Quick Announcements

The Rebel Yell guys from The Right Stuff were kind enough to let me ramble awhile on their podcast. I come on around the 1:29 mark and stay for about an hour. Check out their other shows too, they are consistently excellent.

In other news I and several others have organized an informal discussion/networking/study group for Southern reactionaries. Anyone interested in joining should email me at skyagusta at gmail. Expect some light vetting.

I’ve got about 5 or 6 half- and mostly-written posts that I’m trying to find the time to wrap up (I keep getting distracted by shiny objects). Hopefully I’ll be able to increase posting volume in the near future.

The Necessity of Southern Reaction

The most likely way to kill a tradition is to over-formalize it, which is to carry it on in the same way after everyone has ceased to defer to it. The way to revive it is to show that it has grown out of and is still related to our most cherished values. But this requires radical insight and the stripping away of many things which are mere accretions.
Richard M. Weaver

Southern Reaction as an intellectual tradition is not new. In 1863 George Fitzhugh proclaimed, “We begin a great conservative reaction. We attempt to roll back the Reformation in its political phases.” In 1897 R.L. Dabney wrote, “American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition.” In 1929 Donald Davidson and Allen Tate discussed the need for an “academy of Southern positive reactionaries.” In 1989, M.E. Bradford wrote “Reaction is a necessary term in the intellectual context we inhabit in the twentieth century because merely to conserve is sometimes to perpetuate what is outrageous.”

Nor has Southern Reaction been particularly successful, the above being defeated in succession by the adherents of Lincoln, FDR, and Buckley in battles physical and political (though never intellectual). Today it may be fairly argued that Southern Reaction has no champion, the various modern entities which owe some fealty to the tradition seemingly unwilling to commit to the most un-liberal aspects of it. This is a shame which must be rectified.

If Southern Reaction is at its nadir, it is happening at the worst possible time. Not only are many of its dire predictions for free/industrial/multicultural society finally coming true, but there appears to be building a large-scale dissent from liberal and leftist government all across the Occident. The European New Right, Neoreaction, and the Alt-Right are already making waves and all indications are they are still in their infancy. Quite suddenly the very exporters of the kind of leftism that the Southern Right has fought against, alone, for so long are beginning to experience a rising tide of rightist dissension. This is an opportunity the proportions of which Fitzhugh, Tate, and Weaver could’ve only dreamt of.

What shall be done with this opportunity? The tradition must be revived.

Properly conceived, Southern Reaction is applied reaction. It takes a set of ideas, both from our homegrown rightists and the greater rightist tradition, and applies them to a distinct place and time. This is the natural next step for the current “dark enlightenment” renaissance. Different people have different problems which require different answers. Currently there exists a bunch of semi-coherent groups of rightists, like (non-neo)reactionaries, trad Christians, and ethnonationalists. Sooner or later the members of these groups will have to attach to a specific ethnocultural thede, and its on-the-ground reality, if they ever want to make progress towards getting things done. That is the goal of Southern Reaction. It is not separate from these groups, but it takes those groups’ ideas (or at least whichever ideas that actual Southerners hold) and applies them to the modern Southern context.

NRx has patchwork; the European New Right has identitarianism; the Alt-Right has ethnocentrism. Whatever it is called, the future of the Right is that different thedes splinter and take care of themselves. The South must organically rebuild its own Rightist element. To borrow the words of Allen Tate we must create a reactionary situation “interior to the South.” This follows cleanly once universalism is rejected (including the white kind) and the South is admitted as distinct, either genetically or culturally or both. A Southern Right is the only element conceivable that can use Southern resources to solve Southern problems for the highest benefit of Southerners. Otherwise these problems will be outsourced, to our detriment.

Two organizations currently exist on the Southern Right: the League of the South and the Abbeville Institute. If any progeny of the Southern Rightist tradition exist, they are it. As much as I am unwilling to critize those who have built legitimate organizations for the furtherance of a cause I very much identify with, both are flawed in significant ways. The League of the South seems to forsake or ignore the intellectual vein of the Southern Rightist tradition in favor of activism and therefore dilutes the message as much as possible. It can be summed up in one word- secede. The LoS seems determined to work from within the system, as opposed to building alternative power structures. So far I just haven’t seen anything of substance from LoS, though I would love to. Perhaps the emergence of the Alt-Right will help the LoS grow beyond tiny street corner protests, but if so I have seen little indication the energy will be directed in a very positive direction.

The Abbeville Institute errs in the opposite direction. Scholarly and intelligent, it is reluctant to appear as extremist and thus retains some of the pillars of the liberal worldview. Perhaps more accurately it seeks to justify the South from within the liberal worldview. It is explicitly oriented towards the past, analyzing the sins of Lincoln and genius of Jefferson over and over again. Its purpose is to “critically explore what is true and valuable in the Southern tradition.” Unfortunately, in focusing all efforts towards doing so it is failing to advance it.

It is true, heretofore Abbeville and the LoS had little choice but to pay some lipservice to leftist hegemony. When there is no true rightist counterculture, when one is alone in the wilderness, one makes concessions to stay viable. What we have lately however is the appearance of that counterculture, and the Southern Right must be nimble in order to capitalize on it. Hopefully, Abbeville and the League will adjust accordingly. If they don’t, others must assume the mantle.

From the perspective of the international Right, Southern Reaction is a positive development because decentralization is a good thing. When Truth is the goal diversity of viewpoint is a benefit. The South presents a unique context which adds to the greater discussion. This context produced a nuanced and fairly advanced rightist tradition of its own which as far as I have seen is still largely unexplored even in intellectual rightist circles. Like an old garden, it is a bit overgrown and and requires some pruning here and some tending there, but it is a rich soil and still capable of bearing some fruit.

Excerpt- Thornwell on Our Great Conflict and True Progress

The following is taken from James Henley Thornwell’s published 1850 sermon The Rights and Duties of Masters. From South Carolina, Thornwell was a pro-slavery Presbyterian theologian and important part of the Reactionary Enlightenment breakthrough in Southern Rightist thought. Here he gives us an exceptionally farsighted perspective on the immense implications of the slavery vs. abolitionism debate. For more from Thornwell, see Recommended Reading.


