Defending Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Old South, A Brief History with Documents, Paul Finkelman, Bedford St. Martins Press, chronology, index, bibliography, 228 pp., $13.95
One of The Bedford Series in History and Culture series, Defending Slavery places the words of Southerners in the hands of the reader. Beginning a small portion of Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia(1787)and concluding with Josiah Nott's Instincts of Races (1866), this book displays the knowledge and opinions that Southerner's held regarding slavery and blacks. In a forty-four page introduction, Paul Finkelman outlines the legitimacy of slavery in the classical world, colonial America, Revolutionary America, and the early national period. He makes the case that the first defenses of slavery that were based upon races appeared after the American Revolution and were an attempt to reconcile the Declaration of Independence with the fact of perpetual forced labor. Outlining antebellum proslavery thought, Finkelman sets forth the racial theories and ideologies promoted by Southerners. Primary documents reveal the historical and classical defenses of slavery and the religious, economic, legal, political and racial defenses of slavery.
The economic, legal, political rationales are provided by famous men in Southern and Confederate history. In an 1837 senate speech John C. Calhoun argues that slavery is indispensable for the peace and happiness of both whites and blacks. Edmund Ruffin argues that slavery treats blacks better than the North treats wage laborers. Thomas R. Cobb states that slavery is essential for blacks because there are no examples of blacks achieving prosperity outside of forced servitude. James Henry Hammond understands that wage labor and slavery are necessary for a prosperous culture which needs a mudsill people to perform onerous tasks. Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens declares in 1861 that slavery is the cornerstone of the Confederate nation and culture.
Ministers reflect upon the duties of Christian masters, the Bible's presentations of slavery, slave marriages and divine revelation. Judges and courts weigh in on the definitions of slavery and its foundation in natural law. Diseases particular to blacks, physical peculiarities of Negroes, and the instincts of the races are forcefully and bluntly states by Southern doctors and naturalists.
Finkelman's introductory essay and his selection of documents are approachable for the student, the layman and the specialist. With a clear and concise narrative style and a precise use of vocabulary, Finkleman develops both the context and the content of the Southern frame of reference for the institution of slavery.