With the rise of abolitionism in the North in the 1830s, Southern planters dropped their tepid support of slavery as a “necessary evil” and launched an ever-evolving and increasingly heated defense of slavery as a “positive good.” That defense ranged over a variety of justifications for maintaining slavery that were all based on deeply racist portrayals of Black Americans. Defenders justified slavery on blatantly racist interpretations of religion, “science,” economics, political science, and sociology. Southern apologists for slavery often paired their defense with blistering attacks on Northern industrialization, portraying industrialization (whether in the Northern US or England) as a destructive force and slavery as benign. The documents below present the defense of slavery by its leading advocates from the mid-19th century, reproducing excepts from the most important pro-slavery books, articles, and political speeches.
Who was the audience for this proslavery propaganda? At first historians framed the defense of slavery as something aimed at northern audiences. They portrayed Southerners as hoping to convince Northern politicians and the public that abolitionists were wrongheaded and dangerous. That view started to change as scholars began to more closely examine propaganda and authoritarian societies in the wake of Nazi Germany and the rise of the Soviet Union. Scholars began to view Nazi and Soviet propaganda as aimed, not to much at the enemy, but at the people in their own societies who needed to be convinced of the merits of authoritarian rule. Taking a cue from this, some scholars began to re-read proslavery defenses as propaganda aimed at convincing white Southerners–the vast majority of whom did not own slaves–that slavery was a “positive good” for them too. In this interpretation, proslavery propaganda was aimed at shoring up support among potential critics in the South and ensuring that abolitionism was not given any space to get a foothold below the Mason Dixon Line. Today, we can find both interpretations in scholarly treatments of proslavery propaganda, as scholars continue to debate whether it was aimed at Northern or Southern audiences.
Question: Based on the documents below, do you think that proslavery propaganda was primarily aimed at Northern or Southern audiences? Does your argument fit all of the different justifications for slavery articulated in the documents? Or do some justifications for slavery seem more directed at Northern audiences and others more intended for Southern ones? If so, which proslavery arguments seem aimed at the North and which at the South?
D1: John C. Calhoun, Slavery as a “Positive Good” Speech (1837)
Source: Richard K. Cralle, ed., The Works of John C. Calhoun: Speeches of John C. Calhoun, Delivered in the House of Representatives, and in the Senate of the United States (1856): 625-633.
John C. Calhoun, US Senator from South Carolina and a leading figure in the mid-19th century Democratic party, gave this infamous speech defending slavery as a “positive good” during the Senate debate over the reading of abolitionist petitions in Congress. Calhoun blasted abolitionist petitions for criticizing slavery (“the peculiar institution of the South”) as “sinful and odious, in the sight of God and man.” Calhoun wanted the Senate to refuse to read all abolitionist petitions, arguing that “if we concede an inch, concession would follow concession—compromise would follow compromise, until our ranks would be so broken that effectual resistance would be impossible” and white southerners would have to be “prepared to become slaves” themselves.
Here are excerpts from the speech broken into paragraphs to make it easier to read:
However sound the great body of the non-slaveholding States are at present, in the course of a few years they will be succeeded by those who will have been taught to hate the people and institutions of nearly one-half of this Union, with a hatred more deadly than one hostile nation ever entertained towards another. It is easy to see the end. By the necessary course of events, if left to themselves, we must become, finally, two people. It is impossible under the deadly hatred which must spring up between the two great sections, if the present causes are permitted to operate unchecked, that we should continue under the same political system. The conflicting elements would burst the Union asunder, as powerful as are the links which hold it together.
Abolition and the Union cannot co-exist. As the friend of the Union I openly proclaim it, and the sooner it is known the better. The former may now be controlled, but in a short time it will be beyond the power of man to arrest the course of events. We of the South will not, cannot, surrender our institutions. To maintain the existing relations between the two races, inhabiting that section of the Union is indispensable to the peace and happiness of both. It cannot be subverted without drenching the country in blood, and extirpating one or the other of the races. Be it good or bad, it has grown up with our society and institutions, and is so interwoven with them, that to destroy it would be to destroy us as a people.
But let me not be understood as admitting, even by implication, that the existing relations between the two races in the slaveholding States is an evil—far otherwise; I hold it to be a good, as it has thus far proved itself to be to both, and will continue to prove so if not disturbed by the fell spirit of abolition. I appeal to facts. Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually. It came among us in a low, degraded, and savage condition, and in the course of a few generations it has grown up under the fostering care of our institutions, as reviled as they have been, to its present comparatively civilized condition. This, with the rapid increase of numbers, is conclusive proof of the general happiness of the race, in spite of all the exaggerated tales to the contrary.
In the mean time, the white or European race has not degenerated. It has kept pace with its brethren in other sections of the Union where slavery does not exist. It is odious to make comparison; but I appeal to all sides whether the South is not equal in virtue, intelligence, patriotism, courage, disinterestedness, and all the high qualities which adorn our nature. I ask whether we have not contributed our full share of talents and political wisdom in forming and sustaining this political fabric; and whether we have not constantly inclined most strongly to the side of liberty, and been the first to see and first to resist the encroachments of power.
In one thing only are we inferior—the arts of gain; we acknowledge that we are less wealthy than the Northern section of this Union, but I trace this mainly to the fiscal action of this Government, which has extracted much from, and spent little among us. Had it been the reverse—if the exaction had been from the other section, and the expenditure with us, this point of superiority would not be against us now, as it was not at the formation of this Government.
But I take higher ground. I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good.
I feel myself called upon to speak freely upon the subject where the honor and interests of those I represent are involved.
I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other. Broad and general as is this assertion, it is fully borne out by history. This is not the proper occasion, but if it were, it would not be difficult to trace the various devices by which the wealth of all civilized communities has been so unequally divided, and to show by what means so small a share has been allotted to those by whose labor it was produced, and so large a share given to the non-producing classes. The devices are almost innumerable, from the brute force and gross superstition of ancient times, to the subtle and artful fiscal contrivances of modern.
I might well challenge a comparison between them and the more direct, simple, and patriarchal mode by which the labor of the African race is, among us, commanded by the European. I may say with truth, that in few countries so much is left to the share of the laborer, and so little exacted from him, or where there is more kind attention paid to him in sickness or infirmities of age. Compare his condition with the tenants of the poor houses in the more civilized portions of Europe—look at the sick, and the old and infirm slave, on one hand, in the midst of his family and friends, under the kind superintending care of his master and mistress, and compare it with the forlorn and wretched condition of the pauper in the poor house.
But I will not dwell on this aspect of the question; I turn to the political; and here I fearlessly assert that the existing relation between the two races in the South, against which these blind fanatics are waging war, forms the most solid and durable foundation on which to rear free and stable political institutions. It is useless to disguise the fact. There is and always has been in an advanced stage of wealth and civilization a conflict between labor and capital. The condition of society in the South exempts us from the disorders and dangers resulting from this conflict; and which explains why it is that the political condition of the slaveholding States has been so much more stable and quiet than that of the North. The advantages of the former, in this respect, will become more and more manifest if left undisturbed by interference from without, as the country advances in wealth and numbers.