God has not permitted such a remarkable phenomenon as the unanimity of the civilized world, in its execration of slavery, to take place without design. This great battle with the Abolitionists, has not been fought in vain. The muster of such immense forces – the fury and bitterness of the conflict – the disparity in resources of the parties in the war – the conspicuousness – the unexampled conspicuousness of the event, have all been ordered for wise and beneficent results; and when the smoke shall have rolled away, it will be seen that a real progress has been made in the practical solution of the problems which produced the collision.

What disasters it will be necessary to pass through before the nations can be taught the lessons of Providence – what lights shall be extinguished, and what horrors experienced, no human sagacity can foresee. But that the world is now the theatre of an extraordinary conflict of great principles – that the foundations of society are about to be explored to their depths – and the sources of social and political prosperity laid bare; that the questions in dispute involve all that is dear and precious to man on earth – the most superficial observer cannot fail to perceive. Experiment after experiment may be made – disaster succeed disaster, in carrying out the principles of an atheistic philosophy – until the nations, wearied and heart-sickened with changes without improvement, shall open their eyes to the real causes of their calamities, and learn the lessons which wisdom shall evolve from the events that have passed. Truth must triumph. God will vindicate the appointments of His Providence – and if our institutions are indeed consistent with righteousness and truth, we can calmly afford to bide our time – we can watch the storm which is beating furiously against us, without terror or dismay – we can receive the assault of the civilized world – trusting in Him who has all the elements at His command, and can save as easily by one as a thousand. If our principles are true, the world must come to them; and we can quietly appeal from the verdict of existing generations, to the more impartial verdict of the men who shall have seen the issue of the struggle in which we are now involved. It is not the narrow question of abolitionism or of slavery – not simply whether we shall emancipate our negroes or not; the real question is the relations of man to society – of States to the individual, and of the individual to States; a question as broad as the interests of the human race.

These are the mighty questions which are shaking thrones to their centres – upheaving the masses like an earthquake, and rocking the solid pillars of this Union. The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders – they are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, jacobins, on the one side, and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battleground – Christianity and Atheism the combatants; and the progress of humanity the stake. One party seems to regard Society, with all its complicated interests, its divisions and sub-divisions, as the machinery of man – which, as it has been invented and arranged by his ingenuity and skill, may be taken to pieces, re-constructed, altered or repaired, as experience shall indicate defects or confusion in the original plan. The other party beholds in it the ordinance of God; and contemplates “this little scene of human life,” as placed in the middle of a scheme, whose beginnings must be traced to the unfathomable depths of the past, and whose development and completion must be sought in the still more unfathomable depths of the future – a scheme, as Butler expresses it, “not fixed, but progressive – every way incomprehensible” – in which, consequently, irregularity is the confession of our ignorance – disorder the proof of our blindness, and with which it is as awful temerity to tamper as to sport with the name of God.

It is a great lesson that, as the weakness of man can never make that straight which God hath made crooked, true wisdom consists in discharging the duties of every relation; and the true secret of progress is in the improvement and elevation which are gradually super-induced by this spirit.

Excerpt- MacDonald on European Individualism and Altruism

The following is taken from the Preface to Kevin MacDonald’s 1998 book The Culture of Critique (free download here). Here MacDonald lays out the basic theory behind the European penchant for pathological altruism. Note that the epicenter – Nordic and Germanic Europe – excludes Celtic Britain and Ireland, the erstwhile source of much of Southern culture. Contrary to the more Germanic North, the South developed an anti-individualistic society (I hesitate to use the word collectivist, though it fits with MacDonald’s usage below), where close extended families, and suspicion of outsiders, were the rule rather than the exception – a major reason for the South’s historical resistance to overly-altruistic strains of Progressivism.


THE basic idea is that European groups are highly vulnerable to invasion by strongly collectivist, ethnocentric groups because individualists have less powerful defenses against such groups. The competitive advantage of cohesive, cooperating groups is obvious and is a theme that recurs throughout my trilogy on Judaism. This scenario implies that European peoples are more prone to individualism. Individualist cultures show little emotional attachment to ingroups. Personal goals are paramount, and socialization emphasizes the importance of self-reliance, independence, individual responsibility, and “finding yourself.” Individualists have more positive attitudes toward strangers and outgroup members and are more likely to behave in a pro-social, altruistic manner to strangers. People in individualist cultures are less aware of ingroup/outgroup boundaries and thus do not have highly negative attitudes toward outgroup members. They often disagree with ingroup policy, show little emotional commitment or loyalty to ingroups, and do not have a sense of common fate with other ingroup members. Opposition to outgroups occurs in individualist societies, but the opposition is more “rational” in the sense that there is less of a tendency to suppose that all of the outgroup members are culpable. Individualists form mild attachments to many groups, while collectivists have an intense attachment and identification to a few ingroups. Individualists are therefore relatively ill-prepared for between-group competition so characteristic of the history of Judaism.

Historically Judaism has been far more ethnocentric and collectivist than typical Western societies. I make this argument in Separation and Its Discontents and especially in A People That Shall Dwell Alone, where I suggest that over the course of their recent evolution, Europeans were less subjected to between-group natural selection than Jews and other Middle Eastern populations. This was originally proposed by Fritz Lenz, who suggested that, because of the harsh environment of the Ice Age, the Nordic peoples evolved in small groups and have a tendency toward social isolation rather than cohesive groups. This perspective would not imply that Northern Europeans lack collectivist mechanisms for group competition, but only that these mechanisms are relatively less elaborated and/or require a higher level of group conflict to trigger their expression.

