The climate renders excesses of all kinds very dangerous, particularly those of the table; and yet, insensible or fearless of danger, they live on and enjoy a short and a merry life…. Can he [the author] imagine himself in a country the establishment of which is so recent?
J. HECTOR ST JOHN DE CREVECOEUR, Letters from an American Farmer1
An exquisitely sharpened hatred for the White Man is of course an emotion not difficult for Negroes to harbour.
WILLIAM STYRON, The Confessions of Nat Turner2
During his second inaugural address in March 1865, President Abraham Lincoln reflected on the coming of the Civil War. Commenting that the southern slave population ‘Constituted a peculiar and powerful interest’, he continued, ‘All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.’3 How the South became the source of a separatist insurgency, the focus of a regional desire for independence is the subject of this chapter. Its main theme will be to demonstrate that slavery underlay the increasingly particularist attitude evinced in the South. This eventually transcended an interpretation of what constituted the southern political and economic interest; it assumed a social and cultural aspect as well. By 1860 most southerners agreed that they had, in an incredibly short period of time, developed a distinct civilization, and were culturally different from other Americans. It is a secondary argument of this chapter that the distinctiveness of the South has been exaggerated. But it was what southerners really believed that counted, and most southerners assumed that their quest for a separate national identity was justified by cultural fact. ‘The South is an attitude of mind’, as one historian once put it, ‘and a way of behaviour just as much as it is a territory.’4
The rise of slavery
Clearly, in any assessment of how distinct a region the South was before 1861, slavery must be the pre-eminent factor. Chattel slavery in the American South has been one of the central preoccupations of United States historians since about 1950. This effort has produced some of the most fertile and distinguished historical writing since then; clearly, it is an enormous subject and only an outline of it can be given in this chapter. The focus will be on those elements in southern society which contributed to the growth of separatism. No effort has been made to cover the social aspect of slavery in detail, the vitality, or otherwise, of the slave family, the plantation household, the ‘slave community’ and culture in the plantations, and other aspects that are not relevant to the study of war origins. But those elements which contributed to the tensions latent in the ante-bellum South will be considered.5
The striking feature about the ante-bellum South is that the southern economy was dominated by slavery; the social life of those who owned slaves was dominated by slavery; and the major political preoccupation of those whites who did not own slaves was determined by an overwhelming desire to dominate race relations, and ensure that the Negro population remained in a subordinate position. The one startling feature of slavery in the modern world (that is, since 1700) is the demographic change that it brought about. Before 1861 it has been estimated that some 9,566,000 slaves were transported to the Americas; 427,000 made their way to North America, that is to say, 4.5 per cent of the total. (The slavery exports to Brazil alone were 8.5 times that number.) Yet the total slave population in North America in 1865, at the time of the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, was over 4 million. Thus the increase of the slave population was entirely due to domestic factors, and not to any sudden importation or revival of the slave trade. If the Brazilian slave population had increased on this scale, then by 1850 the number of Negro slaves in Brazil would have numbered 127,645,000, or double the number of slaves of African descent to be found in the entire hemisphere. Thus conditions in North America were suitable for a substantial increase by 1861 of the slave population.6 Of course, the spread of slavery in the nineteenth century was denounced as wicked and un-Christian by various groups, broadly described as ‘Abolitionists’, but it is as well to be aware at the outset that though by 1860, the South was moving beyond the pale of western liberal civilization (although this would not prevent many British liberals, such as W. E. Gladstone and Lord Acton, from sympathizing with her bid for independence), the South was more like many other societies in the western world than the North. These sympathized with the South’s dislike of unfettered democracy, her desire to retain a large measure of her work-force in a form of peonage, and applauded her elevation of rural mores at the expense of cold-blooded exploitation of market, industrial capitalism. Some societies (especially in eastern Europe) had illiteracy rates that exceeded the South’s; they too upheld family, kin and patriarchy in social structures not dissimilar to feudalism as the essence of social life.
The peculiar and singular characteristics of southern society were the product of the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, a technological development which promoted the harvesting of the cotton crop (especially the short-staple cotton plant), and the Harrison Frontier Land Act (1800). This limited the minimum price of government land to two dollars per acre, and payment could be made easily in four annual instalments. These two developments prompted the frantic exploitation of the land acquired by the Louisiana Purchase, which was suitable for plantation agriculture. In addition, growth was stimulated by European demand for cotton and the rapid dispossession of Indian lands. Occasional setbacks occurred, such as the Recession of 1819, but until 1837 there were ‘flush times in Alabama and Mississippi’. In 1836 an observer reported that ‘they do business in a kind of frenzy, largely on credit’. These states exhibited the kind of restlessness characteristic of the frontier. One settler’s daughter informed her brother that their father was getting restless: ‘I don’t know why it is but none of them are satisfied here… . You have no idea how tired I am of hearing about moving; it is the subject of conversation every time pa and brother meet and that is very often’.
A drain of population occurred in a south westerly direction, as settlers moved to open up virgin lands. For example, whereas North Carolina had one of the highest birth rates in the Union in the years 1830–40, thereafter her population remained static. But the population of Alabama and Mississippi increased by 76 per cent and 154 per cent respectively; and the slave population increased by even larger numbers, 114 per cent and 197 per cent respectively. During the 1850s, the population of Texas tripled. In eastern Texas during the decade 1850–60 the production of cotton increased from 58,161 to 431,463 bales.7 Two conclusions can be drawn from this brief survey. First, that southern ‘civilization’ was extremely new and unsettled: its roots were shallow and its tradition short. Secondly, that the image of the great plantation was not so pervasive in the social life of the southern states as later sentimental apologists were inclined to claim. In the total southern population of some 8 million, only 46,274 were categorized as ‘planters’, that is, property-holders who owned more than 20 slaves. Indeed, fewer than 3,000 planters owned more than 100 slaves; only 11 men held more than 500 slaves. Southern agrarian life was dominated by small farmers who owned a handful of slaves or none at all. The limited number of planters, however, does not by any means vitiate the argument that they dominated southern agrarian society.8
It is this strong inequality of wealth and the social and political dominance of slaveowners that demarcated the South from the North during this period. It was not that the South enjoyed a unique, long-established culture that was at variance with the North; on the contrary it shared many features with the North, especially the entrepreneurial emphasis, the fevered speculation in land, and the frontier spirit. But even though the North obviously experienced a fair measure of social and economic inequality, the two sections can be distinguished clearly by the question of degree.
It was one of the services discharged by the controversial book by Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross (2 vols, 1974), that it succeeded in emphasizing the entrepreneurial strength of the South, with an argument which moved away from the old stereotype of a soporific, idle and generally decadent southern planter class, which was indifferent to making money. The massive increase in the output of cotton is without doubt supporting evidence; the South did not voluntarily place itself outside the mainstream American tradition of elevating ‘the market’ and the entrepreneur to a place of near worship. In 1790 cotton production was tiny, a mere 3,000 bales; by 1810 it had increased to 178,000 bales, then jumped to 732,000 bales by 1830, and then more exponentially to 4,500,000 bales by 1860.9
But Fogel and Engerman greatly exaggerate the productivity of slavery. They were inclined to judge the institution by the standard of modern managerial techniques. Furthermore, they confuse the phenomenal strength of the cotton boom with the efficiency of slavery, and tended to conflate the two. The tremendous appetite of growing textile industries for cotton in the industrialized world led to the opening up of virgin lands, with high yields in the cotton lands of the South West. This was not the result of a well-ordered, extremely efficient system of labour. It also indicates another area of fragility in southern prosperity, because the market boom was temporary (indeed the demand was reduced after 1860). Southern spokesmen were prone to assume that an expansion of the order of 70 per cent between 1857 and 1860 could be sustained and would remain a stable and permanent feature of southern political economy. This may help to explain the arrogant tone and truculent manner of some southern spokesmen by the late 1850s.10
Yet though we may discount some of the sweeping comparisons made between southern and northern agriculture — that southern plantation agriculture was more efficient, that the slave labour force was closely regulated, highly organized and specialized, and that the quality of Negro labour was discounted because of racial prejudices, and that, consequently, the slaveowners reaped economies of scale — one outstanding fact emerges for our purposes. There was nothing like plantation agriculture in the North.11 Yet this contrast has had a distorting influence on the study of slavery and the ante-bellum South, because (as a number of commentators acknowledge) studies of slavery have largely been focused on the atypical great plantations. To recapitulate, at the time of the presidential election in 1860, 47 per cent of slaves were the property of farmers who owned fewer than 20. This percentage actually increased in the Upper South, in Virginia and Tennessee in particular, with 61.7 per cent, but decreased in the Lower South, where only 38 per cent of slaves were the property of small slaveholders.12
We tend to think of slavery as essentially a rural phenomenon but it had an important urban aspect; an analysis of this is crucial in determining whether slavery could be exported westwards. Certainly 90 per cent of slaves lived outside the city; but the urban slave population grew steadily in the years 1820–50 and then declined. One explanation for this might be that slaveowners in the town could find alternative sources of labour when required. The temptation to sell slaves when their prices were high could not always be resisted, and it is as well to remember that the biggest slave markets were in the cities, and thus it was easier to dispose of them than it would be for others living far distant from the urban centres. The fall in the slave population in towns and cities probably had much more connection with the increase in the numbers of ‘poor whites’, who entered the labour market prepared to undertake menial labour, than it had with any ‘decline’ either of the political power of slaveowners or in the utility of slavery. Still, worries over the security of urban slavery remained strong.