We have, in fact, but just entered that condition of society where the strength and durability of our political institutions are to be tested; and I venture nothing in predicting that the experience of the next generation will fully test how vastly more favorable our condition of society is to that of other sections for free and stable institutions, provided we are not disturbed by the interference of others, or shall have sufficient intelligence and spirit to resist promptly and successfully such interference. It rests with ourselves to meet and repel them. I look not for aid to this Government, or to the other States; not but there are kind feelings towards us on the part of the great body of the non-slaveholding States; but as kind as their feelings may be, we may rest assured that no political party in those States will risk their ascendancy for our safety. If we do not defend ourselves none will defend us; if we yield we will be more and more pressed as we recede; and if we submit we will be trampled under foot.
Be assured that emancipation itself would not satisfy these fanatics—that gained, the next step would be to raise the negroes to a social and political equality with the whites; and that being effected, we would soon find the present condition of the two races reversed. They and their northern allies would be the masters, and we the slaves; the condition of the white race in the British West India Islands, bad as it is, would be happiness to ours. There the mother country is interested in sustaining the supremacy of the European race. It is true that the authority of the former master is destroyed, but the African will there still be a slave, not to individuals but to the community—forced to labor, not by the authority of the overseer, but by the bayonet of the soldiery and the rod of the civil magistrate.
Surrounded as the slaveholding States are with such imminent perils, I rejoice to think that our means of defence are ample, if we shall prove to have the intelligence and spirit to see and apply them before it is too late. All we want is concert, to lay aside all party difference, and unite with zeal and energy in repelling approaching dangers. Let there be concert of action, and we shall find ample means of security without resorting to secession or disunion.
D2: Slavery and the Bible (1850)
James D. B. De Bow, “Slavery and the Bible,” De Bow’s Review 9 (Sept. 1850): 281-86.
De Bow’s Review was the premiere Southern publication that covered agriculture, economics, literature, politics, and culture. During the 1850s, it became the leading publication for pro-South, and proslavery viewpoints. As the sectional conflict over the expansion of slavery intensified, De Bow’s Review ramped up its proslavery coverage and even advocated for the reopening of the African slave trade. It was one of the leading cheerleaders for Southern secession and, eventually, the creation of the Confederacy.
A very large party in the United States believe that holding slaves is morally wrong; this party founds its belief upon precepts taught in the Bible, and takes that book as the standard of morality and religion. We, also, look to the same book as our guide in the same matters; yet, we think it right to hold slaves—do hold them, and have held and used them from childhood.
As we come to such opposite conclusions from the same foundation, it may be well to consider, whether the Bible teaches us anything whatever, in regard to slavery; if so, what is it and how is it taught.
The anti-slavery party maintain, that the bible teaches nothing directly upon the subject, but, that it establishes rules and principles of action, from which they infer, that in holding slaves, we are guilty of a moral wrong. This mode of reasoning would be perfectly fair, if the Bible really taught nothing directly upon the subject of slavery; but when that book applies the principles it lays down to the particular subject in controversy, we must take the application to be correct. We think we can show, that the Bible teaches clearly and conclusively that the holding of slaves is right; and if so, no deduction from general principles can make it wrong, if that book is true.
From the earliest period of our time down to the present moment, slavery has existed in some form or under some name, in almost every country of the globe. It existed in every country known, even by name, to any one of the sacred writers, at the time of his writing; yet none of them condemns it in the slightest degree. Would this have been the case had it been wrong in itself? would not some one of the host of sacred writers have spoken of this alleged crime, in such terms as to show, in a manner not to be misunderstood, that God wished all men to be equal?
Abraham, the chosen servant of God, had his bond servants, whose condition was similar to, or worse than, that of our slaves. He considered them as his property, to be bought and sold as any other property which he owned. In Genesis xvii, 13, 23, 27, we are told that God commanded Abraham to circumcise all his bond-servants, bought with his money, and that Abraham obeyed God’s commandment on this same day. In Genesis xx, 14, we are told that Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and men servants and women servants, and gave them to Abraham. In chapter xii, verse 14, we are told that Abraham possessed sheep and oxen, and he asses, and men servants and maid servants, and she asses, and camels. Also, in Genesis xxvi, 14, Isaac is said to have had possessions of flocks and herds, and a great store of servants. In other places in Genesis, they are spoken of, but always as property.
Jacob’s sons sold Joseph, their brother, to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. They agreed with each other that they would sell him, when the Ishmaelites were afar off, and before they could have known that the Ishmaelites would buy him; only they knew, that such sales were common in the country at the time. The narrative of Joseph’s life in Egypt, shows that the sale of slaves was common there.
No one can doubt, that Abraham regarded his servants as his property, and that they were so regarded in the country in which he lived. Not only was the bond-servant of Abraham considered his property, but the condition of the bond-servant was hereditary, or his child was a servant. In Genesis xvii, 13, God not only commanded Abraham to circumcise his servants, bought with his money, but also, those born in his house, and those which, at any future time, should be born in his house, or in that of any of his descendants; and in the twenty-third and twenty-seventh verses of the same chapter, we are told that Abraham did circumcise all his male servants, born in his house, on the same day. In chapter xiv of Genesis we are told, that Abraham took three hundred and eighteen trained servants, which had been born in his house, and pursued the kings who had carried off Lot. These three hundred and eighteen servants were born servants.
Let us now see what control Abraham exercised over these servants born in his house and bought with his money. God commanded Abraham to circumcise all his male servants—those born in his house were so numerous, that he had of them three hundred and eighteen men fit for battle. The command was, not that Abraham should use his influence over them and persuade them to be circumcised, but he and all his descendants are commanded to circumcise them—the crime and punishment for disobedience to this command, were to fall on him or his descendants. Now, in order that God could have required this from Abraham, with any degree of justice, it was necessary that Abraham should have had both the power over his servants, which was necessary to enable him to do this, and also, that he should have had the legal and moral right to exercise that power.
Circumcision was a requirement, until then, totally unknown. Abraham’s servants must have regarded it as a foolish whim of his own. Nothing else could have been considered more degrading to them, or more absurd to him. Yet, no one of all the immense number of his servants, refused to permit the circumcision to be performed. We may well suppose, that Abraham might have required anything else which his fancy dictated, and equally have enforced obedience, if it were not more absurd, painful or degrading.
When Sarai, Abraham’s wife, complained to him of the conduct of Hagar, her maid servant, he answered, thy maid is in thy hand, do to her as it pleased thee, showing that she wanted only her husband’s consent to punish Hagar as she pleased. We are then told, that, when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face into the wilderness—there the angel of the Lord found her; but, instead of relieving her distress, and sending her to some free country, he told her to return and submit herself to her mistress.