This perspective is consistent with ecological theory. Under ecologically adverse circumstances, adaptations are directed more at coping with the adverse physical environment than at competing with other groups, and in such an environment, there would be less pressure for selection for extended kinship networks and highly collectivist groups. Evolutionary conceptualizations of ethnocentrism emphasize the utility of ethnocentrism in group competition. Ethnocentrism would thus be of no importance at all in combating the physical environment, and such an environment would not support large groups.

European groups are part of what Burton et al. term the North Eurasian and Circumpolar culture area. This culture area derives from hunter-gatherers adapted to cold, ecologically adverse climates. In such climates there is pressure for male provisioning of the family and a tendency toward monogamy because the ecology did not support either polygyny or large groups for an evolutionarily significant period. These cultures are characterized by bilateral kinship relationships which recognize both the male and female lines, suggesting a more equal contribution for each sex as would be expected under conditions of monogamy. There is also less emphasis on extended kinship relationships and marriage tends to be exogamous (i.e., outside the kinship group). As discussed below, all of these characteristics are opposite those found among Jews.

The historical evidence shows that Europeans, and especially Northwest Europeans, were relatively quick to abandon extended kinship networks and collectivist social structures when their interests were protected with the rise of strong centralized governments. There is indeed a general tendency throughout the world for a decline in extended kinship networks with the rise of central authority. But in the case of Northwest Europe this tendency quickly gave rise long before the industrial revolution to the unique Western European “simple household” type. The simple household type is based on a single married couple and their children. It contrasts with the joint family structure typical of the rest of Eurasia in which the household consists of two or more related couples, typically brothers and their wives and other members of the extended family. (An example of the joint household would be the families of the patriarchs described in the Old Testament) Before the industrial revolution, the simple household system was characterized by methods of keeping unmarried young people occupied as servants. It was not just the children of the poor and landless who became servants, but even large, successful farmers sent their children to be servants elsewhere. In the 17th and 18th centuries individuals often took in servants early in their marriage, before their own children could help out, and then passed their children to others when the children were older and there was more than enough help.

This suggests a deeply ingrained cultural practice which resulted in a high level of non-kinship based reciprocity. The practice also bespeaks a relative lack of ethnocentrism because people are taking in non-relatives as household members whereas in the rest of Eurasia people tend to surround themselves with biological relatives. Simply put, genetic relatedness was less important in Europe and especially in the Nordic areas of Europe. The unique feature of the simple household system was the high percentage of non-relatives. Unlike the rest of Eurasia, the pre-industrial societies of northwestern Europe were not organized around extended kinship relationships, and it is easy to see that they are preadapted to the industrial revolution and modern world generally.

This simple household system is a fundamental feature of individualist culture. The individualist family was able to pursue its interests freed from the obligations and constraints of extended kinship relationships and free of the suffocating collectivism of the social structures typical of so much of the rest of the world. Monogamous marriage based on individual consent and conjugal affection quickly replaced marriage based on kinship and family strategizing.

This relatively greater proneness to forming a simple household type may well be ethnically based. During the pre-industrial era, this household system was found only within Nordic Europe: The simple household type is based on a single married couple and their children and characterized Scandinavia (except Finland), British Isles, Low Countries, German-speaking areas, and northern France. Within France, the simple household occurred in areas inhabited by the Germanic peoples who lived northeast of “the eternal line” running from Saint Malo on the English Channel coast to Geneva in French-speaking Switzerland. This area developed large scale agriculture capable of feeding the growing towns and cities, and did so prior to the agricultural revolution of the 18th century. It was supported by a large array of skilled craftsmen in the towns, and a large class of medium-sized ploughmen who “owned horses, copper bowls, glass goblets and often shoes; their children had fat cheeks and broad shoulders, and their babies wore tiny shoes. None of these children had the swollen bellies of the rachitics of the Third World.” The northeast became the center of French industrialization and world trade.

The northeast also differed from the southwest in literacy rates. In the early 19th century, while literacy rates for France as a whole were approximately 50%, the rate in the northeast was close to 100%, and differences occurred at least from the 17th century. Moreover, there was a pronounced difference in stature, with the northeasterners being taller by almost 2 centimeters in an 18th century sample of military recruits. Ladurie notes that the difference in the entire population was probably larger because the army would not accept many of the shorter men from the southwest. In addition, Laslett and other family historians have noted that the trend toward the economically independent nuclear family was more prominent in the north, while there was a tendency toward joint families as one moves to the south and east.

These findings are compatible with the interpretation that ethnic differences are a contributing factor to the geographical variation in family forms within Europe. The findings suggest that the Germanic peoples had a greater biological tendency toward a suite of traits that predisposed them to individualism— including a greater tendency toward the simple household because of natural selection occurring in a prolonged resource-limited period of their evolution in the north of Europe. Similar tendencies toward exogamy, monogamy, individualism, and relative de-emphasis on the extended family were also characteristic of Roman civilization, again suggesting an ethnic tendency that pervades Western cultures generally.

Current data indicate that around 80% of European genes are derived from people who settled in Europe 30–40,000 years ago and therefore persisted through the Ice Ages. This is sufficient time for the adverse ecology of the north to have had a powerful shaping influence on European psychological and cultural tendencies. These European groups were less attracted to extended kinship groups, so that when the context altered with the rise of powerful central governments able to guarantee individual interests, the simple household structure quickly became dominant. This simple family structure was adopted relatively easily because Europeans already had relatively powerful psychological predispositions toward the simple family resulting from its prolonged evolutionary history in the north of Europe.

Although these differences within the Western European system are important, they do not belie the general difference between Western Europe and the rest of Eurasia. Although the trend toward simple households occurred first in the northwest of Europe, they spread relatively quickly among all the Western European countries.

The establishment of the simple household freed from enmeshment in the wider kinship community was then followed in short order by all the other markers of Western modernization: limited governments in which individuals have rights against the state, capitalist economic enterprise based on individual economic rights, moral universalism, and science as individualist truth seeking. Individualist societies develop republican political institutions and institutions of scientific inquiry that assume that groups are maximally permeable and highly subject to defection when individual needs are not met.

