Our Peculiar Qualities and Peculiar Faults

The last few posts on the important place that slavery occupied in the Deep South’s secession documents [and here] has been entertaining and informative, but as we all know it quickly gets old as both sides begin to rehash the same arguments.  In the end, white southerners made it perfectly clear as to how slavery led them to secession.  All too often, however, we lose sight of the fact that many of the official secession documents that were meant to announce to people on the local, state, regional, and even international levels why political ties ties had been severed with the United States also reflect how white southerners viewed themselves in contrast with the North.  In other words, the defense of slavery was a catalyst for secession because it occupied such an important place in southern culture.

It’s a crucial step to take, especially in the classroom, since it gets us beyond the old canard of how few southerners actually owned slaves and other distractions.  Instead of getting bogged down in the priority of causes or who owned what and how much, the goal is to better understand the meaning that white southerners (slave and non-slaveowner alike as well as those who remained loyal to the Union) attached to the institution.  Not surprisingly, they wrote extensively about this on the eve of the Civil War as part of the difficult process of nation building.  Consider the following March 14, 1861 editorial from the Richmond Examiner:

Those who suppose the present difficulties of the United States to be the result of an agitation against negro slavery, see only the surface.  The true cause of the approaching separation of this country into two parts is the fact that it is inhabited by two peoples, two utterly distinct nations…. It [slavery] has developed our peculiar qualities and peculiar faults, all of them the exact reverses of those created by the system of leveling materialism and of numerical majorities which has attained in the North a logical perfection of application hitherto unknown and unheard of in any part of the whole world.  Under the operation of these causes, we repeat the North and the South have come to be inhabited by two nations.  They are different in everything that can constitute difference in national character; in their persons, in their pronunciation, in their dress, in their port, in their religious ideas, in their sentiments toward women, in their manners to each other, in their favourite foods, in their houses and domestic arrangements, in their method of doing business, in their national aspirations, in all their tastes, all their principles, in all their pride and in all their shame.  The French are not more unlike the English than the Yankees are unlike the Southerners.

The editorial excerpt was pulled from Paul Quigley’s, Shifting Grounds: Nationalism and the American South, 1848-1865, (p. 144).

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9 comments… add one

  • Jarret Ruminski Jan 12, 2012

    Confederate boosters loved to publish stuff like this, but whether most southerners believed in such differences on a functional, day-to-day basis is questionable. I’m thinking of how Michael Bernath shows in “Confederate Minds” the glorious failure of literary-minded Confederate nationalists who tried to construct these kind of differences out of whole cloth.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 12, 2012

      You make an excellent point and Quigley makes pretty much follows Bernath here. Regardless of what the differences were they pointed to slavery as essential to their understanding of themselves and for those on the outside who hoped to understand what was taking place.

  • Doug didier Jan 14, 2012

      After some thought..

       It’s unfortunate that when a person starts studying american history..  

        Jacksonian, antebellum, civil war, aren’t first given .. Shall I say.. The forest for the trees perspective..  I.e. the formation, development, and and maintenance  of the southern slave society..

         Perhaps the metaphor of 10 blind men trying to  get the concept of an elephant is an example..  States rights, nullification, etc etc..

     Maybe replacing in our minds, slave society  each time we come across the word slavery   would be a starting point..
     

    To be fair .. Can’t find a work that addresses the subject..   Perhaps civil war and social history haven’t mixed yet..

      Did find interesting info from  1989 preface of repprint of Genovese.. 

       The Political economy of Slavery..

        Where he tries to update concepts based on a lifetime of study

      My notes etc follow..

         Doug Didier ..

    The forging of the slaveholders as a class and through them the southern slave society produced a unique social formation.
         
     Southern slave society could never assimilate bourgeois ideology and morals, nor could it remain at peace with the Northern bourgeois with which it had to share national-state power in the United States.  

      Could not.. Would sacrifice the society they enjoyed…
       
       reflection of slave society..  
        …Slavery
         …  Class 
          …. Honor
          … Politics
          ..laws
           … Church
           … Workers ..  Manufacturing …

    Concept of race was invented in the north ..

        

    • Jarret Ruminski Jan 14, 2012

      “Southern slave society could never assimilate bourgeois ideology and morals.” Plenty has been written to dispel that old assumption. Start with two recent studies by Jonathan Daniel Wells: “The Origins of the Southern Middle Class, 1800-1861″ (2004) and “The Southern Middle Class in the Long Nineteenth Century” (2011).

      • Jarret Ruminski Jan 14, 2012

        Also, check out “The Old South’s Modern Worlds: Slavery, Region, and Nation in the Age of Progress.” Edited by Frank Towers, L. Diane Barnes and Brian Schoen.

    • Ray O'Hara Jan 14, 2012

      “Concept of race was invented in the north”

      If the North invented the concept of race? why were there micegenation laws in every Southern state? Also there were laws against this worldwide
      Clearly the South must have had some concept of race as they created those laws and also in their concept of classification with Quadroon and Octaroon.

      the Concept of race wasn’t created by the North or South, it existed before there was a United States and indeed before Columbus sailed.

      • Margaret D. Blough Jan 14, 2012

        The idea that the North invented the concept of race would have been news to James Hammond and John Calhoun. Hammond’s “Mudsill” section of his “King Cotton” speech set forth ideas that John Quincy Adams recorded Calhoun setting forth in private discussions during the crisis that led to the Missouri Compromise (both were in Monroe’s cabinet.)

        • Ray O'Hara Jan 15, 2012

          Like the usual comment that”North ran the slave trade” it’s an attempt to point out the North was racist {it was} to make it seem that “Lincoln invaded the South to end Slavery” the height of hypocrisy.

      • London John Jan 16, 2012

        This quote seems to say that without slavery there would have been no distinct South; so the war was caused by slavery.

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