When Abraham pursued Chederlaomer, the king of Elam, he took his three hundred and eighteen servants, and his three friends, Aner, Eschol and Mamre, and recaptured a large amount of property which had been carried away from Sodom. But when the king of Sodom offered him all the property which he had taken, he refused everything, except what his servants had eaten and the portion of his three friends—answering immediately for himself and his servants, and refusing everything, but reserving the right to his friends to answer for themselves.
From the passages which I have recited and referred to, we can obtain some idea of the conditions of Abraham’s servants. They were property bought and sold for money; their services belonged to him, and was disposed of without their consent. Their condition was hereditary—the master could punish or chastise the slave, and even maim him, at his pleasure. He exercised rights which no southern planter would dare to exercise, and which a southern negro would not submit to.
Abraham was a worshiper of God; he had direct and immediate communication with him. He showed his willingness to obey God’s commands, even in offering his only son a sacrifice to God. He is spoken of by all the sacred writers, as one who was selected, from the whole human race, as the father of the faithful. God would not have so highly honored him, had he been living in constant and habitual violation of his laws: nor would he have required from him the performance of immaterial ceremonies, or of painful things not required by the moral law, and left him ignorantly to continue to violate his duties to his fellow men. Had our abolition friends been in God’s stead, they would have certainly acted in a very different manner. Is there one of them who will dare to say, he would have done better than God did?
But God, instead of teaching Abraham, his chosen servant, that it was immoral to use and buy his slaves, demanded from him the performance of certain things, which required that the relation of master and slave should be kept up, not only during Abraham’s time, but in all future ages. And when the angel of the Lord interfered between Sarai and Hagar, it was to cause the slave to submit to punishment inflicted by her mistress. Under like circumstances, our slaves are persuaded to go to Canada.
From what I have written, if it stood alone, I would infer that the holding of slaves was right, in some cases. But this is, by no means, all that is found in the Bible upon the subject. After the Israelites had been a long time in Egypt, they became servants to the Egyptians. At this time, God sent Moses, as a messenger, to bring them out of Egypt. Through Moses, God gave them laws by which they were to be governed. No law which came directly from him (the fountain of morality), can be considered morally wrong; it might be imperfect, in not providing for circumstances not then existing—but, so far as it does provide, the provisions are correct. Nothing which God ordained can be a crime, and nothing for which he gave express permission can be considered wrong.
In Leviticus xxv, we are told, that the Lord spake to Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them—after various provisions of the law, the 39th verse reads as follows, in regard to servitude: If thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee, then shalt not compel him to serve as a bond-servant, but as an hired servant, &c.—clearly showing that there was a distinction between bond-servant and hired-servant. After providing for the case of a Hebrew servant, verses 44, 45, and 46, of the same law, read as follows: Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmenand bondmaids. Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land; and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever.
In Exodus xxi, 20, 21, we find this law: And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand, he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.
The 26th and 27th verses of the same chapter provide, that if the servant have lost an eye or a tooth, by a blow from the master, the servant should go free.
The 29th, 30th, 31st, and 32d verses provide, that if an ox was known to be vicious and killed a freeman, the ox and his owner were both put to death; but if he gored a bond-servant, the ox should be killed and the master should pay thirty shekels of silver: showing the distinction between bond and freemen.
The law given to the Israelites, in regard to circumcision, required the master to circumcise his male servant, bought with his money or born in his house; and, of course, it presupposes the right and power to enforce the circumcision.
Thus, we see that at a time when the Israelites had no slaves, but were themselves, in a manner, fugitive slaves, and when they had no use for slaves, being wanderers in a wilderness, and fed by God’s own hand, he provided laws for bringing in, buying, inheriting and governing, slaves, in the land unto which they were to be brought at the end of forty years. He made laws recognizing the right of property, in man and in his descendents, forever—the right to trade in that property, without any limit, except that the Israelites could not buy each other; and the right to punish the slave, with no limitation, except that if the slave should die under his master’s hand, the master should be punished—and if maimed, in certain ways, he had a right to freedom. These laws are worse, for the slave, than the laws of any southern State. They were provided, by God himself, for his chosen people. To any man, who admits that the Bible is given by inspiration from God, they prove that, in buying, selling, holding and using slaves, there is no moral guilt. Like all the institutions of the Deity, the holding of slaves may become criminal, by abuse of the slave; but the relation, in itself, is good and moral.
In the New Testament I find frequent mention of master and servant, and of their duties. Paul and Timothy, in writing to the Colossians, in the third chapter and twenty-second to twenty-fifth verses, exhort servants to obey their masters in all things, and not with eye-service; and in the fourth chapter and first verse, they exhort masters to give their servants what is just and equal.
Paul, in writing to Timothy, tells him to teach the same doctrine; and says, if any man teach otherwise, he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words: see 1 Timothy vi, 1–6. Peter, also (1 Peter ii, 18–24), exhorts servants to be obedient to their masters, not only to the good and gentle, but to the froward.
Now, we all know, that the condition of the servant of the Roman empire, was much less free than that of the southern negro. His master had a more unlimited control over him; yet, the apostles say to servants, to submit to their masters—not only to the good and gentle, but to the froward; and to masters to give to their servants what is just and equal. Now, had they considered the relation of master and slave, one criminal or immoral, in itself, they must either have omitted to speak of it at all, or have condemned the relation altogether.
Paul wrote an epistle to Philemon, a Christian, a disciple of his, and a slaveholder. He sent it to him by Onesimus, also a convert, a slave of Philemon, who was a fugitive. In it, he prays Philemon to charge the fault of Onesimus to him, saying he would repay it, unless Philemon forgave it for his sake.
Now, had the holding of slaves been a crime, Paul’s duty to Philemon would have required him to instruct Philemon, that he had no rights over Onesimus, but that the attempt to hold him in servitude was criminal; and his duty to Onesimus would have been, in such case, to send him to some foreign free country, whereby he might have escaped from oppression. But Paul sent him back. Our northern friends think that they manage these matters better than Paul did.
We find, then, that both the Old and New Testaments speak of slavery—that they do not condemn the relation, but, on the contrary, expressly allow it or create it; and they give commands and exhortations, which are based upon its legality and propriety. It can not, then, be wrong.
What we have written is founded solely upon the Bible, and can have no force, unless it is taken for truth. If that book is of divine origin, the holding of slaves is right: as that which God has permitted, recognized and commanded, cannot be inconsistent with his will
D3: The Political Economy of Slavery (1853)
Source: Edmund Ruffin, The Political Economy of Slavery; or The Institution Considered in Regard to Its Influence on Public Wealth and the General Welfare (1853)
Virginia planter and slaveholder Edmund Ruffin was a towering figure in the antebellum South. Having earned acclaim for developing methods to replenish soil exhausted by over-farming tobacco, Ruffin is primarily know as a leading “Fire Eater”–a group of proslavery extremists who began calling for Southern secession as early as 1850. He is credited with firing the first shot of the Civil War at Fort Sumter and committed suicide when the South surrendered rather than live under “Yankee rule” in a South without slavery.