Recent research by evolutionary economists provides fascinating insight on the differences between individualistic cultures versus collectivist cultures. An important aspect of this research is to model the evolution of cooperation among individualistic peoples. Fehr and Gächter (2002) found that people will altruistically punish defectors in a “one-shot” game—a game in which participants only interact once and are thus not influenced by the reputations of the people with whom they are interacting. This situation therefore models an individualistic culture because participants are strangers with no kinship ties. The surprising finding was that subjects who made high levels of public goods donations tended to punish people who did not even though they did not receive any benefit from doing so. Moreover, the punished individuals changed their ways and donated more in future games even though they knew that the participants in later rounds were not the same as in previous rounds. Fehr and Gächter suggest that people from individualistic cultures have an evolved negative emotional reaction to free riding that results in their punishing such people even at a cost to themselves—hence the term “altruistic punishment.”

Essentially Fehr and Gächter provide a model of the evolution of cooperation among individualistic peoples. Their results are most applicable to individualistic groups because such groups are not based on extended kinship relationships and are therefore much more prone to defection. In general, high levels of altruistic punishment are more likely to be found among individualistic, hunter-gather societies than in kinship based societies based on the extended family. Their results are least applicable to groups such as Jewish groups or other highly collectivist groups which in traditional societies were based on extended kinship relationships, known kinship linkages, and repeated interactions among members. In such situations, actors know the people with whom they are cooperating and anticipate future cooperation because they are enmeshed in extended kinship networks, or, as in the case of Jews, they are in the same group.

Similarly, in the ultimatum game, one subject (the ‘proposer’) is assigned a sum of money equal to two days’ wages and required to propose an offer to a second person (the ‘respondent’). The respondent may then accept the offer or reject the offer, and if the offer is rejected neither player wins anything. As in the previously described public goods game, the game is intended to model economic interactions between strangers, so players are anonymous. Henrich et al. found that two variables, payoffs to cooperation and the extent of market exchange, predicted offers and rejections in the game. Societies with an emphasis on cooperation and on market exchange had the highest offers—results interpreted as reflecting the fact that they have extensive experience of the principle of cooperation and sharing with strangers. These are individualistic societies. On the other hand, subjects from societies where all interactions are among family members made low offers in the ultimatum game and contributed low amounts to public goods in similarly anonymous conditions.

Europeans are thus exactly the sort of groups modeled by Fehr and Gächter and Henrich et al: They are groups with high levels of cooperation with strangers rather than with extended family members, and they are prone to market relations and individualism. On the other hand, Jewish culture derives from the Middle Old World culture area characterized by extended kinship networks and the extended family. Such cultures are prone to ingroup-outgroup relationships in which cooperation involves repeated interactions with ingroup members and the ingroup is composed of extended family members.

This suggests the fascinating possibility that the key for a group intending to turn Europeans against themselves is to trigger their strong tendency toward altruistic punishment by convincing them of the evil of their own people. Because Europeans are individualists at heart, they readily rise up in moral anger against their own people once they are seen as free riders and therefore morally blameworthy—a manifestation of their much stronger tendency toward altruistic punishment deriving from their evolutionary past as hunter gatherers. In making judgments of altruistic punishment, relative genetic distance is irrelevant. Freeriders are seen as strangers in a market situation; i.e., they have no familial or tribal connection with the altruistic punisher.

Thus the current altruistic punishment so characteristic of contemporary Western civilization: Once Europeans were convinced that their own people were morally bankrupt, any and all means of punishment should be used against their own people. Rather than see other Europeans as part of an encompassing ethnic and tribal community, fellow Europeans were seen as morally blameworthy and the appropriate target of altruistic punishment. For Westerners, morality is individualistic—violations of communal norms by free-riders are punished by altruistic aggression.

On the other hand, group strategies deriving from collectivist cultures, such as the Jews, are immune to such a maneuver because kinship and group ties come first. Morality is particularistic—whatever is good for the group. There is no tradition of altruistic punishment because the evolutionary history of these groups centers around cooperation of close kin, not strangers (see below).

The best strategy for a collectivist group like the Jews for destroying Europeans therefore is to convince the Europeans of their own moral bankruptcy. A major theme of CofC is that this is exactly what Jewish intellectual movements have done. They have presented Judaism as morally superior to European civilization and European civilization as morally bankrupt and the proper target of altruistic punishment. The consequence is that once Europeans are convinced of their own moral depravity, they will destroy their own people in a fit of altruistic punishment. The general dismantling of the culture of the West and eventually its demise as anything resembling an ethnic entity will occur as a result of a moral onslaught triggering a paroxysm of altruistic punishment. And thus the intense effort among Jewish intellectuals to continue the ideology of the moral superiority of Judaism and its role as undeserving historical victim while at the same time continuing the onslaught on the moral legitimacy of the West.

Individualist societies are therefore an ideal environment for Judaism as a highly collectivist, group-oriented strategy. Indeed, a major theme of Chapter 5 is that the Frankfurt School of Social Research advocated radical individualism among non-Jews while at the same time retaining their own powerful group allegiance to Judaism. Jews benefit from open, individualistic societies in which barriers to upward mobility are removed, in which people are viewed as individuals rather than as members of groups, in which intellectual discourse is not prescribed by institutions like the Catholic Church that are not dominated by Jews, and in which mechanisms of altruistic punishment may be exploited to divide the European majority. This is also why, apart from periods in which Jews served as middlemen between alien elites and native populations, Middle Eastern societies were much more efficient than Western individualistic societies at keeping Jews in a powerless position where they did not pose a competitive threat.

A Slight Interruption

Due to an upcoming significant transitional period in my personal life, I’ll need to take some time off of blogging. This is not a negative thing for me, quite the opposite; but it will entail a somewhat undefined period of shifted priorities. A couple of months at minimum; possibly several. I’m not sure yet if posts will stop completely or only become somewhat sporadic over this time – I’ve got a mounting number of posts started and half-done. I’ll get to them when I get to them. I’ll still be around on Twitter. Thanks to everyone for the constant support thus far, it is hugely appreciated!

