Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South

22 Nov

Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South

Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South

James Oakes

Language: English

Pages: 268

ISBN: 0393317668

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

"The most valuable and stimulating general interpretation of the Old South to appear in recent years."—George M. Fredrickson

This pathbreaking interpretation of the slaveholding South begins with the insight that slavery and freedom were not mutually exclusive but were intertwined in every dimension of life in the South. James Oakes traces the implications of this insight for relations between masters and slaves, slaveholders and non-slaveholders, and for the rise of a racist ideology.

















emergence of a prosperous, capitalist society. The middle class could now begin in earnest its tireless habit of mimicking the aristocracy by indulging in traditionally élite luxuries. At the same time the poorest wage workers found in sugar a source of inexpensive, and mildly addictive, calories. The rise of sugar consumption certainly required the development of a taste for sweetness, and Englishmen acquired that more avidly than any people ever had. But the taste itself could only flourish in

inheritance laws ensuring that estates would stay in the same families over succeeding generations; the political offices that could be filled only by those who were to the manor born; the formal titles that separated them from all other citizens; the monarchy that dispensed those titles; and the established church that legitimized them. These were the legal trappings of the European aristocracy, and they survived into the late 1800’s even after centuries of diminution.78 In aristocratic

few thousands.”21 To be sure, “a few thousands” was quite a bit in the Old South. The practice of dividing estates among heirs may have slowed the accumulation of wealth in planter families, but it hardly reduced them to poverty. In North Carolina, for example, planters distributed their wealth among their children in a relatively egalitarian pattern that had contradictory implications for the subsequent generation. Only one in four children whose parents owned seventy slaves or more in 1830

went into the socialization of young masters were crystallized in the issue of westward expansion. Moving west and establishing a slave plantation became the means by which the sons of the master class reproduced the society of their elders. In 1849, after Phillips Fitzpatrick graduated from school and was unsure of what career to pursue, he solicited the advice of his uncle Alva. Come to Texas, his uncle told the young Alabamian. Get yourself a good piece of range land in a healthy location with

slavery as a “civilizing” force in society. Without the social inequality that inevitably arose when some men commanded the labor of others, he argued, there could be no sense of higher aspiration and achievement and hence no “civilization.”64 Yet Harper, like Dew, could not break completely from prevailing liberal assumptions, for it was quite clear that the primacy of individual rights and the sanctity of property were perfectly compatible with the various forms of inequality that Harper

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