Slavery General in Ancient Times–Cause of Slavery–Aversion to Labor of Degraded Classes and of Barbarous Communities.
Slavery has existed from as early time as historical records furnish any information of the social and political condition of mankind. There was no country, in the most ancient time of its history, of which the people had made any considerable advances in industry or refinement, in which slavery had not been previously and long established, and in general use. The reasons for this universal early existence of slavery, and of domestic or individual slavery, (except among the most ignorant and savage tribes,) can be readily deduced from the early conditions of society.
Whether in savage or civilized life, the lower that individuals are degraded by poverty and want…the lower do they descend in their appreciation of actual and even natural wants; and the more do they magnify and dread the efforts and labors necessary to protect themselves against the occurence of the privations and sufferings with which they are threatened. When man sinks so low as not to feel artificial wants, or utterly to despair of gratifying any such wants, he becomes brutishly careless and indolent, even in providing for natural and physical wants, upon which provision even life is dependent. All such persons soon learn to regard present and continuous labor as an evil greater than the probable but uncertain future occurrence of extreme privation, or even famine, and consequent death from want…In all such cases–whether in civilized or in savage society, or whether in regard to individuals, families in successive generations, or to more extended communities–a good and proper remedy for this evil, if it could be applied, would be the enslaving of these reckless, wretched drones and cumberers of the earth, and thereby compelling them to habits of labor, and in return satisfying their wants for necessaries, and raising them and their progeny in the scale of humanity, not only physically, but morally and intellectually. Such a measure would be the most beneficial in young and rude communities, where labor is scarce and dear, and the means for subsistence easy to obtain. For even among a barbarous people, where the aversion to labor is universal, those who could not be induced to labor by their own hands, and in person, if they became slaveholders, would be ready enough to compel the labor of their slaves, and also would soon learn to economize and accumulate the products of their labor. Hence, among any savage people, the introduction and establishment of domestic slavery is necessarily an improvement of the condition and wealth and well-being of the community in general, and also of the comfort of the enslaved class, if it had consisted of such persons as were lowest in the social scale–and is beneficial in every such case to the master class, and to the community in general.
Indolence of Free Laborers at High Wages–Different Incentives to Free and Slave Labor–Comparative Values.
But the disposition to indulge indolence (even at great sacrifices of benefit which might be secured by industrious labor) is not peculiar to the lowest and most degraded classes of civilized communities. It is notorious that, whenever the demand for labor is much greater than the supply, or the wages of labor are much higher than the expenses of living, very many, even of the ordinary laboring class, are remarkable for indolence, and work no more than compelled by necessity. The greater the demand, and the higher the rewards, for labor, the less will be performed, as a general rule, by each individual laborer. If the wages of work for one day will support the laborer or mechanic and his family for three, it will be very likely that he will be idle two-thirds of the his time.
Slave labor, in each individual case, and for each small measure of time, is more slow and inefficient than the labor of a free man. The latter knows that the more work he performs in a short time, the greater will be his reward in earnings. Hence he has every inducement to exert himself while at work for himself, even though he may be idle for a longer time afterwards. The slave receives the same support, in food, clothing, and other allowances, whether he works much or little; and hence he has every inducement to spare himself as much as possible, and to do as little work as he can, without drawing on himself punishment, which is the only incentive to slave labor. It is, then, an unquestionable general truth, that the labor of a free man, for any stated time, is more than the labor of a slave, and if at the same cost, would be cheaper to the employer. Hence it has been inferred, and asserted by all who argue against slavery, and is often admitted even by those who would defend its expediency, that, as a general rule, and for whole communities, free labor is cheaper than slave labor. The rule is false, and the exceptions only are true. Suppose it admitted that the labor of slaves, for each hour or day, will amount to but two-thirds of what hired free laborers would perform in the same time. But the slave labor is continuous, and every day at least it returns to the employers and to the community, this two-thirds of full labor. Free laborers, if to be hired for the like duties, would require at least double the amount of wages to perform one-third more labor in each day, and in general, would be idle and earning nothing, more length of time than that spent in labor. Then, on these premises and suppositions, it is manifest that slave labor, with its admitted defect in this respect, will be cheapest and most profitable to the employer, and to the whole community, and will yield more towards the general increase of production and public wealth; and that the free laborer who is idle two days out of three, even if receiving double wages for his days of labor, is less laborious, and less productive for himself, and for the community, and the public wealth, than the slave.
The mistake of those who maintain, or admit, this generally asserted proposition, that “free labor is cheaper than slave labor”, is caused by assuming as true, that self-interest induces free hirelings to labor continuously and regularly. This is never the case in general, except where daily and continuous labor is required to obtain a bare daily subsistence…
The Evils and Benefits of Slavery Stated Generally.
Slavery… would be frequently attended with circumstances of great hardship, injustice, and sometimes atrocious cruelty. Still, the consequences and general results were highly beneficial. By this means only–the compulsion of domestic slaves–in the early conditions of society, could labor be made to produce wealth. By this aid only could leisure be afforded to the master class to cultivate mental improvement and refinement of manners; and artificial wants be created and indulged, which would stimulate the desire and produce the effect, to accumulate the products of labor, which alone constitute private and public wealth. To the operation and first results of domestic slavery were due the gradual civilization and general improvement of manners and of arts among all originally barbarous peoples, who, of themselves, or without being conquered and subjugated (or enslaved politically) by a more enlightened people, have subsequently emerged from barbarism and dark ignorance. The slavery supposed to be thus introduced would be the subjection of people of the same race with their masters–of equals to equals–and therefore this would be slavery of the most objectionable kind. It would involve most injustice and hardship to the enslaved–would render it more difficult for their masters to command and enforce obedience–and would make the bonds of servitude more galling to the slaves, because of their being equal to their masters (and, in many individual cases, greatly superior,) in natural endowments of mind.
The Greatest Works of Ancient Nations Due to Slavery, and In Its Worst Form
Still, even this worst and least profitable kind of slavery (the subjection of equals and men of the same race with their masters) served as the foundation and the essential first cause of all the civilization and refinement, and improvement of arts and learning, that distinguished the oldest nations. Except where the special Providence and care of God may have interposed to guard a particular family and its descendants, there was nothing but the existence of slavery to prevent any race or society in a state of nature from sinking into the rudest barbarism. And no people could ever have been raised from that low condition without the aid and operation of slavery, either by some individuals of the community being enslaved, by conquest and subjugation, in some form, to a foreign and more enlightened people. The very ancient and wonderful works of construction and sculpture in Egypt and Hindostan could never have been executed, nor even the desire to possess them conceived, except where compulsory labor had long been in use, and could be applied to such great works. And to the same cause as was due, not only the later and far more perfect and admirable works of art in Greece and Rome, but also the marvellous triumphs of intellect among these successive masters of the then known world. And not only were great works of utility and ornament so produced, nations enriched and strengthened, and empires established and maintained, but also there were moral results in private and social life, of far more value. In much earlier time, it was on this institution of domestic slavery that was erected the admirable and benificent mastership and government of the patriarch Abraham, who owned so many domestic slaves that he could suddenly call out and lead three hundred and eighteen of them, able to bear arms, to repel and punish the invasion of foreign hostile tribes. The like system of domestic slavery then, and for many ages after, subsisted in every part of the world in which any considerable moral or mental progress or economical improvement was to be seen…
The extinction of individual slavery the necessary result of an excess of free labor — The competition of free laborers, and their greatest sufferings, produce the greatest profits of capital.