Book Review: Cracker Culture by Grady McWhiney

Bottom Line Up Front: Required reading for anyone interested in the origins and essence of Southern culture. Go here to buy.

Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South is an essential book for understanding the “mind of the South” which has flummoxed and eluded outsiders for centuries. Grady McWhiney, born in Louisiana and educated at Columbia, clearly and concisely presents the evidence for his oft-overlooked and underappreciated thesis – that Southern culture, at least that of the lower-class “Crackers,” is primarily an evolution of the ancient Celtic culture of early Southern settlers, who largely came from Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, and Wales. Mr. McWhiney goes about his task systematically and categorically, presenting reams of evidence which, while mostly anecdotal, tend to press his points home by sheer force of weight.

For the unfamiliar, it should be noted at the start that there has never existed a singular “Southern culture.” Deep Appalachia, for example, shares few commonalities with the coastal South, and there exists thousands of variations in between, dictated by geographical, historical, and biological peculiarities. With some exceptions, the glue which binds these varieties together is their shared lineage, cultural and biological, with their Celtic forebears. This has also been among the most significant dividing lines between the Northern and Southern cultures. McWhiney uses various methods of analysis, but taken as a whole is seems the South was settled mostly by Scot-Irish and other Celts – among British settlers, the Celtic to English ratio in the South tends to range from 60%-80%, with the ratio more-or-less reversed for the early Northern states.

McWhiney introduces what will become a prevailing theme early – Northern and English abhorrence of Celtic ways. He writes:

The English, in general, found Celtic ways barbarous and disgusting; they spoke of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales as “frightful” places and of Celtic people as being “wicked,” “savage,” and “indolent drunkards.” ….

The New England Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson summed up English as well as Yankee views on the subject when he explained that “what we think of when we talk of English traits really narrows itself to a small district. It excludes Ireland, and Scotland, and Wales…. As you go north into … Yorkshire, or you enter Scotland, there is a rapid loss of all grandeur of mien and manners; a provincial eagerness and acuteness appear; the poverty of the country makes itself remarked, and a coarseness of manners [prevails]…. In Ireland, are the same climate and soil as in England, but less food, no right relation to the land,… and an inferior or misplaced race.”

Celts, in turn, despised the English. They resented English self-glorification, English attempts to outlaw and to abolish Celtic culture and traditions, and English claims that they were responsible for what civilization existed in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Stop me when it starts sounding familiar.

While Yankees felt a special kinship towards England – Emerson said that the Yankee “is only the continuation of the English genius into new conditions, more or less propitious” – Southerners found little to admire. Mary Chesnut was typical when she wrote, “The British is the most conceited nation in the world, the most self-sufficient, self-satisfied, and arrogant.” This was no accident of history. In Mr. McWhiney’s words, the Celtic and English worldviews of the 17th and 18th centuries “were not just different – they were antagonistic.” It was inevitable that their animosity would be imported into the Americas.

The Celts brought with them to the Old South leisurely ways that fostered idleness and gaiety, a society in which people favored the spoken word over the written and enjoyed such sensual pleasures as drinking, smoking, fighting, gambling, fishing, hunting, and loafing. In Celtic Britain and in the antebellum South family ties were much stronger than in England and in the antebellum North; Celts and Southerners, whose values were more agrarian than those of Englishmen and Northerners, wasted more time and consumed more liquor and tobacco and were less concerned with the useful and the material. Englishmen and Northerners, who favored urban villages and nuclear families, were just the opposite; imbued with a work ethic and commercial values, they were neater, cleaner, read and wrote more, worked harder, and considered themselves more progressive and advanced than Celts and Southerners.

Mr. McWhiney does an admirable job of explaining that many of the so-called “negatives” of Celtic Southern culture, such as nomadic lifestyle, indolence, and substandard living conditions, were not byproducts of the slave society but simply imported from the Old World. Even if slavery did suppress white labor, it is not at all clear that these Crackers would have eschewed their leisure time for additional work. When one Yankee do-gooder told a Southern farmer that “a set of books on scientific agriculture” could teach him to “farm twice as good as you do,” the Southerner replied, “Hell, son, I don’t farm half as good as I know how now.” Celtic Southerners commonly worked for only the amount of time it would take to procure the necessities of life and a minimum amount of comfort, preferring to devote the rest of their time to hunting, visiting, drinking, and other leisure activities – little different from 18th century Scotland and Ireland.

Northerners were often perplexed by this perceived Southern laziness. Mr. McWhiney explains:

Like his Celtic ancestors, the Southerner cared little for what outsiders thought of him; he was pleased enough with where and how he lived. Though he was perhaps not as opulent as he might have liked, his condition represented a compromise between the comforts desired and his unwillingness to work especially hard to obtain them. His rural and pastoral traditions shaped his needs and wants in housing as it did in other things.

A far cry indeed from Yankee industry. This satisfied and fulfilled existence is an integral component to John Crowe Ransom’s concept of the “Established Society” – one that makes a steady and conservative peace with nature, rather than one in which the “pioneering spirit” takes a permanent hold. Yankee austerity and industry presented many material benefits, truly, but at the cost of a churning and constant transformation of their lifestyle until it becomes – as today – unrecognizable. Celtic “laziness,” while perhaps not conducive to luxurious civilization on a grand scale, results in a contented person who spends his days in the simple enjoyment of life, rather than an everlasting striving for more, more, more.

Another manifestation of Celtic simplicity was in the use – or lack thereof – of money and economics. Whereas the English and Yankees placed primary importance on monetary worth – one German questioned “the spiritual state of a country which… estimates a man’s value in terms of his income” – Southerners “disdained people who devoted their lives to the making of money.” As one Englishman put it, there was “no part of the world where great wealth confers so little rank, or is attended with so few advantages” as in the South. As a result, many ignorant and trusting Crackers were routinely exploited by Northern “dollar-chasers.” However, Mr. McWhiney cautions against believing that the Crackers were stupid, or simpletons. While they disdained reading and education, they were often very witty, demonstrated a “quickness of comprehension,” and were “well supplied with common sense.” Theirs was simply an intelligence adapted to their surroundings and mode of life – a funny quip was more conducive to their happiness than a library of scientific tomes.