Certainly the institution of slavery adapted to the urban environment. In theory the regulation of each slave’s life was just as rigid as on the plantation. They could not venture out at night without a pass, and similar documents were needed to allow them to sell or purchase goods in the market or shops. But in practice many slaveowners found that it took time and bother to keep filling out passes, and because the majority of slaves were law-abiding, slowly this law was enforced with less zeal than previously. A grocer informed the Charleston Mercury in 1835 that ‘The public voice is against the law, because it is opposed by reason and justice’. Certainly slaves were capable of a variety of skills and occupations, and the ‘hiring out’ of slave labour was common. The urban demand grew faster than the available supply and prices thus rose; simultaneously the price of free labour fell, a development which restricted the growth of urban slavery. It is, as modern scholars point out, difficult to imagine urban slavery – despite its adaptability – surviving the strains imposed by modern transport systems, increased educational opportunities and the factory system which followed in the train of industrial growth. Southern towns and cities before 1861 were far from being modern, industrial metropolises. They certainly showed, however, that slavery could adapt and survive outside the system of plantation agriculture.13 But the tensions resulting from this between whites and blacks (free and slave, because free blacks always lay under a pall of suspicion and the perpetual threat of re-enslavement) grew, with resultant segregation, and the realization that slavery became unmanageable if not uncontrollable, as slave numbers grew. Therefore moving slaves westward became a more attractive proposition.14
One-quarter of all southern free blacks lived in the towns and cities. Free blacks endured a considerable measure of discrimination in jobs throughout the United States. In southern cities, if anything, their lot was happier than in the North. In the cities of the Deep South, for instance, there were greater employment opportunities than either in the Upper South or the North, so that opportunities for free blacks in Charleston or New Orleans were greater than in New York. The widespread racial prejudice that we associate with the South did not prevent the creation of employment opportunities for free blacks, though this certainly does not mean that access to employment was anything like equal with whites. One of the reasons for this comparative tolerance was that in the South the free black population was the product of manumission and not emancipation, and that southerners were accustomed to seeing Negroes working in various trades in both the towns and country. But this did not prevent the free black population from being the object of dark suspicion during periods of crisis, because in the South they were not subject, as many whites saw it, to the controlling influence of slavery; and both in North and South free blacks were often involved in the hiding and spiriting away of runaway slaves. Some southern free blacks represented the most able and diligent members of the entire black population. Some of these succeeded in making their way in a white man’s world, acquiring great wealth, some political influence, and in the case of William Ellison, a mulatto master-craftsman, who had made a fortune producing cotton gins, owning larger cotton plantations and more slaves than many prosperous whites. But such men were very much the exception rather than the rule.15 The great majority of southern free blacks remained firmly embedded at the bottom of the rural social order as labourers and tenants. The condition of free blacks, and the anomalous position they enjoyed in the South whereby they were tolerated more than in the North yet distrusted, illustrates the profound ambivalence and marked tensions that underlay the ‘peculiar institution’.
The attitudes of whites to the slaves are, needless to say, difficult to categorize precisely. But we must not let twentieth-century reactions influence unduly our consideration of a nineteenth-century institution. This is the problem with Stanley Elkins’s much discussed comparison of Negro slavery with what he terms ‘concentration camps’. Whatever its other merits, this analogy which seeks to explain the formation in adults of ‘Sambo-like’, childish, giggling behaviour among Negro slaves, lacks a certain exactitude,16 because Elkins adopted an inappropriate model of a ‘closed’ system – the concentration camp – which he wrongly conflated with the plantation regime. Elkins’s analogy might have been more persuasive if he had compared American slavery with Soviet Gulags, or other systems that perpetuate long-term incarcerations. In any case, Elkins’s brutal and extreme analogy seems quite inappropriate for the nineteenth-century southern states.17 Eugene Genovese has made the convincing case that as slavery preceded racism and strict racial subordination (segregation was largely a product of the 1890s) that the American South developed ‘a historically unique kind of paternalist society’. The paternal element, though exaggerated was not altogether imaginary. Those slaveholders who lived on farms with ten or fewer slaves did not bother with a division of labour, and therefore lived and worked under conditions of considerable intimacy with their slaves. Having to live together in a stable society certainly engendered a more paternal tone than was true of Brazil, for instance, and this tended to disguise the element of real power differentiating the master and slave relationship. The slaves could bring influence to bear on their owners. This was most notable in regard to their relationships with overseers, and slaves were very quick to exploit differences between masters and overseers.
Thus Genovese argues that the southern legal system was constructed to protect slaves from brutal exploitation, ‘however many preposterous legal fictions it invented’. Thus the law protected them more assuredly than was the case in Latin America. Some slaveowners even intervened in the affairs of cruel neighbours who maltreated their slaves, though their motive was just as much self-interest as benevolence. ‘Harmony among neighbours is very important in the successful management of slaves’, argued one planter. Race relations regulated by law codified white supremacy, but the overall effect was the fusion of Anglo- with African-America, and a less harsh form of slavery than that which prevailed elsewhere in the western hemisphere. As Genovese sums up: ‘for complex reasons of self-interest, common humanity and Christian sensibility, they [slaveholders] could not help contributing to their slaves’ creative survival; that many slaveholders … imbibed much of their slaves’ culture and sensibility while imparting to their slaves much of their own’.18
These less than damning comments should not be misconstrued as in any way supporting the turn-of-the-century apologists of slavery, such as Ulrich B. Phillips. Phillips’s books stressed the paternal regard of slaveowners, and the happy simplicity of the slaves’ affection for their kindly, paternal masters. This approach was ipso facto a justification for the cause of the Confederacy and southern secession (which after all, had only occurred forty years before Phillips was writing). If slavery could be presented as a benevolent institution, then Phillips could place a moral gloss on the southern casus belli. Thus if secession could be explained exclusively as a political cause – a struggle for Independence – rather than a war to defend slavery, then slavery could be downgraded as a cause of the war, and the South presented in an altogether more attractive light. The accusations of the critics of slavery could be dismissed as baseless and the South could be depicted as seeking self-determination for her ‘unique’ society.
But the majority of slaveowners should be depicted as neither monsters of brutality, nor paragons of humanity. James H. Hammond, planter, senator from South Carolina and secessionist spokesman, had at least two children by slave women. Yet these children remained in slavery. ‘I cannot free these people and send them North. It would be cruelty to them’. He concluded confidently, ‘slavery in the family will be their happiest earthly condition’.19 Yet though some years earlier, in 1841, Hammond claimed that he was not ‘a monster of inhumanity’, there can be no doubting his equation of slaves with his other animals, as ‘slaves are property and that we have a right to claim them as such’. And lamenting the rigours of the unhealthy climate, he complained that ‘I have lost 89 negroes and at least 50 mules and horses in 11 years’.20 Nineteenth-century liberalism developed exalting property as the foundation of freedom; in the southern states, ‘liberty’ was upheld with equal fervour, but the property that supported that freedom was human. This perversion was a striking example of an important characteristic of the South, namely that liberal ideas could be transmogrified into very illiberal views.
This was equally true of liberal societies outside the South. Many of the most ardent southern sympathizers were to be found in that other bastion of nineteenth-century liberalism, Great Britain. Lord Acton, for instance, who laboured for much of his life on a projected History of Freedom, was both pro-southern and pro-slavery.21 Many of the literary sources, were composed by British visitors to the southern states, however, as well as by itinerant northerners, like Frederick Law Olmsted. These are far from admiring. Such works are important, not only because they present a view that was at variance with the southern self-image, but because British visitors themselves were not uncomfortable in a hierarchical society, and thus their observations were frequently penetrating and shrewd. Although Charles Dickens’s American Notes sometimes presents an unflattering picture of the United States in the 1840s, what really seems to have provoked the wrath of many of his American hosts (and reviewers), was his (largely second-hand) portrait of American slavery and its brutalizing influences. Much the most ferocious criticism of his book came from southern journals. This is indicative of how much comment by Americans on their institutions was influenced by views on slavery. ‘Slavery is not a whit the more endurable’, Dickens wrote, ‘because some hearts are to be found which can partially resist its hardening influences; nor can the indignant tide of honest wrath stand still, because in its onward course it overwhelms a few who are comparatively innocent among a host of guilty’.22 Of Virginia, Dickens recorded, ‘there is an air of ruin and decay abroad, which is inseparable from the system’.23 Frances Kemble, the British actress who married the heir of a Georgia plantation, observed slavery at first hand. She deplored slavery, loathed its effects on her children, and recounted in her Journal instances ‘of the horrible injustice of this system of slavery’ which condemned men ‘endowed with sufficient knowledge and capacity to be an engineer’ to a life ‘of utter physical destitution and degradation such as the most miserable dwelling of the poorest inhabitant of your free Northern villages never beheld the like of.24 Kemble published her Journal to counteract pro-Confederate sympathy in Britain. But this kind of literature is also significant because it reveals the defence of slavery mounted by southerners in moments of casual, if earnest conversation. That almost all of this literature was published with a polemical intent does not reduce its value in this regard. The main theme that emerges is the omnipresent tension in southern life which persisted despite numerous efforts on the part of slaveowners to reassure themselves and their families.