[This is Ruffin’s criticism of “free labor” capitalism of the north (which he disguises as a criticism of England)]
But in every country, when covered by a dense population, and when subsistence to free laborers becomes difficult to be obtained, the competition for employment will tend to depress the price of labor, gradually, to the lowest rate at which a bare subsistence can be purchased. The indolence natural to man, and especially in his lowest and most degraded state, can then no longer be indulged; because to be idle would not he to suffer privation only, and to incur risks of greater suffering, but absolutely and speedily to starve and die of want. If domestic slavery could have continued to exist so long, the slaves then would be in a very much better condition than the free laborers, because possessing assured means for support, and that for much less labor and hardship. For sharp want, hunger and cold, are more effective incentives to labor than the slaveowner’s whip, even if its use is not restrained by any feeling of justice or mercy. But under such conditions of free labor, domestic or individual slavery could not exist; For whenever want and competition shall reduce the wages of free labor below the cost of slave labor, then it will be more profitable for the slaveowner and employer to hire free labor (both cheapened and driven by hunger and misery) than to maintain slaves, and compel their labor less effectually and at greater expense. Under such conditions, slaves (if they could not be sold and removed to some other country, where needed) would be readily emancipated by masters to whom they had become burdensome. Soon, under the operating influence of self-interest alone on the master class, domestic slavery would come to an end of itself — give place to the far more stringent and oppressive rule of want, as a compeller of labor, and be substituted by class-slavery, or the absolute subjection of the whole class of laborers to the whole class of employers— or of labor to capital. Then, in the progress of society; first begins to be true, and soon becomes entirely true, the hackneyed proposition that “free labor is cheaper than slave labor;” and it is only true under these circumstances, when the supply of labor is regularly or generally greater than the demand. ’Then the surplus hands must be left without employment, and therefore without means for subsistence. They can obtain employment only by underbidding the rate of wages then received by the laborers employed, and so be engaged by throwing as many other laborers out of work. These must, in like manner, submit to the same reduction of wages, to be enabled again to obtain employment by getting the places of as many others. Finally, all are compelled to work for the reduced wages. But, after this general reduction, still, as before, the supply of hands will exceed (and more and more with the increase of population) the demand for their labor; as many therefore as are surplus must be always out of employment, and struggling to obtain it — and by the same process, competition, urged by extreme want, will tend still more to lower wages. Thus want and competition will continue to compel the superfluous and unemployed hands to submit to more and more reduction of wages, until the amount generally obtained is very much less than what is needed for the comfortable subsistence and healthy support of the laborer. And during all the time of this long continued competition and struggle for subsistence, while the rate of wages is being gradually lowered, the amount of toil of each laborer is increased — or at, least as long as the human frame can bear increased exertion. When the greatest possible amount of labor is thus obtained for tile lowest amount of wages that can barely sustain life and strength for labor, there has been attained the most perfect and profitable condition of industrial operations for the class of capitalists and employers, and also for the most rapid increase of general and national wealth. But these benefits (so much lauded and deemed so desirable for every country, and by almost every writer,) are purchased only by the greatest possible amount of toil, privation, and misery of the class of laborers under which they can live and work. It is readily admitted that slave labor could never yield anything like such large net returns — and that it would not only produce less, but would cost more. Slaves could not be subjected to such extreme privation and misery, because they must be fed and clothed, and cannot generally be greatly over-worked, (and never to the profit of the master,) as is caused continually by the pressure of extreme want, and through competition, on free laborers. If the political and economical problem to be worked out is the production of the greatest amount of profit to capitalists, and of wealth to the nation, in a country of dense population and advanced industrial operations, without regard to the sufferings of the laboring) class, it is certain that the laborers must not be slaves, but free from’ alt masters except extreme want. England, after the .general abolition of, slavery, was more than two centuries approaching this condition, which was finally reached, and has now been fully enjoyed for many years. Since then, England has been, of all the countries of the world, the most prosperous in manufactures, commerce, and all industrial employments of capital and labor— and the laboring and poorest classes have been among the most destitute and miserable. That they have not been sunk, by competition for food, to still greater misery, and that many more numerous and frequent deaths have not occurred from absolute starvation, is owing to the introduction and protection of another kind of slavery — pauper slavery — which is the certain consequence of, and the partial remedy for, the evils and sufferings produced by the competition of free labor….
General and Extreme Suffering from Want Impossible in a Slaveholding Community
So long as domestic slavery is general in any country, and for the most part supplies the labor of the country, there is no possibility of the occurrence of the sufferings of the laboring class, such as were described above. There, the evils which are caused by extreme want and destitution, the competition for sustenance, class-slavery of labor to captial, and lastly pauper slavery, are all the incidents and necessary results of free society, and “free labor”. Before such evils can visit any laboring class of personal slaves, they must have first been emancipated, and personal slavery abolished. This abolition of slavery is indeed like to occur in every country in the progress of society, and where the increasing population has no sufficient and advantageous outlet. But so long as domestic slavery remains, and is the main supply of labor, among any civilized people, it is a certain indication, and the most unquestionable evidence, that extensive and long continued suffering from want or hunger have as yet had no existence in that country. The first great effect of such distress will be to reduce (by competition) the wages of free labor below the cost of maintaining slaves–and this effect would next cause the extinction of slavery, by the mode of sale and exportation, or otherwise the emancipation of all the slaves. After this step has been made, of course, in due time, the want and suffering, which are the necessary incidents and consequences of free society, are to be expected to follow in after times.
When temporary evils, great loss, and distress, fall upon slave-holding countries, it is not the laboring class (as in free society) that feels the first and heaviest infliction, but the masters and employers. If a slaveholding country is visited by dearth, ravaged by war, or by pestilence–or suffers under any other causes of wide-spread calamity–every domestic slave is as much as before assured of his customary food and other allowances, and of a master’s care in sickness and infirmity, even though the master class, and the country at large, have but half the previously exisiting profits, or value of capital. A striking proof of this was afforded by the recent (and still continuing) general suspension of payments of the banks in this country, and the consequent universal pecuniary loss and distress. Payments of debts could not be obtained, commodities could not be sold, and all manufacturing and some other great industrial operations either had to be continued for greatly reduced prices and wages, or to be entirely suspended, or if of such kind as could be suspended, in consequence, in the Northern States, the free hired laborers were thrown out of employment, or employed only at much reduced wages. Hence all such persons were greatly damaged or distressed, and thousands of the most destitute were ready to starve. Hence hunger mobs were menacing the city of New York with pillage, and the last evils of a vicious and unbridled and starving populace, excited to insurrection and defiance of legal authority. Universal loss from this cause also visited the slaveholding States, and every property holder, and also, to some extent, every other free man therein. But not a slave has lost a meal, or a comfort; and as a class, the slaves scarcely know of the occurence of this great national calamity which has so universally damaged their masters, and the capitalists and employers of labor. Nor was the difference of effect owing to the slaves being generally engaged in agricultural labors. The very large business of manufacturing tobacco, in Virginia, is carried on almost exclusively by the labor of slaves, and those mostly hired by the year. The late bank suspension serving to suspend all payments of debts to, and income of, their great establishments, they were generally compelled to suspend work, even though still obliged to feed and support their hired slave laborers, who, for some time, thus received their full allowance and support, while remaining perfectly idle, and returning no compensation whatever to their employers who had hired them for the year.