I would not recommend Cracker Culture to a newcomer to Southern history or culture. Because Mr. McWhiney primarily uses contemporary accounts from Northerners and Englishmen to make his case, one can get the impression that the antebellum South was simply a great miserable mudpit in which wholly uncivilized barbarians drank, stabbed, shot, and lazed themselves to death. As I said, Mr. McWhiney is categorical and systematic; he is concerned with his subject alone and does not stray from it. While the case for his thesis is the better for it, this book simply must be supplemented with other studies in order to receive a holistic picture of what antebellum Southern life was like.

Mr. McWhiney discusses in detail Celtic vs. English, and Southern vs. Northern, work habits, drinking, clannishness, fighting spirit, hospitality, values, and morals, in each instance demonstrating the strong connections between the Old World and the New. He closes with an explicit statement on the innate and essential differences between the Northern and South civilizations, something we here at LTC like to harp on. By 1861, both Northerners and Southerners were ready to put their two great worldviews to the test of battle:

In 1860 George Fitzhugh announced that the division between Southerners and Northerners was more than a “sectional issue” – it was a clash between “conservatives and revolutionaries;… between those who believe in the past, in history, in human experience,… and those who … foolishly, rashly, and profanely attempt to ‘expel human nature,’ to bring about a millennium, and inaugurate a future wholly unlike anything that has preceded it.” That same year William H. Herndon proclaimed that “Civilization and barbarism are absolute antagonisms. One or the other must perish on this Continent…. There is no dodging the question. Let the natural struggle, heaven high and ‘hell’ deep, gon on…. I am thoroughly convinced that two such civilizations as the North and the South cannot coexist on the same soil…. to expect otherwise would be to expect the Absolute to sleep with and tolerate ‘hell.’”

The Celtic influence on the Southern mind persists today, even if many of its manifestations have been mitigated by our modern society. “The South” today is strongest in those small towns which have seen little outside immigration and thus have by-and-large protected their Celtic blood. Mr. McWhiney’s book does us a valuable service in tracing our cultural heritage back into the Old World.

Excerpt- Phillips on the Character of Southern Slavery, Pt. III

Introduction and Part I here. Part II here. This section is taken from Chapter XVI, “Plantation Life.”


WHEN Hakluyt wrote in 1584 his Discourse of Western Planting, his theme was the project of American colonization; and when a settlement was planted at Jamestown, at Boston or at Providence as the case might be, it was called, regardless of the type, a plantation. This usage of the word in the sense of a colony ended only upon the rise of a new institution to which the original name was applied. The colonies at large came then to be known as provinces or dominions, while the sub-colonies, the privately owned village estates which prevailed in the South, were alone called plantations. In the Creole colonies, however, these were known as habitations—dwelling places. This etymology of the name suggests the nature of the thing—an isolated place where people in somewhat peculiar groups settled and worked and had their being. The standard community comprised a white household in the midst of several or many negro families. The one was master, the many were slaves; the one was head, the many were members; the one was teacher, the many were pupils.

….

The lives of the whites and the blacks were partly segregate, partly intertwined. If any special link were needed, the children supplied it. The whites ones, hardly knowing their mothers from their mammies or their uncles by blood from their “uncles” by courtesy, had the freedom of the kitchen and the cabins, and the black ones were their playmates in the shaded sandy yard the livelong day. Together they were regaled with folklore in the quarters, with Bible and fairy stories in the “big house,” with pastry in the kitchen, with grapes at the scuppernong arbor, with melons at the spring house and with peaches in the orchard. The half-grown boys were likewise almost as undiscriminating among themselves as the dogs with which they chased rabbits by day and ‘possums by night. Indeed, when the fork in the road of life was reached, the white youths found something to envy in the freedom of their fellows’ feet from the cramping weight of shoes and the freedom of their minds from the restraints of school. With the approach of maturity came routine and responsibility for the whites, routine alone for the generality of the blacks. Some of the males of each race grew into ruffians, others into gentlemen in the literal sense, some of the females into viragoes, others into gentlewomen; but most of both races and sexes merely became plain, wholesome folk of a somewhat distinctive plantation type. In amusements and in religion the activities of the whites and blacks were both mingled and separate. Fox hunts when occurring by day were as a rule diversions only for the planters and their sons and guests, but when they occurred by moonlight the chase was joined by the negroes on foot with halloos which rivalled the music of the hounds. By night also the blacks, with the whites occasionally joining in, sought the canny ‘possum and the embattled ‘coon; in spare times by day they hied their curs after the fleeing Brer Rabbit, or built and baited seductive traps for turkeys and quail; and fishing was available both by day and by night. At the horse races of the whites the jockeys and many of the spectators were negroes; while from the cock fights and even the “crap” games of the blacks, white men and boys were not always absent.

Festivities were somewhat more separate than sports, though by no means wholly so. In the gayeties of Christmas the members of each race were spectators of the dances and diversions of the other. Likewise marriage merriment in the great house would have its echo in the quarters; and sometimes marriages among the slaves were grouped so as to give occasion for a general frolic. Thus Daniel R. Tucker in 1858 sent a general invitation over the countryside in central Georgia to a sextuple wedding among his slaves, with dinner and dancing to follow. On the whole, the fiddle, the banjo and the bones were not seldom in requisition. It was a matter of discomfort that in the evangelical churches dancing and religion were held to be incompatible. At one time on Thomas Dabney’s plantation in Mississippi, for instance, the whole negro force fell captive in a Baptist “revival” and forswore the double shuffle. “I done buss’ my fiddle an’ my banjo, and done fling ’em away,” the most music-loving fellow on the place said to the preacher when asked for his religious experiences. Such a condition might be tolerable so long as it was voluntary; but the planters were likely to take precautions against its becoming coercive. James H. Hammond, for instance, penciled a memorandum in his plantation manual: “Church members are privileged to dance on all holyday occasions; and the class-leader or deacon who may report them shall be reprimanded or punished at the discretion of the master.”  The logic with which sin and sanctity were often reconciled is illustrated in Irwin Russell’s remarkably faithful “Christmas in the Quarters.” “Brudder Brown” has advanced upon the crowded floor to “beg a blessin’ on dis dance:”

….