The desire to physically intimidate and psychologically dominate Negro slaves was, of course, paramount as slavery relied ultimately upon coercion. Even paternal masters aimed at a ‘Design for absolute control’ over the lives of their slaves. This involved interference in every aspect of their lives. It also involved, certainly by comparison with the Caribbean, a plentiful diet and attentive medical care. Slave housing, however, was primitive and uncomfortable. So was their clothing. ‘The condition of domestic slaves … does not generally appear to be bad; but the ugly feature is’, reflected Frances Trollope, ‘… they have no power to change it’. Another British visitor, teaching in Virginia in 1860, recorded an otherwise ‘kind-hearted, feeling man’ explaining that ‘some Negroes require to be broken in like dogs and horses, in order to establish a power over them, and keep them in subjection’.25 This coercive power was justified on the grounds that slaves were habitual and addicted liars. As Frances Kemble explained, ‘No Negro was to be believed on any occasion on any subject’. They were dissimulating shirkers who needed to be driven to be worked. Women were as bad as men, ‘shamming themselves in the family way in order to obtain a diminution of their labour’.26
The institution of slavery also encountered an insoluble dilemma. However benevolent southerners may have deemed the institution to be, the more the humanity and individuality of slaves were acknowledged, the less tenable the institution became. As Frances Kemble emphasized, ‘Every step they take towards intelligence and enlightenment lessens the probability of their acquiescing in their condition’.27 Consequently, the institution relied on force and fear, not just more frequently, but more inconsistently. Frederick Douglass, a former slave, writer and abolitionist leader, supported this argument, when he explained that ‘slaves, when inquired of as to their condition and character of their masters, almost universally say they are contented, and that their masters are kind’. Benevolence was relative. Douglass ‘always measured the kindness of my master by the standard of kindness set up among slaveholders around us’.28 The system was also very capricious. Fanny Kemble recounted with horror an example of a slave who was flogged for getting his wife baptized. Here was an example of the slow, dutiful, Christian improvement in the degraded and dirty condition of the slaves that abolitionist sympathizers approved of, and some slaveholders claimed they approved of, and saw as one of the benefits conferred by slavery. Yet the slave was punished for it.29
As her Journal concluded, Fanny Kemble observed that the standard defence of slavery usually took up ‘the old ground as justifying the system, where it was administered with kindness and indulgence’. The argument made before 1861, and advanced by later apologists, like Ulrich B. Phillips, was therefore crucial to the southern case. But the consequences of its inconsistencies, and the divergence between elevated aims and reality could not be avoided. ‘Truly slavery begets slavery’, wrote Fanny Kemble, ‘and the perpetual state of suspicion and apprehension of the slaveholders is a very handsome offset, to say the least of it, against the fetters and the lash of the slaves’. Kemble also comments on the fear of white women of their slaves; and the small islands of whites set in a sea of black slaves is a feature remarked on by many observers of the southern scene.
Slaves certainly found ways of kicking against a system which was so weighted against them. Certainly opportunities presented themselves (and discipline was less draconian among domestic slaves) for offering their masters, when the mood took them, all aid short of actual help. Miss Hopley’s account is of interest here, because she wondered whether, as a foreigner ‘my manner was less imperative’ than southerners; she certainly believed ‘that only those who understand the Negro can manage him’. Nevertheless, she observed how ‘favourite’ Negroes (especially children) were ‘much indulged, and sometimes very troublesome’. She concludes:
Sometimes one would be tempted to wonder how those young Negroes ever grow up with notions of obedience and respect towards their masters, as so great a want of discipline and good training is observable.
As comparisons with servants and workers in industrialized societies, (much to their detriment) were made by southern slaveowners by the 1850s, it is striking that Miss Hopley noticed among domestic slaves ‘those little licenses which would be so resented as impertinences in our English servants’. These included the tiresome habit of piling ‘up an immense heap of blazing logs in sunny weather’; or bringing in ‘a great pile of firewood, and throwing it down on the carpet before the closet door, so as to effectually prevent it from opening’. Miss Hopley considered that this laxity was tolerated because of the colour line, and also because the slaves exploited their masters’ desire to be accepted as kindly and tolerant. ‘It was a long time before I became accustomed to this freedom of manner in the Negroes’, she wrote. ‘No white servant in England would ever dare to venture an approach to it’. But Miss Hopley did not note that her acquaintance was restricted exclusively to domestic slaves, as field hands could not take such liberties; in short, her own pro-southern sympathies led her to give slavery (reluctantly) the benefit of the doubt.30
She, too, remarks on the fears of Negro insurrection, which became more exacerbated after 1858–59 and the ‘anxiety beneath the surface’.31 The permanent, paranoid fear was of slave conspiracies. By comparison with the number of slaves involved, and the lives lost, such slave rebellions as were provoked in the ante-bellum southern states were very small beer indeed. There was much plotting and little action: here the record is inferior to Latin American slave societies. The reason for this lies in the comparatively open character of North American slavery, and the brutal retribution that followed. Because southerners claimed that they were kind and paternal, their reaction to putative betrayal was indignant and ferocious; furthermore, the system worked in the sense that in North America slave conspiracies were invariably betrayed by a loyal domestic servant. The irony was that such a relatively benevolent system ‘surpassed more closed slave regimes in reacting with panicky signs of terror when slave plots were suspected’. Yet the Vesey Conspiracy in Charleston, South Carolina (1822) and the rising of Nat Turner in Virginia (1831) were trifling affairs. Turner’s rebellion was ‘the most successful’ in American history. It was immortalized in William Styron’s novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner,32 but involved no more than sixty slaves running amok, killing about seventy whites. Yet the seething horrors of the southern imagination cast even longer shadows as the system of slavery became more consolidated after 1850, and the ideology underpinning it became more self-confident and aggressive. But these conspiracies underlay and were to a great extent a violent expression of the fundamental dilemmas of slavery and its ‘paternal’ character. Both Vesey and Turner were literate; both had enjoyed many liberties denied to the majority of slaves; both were provoked by the inconsistent brutality of masters claiming to be paternal; indeed Vesey was a free black (mulatto actually) bigamously married to several slaves. Yet they both turned violently against a system that had supposedly done so much to favour them. Not only was the sense of betrayal among whites bitter, but also suspicion was thrown upon groups, such as free blacks, who lay on the margins of slavery. The pressures to turn slavery into a closed, all-dominant system, brooking no opposition, were latent and grew in intensity.33
The ways that slaves sought to reduce the suffocating embrace of slavery were usually by minor harassment and imitation of whites. There was one other way by which the slaves could ameliorate their harsh and unattractive lot – by religious devotion. During the eighteenth century it was feared that the spread of Christianity would provoke turbulence, or even rebelliousness, in slaves. As the religious climate changed, so missionaries hoped that the acceptance of Christian mores would improve the slaves, not only their morals, but also their moral character. Christian teachings would render them more manageable, docile and better disciplined; by no means did it follow that if slaves accepted Christianity they would be more content in their lot as a form of ‘providential mercy’. But it did involve a modification of the very cold and rigid planter-slave relationship and contributed substantially to the spread of the myth, from the 1830s onwards, that the slaveowners were benign patriarchs caring for their perpetual children.34 This did not mean, of course, that religious slaveowners, who sometimes included clergymen, were incapable of cruel behaviour towards their slaves, because they could be self-righteous and brutal.35 But a mutual sharing of religious feeling underlined certain persistent tensions that pervaded slavery. The slaves’ rejection of conventional white Christianity resulted in the adoption of secret, covert forms of worship (severe penalties could be incurred if slaves were caught at unauthorized prayer meetings). Slaves thus created an avenue of escape from omnipresent white regulation and this bubbled up in the form of music, especially the spirituals, whose theme was that life was still worth living.36
Slave religion also played a contributory role in ‘Puttin’ on ol’ Massa’, by prevarication and dissimulation. It provided a weapon in indirect and covert rebelliousness – a source of moral values for the slave to help in judging the world and in taking decisions, like running away. A religious emphasis helped slaves to exploit the deep and uneasy feeling of guilt that many whites felt about slavery. This was indicated by efforts at begging death-bed forgiveness. A slave John Brown remembered of his master, Thomas Stevens:
Ever so many times before his time was come [he became frightened]. But though he … recovered from his illnesses, in his frights he sent for us all and asked us to forgive him. … I remember him calling old Aunt Sally to him and begging and praying of her to get the devil away from behind the door, and such like.