D4: The Sociology of Slavery (1854, 1857)
Source: George Fitzhugh, “Negro Slavery,” Chapter V., Sociology for the South, or, the Failure of Free Society (1854), The Blessings of Slavery (1857), and Cannibals All! Or, Slaves Without Masters (1857).
Virginian George Fitzhugh was a leading Southern intellectual who championed proslavery views and the authoritarianism of Southern society and culture. He was a voracious reader and a prolific writer who published his views in newspapers, De Bow’s Review, pamphlets, and books.
Now it has been the practice in all countries and in all ages, in some degree, to accommodate the amount and character of government control to the wants, intelligence, and moral capacities of the nations or individuals to be governed. A highly moral and intellectual people, like the free citizens of ancient Athens, are best governed by a democracy. For a less moral and intellectual one, a limited and constitutional monarchy will answer. For a people either very ignorant or very wicked, nothing short of military despotism will suffice. So among individuals, the most moral and well-informed members of society require no other government than law. They are capable of reading and understanding the law, and have sufficient self-control and virtuous disposition to obey it. Children cannot be governed by mere law; first, because they do not understand it, and secondly, because they are so much under the influence of impulse, passion and appetite, that they want sufficient self-control to be deterred or governed by the distant and doubtful penalties of the law. They must be constantly controlled by parents or guardians, whose will and orders shall stand in the place of law for them. Very wicked men must be put into penitentiaries; lunatics into asylums, and the most wild of them into straight jackets, just as the most wicked of the sane are manacled with irons; and idiots must have committees to govern and take care of them. Now, it is clear the Athenian democracy would not suit a negro nation, nor will the government of mere law suffice for the individual negro. He is but a grown up child, and must be governed as a child, not as a lunatic or criminal. The master occupies towards him the place of parent or guardian. We shall not dwell on this view, for no one will differ with us who thinks as we do of the negro’s capacity, and we might argue till dooms-day, in vain, with those who have a high opinion of the negro’s moral and intellectual capacity.
Secondly. The negro is improvident; will not lay up in summer for the wants of winter ; will not accumulate in youth for the exigencies of age. He would become an insufferable burden to society. Society has the right to prevent this, and can only do so by subjecting him to domestic slavery.
In the last place, the negro race is inferior to the white race, and living in their midst, they would be far outstripped or outwitted in the chase of free competition. Gradual but certain extermination would be their fate. We presume the maddest abolitionist does not think the negro’s providence of habits and money-making capacity at all to compare to those of the whites. This defect of character would alone justify enslaving him, if he is to remain here. In Africa or the West Indies, he would become idolatrous, savage and cannibal, or be devoured by savages and cannibals. At the North he would freeze or starve.
We would remind those who deprecate and sympathize with negro slavery, that his slavery here relieves him from a far more cruel, slavery in Africa, or from idolatry and cannibalism, and every brutal vice and crime that can disgrace humanity; and that it christianizes, protects, supports and civilizes him; that it governs him far better than free laborers at the North are governed. There, wife-murder has become a mere holiday pastime; and where so many wives are murdered, almost all must be brutally treated. Nay, more: men who kill their wives or treat them brutally, must be ready for all kinds of crime, and the calendar of crime at the North proves the inference to be correct. Negroes never kill their wives. If it be objected that legally they have no wives, then we reply, that in an experience of more than forty years, we never yet heard of a negro man killing a negro woman. Our negroes are not only better off as to physical comfort than free laborers, but their moral condition is better.
But abolish negro slavery, and how much of slavery still remains. Soldiers and sailors in Europe enlist for life; here, for five years. Are they not slaves who have not only sold their liberties, but their lives also? And they are worse treated than domestic slaves. No domestic affection and self-interest extend their aegis over them. No kind mistress, like a guardian angel, provides for them in health, tends them in sickness, and soothes their dying pillow. Wellington at Waterloo was a slave. He was bound to obey, or would, like admiral Bying, have been shot for gross misconduct, and might not, like a common laborer, quit his work at any moment. He had sold his liberty, and might not resign without the consent of. his master, the king. The common laborer may quit his work at any moment, whatever his contract; declare that liberty is an inalienable right, and leave his employer to redress by a useless suit for damages. The highest and most honorable position on earth was that of the slave Wellington; the lowest, that of the free man who cleaned his boots and fed his hounds. The African cannibal, caught, christianized and enslaved, is as much elevated by slavery as was Wellington. The kind of slavery is adapted to the men enslaved. Wives and apprentices are slaves; not in theory only, but often in fact. Children are slaves to their parents, guardians and teachers. Imprisoned culprits are slaves. Lunatics and idiots are slaves also. Three-fourths of free society are slaves, no better treated, when their wants and capacities are estimated, than negro slaves. The masters in free society, or slave society, if they perform properly their duties, have more cares and less liberty than the slaves themselves. “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou earn thy bread!” made all men slaves, and such all good men continue to be.
Negro slavery would be changed immediately to some form of peonage, serfdom or villienage, if the negroes were sufficiently intelligent and provident to manage a farm. No one would have the labor and trouble of management, if his negroes would pay in hires and rents one-half what free tenants pay in rent in Europe. Every negro in the South would be soon liberated, if he would take liberty on the terms that white tenants hold it. The fact that he cannot enjoy liberty on such terms, seems conclusive that he is only fit to be a slave…
“The Blessings of Slavery” (1857)
The negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and in some sense, the freest people in the world. The children and the aged and infirm work not at all, and yet have all the comforts and necessaries of life provided for them. They enjoy liberty, because they are oppressed neither by care or labor. The women do little hard work, and are protected from the despotism of their husbands by their masters. The negro men and stout boys work, on the average, in good weather, no more than nine hours a day. The balance of their time is spent in perfect abandon. Besides, they have their Sabbaths and holidays. White men, with som muh of license and abandon, would die of ennui; but negroes luxuriate in corporeal and mental repose. With their faces upturned to the sun, they can sleep at any hour; and quiet sleep is the gretest of human enjoyments. “Blessed be the man who invented sleep.” ‘Tis happiness in itself-and results from contentment in the present, and confident assurance of the future. We do not know whether free laborers ever sleep. They are fools to do so; for, whilst they sleep, the wily and watchful capitalist is devising means to ensnare and exploit them. The free laborer must work or starve. He is more of a slave than the negro, because he works longer and harder for less allowance than the slave, and has no holiday, because the cares of life with him begin when its labors end. He has no liberty and not a single right….