The churches which had the greatest influence upon the negroes were those which relied least upon ritual and most upon exhilaration. The Baptist and Methodist were foremost, and the latter had the special advantage of the chain of camp meetings which extended throughout the inland regions. At each chosen spot the planters and farmers of the countryside would jointly erect a great shed or “stand” in the midst of a grove, and would severally build wooden shelters or “tents” in a great square surrounding it. When the crops were laid by in August, the households would remove thither, their wagons piled high with bedding, chairs and utensils to keep “open house” with heavy-laden tables for all who might come to the meeting. With less elaborate equipment the negroes also would camp in the neighborhood and attend the same service as the whites, sitting generally in a section of the stand set apart for them. The camp meeting, in short, was the chief social and religious event of the year for all the Methodist whites and blacks within reach of the ground and for such non-Methodists as cared to attend. For some of the whites this occasion was highly festive, for others, intensely religious; but for any negro it might easily be both at once. Preachers in relays delivered sermons at brief intervals from sunrise until after nightfall; and most of the sermons were followed by exhortations for sinners to advance to the mourners’ benches to receive the more intimate and individual suasion of the clergy and their corps of assisting brethren and sisters. The condition was highly hypnotic, and the professions of conversion were often quite as ecstatic as the most fervid ministrant could wish. The negroes were particularly welcome to the preachers, for they were likely to give the promptest response to the pulpit’s challenge and set the frenzy going. A Georgia preacher, for instance, in reporting from one of these camps in 1807, wrote: “The first day of the meeting, we had a gentle and comfortable moving of the spirit of the Lord among us; and at night it was much more powerful than before, and the meeting was kept up all night without intermission. However, before day the white people retired, and the meeting was continued by the black people.” It is easy to see who led the way to the mourners’ bench. “Next day,” the preacher continued, “at ten o’clock the meeting was remarkably lively, and many souls were deeply wrought upon; and at the close of the sermon there was a general cry for mercy, and before night there were a good many persons who professed to get converted. That night the meeting continued all night, both by the white and black people, and many souls were converted before day.” The next day the stir was still more general. Finally, “Friday was the greatest day of all. We had the Lord’s Supper at night, . . . and such a solemn time I have seldom seen on the like occasion. Three of the preachers fell helpless within the altar, and one lay a considerable time before he came to himself. From that the work of convictions and conversions spread, and a large number were converted during the night, and there was no intermission until the break of day. At that time many stout hearted sinners were conquered. On Saturday we had preaching at the rising of the sun; and then with many tears we took leave of each other.

….

In these manifestations the negroes merely followed and enlarged upon the example of some of the whites. The similarity of practices, however, did not promote a permanent mingling of the two races in the same congregations, for either would feel some restraint upon its rhapsody imposed by the presence of the other. To relieve this there developed in greater or less degree a separation of the races for purposes of worship, white ministers preaching to the blacks from time to time in plantation missions, and home talent among the negroes filling the intervals. While some of the black exhorters were viewed with suspicion by the whites, others were highly esteemed and unusually privileged. One of these at Lexington, Kentucky, for example, was given the following pass duly signed by his master: “Tom is my slave, and has permission to go to Louisville for two or three weeks and return here after he has made his visit. Tom is a preacher of the reformed Baptist church, and has always been a faithful servant.”7 As a rule the greater the proportion of negroes in a district or a church connection, the greater the segregation in worship. If the whites were many and the negroes few, the latter would be given the gallery or some other group of pews; but if the whites were few and the negroes many, the two elements would probably worship in separate buildings. Even in such case, however, it was very common for a parcel of black domestics to flock with their masters rather than with their fellows.

….

Of the progress and effects of religion in the lowlands Allston and Middleton thought well. The latter said, “In every respect I feel encouraged to go on.” The former wrote: “Of my own negroes and those in my immediate neighborhood I may speak with confidence. They are attentive to religious instruction and greatly improved in intelligence and morals, in domestic relations, etc. Those who have grown up under religious training are more intelligent and generally, though not always, more improved than those who have received religious instruction as adults. Indeed the degree of intelligence which as a class they are acquiring is worthy of deep consideration.” Thomas Fuller, the reporter from the Beaufort neighborhood, however, was as much apprehensive as hopeful. While the negroes had greatly improved in manners and appearance as a result of coming to worship in town every Sunday, said he, the freedom which they were allowed for the purpose was often misused in ways which led to demoralization. He strongly advised the planters to keep the slaves at home and provide instruction there.

From the upland cotton belt a Presbyterian minister in the Chester district wrote: “You are all aware, gentlemen, that the relation and intercourse between the whites and the blacks in the up-country are very different from what they are in the lowcountry. With us they are neither so numerous nor kept so entirely separate, but constitute a part of our households, and are daily either with their masters or some member of the white family. From this circumstance they feel themselves more identified with their owners than they can with you. I minister steadily to two different congregations. More than one hundred blacks attend. . . . The gallery, or a quarter of the house, is appropriated to them in all our churches, and they enjoy the preached gospel in common with the whites.” Finally, from the Greenville district, on the upper edge of the Piedmont, where the Methodists and Baptists were completely dominant among whites and blacks alike, it was reported: “About one fourth of the members in the churches are negroes. In the years 1832, ‘3 and ‘4 great numbers of negroes joined the churches during a period of revival. Many, I am sorry to say, have since been excommunicated. As the general zeal in religion declined, they backslid.” There were a few licensed negro preachers, this writer continued, who were thought to do some good; but the general improvement in negro character, he thought, was mainly due to the religious and moral training given by their masters, and still more largely by their mistresses. From all quarters the expression was common that the promotion of religion among the slaves was not only the duty of masters but was to their interest as well in that it elevated the morals of the workmen and improved the quality of the service they rendered.