This was a profoundly ambivalent and uncomfortable society. Doubts could be assuaged by a display of untrammelled dominance. Some slaveholders refused to allow their slaves to attend any church, on the grounds that they had no souls to lose.37
The growth of southern sectionalism
So much for the institution itself; how did slavery influence southern society and culture? The first aspect that impresses any student of the South is that it is a variegated and diverse region, as one should expect from such an enormous geographical area. In short, ‘the South’ did not exist. There were and are ‘many’ Souths. Also, like the North, it mixed areas in which settlement had thrived for two hundred years with frontier outposts twenty or perhaps thirty years old. There was also an air of mystery about the South; this was not a region which northerners knew very much about. Consequently, polemical books like Hinton Rowan Helper’s The Impending Crisis of the South (1857) had an added impact because of the dearth of learned comment, even from southerners themselves. The suggestion that somehow the South was not ‘American’ was a product of a cultural ambiguity inside the South and ignorance outside of it. Attempts to supply a more clearly defined sense of identity were the more forceful and overstated as a result. In 1861 Miss Hopley spoke with a nervous and surprised federal prisoner of war. He had expected to be tortured, or at least ill-treated. ‘I believe from what the man said, he had expected to come to fight savages or wild Indians’.38 But a more persuasive, and politically potent image (discussed below) gained sway in the North in the 1850s, which referred not to the South’s western heritage, but to the slaveowning culture of the Deep South – ‘the Slave Power’. This imperious, ‘aristocratic’, crafty and rapacious group of wealthy planters brought on the Civil War, it was claimed, because of their attempt to extend slavery and dominate the Federal government in its interest. Yet small cliques of wealthy men dominated political and social life in the North – this is not very peculiar. Furthermore, slavery enjoyed a large measure of support among all groups as a means of securing southern, white supremacy in a region where blacks were not infrequendy in the majority. It was this consensus that created a regional, southern sense of separateness despite geographical diversity. The desire to extend and increase the reach of this consensus grew in the 1850s. As Bruce Collins has suggested, a sense of southern sectional identity ‘arose more from the problems created by slavery than from any special class structure that grew out of that institution’.39
The institution of slavery also changed over time, and its influence was lessened in some areas and became more important in others. The most striking feature of the first half of the nineteenth century was that slavery was diffused southwards and westwards. The most important political consequence of this movement was that those controversial issues most readily associated with ‘the South’ really agitated the ‘Deep South’, the tone of whose representatives was more strident and uncompromising. Thus the average numbers of slaves owned by slaveholders in 1850 were as follows: five in the Border South, eight in the Middle South, and twelve in the Lower South. Slaveholders who owned more than twenty slaves show the same statistical frequency: 6 per cent lived in the Border States, and 62 per cent in the Lower South. Of those who owned large plantations of over a hundred slaves, a mere 1 per cent lived in the Border States, but 85 per cent in the Deep South. These figures also relate to a further economic and geographical reality, namely, that cotton flourished in sub-tropical, not continental or near temperate conditions. Consequently, non-slaveholders outnumbered slaveholders 6:1 in Missouri (a state surrounded on two sides by free states) and 60:1 in Kansas.40
The ‘diffusion’ (really the deportation or export) of slaves southwards was expected to ‘solve’ the slavery problem in the most northerly slave states – even by slaveholders before 1840. This demographic movement was actually occurring. In 1790 northern Maryland’s slave population comprised 18.5 per cent of the total, by 1860 it was down to 13.7 per cent, while the free black population grew from 12,760 to 27,867. The state total increase in the free black population rose from 2.5 per cent in 1790 to 13 per cent in 1850. In that year Maryland also witnessed the largest number of runaway slaves in all the slave states, 279. These figures certainly reveal the fragility of slavery when surrounded by areas where it had been removed, and where it was not buttressed by special legislation. Indeed, Maryland was acknowledged even by abolitionist critics, notwithstanding its great traffic in slaves (12 per cent of the entire population had been bought and sold, 1830–40), as having ‘totally divested [itself] of those harsh and terrible peculiarities, which mark [it] in the Southern and South-Western states of the … Union’.41
But in states like Virginia and Maryland this acquiescence in ‘diffusion’ relied upon two assumptions. First, that the black population could be physically removed, either by colonizing other parts of Latin America, or second, returning them to Africa. This argument was discussed on two notable occasions: in the Virginia Slavery Debate of 1831–32, when the state legislature considered emancipating the slaves, and during discussion of Henry Clay’s Distribution Plan, introduced into Congress in June 1832. Clay sought to transfer the federal budget surplus to the states by a calculation of population made on the basis of the three-fifths rule. He urged that southern states give ‘special consideration’ to devoting this money to either colonizing or emancipating their slaves. This process might be aided by increasing the number of slave states, and many favoured the annexation of Texas on these grounds; British influence, with its pernicious ‘abolitionist’ mentality, would also be eradicated from the Lone Star Republic. This was regarded as beneficial because the fabric of race relations in the neighbouring slave states would otherwise be weakened. Slaveowners were fearful lest British influence in Texas destabilized the whole structure and unleashed a servile war. Southerners who favoured ‘diffusion’ wished to avoid dramatic and immediate action, and preferred prudent and judicious amelioration of slavery as the highest priority. Those who advanced such opinions, furthermore, did not count on the rise of a pro-slavery ideology. The Deep South was to witness an increase in ever more aggressive pro-slavery rhetoric; the initiative fell into the hands of aggressive slaveholders who did not share the assumptions of those who welcomed ‘diffusion’. (Indeed such views had already surfaced in the South Carolina Nullification Crisis and others criticized the annexation of Texas on the grounds that it would weaken slavery, even in the Lower South.)42
All parties feared the sudden and dramatic, cataclysmic ending of slavery in the southern states. Giving freedom to the slaves would release their savage and brutal energies, kept in check by the constraints, or manacles of slavery, which had succeeded in nurturing the childlike ‘Sambo-like’ aspects of the Negro’s primitive character. Once these manacles were shattered the laughing child would be transformed into a monstrous bloodthirsty guttersnipe, who would loot, rape, murder and utterly destroy southern ‘civilization’ in a servile war. Slaveowners did their best to stir up fears among poor whites of the horrors of black servile rebellion. They were certainly fearful of the results of ‘unsupervised’ contact between poor whites, free and enslaved blacks (who cooperated more fully than is sometimes recognized). The horrific image of the successful slave revolt in Haiti (1804) was conjured up in the southern mind to ensure racial unity against the threat of black savagery; here the civilizing influences of white rule had been overturned in a successful slave rebellion, an event which led many southerners to project all kinds of hysterical, often sexual and sadistic fantasies. The Negro brain could not cope with freedom, it became overloaded and too indulged in sensation, and the result was insanity. In 1849, a secret committee chaired by John C. Calhoun, concluded that a successful servile revolt could result only in the enslavement of southern whites:
a degradation greater than has ever yet fallen to the lot of a free and enlightened people, and one from which we could not escape, should emancipation take place … but by fleeing the homes of ourselves and ancestors, and by abandoning our country to our former slaves, to become the permanent abode of disorder, anarchy, poverty, misery and wretchedness.
The stronger the appeal of pro-slavery ideology, the more fixated this fear became, and the more persuasive the argument that the slightest weakening of the slave structure would result in it crashing down. A deep-seated feeling of insecurity led to an increasingly shrill demand that slavery be extended to eradicate any exposed flanks, Northern interests were to be compelled, moreover to accept without qualification, any legislation that the South sought to protect slavery in the states and consolidate its extension in the territories.43
What form did this pro-slavery ideology take? It is in this area that the singular, sometimes perverse southern stance, which set its face against the intellectual breeze of the age, became intransigent. The intellectual oddities, not to say perversities, of the literature produced are also apparent. It is no coincidence either that the issue of southern backwardness – the reaction to the publication of Dickens’s American Notes is of interest here – became a subject of controversy in the 1840s. In part, the pro-slavery literature is a response to accusations that the more advanced, diligent and populous North carried ‘the South on its shoulders’ by subsidizing the South through federal taxation. Slavery was also blamed in a general sense for impeding population and labour mobility and financial development. The states of Alabama and Mississippi, for example, could boast only one bank each in 1860. Apologists for slavery replied with a vigorous defence of the ‘peculiar institution’. The best known was George Fitzhugh of Virginia, whose works included Sociology for the South (1854) and Cannibals All! (1857). He argued that slavery was not ‘peculiar’ to the South but a universal condition, and that the form of benevolent and benign plantation slavery that had developed in the southern states, was much more humane than the ghastly, cold, de-humanized ‘slavery’ of factory-organized labour to be found in the slums of New England or Great Britain. Slaveowners behaved more like stewards than entrepreneurs; their primitive and childlike labour force was contented and well looked after: their limited abilities were harnessed to adequate tasks, so that they were neither over-taxed nor allowed to fall into slothful idleness or debauchery. In short, the slaveowners were doing God’s work.44
There was an important ‘symbiotic’ relationship between the justification of slavery and the revival of Evangelical Christianity in the South. ‘We who own slaves’, claimed James Furman, ‘honor God’s law in the exercise of our authority’.45 In 1829 Methodist and Episcopal planters in South Carolina asked the South Carolina Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church to send missionaries among their slaves. The aim was to ensure that blacks subscribed to the same values as their white masters; in this, at least, they failed.46 Yet though the Mission was undoubtedly motivated by anxiety and fear of slaves, and was an effort to insure chattel slavery, it was also coupled with a characteristic nineteenth-century passion for improvement and spiritual uplift. ‘Having reduced them to ignorance’, complained Charles C. Jones, ‘and by our neglect of duty confirmed them in vice, we now quarrel with their stupidity and obduracy’.47