But the negro has neither energy nor enterprise, and, even in our sparser populations, finds with his improvident habits, that his liberty is a curse to himself, and a greater curse to the society around him. These considerations, and others equally obvious, have induced the South to attempt to defend negro slavery as an exceptional institution, admitting, nay asserting, that slavery, in the general or in the abstract, is morally wrong, and against common right. With singular inconsistency, after making this admission, which admits away the authority of the Bible, of profane history, and of the almost universal practice of mankind-they turn around and attempt to bolster up the cause of negro slavery by these very exploded authorities. If we mean not to repudiate all divine, and almost all human authority in favor of slavery, we must vindicate that institution in the abstract.
Cannibals All! Or, Slaves Without Masters (1857)
Until the lands of America are appropriated by a few, population becomes dense, competition among laborers active, employment uncertain, and wages low, the personal liberty of all the whites will continue to be a blessing. We has have vast unsettled territories; population may cease to increase, or increase slowly, as in most countries, and many centuries may elapse before the question will be practically suggested, whether slavery to capital be preferable to slavery to human masters. But the negro has neither energy nor enterprise, and, even in our sparser population, finds, with his improvident habits, that his liberty is a curse to himself, and a greater curse to the society around him. These considerations, and others equally obvious, have induced the South to attempt to defend negro slavery as an exceptional institution, admitting, nay asserting; that slavery, in the general or in the abstract, is morally wrong, and against common right. With singular inconsistency, after making this admission, which admits away the authority of the Bible, of profane history, and of the almost universal practice of mankind – they turn round and attempt to bolster up the cause of negro slavery by these very exploded authorities. If we mean not to repudiate all divine, and almost all human authority in favor of slavery, we must vindicate that institution in the abstract.
To insist that a status of society, which has been almost universal, and which is To insist that a status of society, which has been almost universal, and which is expressly and continually justified by Holy Writ, is its natural, normal, and necessary status, under the ordinary circumstances, is on its face a plausible and probable proposition. To insist on less, is to yield our cause, and to give up our religion; for if white slavery be morally wrong, be a violation of natural rights, the Bible cannot be true. Human and divine authority do seem in the general to concur, in establishing the expediency of having masters and slaves of different races. The nominal servitude of the Jews to each other, in its temporary character, and no doubt in its mild character, more nearly resembled our wardship and apprenticeship, than ordinary domestic slavery. In very many nations of antiquity, and in some of modern times, the law has permitted the native citizens to become slaves to each other. But few take advantage of such laws; and the infrequency of the practice, establishes the general truth that master and slave should be of different national descent. In some respects, the wider the difference the better, as the slave will feel less mortified by his position. In other respects, it may be that too wide a difference hardens the hearts and brutalizes the feelings of both master and slave. The civilized man hates the savage, and the savage returns the hatred with interest.. Hence, West India slavery, of newly caught negroes, is not a very humane, affectionate or civilizing institution. Virginia negroes have become moral and intelligent. They love their master and his family, and the attachment is reciprocated. Still, we like the idle, but intelligent house-servants, better than the hard-used, but stupid outhands; and we like the mulatto better than the negro; yet the negro is generally more affectionate, contented and faithful.
The world at large looks on negro slavery as much the worst form of slavery; because it is only acquainted with West India slavery. Abolition never arose till negro slavery was instituted; and now abolition is only directed against negro slavery. There is no philanthropic crusade attempting to set free the white slaves of Eastern Europe and of Asia. The world, then, is prepared for the defence of slavery in the abstract – it is prejudiced only against negro slavery. These prejudices were in their origin well founded. The Slave Trade, the horrors of the Middle Passage, and West India slavery, were enough to rouse the most torpid philanthropy.
But our Southern slavery has become a benign and protective institution, and our negroes are confessedly better off than any free laboring population in the world.
How can we contend that white slavery is wrong, whilst all the great body of free laborers are starving; and slaves, white or black, throughout the world, are enjoying comfort?
We write in the cause of Truth and Humanity, and will not play the advocate for master or for slave.
The aversion to negroes, the antipathy of race, is much greater at the North than at the South; and it is very probable that this antipathy to the person of the negro, is confounded with or generates hatred of the institution with which he is usually connected. Hatred to slavery is very generally little more than hatred of negroes.
There is one strong argument in favor of negro slavery over all other slavery: that he, being unfitted for the mechanic arts, for trade, and all skillful pursuits, leaves those pursuits to be carried on by the whites; and does not bring all industry into disrepute, as in Greece and Rome, where the slaves were not only the artists and mechanics, but also the merchants.
Whilst, as a general and abstract question, negro slavery has no other claims over other forms of slavery, except that from inferiority, or rather peculiarity, of race, almost all negroes require masters, whilst only the children, the women, the very weak, poor, and ignorant, &c., among the whites, need some protective and governing relation of this kind; yet as a subject of temporary, but worldwide importance, negro slavery has become the most necessary of all human institutions.
The African slave trade to America commenced three centuries and a half since. By the time of the American Revolution, the supply of slaves had exceeded the demand for slave labor, and the slave holders, to get rid of a burden, and to prevent the increase of a nuisance, became violent opponents of the slave trade, and many of them abolitionists. New England, Bristol, and Liverpool, who reaped the profits of the trade, without suffering from the nuisance, stood out for a long time against its abolition. Finally, laws and treaties were made, and fleets fitted out to abolish it; and after a while, the slaves of most of South America, of the West Indies, and of Mexico were liberated. In the meantime, cotton, rice, sugar, coffee, tobacco, and other products of slave labor, came into universal use as necessaries of life. The population of Western Europe, sustained and stimulated by those products, was trebled, and that of the North increased ten fold. The products of slave labor became scarce and dear, and famines frequent. Now, it is obvious that to emancipate all the negroes would be to starve Western Europe and our North. Not to extend and increase negro slavery, pari passu, with the extension and multiplication of free society, will produce much suffering. If all South America, Mexico, the West Indies, and our Union south of Mason and Dixon’s line, of the Ohio and Missouri, were slaveholding, slave products would be abundant and cheap in free society; and their market for their merchandise, manufactures, commerce, &c., illimitable. Free white laborers might live in comfort and luxury on light work, but for the exacting and greedy landlords, bosses and other capitalists.
