 1859:

"The men of the Revolution and of the generation immediately succeeding, regarded it in the light of an evil, to be gradually remedied if possible by removal or emancipation. Experience and maturer reflection proved the impracticability of either course, and the assaults of abolitionism induced a more thorough examination into the grounds, moral and religious, on which it rested. The Southern mind became satisfied that the relation was not without a divine sanction, and that under existing circumstances it was the only one which could obtain between the two races brought together upon our own soil. Here was a sufficient vindication of the Southern system--a true and incontrovertible position upon which its defenders might take their stand against every assailant. For a time we were wisely content with it, and triumphantly maintained it. But latterly, perhaps in the wantonness of success--perhaps in the asperation of conflict--there has been manifested a disposition to break from our intrenchments and assume the offensive. Slavery has even been set forth as a necessary element towards the composition of a high and stable civilization--as a thing good in itself, without regard to the circumstances peculiar to Southern society--as in short the best mode in which labor and capital can stand associated. The sentiment of the South, and especially of South Carolina, seems verging toward the opposite extreme of a natural oscillation, passing from morbid sensitiveness into aggressive assertion."

This, the editor continued, was as unsound a position as the other, and he believed that such was the view of the soberer part of our people.

The editor was right. Though statesmen spun theories for constitutional defense, the attitude of the people was essentially practical, adopting any obvious means of meeting their overshadowing problem. F. W. Pickens's declaration, "The law of State sovereignty is with us the law of State existence," would have been changed into the statement that the law of national sovereignty was the law of existence if the slaveowner had faced dangerous local opposition to his interests against which only the Federal government could protect him. The constitutional arguments on either side were mere attorney's pleas claiming everything for

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