Following on Friday's post looking at Drew-Gilpin Faust's efforts to understand the mind of the master class, here's an excerpt from her essay on the slave-holding reverend Thornton Stringfellow. Stringfellow looked to justify slavery from a biblical and theological perspective. He didn't have much trouble apparently:
Stringfellow's transcending interest was evangelical, and the question of racial control was but a subordinate issue within his religiously-oriented world view. "Enforcing discipline" among blacks was seen as important because it was part of "Encouraging and assisting them to works of Righteousness." So just as the church as an institution had a missionary duty toward the black man, so the institution of slavery itself was designed to educate the bondsman for salvation. The South must come to recognize that in caring for slaves, in leading them out of barbarism, it fulfilled God's will and served as an instrument of His mercy. Ownership of slaves was itself a kind of moral stewardship."There is truly moral power put forth for good, in the obedience enjoined upon the slave and especially in the duty to the slave enjoined upon the master." ' Here again the North had failed in its Christian duty, for "after pocketing the price of these savages, [it] refused to bear any part of the burden of training and elevating them." The Scriptures showed clearly that God had made men socially, morally, and politically unequal, and thus slavery was invented so that by uniting the interest and sympathy of the superior white master with his property right in the slave, it might protect and elevate the black man. Regulation of blacks was a necessary part of their education and improvement. "The guardianship and control of the black race, by the white...is an indispensable Christian duty, to which we must as yet look, if we would secure the well-being of both races."
Members of the Effete Liberal Book Club will recognize much of this vocabulary--elements of Jefferson and Bobby Lee. Stringfellow is, of course, more of a Calhounite. From his perspective slave-holding is a positive good, one which any able white Christian should partake in. I don't think it does much good for us to gasp at this. We must get beyond gasping if we're going to understand.
It's important to remember that Stringfellow--and virtually every white person in the country--accepts that blacks are, by nature, inferior. Indeed the only mass group of Americans who didn't accept that argument, are the blacks themselves.
If you truly accepted, in your heart, that blacks were inferior (and to be white believe anything else in the 1850s would require an outsized mix of imagination, skepticism and empathy) you begin to see the outlines for a pro-slavery argument. In this sense, you also see the perspective of those who pilloried the "Black Republicans" as miscegenaters pushing the country toward social equality.
Emancipation was the first in a series of admissions that much of what the white mind thought about black people was little more than phrenology. It should not be forgotten that White Supremacy is the product of an era in which leeches and bloodletting were considered medicine. Howell Cobb speaks to us through the ages. "If slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong."
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