D5: James Henry Hammond’s “Mudsill Speech” (1858)
Source: James Henry Hammond, “Speech of Hon. James H. Hammond, of South Carolina, On the Admission of Kansas, Under the Lecompton Constitution: Delivered in the Senate of the United States, March 4, 1858,” Washington, D. C., 1858 [Often referred to as the “Mudsill” or “Cotton is King” Speech]
James Henry Hammond was arguably South Carolina’s leading politician in the run up to the Civil War, having served South Carolina as Governor and both a Representative in Congress and a US Senator. Hammond was a lifelong proslavery radical and a supporter of authoritarian government. His political career was nearly derailed by a series of scandals, one of which involved raping four teenaged nieces while he served as governor. (Hammond blamed his nieces for the rape, arguing that they had seduced him by being “extremely affectionate” toward him). After retreating briefly from politics, Hammond returned to join the US Senate, which is where he delivered this speech. Hammond continued his patterns of sexual abuse, raping two slaves regularly, one of whom was an adult and the other the woman’s twelve year old daughter, who was likely Hammond’s child. The girl gave birth to several children fathered by Hammond. In the antebellum South, raping Black women was not generally considered a crime or even scandalous and Hammond’s actions were swept under the rug. Even Hammond’s wife, who complained repeatedly to him about the rapes, eventually forgave him.
But sir, the greatest strength of the South arises from the harmony of her political and social institutions. This harmony gives her a frame of society, the best in the world, and an extent of political freedom, combined with entire security, such as no other people ever enjoyed upon the face of the earth. Society precedes government; creates it, and ought to control it; but as far as we can look back in historic times we find the case different: for government is no sooner create d than it becomes too strong for society, and shapes and moulds, as well as controls it. In later centuries the progress of civilization and of intelligence has made the divergence so great as to produce civil wars and revolutions; and it is nothing now but the want of harmony between governments and societies which occasions all the uneasiness and trouble and terror that we see abroad. It was this that brought on the American Revolution. We threw off a Government not adapted to our social system, and made one for ourselves. The question is how far have we succeeded? The South so far as that is concerned, is satisfied, harmonious, and prosperous.
In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mud-sill of society and of political government; and you might as well attempt to build a house in the air, as to build either the one or the other, except on this mud-sill. Fortunately for the South, she found a race adapted to that purpose to her hand. A race inferior to her own, but eminently qualified in temper, in vigor, in docility, in capacity to stand the climate, to answer all her purposes. We use them for our purpose, and call them slaves. We found them slaves by the “common consent of mankind,” which, according to Cicero, “lex naturae est.” The highest proof of what is Nature’s law. We are old-fashioned at the South yet; it is a word discarded now by “ears polite;” I will not characterize that class at the North with that term; but you have it; it is there; it is everywhere; it is eternal.
The Senator from New York said yesterday that the whole world had abolished slavery. Aye, the name, but not the thing; all the powers of the earth cannot abolish that. God only can do it when he repeals the fiat, “the poor ye always have with you;” for the man who lives by daily labor, and scarcely lives at that, and who has to put out his labor in the market, and take the best he can get for it; in short, your whole hireling class of manual laborers and “operatives,” as you call them, are essentially slaves. The difference between us is, that our slaves are hired for life and well compensated; there is no starvation, no begging, no want of employment among our people, and not too much employment either. Yours are hired by the day, not cared for, and scantily compensated, which may be proved in the most painful manner, at any hour in any street in any of your large towns. Why, you meet more beggars in one day, in any single street of the city of New York, than you would meet in a lifetime in the whole South. We do not think that whites should be slave s either by law or necessity. Our slaves are black, of another and inferior race. The status in which we have placed them is an elevation. They are elevated from the condition in which God first created them, by being made our slaves. None of that race on the whole face of the globe can be compared with the slaves of the South. They are happy, content, uninspiring, and utterly incapable, from intellectual weakness, ever to give us any trouble by their aspirations. Yours are white, of your own race; you are brothers of one blood. They are your equals in natural endowment of intellect, and they feel galled by their degradation. Our slaves do not vote. We give them no political power. Yours do vote, and being the majority, they are the depositaries of all your political power. If they knew the tremendous secret, that the ballot-box is stronger than “an army with banners,” and could combine, were would you be? Your society would be reconstructed, your government overthrown, your property divided, not as they have mistakenly attempted to initiate such proceedings by meeting in parks, with arms in their hands, but by the quiet process of the ballot-box. You have been making war upon us to our very hearthstones. How would you like for us to send lecturers and agitators North, to teach these people this, to aid in combining, and to lead them!
D6: Thomas R. R. Cobb, Effects of Abolition in the United States (1858)
Thomas R. R. Cobb, “Effects of Abolition in the United States,” in An Inquiry Into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America (1858): 173-177.
Thomas Reade Root Cobb of Georgia was the leading Southern intellectual focused on proslavery legal thought and an dedicated secessionist. He was a founder of the University of Georgia School of Law and a reporter for the Supreme Court of Georgia. He was an officer in the Confederacy and died at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. This document is a passage where Cobb discusses what he believes would be the effects of abolitionism.
EFFECTS OF ABOLITION IN THE UNITED STATES.
The number of negroes emancipated in the United States was comparatively small, but the effects do not vary materially as to their condition, from those already noticed. The fact of their limited number, as well as the additional facts, that previous to their emancipation they were employed but little in agricultural pursuits, and that the nature of the agriculture of the Northern States of the Union was ill suited to this species of labor, protected the prosperity of those States from the depressing influences experienced elsewhere from the abolition of slavery. That their physical condition does not com pare favorably with that of the slaves of the South is evident from the decennial census of the United States, showing a much larger increase in the latter than in the former. No surer test can be applied.
Notwithstanding the very labored efforts made for their intellectual improvement, taken as a body they have made no advancement. Averse to physical labor, they are equally averse to intellectual effort. The young negro acquires readily the first rudiments of education, where memory and imitation are chiefly brought into action, but for any higher effort of reason and judgment he is, as a general rule, utterly incapable.
His moral condition compares unfavorably with that of the slave of the South. He seeks the cities and towns, and indulges freely in those vices to which his nature inclines him. His friends inveigh against “the prejudice of color,” but he rises no higher in Mexico, Central America, New Grenada, or Brazil, where no such prejudice exists. The cause lies deeper: in the nature and constitution of the negro race.
The emancipated negroes do not enjoy full and equal civil and political rights in any State in the Union, except the State of Vermont. In several of the States they are not permitted to vote, in some under peculiar restrictions. In almost every State where the matter has been made a subject of legislation, intermarriages with the whites are forbidden. In none are such marriages at all common. In many they are forbidden to serve as jurors, or to be sworn as witnesses against a white per son,” or hold any elective office.
The criminal statistics of the slaveholding and non-slaveholding States show that the proportion of crime committed by negroes in the former does not reach the ratio of this population as compared with the whites, while in the latter the ratio is much greater. The same is true of the statistics of mortality and disease. The apparent disproportion in the former case is greater than the truth, as many petty crimes by slaves do not reach the courts; and in the latter, it may be truly said that the southern climate is more favorable to the health and longevity of the negro. But making due allowances in both cases for these causes, it is still true, that the negroes are less addicted to crime, and are more healthy and longlived, in a state of slavery than of freedom.