Given that southerners, from a quite different perspective, shared a northern passion for moral improvement, it is easy to argue that there was no such thing as a ‘distinct’ southern pro-slavery ideology – a part of a broader assertion of southern ‘distinctiveness’. Certainly, this has been exaggerated. For example, there is a similar anti-democratic tone in the ideas advanced by northern clergymen, like Nehemiah Adams of Boston, which is comparable with sentiments expressed more recklessly in the South. Evidence may also be found of such ‘conservative republicanism’ in the North, even in New England. Yet finding sectional parallels for almost all southern viewpoints broadens and simultaneously planes down divergences of opinion to such a degree that it explains everything and nothing.48 A clearer distinction should be drawn between the positive act of justifying slavery, which became increasingly prevalent in the South after 1850, and the negative act of deploring the activities of the abolitionists, which was widespread in the North. Deploring the inflammatory language of Wendell Phillips was not the same as applauding the spread of slavery. If this distinction is not drawn then the reasons for sectional tension before 1861 become an enigmatic riddle defying explanation, as North and South agreed about so much. But we simply cannot ignore the fact that spokesmen for southern distinctiveness, such as James H. Hammond, who believed as early as 1844 that ‘A separation of the States at no remote period is inevitable. It might now be effected peaceably and properly’, were either unaware of any northern sympathy with their basic view on slavery or ignored it. But more than this, they deliberately posited their justification of the slavery system as superior to the North in every way and the basis for a thriving, competing republic. Indeed, pro-slavery ideology is permeated by a desire to reform and modernize slavery, so that it was just as secure as free labour, and just as ‘progressive’. As Hammond boasted, during the Recession of 1857, ‘we have poured upon you 1,600,000 bales of cotton just at the crisis to save you from destruction’. This whole discussion of the merits of chattel slavery versus wage slavery simply indicates that southern ‘distinctiveness’ should be qualified. The views of Fitzhugh did find northern echoes – but this should not be misconstrued as consensus.49
How should we view, moreover, the assumption which characterizes so much northern criticism of the South, that it was pulled headlong into conflict and war by an evil, rapacious ‘slave power’? The slave power, so the argument went, rested ultimately on two sources of strength: its economic strength and political influence. As to the first, the diffusion of slavery throughout the South has been noted. Something like one southern family in four owned a slave, though this frequency was higher in the Deep South. Such widespread connection with the ‘peculiar institution’ made difficult the formulation of a coherent, exclusive ‘oligarchical’ view. There were many strands to slaveowning opinion, and some were contradictory. For instance, as the pro-slavery ideology became more strident, so did the treatment of slaves improve, at any rate to the degree that southerners prided themselves on the sense of ‘family’ that guided their society. As George W. Mordecai wrote in December 1860 on the threat of a possible slave rebellion, T would much sooner trust myself alone on my plantation surrounded by my slaves, than in one of your large manufacturing towns when your labourers are discharged from employment and crying for bread for themselves and their little ones.’ Though opportunities for manumission were reduced, slave ideologues were more inclined to accept the sanctity of slave marriages; some in North Carolina were even prepared to admit that a measure of literacy could be permitted. All such efforts, however, would have involved ultimately a recognition of the essential humanity of slaves that could have resulted in a drastic weakening of the institution.50
The owners of great plantations represented a group whose membership oscillated dramatically, especially in the Mississippi basin. It was comparatively easy to enter the circle of great planters and extremely easy to leave it. In a survey of the larger planters in the counties of south west Georgia and Alabama in the decade before 1860, only 30 per cent of those in Georgia, and one-half of the Alabamans, actually remained members of the planting elite within the various county samples in each state. In the Upper South and in the South East the elite was much more stable.
Of course, planters may have been acknowledged as prominent, even distinguished, members of the political elite, but ‘prominence’ and ‘dominance’ are not the same thing. The low opinion held throughout the Union of ‘politicians’ in general was shared just as much in the South as in the North. The various state capitals gave no opportunity for conspicuous display (indeed the limitations of Montgomery, Alabama, in this regard would become all too obvious in the first months of Confederate independence). There was, in short, no focus for the authority of the ‘slave power’ to be exercised as its influence was distributed evenly throughout the southern states, unless it be Washington DC. Most property qualifications for office-holding had been removed in the 1850s by the majority of southern states; there were no southern equivalents of British ‘pocket boroughs’, and appointments had to be gained through usefulness to a patron or political leader – though such patronage was allotted by the very rich. But this power was not untrammelled, and was restricted by the democratic mechanism. Certainly local political elites invariably dominated their localities and the legislative programmes put before the state legislature in all southern states. The overwhelming number of members of the various southern legislatures were slaveowners; but these should not be confused with the great planters, the ‘nabobs’. The only exception to this was South Carolina; in four of the seven Lower South states planters represented less than 30 per cent of the legislature, and in five out of seven Upper South states (less Delaware) planters made up less than 20 per cent of the membership of the legislature. Indeed a persuasive case has been made that it was the very absence of a cohesive, self-conscious, prudent middle class dominating southern politics, that permitted the grip of slaveowners on southern politics to be both so tenacious and so reckless. These various groups had one overriding political demand – the survival of slavery. This tended to be more ferociously expressed and dogmatically demanded when directed outside the South. Within the South it was enthusiastically accepted by non-slaveholders because it gave them the political muscle to ensure that blacks remained in a strictly confined and subordinate place.51 Yet for all that, there is a paternalistic, vaguely oligarchic aspect to southern society and politics which is alien in the North – though it is far less important than has often been argued by previous (especially southern) historians. This resulted in a more anti-democratic tone to southern political culture. ‘You call yourself a democrat’, wrote William H. Trescot of South Carolina to a Virginian, with a certain measure of scorn. But ‘that word democrat has betrayed the South. Southern slaveholders in their strange zeal to be good democrats have been untrue to themselves and their position.’52
A southern ‘civilization’?
The South’s bid for independence and the trauma of defeat in a civil war have led many historians (southerners foremost among them) to assume that the South was a ‘distinct’ region of the United States. There are strong reasons for doubting the validity of such a generalization. Much of the emphasis on southern distinctiveness, in terms of history, culture and mythology, is a post-1865 development, and was one way of explaining the secessionist stampede after December 1860. Recent writing on the history of ideas has argued that the issues agitating southern intellectuals were broadly related to northern preoccupations. ‘The concerns that separated them’, in the words of one historian, ‘were, until the secession crisis of 1860, of less moment than the concerns that bound them together’. Both groups ‘yearned for a tidy, harmonious social order based on both individual and collective codes of discipline, under the tutelage of educated gentlemen’. But if we emphasize these similarities unduly, as Marcus Cunliffe recognizes, then the tensions preceding the secession crisis become inexplicable.53 There must be some features unique to this region which made a bid for independence and a relish to fight a civil war more than probable, and the effort must now be made to try and delineate them.
The brilliant southern publicist, W. J. Cash, in his famous book, The Mind of the South (1941), agrees ‘that it was the conflict with the Yankee which really created the concept of the South as something more than a matter of geography, as an object of patriotism, in the minds of southerners’.54 We may also note in this regard the importance of non-southern literary sources in determining an image of the South that prevailed before 1861. But Cash makes an even more important observation. How was it remotely possible that a coherent, sustainable and individual culture could establish itself, with an identifiable political outlook, in the course of some seventy years (in some states in less than forty)? Cash emphasizes the importance of the time factor: ‘Men, who as children, had heard the war whoop of the Cherokee in the Carolina backwoods lived to hear the guns at Vicksburg’. The South was first and foremost a frontier society, and the great burden of taming the frontier and extending its social order over the wilderness engaged its energies. But even if that social order was distinct from that of the North, it does not follow that it was the product of a completely different culture. The most persuasive conclusion that can be drawn is that the act of subjugating the frontier encouraged a style of thinking that was at once presumptuous and arrogant, and pre-eminently parochial. This combination resulted, among politicians, in a gradual increase in local patriotism, and regard for sectional interest (they were supported by their electorates in this view), that culminated in a desire for political independence. This drive was justified (among other things) by a passionate belief that the South enjoyed a ‘superior’ civilization that would flourish once it had broken free of northern inhibitions and constraints. This view ‘was perhaps the least well founded’, Cash notes sardonically, ‘of the many poorly founded claims which the southerners so earnestly asserted to the world and to themselves and in which they so warmly believed’.55
The differences between the sentimental vision enjoyed by southerners of their ‘civilization’ and the reality is stark. The notion gained currency that the progress of the South had been held back by its connection with the North. This theme predated the Nullification Crisis, but became more persistent thereafter. Conscious that the South Carolina cotton crop was dependent on the New England carrying trade, the Southern Agriculturalist wrote in May 1825: ‘These “terrible Yankees”, … are too deep for us, they “undermine us” as the cant term in Charleston is. Why will the Charleston people not “countermine”?’ Once the South had broken free, the South would flourish. R. B. Rhett conjured up this beguiling vision in 1860. He depicted ‘a civilisation that has never been equalled or surpassed – a civilisation teeming with actors, poets, philosophers, statesmen and historians equal to those of Greece and Rome, and presented to the world the glorious spectacle of a free, prosperous, and illustrious people’. This was typical of the heart-warming, exaggerated hyperbole in which southerners indulged; the reality was rather more prosaic.56
The South’s cotton certainly dominated any estimate of American exports. In 1850 it amounted to $72 million out of a total of $144.4 million. A decade later these figures had risen in absolute terms to a cotton crop worth $191.8 million, with total export earnings of $333.6 million. Cotton exports accounted for approximately 5 per cent of the total US gross national product.57 But these figures do not fully represent the vitality of the southern economy, nor its relative position vis-à-vis the North.
