In Defense of White Slavery

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The one thing I appreciate about Fitzhugh is that his racism is pretty consistent:


The Proletariat of France, the nomadic pauper banditti of England, the starving tenantry of Ireland, the Lazzaroni of Italy, and the half-savages of Hayti, are the admitted results of practical abolition.

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Monteil, a recent French author, who has written the most accurate and graphic description of social conditions during the Feudal ages, describes the serfs as the especial pets and favorites of the Barons. They were the most dependent, obedient, and useful members of the feudal society, and like younger children, became favorites. The same class now constitute the Proletariat, the Lazzaroni, the Gypsies, the Parias, and the "pauper banditti" of Western Europe, and the Leperos of Mexico. As slaves, they were loved and protected; as pretended freemen, they were execrated and persecuted.

Later he goes further quoting a dispatch that implicitely argues that the vagabond whites of Europe are, as far as I can tell, a different race. I include that caveat because maybe I might be read this wrong. Please correct me, if so:

That we, like the Hottentots, Kaffirs, and Fins, are surrounded by wandering hordes, the 'sonquas' and 'fingons' of this country, paupers, beggars and outcasts, possessing nothing but what they acquire by depredation from the industrious, provident and civilized portion of the community; that the heads of these nomads are remarkable for a greater development of the jaws and cheek bones, than of the skull, and that they have a secret language of their own--an English 'cuzecat,' or 'slang,' as it is called, for the concealment of their designs; these are points of coincidence so striking, that, when placed before the mind, they make us marvel why the analogy has been so long unobserved. 

The resemblance once discovered, however, becomes of great service in enabling us to use the moral characteristics of the nomadic races of other countries, as a means of comprehending more readily those of the vagabonds and outcasts of our own. The nomad there is distinguished from the civilized man by his repugnance to regular and continuous labor--by his want of providence in laying up a store for the future; by his inability to perceive consequences ever so slightly removed from immediate apprehension; by his passion for stultifying herbs and roots, and when possible, for intoxicating fermented liquors; for his extraordinary powers of enduring privation; by his comparative insensibility to pain; 

By an immoderate love of gaming; frequently risking his own personal liberty on a single cast; by his love of libidinous dances; by the pleasure which he experiences in witnessing the sufferings of sentient creatures; by his delight in warfare and all perilous sports; by his desire for vengeance; by the looseness of his notions as to property; by the absence of chastity among his women, and his disregard of female honor; and lastly by his vague sense of religion, his rude idea of a Creator, and utter absence of all appreciation of the mercy of the Divine Spirit. 

The nomadic races of England are of many distinct kinds--from the habitual vagrant, half beggar, half thief, sleeping in barns, tents, and casual wards, to the mechanic on the tramp, obtaining his bed and supper from the trade societies in the different towns on his way to seek work. Between these two extremes, there are several mediate varieties, consisting of pedlars, show-men, harvest men, and all that large class who live by either selling, showing, or doing something through the country. There are, so to speak, the rural nomads--not confining their wanderings to any one particular locality, but ranging often from one end of the land to the other. 

Besides these, there are urban and suburban travellers, or those who follow some itinerant occupation in and about the large towns. Such are in the metropolis, more particularly the pickpockets, the beggars, the prostitutes, the street sellers, the street performers, the cab-men, the coachmen, the watermen, the sailors, and such like. In each of these classes, according as they partake more or less of the family vagabond, doing nothing whatever for their living, but moving from place to place, preying upon the earnings of the more industrious part of the community--so will the attributes of the nomad tribe be found to be more or less marked.

I am immediately taken back to Chandra Manning's point about how the range of colors among black slaves, powerfully affected white Union soldiers during the Civil War. Antebellum white Supremacy offered its vassals particular privileges allegedly conferred by mere skin-tone. But the varying hues of enslaved African-Americans revealed the vulnerability, the thinness, of the latter half of that promise. 

What is whiteness if not skin-color? If a slave who is lighter than many "whites" can be dubbed black, and thus inferior, and thus subject to be deemed property, what is there to stop the purveyors of Souther racialism from revisiting that bargain, from altering its terms as circumstances deem appropriate? 

Consider that the African slave trade had been outlawed. Consider that Southerners the notion of a "house divided" doesn't originate with Lincoln but with Fitzhugh:

Tis not possible that our two forms of society can long co-exist. All Christendom is one republic, has one religion, belongs to one race, and is governed by one public opinion. Social systems, formed on opposite principles, cannot co-endure.

Consider that Ftizhugh believed that:

...about nineteen out of every twenty individuals have 'a natural and inalienable right' to be taken care of and to have guardians, trustees, husbands, or masters; in other words, they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves.

The point here isn't that Fitzhugh is typical of Southern planter thinking, but he is the logical extension of much of it. He outlines the border of possibilities. That border is not hard to detect when you come South and notice people in chains, who look like you.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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