Richard Williams offers a thoughtful response to my post of a few days ago in which I describe his reference to "Stonewall" Jackson as a "champion of enslaved men and women" as dangerous. Williams response is based on a short book review that historian Peter Carmichael did on Elizabeth-Fox Genovese’s classic Within the Plantation Household (University of North Carolina Press, 1988) in the most recent issue of Civil War Times Illustrated. Williams quotes Carmichael as evidence of his contention that the relationships forged between Jackson and his slaves qualifies as friendship. Here is the quote: No one can ignore the overwhelming historical evidence mutual closeness between blacks and whites within the Slave South . . .” He goes on to point out that Fox-Genovese also explores the complex chains of affection between slaveowners and their slaves. Williams is absolutely correct on this point and I know this all too well because I read this book as a graduate student; not only did I read it, but I’ve read plenty of other articles and books by both Fox-Genovese and her husband Eugene Genovese. I could be wrong since it has been some time, but I don’t remember seeing this book cited by Williams or any other recent analytical study of slavery in the bibliography of his Jackson book.
By placing himself in the same camp as Fox-Genovese and Carmichael, Williams believes that by extension I must also believe that they too are dangerous. Not at all. In fact I agree with the assertion that slavery created a wide range of mutually affective relations or mutual closeness during the antebellum period. To do so would be to ignore some of the most interesting literature to come out of this field over the past few decades. One of the most important points that Eugene Genoves makes in Roll, Jordan, Roll is that slaves cultivated chains of affection because they understood that slaveowners could not help but acknowledge their humanity. From this perspective such relationships can be understood as manipulated by the slaves themselves to help make a horrific situation bearable. At one point William suggests that it is not unreasonable to equate mutual affection with friendship. Perhaps, but I believe it to be very difficult in the context of the slave-master relationship because it seems to me that the concept of friendship implies freedom of choice and by definition that is absent. This is a point that Aristotle makes in his Nicomachean Ethics with the other being that friendships are built over time around mutual interests. That said, to a certain extent this is beside the point because my problem is with Williams’s claim that Jackson ought to be understood as a "champion of enslaved men and women."
On this point I feel safe in assuming that Carmichael would disagree with Williams here. In addition, I’ve never read anywhere in Fox-Genovese’s scholarship which implies anything along these lines. Let me state again for the record that I am well aware of the scholarship that has outlined the ways in which the lives of slaves and slaveowners intersected and often resulted in close personal ties. It would be surprising to me if it didn’t given the social dynamics involved. I am exploring just such a relationship as I edit the letters of Captain John C. Winshmith of South Carolina. The problem I have, and the reason I find the assertion of "champion" to be dangerous, if not perverse, is it involves what appears to be a celebration.