The great majority of southern farmers were not opulent, wealthy planters but small yeoman farmers; despite the importance of cotton as an export, it actually represented just 25 per cent of the total production of southern farms (with sugar, tobacco and rice accounting for a further 10 per cent). The largest southern crop was corn, which could be grown without too much difficulty in hurriedly prepared soil, could feed hogs and other livestock (the South had prodigious quantities of hogs: between 1845 and 1860 67,026,000 hogs were marketed by southern farmers), and provided an urgent measure of security for the small farmer.58 The nostalgia summoned up by the image of the classical style, pristine white mansion, resting in the shade, with its contented and chuckling household, was far from typical. Where it did exist and dominate the surrounding countryside, as Clement Eaton observes, The serenity of the big mansion was in thousands of cases troubled by the infinite vexations of slavery’.59
The most striking feature of these ‘infinite vexations’ was the effort made by all those interests who, for different reasons, supported the maintenance and extension of slavery, to create a ‘closed system’ in the slave states. This refused to permit any entrance through its fortress gates of either persons or ideas which could subvert the peculiar institution from the inside, and erected barricades against attacks organized by pernicious, progressive forces that lurked outside waiting to exploit the slightest, narrowest fissure that could bring the whole structure crashing down, with catastrophic consequences. Although its absolute importance in the southern economy has been exaggerated, Professor Collins is surely right in suggesting that the wealth invested in cotton and the system of slave labour ($4 billion) represented a ‘community of interest’. He continues, ‘Cotton helped keep white society fluid, mobile, enterprising, as well as drawn together by mutual commercial interests and racial pride’. The various meetings of cotton planters’ (and businessmen’s) conventions throughout the 1850s gave an important impetus, not just to a sense of the importance of cotton to the American economy, but to a feeling of distinct, sectional economic interest which should not be subordinated to the North.60 This interest, though it cannot be defined so precisely as a ‘slave power’ was inseparable from it. The character of its identity was intensely conservative, and defined itself not in terms of cultural coherence, language or unity but in opposition to ‘the North’, which was regarded as an unvariegated entity of uniform hostility. The inaccuracy of this view and the common sympathies shared by some northerners and southern planters has already been remarked on (especially in deploring the activities of abolitionists). It was a tendency to extend absolute control over the intellectual and social life of the slave states that alarmed some northerners. By the late 1850s it began to contribute concurrently to the belief that ‘the North’ had an identity of its own. Yet it is amazing how long northerners tolerated the increasingly truculent southern attitude and its increasingly belligerent tone.
That this sense of difference apropos the North was not entirely dependent on pro-secessionist sentiment is indicated by the views of the Tennessean Unionist, William G. (‘Parson’) Brownlow. He criticized northern ideas, calling for the setting up of a ‘Missionary Society of the South, for the Conversion of the Freedom Shriekers, Spiritualists, Free-Lovers, Fourierites, and Infidel Reformers of the North’. But if a loyal unionist felt like this, it was a salutary warning of the full extent of the ‘fire-eaters’’ ferocious determination to ensure that the peculiar institution be protected from the dangers of radical ideas from outside.61
This represents a major change of emphasis in the southern outlook. In the eighteenth century the South (or Virginia, at any rate) was the home of liberalism, scepticism and deism. The simultaneous spread of Jacksonian democracy and slavery led to severe criticisms of those who attempted to question, however mildly, the efficacy of the slavery system; the significance of 1831, of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion and the first issue of the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, again becomes apparent. By 1852 and the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, what Clement Eaton calls a ‘counsel-for-the-defence attitude’ prevailed, even among southern intellectuals. The editor of the Southern Literary Messenger looked for a reviewer whom he could guarantee would write a ‘review as hot as hell-fire, blasting and scarring the reputation of the vile wretch in petticoats who could write such a volume.’62 Such sensitivity to finite degrees of criticism hardly denoted a bottomless well of self-confidence; it was reinforced by a tendency towards ‘romanticism’ (though this seems more like sentimentality). This presented an ideal image of chivalry, loosely based on medieval models. The Upper South, by comparison with states further South, stagnated. Those enjoying the ‘first fruits’ of slavery were most vocal in its defence. Secessionist spokesmen allowed zeal for the South to blind them and they gave vent increasingly to intolerant and fundamentally provincial sentiments.63
The decline of a sense of philosophic discrimination in the South was reinforced by blind passion compounded by ignorance. Touring the small settlements of the Deep South, secessionist spokesmen like William L. Yancey had the capacity, in Eaton’s striking phrase, to act like ‘an enchanter’ who ‘waved his magic wand and temporarily deprived the audience of their reason’. Illiteracy rates in the South were high, and seem to be getting worse in the 1850s. Of white males over 20 years old, illiteracy was 20–30 per cent (in some regional pockets it was much higher), in the Border States it was 3 per cent, and in New England 0.42 per cent. This is often put down to the individualism of the southern people, though this quality is no less widespread in New England. It has much more to do with the neglect of schooling for poor whites, though the southern record on academies for the wealthy is rather better. But this achievement was limited and involved small numbers of students. For instance, in 1843, the city of Boston funded 15 grammar and 104 primary schools, which served one-third of the entire juvenile population; Charleston, by comparison, financed only the orphan house school. And whereas the College of Charleston was the first municipally funded college in the United States, it had only 39 students in 1834 (Harvard had 217). Many southerners preferred to send their sons to Harvard and Yale.64
But a growing awareness of the dangers of sending young southerners to northern colleges, where they might be tainted by dangerous abolitionist influences, was a major factor in boosting higher education in the South. It also contributed after 1836 to a determined effort to limit freedom of speech and conscience on the slavery issue and restrict the movement of ideas. In the first place, state legislatures passed legislation (and many of the most severe measures were passed by states, such as Virginia, which were feeling ‘exposed’, as they were contiguous to ‘free’ states) which dealt out hard punishments for anybody circulating publications arguing for the restriction of property rights in any form; agents or sympathizers of organizations subscribing to such views would also be punished; and postmasters and justices of the peace had inquisitorial powers to inspect the mails to ensure that publications from such bodies could be intercepted. The powers of ‘citizen’s arrest’ were granted to any white man who suspected that these laws were being infringed. Control of the patronage which disposed of such appointments was therefore critical to the maintenance of the slave system.65 The other means was by physical coercion and ostracism, mainly the former – mob violence, assaults on editors and lynching carried out in an atmosphere of fevered hysteria. It is perhaps no coincidence that where the laws were comparatively mild, as in Kentucky, outbreaks of mob violence were more frequent.66 Although Clement Eaton’s classic study of this subject is entitled The Freedom-of-Thought Struggle in the Old South, it is clear from his account that after 1836, apart from a handful of individuals, sometimes eccentric or perverse, who insisted on going their own way regardless of consequences, there was no ‘struggle’. The slave states demanded from their citizens a conformity of thought (in which the great majority obligingly acquiesced) and then demanded that everybody else conform as well.67
‘Let our schools and seminaries of learning be “scrutinized”, wrote W. W. Holden, ‘and if Black Republicans be found in them, let them be driven out’. Among southern editors, intellectuals, academics and students there is a remarkably consistent conservative consensus – a broad agreement on the need to defend slavery based on a worst case analysis that saw ‘the North’ in conspicuously stereotyped terms. As they all agreed, few could see that they were infringing any freedoms. Nor can there be any doubt that it was the defence of slavery that provoked a sense of sectional identity vis-à-vis the North, and the desperate search for measures that would ensure a uniformity of thought and deed throughout the section. Although the ante-bellum South does not feature in Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab’s book, The Politics of Unreason: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790–1970 (1971), there is a good case for accepting that the consistent efforts to reduce freedom of expression and thought by legislative and violent means, served as a major challenge to the American liberal, democratic tradition. On this narrow, shifting but firm headland, the South may be said to have carved out for itself a distinctive, if unenviable feature.68
A sense of social and cultural distinctiveness followed the political and economic imperative, not the other way round. Given their short history and the sense of perpetual crisis and ghastly unforeseen cataclysm that seemed to haunt every unturned corner, many southerners groped for some historical analogy to provide stability. They looked back nostalgically to the ideals of the American Revolution and became preoccupied with a supposed decline of moral values. These and many of the other attitudes attributed to southerners were not unique to them. These feelings could be found in the North also. But the anti-democratic tone of this disillusionment was characteristically southern, ‘a conviction that the civic values and ideals of the Revolutionary generation’, in the words of William R. Taylor, ‘had been eroded away by a half century of democratic change and territorial expansion’.69 The historical pattern the South preferred was a cosy, refined, chivalrous and very sentimental one. Daniel Huntly observed in 1860, ‘In this Country every man considers himself a gentleman, no matter what may be his social status’. Every woman was a lady. This longing for a stable social order, mixed with a preference for the ‘frontier spirit’ found expression in ‘the cavalier’ – a frontier gentleman hostile to materialism, mechanization and social progress. There was a tendency also towards orthodoxy in southern religious attitudes which confirmed the ‘cavalier’ stereotype.70 The whole summoned up images of grand mansions, refulgent living, refined and gracious ladies, but above all, a life founded on honour. Southern historical writing itself exhibited two paradoxical features: despite the paramount importance attributed to it, and the immense labour invested in justifying it, virtually no southern historians actually mentioned slavery. Further, although southern historical writing was tinged with anti-British sentiment, the ‘cavalier’ exemplar and his ‘honour’, could be firmly linked to British (and especially English) aristocratic mores. All of this cast southern society, as it came increasingly under attack, in a romantic, and in many ways a heroic mould; but it is significant that this desperate search for some kind of cultural identity should be bolstered from values drawn from outside the South itself.71
Yet the literature is suffused with attempts to explain the southern character. Sometimes this has focused on a supposed appetite for war and a strong ‘military tradition’.72 But in the main this has taken three forms and, although written at different times with different motives and for different audiences, caters to the American penchant for explaining the characteristics of peoples by reference to ‘ethnic’ origins rather than geographical or environmental forces, or for even allowing such factors a part in the explanation. The first is the English or the ‘cavalier’ myth discussed above; the second is the Creole myth; and the third (and most recent effort) is to explain southern difference by reference to their so-called ‘Celtic’ forebears. All of these explanations are prone to special pleading, and a breath takingly oversimplified treatment of the homelands of the various ethnic groups. They tend to latch on to certain features of southerners, their hospitality, casual easy-going manner, laziness, weakness for drink, sensual and debauched behaviour, and explain these by reference to the most crude stereotypes. As attempts at historical explanation, they can be dismissed, but they are significant as efforts in the continuing search for an explanation of southern ‘identity’. The South might now have forged an individual identity of its own, although it is less particular than is often assumed. But this was far less clear before 1861.73
In conclusion, it is clear that the South was not a ‘distinctive’ region of the United States, but it enjoyed various levels of contrast with other regions. How can these contrasting features be delineated, and what was their significance? The most obvious contrast was in demography. The black presence was something that marked out the South. The total white population in 1860 was 8,097,500, and this was balanced against a black population of 3,953,700 slaves and 262,000 free blacks. That this population might rise and overthrow the rule of whites was an omnipresent fear.74 It accounted for the intense fear of action by ‘agitators’ from outside the region, and also the assumption that ‘the North’ was a good deal more united and hostile than it actually was. But although the South was increasingly regarded as ‘under siege’ and that its institutions were threatened, it is difficult to see, other than in relation to slavery and its ramifications, in what lay the uniqueness of these institutions. Certainly there were economic differences: small pockets of industrialization can be found in the South, but these were tiny compared with developments in Pennsylvania or New York state. There were cultural and social differences, with an emphasis in the South on educating a privileged upper middle class and neglecting the education of the great mass of poor whites. Urbanization was much more advanced in the North than in the South.75
Yet, if these features are examined closely the atypicality of the great majority of them disappear. They seem rather differences in style, or emphasis, than in substance. In 1860, the North, too, was predominantly rural, and the bulk of the white population consisted of small farmers. Yet the transport revolution and economies of scale were rapidly breaking down the old rural life in the North and were acting as a powerful stimulus to urbanization. Northern cities, although larger, suffered from some of the same problems as those in the South, especially from lawlessness and fear of urban tumult.76 The emphasis that some commentators have placed on the reluctance of southerners to read, and their readiness to talk, has also been overdone.77 The North was also a fundamentally oral culture.78 On this, and so many scores, we find in the South an accentuation, and sometimes an exaggeration, of social features that may be found in the North. Thus Miss Hopley expressed in 1861 foreboding concerning the ‘loose and objectionable mode’ of southern expression ‘in violent and extravagant language, which often means no more than the mere words, though they draw upon themselves a vast amount of opprobrium by the practice’.79
The argument about southern ‘distinctiveness’, in other words, is essentially circular. Those who seek to explain the ‘uniqueness’ of this region, assume its uniqueness as a given and then seek to explain it by extolling characteristics that are far from unique, and are often associated with ‘the West’. The South is distinctive, therefore, it is unique. And of course it appears so when its features are studied in obsessive isolation from other parts of the United States. But, a paradox is now confronted. If the differences between the North and South were not great, why did a great civil war break out between these sections? The resolution of the paradox resides not in cultural differences (although to southerners the myth of the cavalier and his ineffable code of honour, to which Northerners did not subscribe,80 was very real) but in political interchange. The South was not a distinctive but a self-conscious section. That is to say, this self-consciousness was the product of political and social sources, differences arising mainly from the peculiar institution, rather than from any sense of cultural separateness. This came later to explain (or justify) the increasing divergence.
Civil strife is just as much a product of provincialism as profound cultural contrast. Here the South is an object lesson. The slave states were not subject to immigration from the 1830s onwards, and White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant dominance emerged by 1860 unscathed. The southern transport system connected its towns with one another and not the North; it was not geared to the wider world.81 This reinforced a parochial outlook, and an obsession with regional issues – especially those connected with race. It was feared that these race relations were under strain from outside the region. Such threats were greatly exaggerated in the short term, although over the long term they were not insignificant. Contact with free labour invariably weakened the structure of slavery. It was the attempt to retard and prevent this process occurring which clearly demarcates the South from the North. The attempt to create a ‘closed system’, to control written and spoken expression and the movement of ideas, while glorying in the limitations of democracy in the southern states, was exceptional. As the spread of democracy was intrinsic to the success of the Union and the creation of a continental republic of imperial dimensions, any section that attempted to limit democracy, limited the reach of the Union and the breadth of the entire experiment. Should the South rely on forcing the issue on slavery, the northern response would be a paramount factor in determining whether war would result. But as to supposed cultural differences between North and South, these were useful expedients in justifying political action. W. J. Cash should perhaps close this chapter with some wise words on the southern aspiration to separate nationality:
Do I need to add that the politician universally succeeds in the measure in which he is able to embody, in deeds or in words, the essence, not of what his clients are strictly, but of their dream of themselves?82
1. J. Hector St John de Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer, ed. Albert E. Stone (Harmondsworth: Penguin American Library, 1981), p. 167.
2. William Styron, The Confessions of Nat Turner (New York: Bantam, 1988), p. 208.
3. Peter J. Parish (ed.) Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Letters (London: Dent, 1993), p. 288.
4. Francis Butler Simkins, A History of the South, 2nd edn (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961), p. ix.
5. On earlier changes in interpretation, see John White, ‘Whatever Happened to the Slave Family in the Old South?’, Journal of American Studies 8 (1974), pp. 383–90; the central work is Peter J. Parish, Slavery: History and Historians (New York: HarperCollins, 1990), especially Chs 4 and 5.
6. James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford UP, 1988), p. 860. By comparison, other forms such as kidnapping were trifling, see Eugene H. Berwanger, ‘The Case of Stirrup and Edwards, 1861–1870: The Kidnapping and Georgia Enslavement of West Indian Blacks’, Georgia Historical Quarterly LXXVI (spring 1992), pp. 1–18.
7. Clement Eaton, The Growth of Southern Civilization, 1790–1860 (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), pp. 25, 32, 35, 38–9, 44–5.
8. Ibid., p. 98.
9. Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1974), I, p. 44.
10. Time on the Cross, I, p. 251. See Parish, Slavery, pp. 45–9, and Donald Ratcliffe, ‘The Das Kapital of American Negro Slavery? Time on the Cross after Two Years’, Durham University Journal 100 (Dec. 1976), esp. pp. 110–11.
11. Time on the Cross, I, pp. 192–6, 201, 203, 215–18; Parish, Slavery, p. 49.
12. Eaton, Growth of Southern Civilization, p. 83.
13. Claudia Dale Goldin, Urban Slavery in the American South, 1820–1860 (Chicago UP, 1976), pp. 1, 9–10, 25, 27, 49, 123–7.
14. The dispute between Goldin and earlier scholars is not relevant to this study. For a discussion see Parish, Slavery, pp. 100–1.
15. Leonard P. Curry, The Free Black in Urban America, 1800–1850 (Chicago UP, 1981), pp. 33–6, 229; Michael P.Johnson and James L. Roark, Black Masters: A Free Family of Color in the Old South (New York: Norton, 1984), pp. xi–xii, 25, 47–8, 53–4, 63.
16. For an example, see Frances Kemble’s description of her arrival in Suffolk, Virginia: ‘the Negroes gathered in admiring crowds … full of idle merriment and unmeaning glee, and regard with an intensity of curiosity, perfectly ludicrous, the appearance and proceedings of such whites as they easily perceive are strangers’. See her Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838–1839, ed. John A. Scott (London: Jonathan Cape, 1961), Kemble to Harriet St Leger, Jan. 1839, p. 17; also see p. 49.
17. Stanley M. Elkins, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life, 3rd edn (Chicago UP, 1976), pp. 104–15. Elkins is actually describing an extermination camp here.
18. Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (London: André Deutsch, 1975), pp. xvi–xvii, 3, 5–6, 7–10, 14–16, 22–31, 33–40, 42.
19. J. H. Hammond to H. Hammond, 19 Feb. 1856, Secret and Sacred: The Diaries of James H. Hammond, a Southern Slaveholder, ed. Carol Bleser (New York: Oxford UP, 1988), p. 19.
20. Ibid., pp. 88, 101 (entries for 21 Mar., 5 Aug. 1842).
21. Hugh Tulloch, Acton (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988), p. 27.
22. Charles Dickens, American Notes (London: Glanville, 1982), pp. 210–16.
23. Ibid., p. 122.
24. Kemble, Journal, p. 188 (entry 14–17 Feb. 1839).
25. Peter Kolchin, American Slavery (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993, 1995), pp. 113–14, 120; Frances Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans (London: Folio Society, 1974), p. 183; Catherine Hopley, Life in the South (London: 1863; New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1971), I, pp. 149, 150.
26. Kemble, Journal, pp. 155, 170 (entry for end Jan./beginning of Feb. 1839).
27. Ibid., p. 165 (entry for Feb. 1834).
28. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave Written by Himself (New York: Anchor, 1973), p. 20. On Douglass’s efforts to increase the drive for literacy among slaves, see pp. 81–2.
29. Kemble, Journal p. 207 (entry 15–27 Feb. 1839).
30. Hopley, Life in the South, I pp. 68, 70, 92, 145, 167, 229, 319–20, 349–50; Kemble, Journal pp. 310–11.
31. Ibid., I, pp. 255–6.
32. The publication of this novel provoked controversy. On this, see John White, ‘Novelist as Historian: William Styron and American Negro Slavery’, in David H. Burton (ed.) American History – British Historians (Chicago: Nelson Hall, 1978), pp. 148–68.
33. William Freehling, The Road to Disunion (New York: Oxford UP 1990), pp. 79, 178–80.
34. Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion (New York: Oxford UP, 1978) pp. 45, 49–50.
35. Douglass, Narrative, pp. 55, 58, 79–80, thought that religious slaveholders were the worst.
36. Raboteau, Slave Religion, pp. 214–19, 225, 258, 264.
37. Ibid., pp. 220, 292–9, 305–9, 314.
38. Hopley, Life in the South, I, p. 420.
39. Bruce Collins, White Sodety in the Antebellum South (London: Longman, 1985), pp. 4–5.
40. Freehling, Road to Disunion, pp. 18–19.
41. Ibid., pp. 156, 188–9, 195, 199; Barbara Jeanne Fields, Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground: Maryland during the Nineteenth Century (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1985), pp. 10, 16, 23–5 (the quotation is from Frederick Douglass).
42. Freehling, Road to Disunion, pp. 156, 188–90, 274–5, 392, 410.
43. Howard Temperley, ‘Competing Scenarios: Antebellum Images of American Society After Emancipation’, in Brian Holden Reid and John White (eds) American Studies: Essays in Honour of Marcus Cunliffe (London: Macmillan, 1991), pp. 73–5; Charles C. Bolton, Poor Whites of the Antebellum South (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1994), pp. 43, 49–50, 65, 127, 130–1, 137.
44. Collins, White Society in the Antebellum South, pp. 59–64; Marcus Cunliffe, Chattel Slavery and Wage Slavery (Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures no. 22; Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1979), pp. 1–7; for a flavour of Fitzhugh’s writing, see John White and Ralph Willett, Slavery in the American South (London: Longman, 1970), doc. 22, pp. 114–15.
45. Donald G. Mathews, Religion in the Old South (Chicago UP, 1977), pp. 136, 170, 174.
46. Ibid., p. 139; see Raboteau, Slave Religion, p. 45, on their failure.
47. Mathews, Religion in the Old South, pp. 140–1, 146.
48. For this argument, see Larry E. Tise, Proslavery: A History of the Defense of Slavery in America, 1701–1860 (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1988).
49. Hammond, Diaries, p. 127 (entry for 24 Nov. 1844); Allan Nevins, Ordeal of the Union (New York: Scribner’s, 1947), I, p. 467; Cunliffe, Chattel Slavery and Wage Slavery, p. 102; Bertram Wyatt-Brown, ‘Modernizing Southern Slavery: The Proslavery Argument Reinterpreted’, in J. M. Kousser and J. M. McPherson (eds) Region, Race and Reconstruction: Essays in Honour of C. Vann Woodward (New York: Oxford UP, 1982).
50. Collins, White Society in the Antebellum South, p. 16; Eaton, Growth of Southern Civilization, p. 96; Genovese, Roll, Jordan Roll, pp. 50–2, 74. Mrs Margaret Douglass, prosecuted in 1854 for teaching Negro children to read and write, offered in her defence the numbers of Negro children who were literate – mostly taught by the leading citizens of Norfolk, Virginia. See Clement Eaton, The Freedom-of-Thought Struggle in the Old South, 2nd edn (New York: Harper 8c Row, 1964), p. 137.
51. Collins, White Society in the Antebellum South, pp. 16–24.
52. Freehling, Road to Disunion, p. 515.
53. Cunliffe, Chattel Slavery and Wage Slavery, pp. 102, 123n38; Drew Gilpin Faust, A Sacred Circle: The Dilemma of the Intellectual in the Old South, 1840–1860 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1977).
54. W.J. Cash, The Mind of the South (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), p. 85.
55. Ibid., pp. 32, 110.
56. William H. Pease and Jane H. Pease, The Web of Progress: Private Values and Public Styles in Boston and Charleston (New York: Oxford UP, 1985), p. 11; Allan Nevins, The Emergence of Lincoln (New York: Scribner’s, 1950), II, p. 334.
57. Collins, White Society in the Antebellum South, p. 27.
58. Parish, Slavery, pp. 47–8; Collins, White Society in the Antebellum South, pp. 38–9; Grady McWhiney, Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1988), p. 55.
59. Eaton, Growth of Southern Civilization, p. 124.
60. Collins, White Society in the Antebellum South, pp. 39–40; Eaton, Growth of Southern Civilization, p. 111.
61. Eaton, Freedom-of-Thought Straggle, p. 336.
62. Ibid., pp. 27–8, 30, 36–7, 46–8, 62–3; Eaton, Growth of Southern Civilization, p. 115.
63. Eaton, Freedom-of-Thought Struggle, pp. 51, 66–7, 73–80; Eaton, Growth of Southern Civilization, p. 115; also of interest here is Clement Eaton’s The Waning of Old South Civilization, 1860–1880 (New York: Pegasus, 1969), esp. pp. viii, 22–3, 50.
64. Pease and Pease, Web of Progress, p. 108.
65. Eaton, Freedom-of-Thought Struggle, pp. 126–7. Eaton points out that legislation of this kind was never brought before the Supreme Court and put to the test of constitutional validity. Clearly, if an Administration held power in Washington that was prepared to see this tested, the whole structure would be tested, too. ‘The whole affair is a striking example of the nonassertion of Federal power’, in his opinion.
66. Ibid., pp. 129–30, 163–5, 185–93.
67. McWhiney, Cracker Culture, pp. 201–5; examples of puny opposition can be found, see Eaton, Freedom-of-Thought Struggle, pp. 133–43, 162, 273–6, 283, 298–9, 313; Eaton notes the ‘Surprising fact… that they [the laws] were invoked so rarely’ (p. 143). There was no need.
68. Eaton, Freedom-of-Thought Struggle pp. 161, 223, 236; Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South (New York: Oxford UP, 1982), pp. 111–13; Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab, The Politics of Unreason: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790–1970 (London: Heinemann, 1971), ch. 2, which concentrates on ‘Know Nothingism’.
69. William R. Taylor, Cavalier and Yankee: The Old South and American National Character (London: W. H. Allen, 1963), p. 146; also see Wyatt-Brown, Southern Honor, pp. 484–5.
70. Eaton, Freedom-of-Thought Struggle, pp. 213–17; Mathews, Religion in the Old South, pp. 122–3; Taylor, Cavalier and Yankee, p. 334; Wyatt-Brown, Southern Honor, pp. 168–9, 363, 438.
71. Collins, White Society in the Antebellum South, pp. 68, 70, 82; Michael D. Clark, ‘“More English than the English”: Cavalier and Democrat in Virginia Historical Writing’, Journal of A merican Studies 27 (1993), pp. 186–204.
72. For a discussion of this, see below, pp. 191–6.
73. On the ‘life of sensation and careless enjoyment’ of the Creoles, see Eaton, Growth of Southern Civilization, p. 130; for similar comments on the ‘Celts’ (a very ambiguously defined group), see McWhiney’s Cracker Culture chs 4 and 5.
74. To this extent only is the notion of a herrenvolk relevant to the period before 1865, much of its significance (and that of other comparisons with societies such as South Africa) is surely post-war. See George M. Fredrickson, The Black Image in the American Mind (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), p. 61. See C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, 2nd rev. edn (New York: Oxford UP, 1966), p. 13 for the view that segregation was absent with slavery, although it was present in dealings with free blacks. Woodward’s interpretation has recently been challenged.
75. Collins, White Society in the Antebellum South, pp. 29–30.
76. See Pease and Pease, Web of Progress, pp. 82, 143, 154, 157–8; James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford UP, 1988), pp. 14–21.
77. Especially by McWhiney, Cracker Culture, pp. 190, 196, 206.
78. See Anne Norton, Alternative Americas: A Reading of Antebellum Political Culture (Chicago UP, 1986), pp. 19–20.
79. Hopley, Life in the South, I, p. 397.
80. Norton, Alternative Americas, pp. 99–103, 105, 258; Wyatt-Brown, Southern Honor, assumes that this preoccupation was a Southern monopoly. Although northern writers like Henry James in The Bostonians use southern figures, like Basil Ransome, as models of the gentlemanly code, to assume that ‘honour’ is irrelevant to northern gentlemen is absurd. In the South it is more pronounced. See Colonel Lapham’s observation that ‘gentlemaning as a profession has got to play out in a generation or two’. William Dean Howells, The Rise of Silas Lapham (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983), p. 34.
81. Eaton, Freedom-of-Thought Struggle, pp. 325, 345; Carl Degler, ‘The Two Cultures and the Civil War’, in Stanley Coben and Lorman Ratner (eds) The Development of an American Culture (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970), pp. 92–119.
82. Cash, Mind of the South, p. 92.