In general, the less the cleavage of creed between master and man, the better for both, since every factor conducing to solidarity of sentiment was of advantage in promoting harmony and progress. When the planter went to sit under his rector while the slave stayed at home to hear an exhorter, just so much was lost in the sense of fellowship. It was particularly unfortunate that on the rice coast the bulk of the blacks had no co-religionists except among the non-slaveholding whites with whom they had more conflict than community of economic and sentimental interest. On the whole, however, in spite of the contrary suggestion of irresponsible religious preachments and manifestations, the generality of the negroes everywhere realized, like the whites, that virtue was to be acquired by consistent self-control in the performance of duty rather than by the alternation of spasmodic reforms and relapses.

….

The slaves not only had their own functionaries in mystic matters, including a remnant of witchcraft, but in various temporal concerns also. Foremen, chosen by masters with the necessary sanction of the slaves, had industrial and police authority; nurses were minor despots in sick rooms and plantation hospitals; many an Uncle Remus was an oracle in folklore; and many an Aunt Dinah was arbitress of style in turbans and of elegancies in general. Even in the practice of medicine a negro here and there gained a sage’s reputation. The governor of Virginia reported in 1729 that he had “met with a negro, a very old man, who has performed many wonderful cures of diseases. For the sake of his freedom he has revealed the medicine, a concoction of roots and barks. . . . There is no room to doubt of its being a certain remedy here, and of singular use among the negroes—it is well worth the price (£60) of the negro’s freedom, since it is now known how to cure slaves without mercury.” And in colonial South Carolina a slave named Caesar was particularly famed for his cure for poison, which was a decoction of plantain, hoarhound and golden rod roots compounded with rum and lye, together with an application of tobacco leaves soaked in rum in case of rattlesnake bite. In 1750 the legislature ordered his prescription published for the benefit of the public, and the Charleston journal which printed it found its copies exhausted by the demand. An example of more common episodes appears in a letter from William Dawson, a Potomac planter, to Robert Carter of Nomoni Hall, asking that “Brother Tom,” Carter’s coachman, be sent to see a sick child in his quarter. Dawson continued: “The black people at this place hath more faith in him as a doctor than any white doctor; and as I wrote you in a former letter I cannot expect you to lose your man’s time, etc., for nothing, but am quite willing to pay for same.””

Each plantation had a double head in the master and the mistress. The latter, mother of a romping brood of her own and over-mother of the pickaninny throng, was the chatelaine of the whole establishment. Working with a never flagging constancy, she carried the indoor keys, directed the household routine and the various domestic industries, served as head nurse for the sick, and taught morals and religion by precept and example. Her hours were long, her diversions few, her voice quiet, her influence firm. Her presence made the plantation a home; her absence would have made it a factory. The master’s concern was mainly with the able-bodied in the routine of the crops. He laid the plans, guessed the weather, ordered the work, and saw to its performance. He was out early and in late, directing, teaching, encouraging, and on occasion punishing. Yet he found time for going to town and for visits here and there, time for politics, and time for sports. If his duty as he saw it was sometimes grim, and his disappointments keen, hearty diversions were at hand to restore his equanimity. His horn hung near and his hounds made quick response on Reynard’s trail, and his neighbors were ready to accept his invitations and give theirs lavishly in return, whether to their’houses or to their fields. When their absences from home were long, as they might well be in the public service, they were not unlikely upon return to meet such a reception as Henry Laurens described: “I found nobody there but three of our old domestics—Stepney, Exeter and big Hagar. These drew tears from me by their humble and affectionate salutes. My knees were clasped, my hands kissed, my very feet embraced, and nothing less than a very—I can’t say fair, but full —buss of my lips would satisfy the old man weeping and sobbing in my face. . . . They . . . held my hands, hung upon me; I could scarce get from them. ‘Ah,’ said the old man, I never thought to see you again; now I am happy; Ah, I never thought to see you again.’ ”

….

Van Buren found the towns in the Yazoo Valley so small as barely to be entitled to places on the map; he found the planters’ houses to be commonly mere log structures, as the farmers’ houses about his own home in Michigan had been twenty years before; and he found the roads so bad that the mule teams could hardly draw their wagons nor the spans of horses their chariots except in dry weather. But when on his horseback errands in search of a position he learned to halloo from the roadway and was regularly met at each gate with an extended hand and a friendly “How do you do, sir? Won’t you alight, come in, take a seat and sit awhile?”; when he was invariably made a member of any circle gathered on the porch and refreshed with cool water from the cocoanut dipper or with any other beverages in circulation; when he was asked as a matter of course to share any meal in prospect and to spend the night or day, he discovered charms even in the crudities of the pegs for hanging saddles on the porch and the crevices between the logs of the wall for the keeping of pipes and tobacco, books and newspapers. Finally, when the planter whose house he had made headquarters for two months declined to accept a penny in payment, Van Buren’s heart overflowed. The boys whom he then began to teach he found particularly apt in historical studies, and their parents with whom he dwelt were thorough gentlefolk.

Toward the end of his narrative, Van Buren expressed the thought that Mississippi, the newly settled home of people from all the older Southern states, exemplified the manners of all. He was therefore prompted to generalize and interpret: “A Southern gentleman is composed of the same material that a Northern gentleman is, only it is tempered by a Southern clime and mode of life. And if in this temperament there is a little more urbanity and chivalry, a little more politeness and devotion to the ladies, a little more suaviter in modo, why it is theirs—be fair and acknowledge it, and let them have it. He is from the mode of life he lives, especially at home, more or less a cavalier; he invariably goes a-horseback. His boot is always spurred, and his hand ensigned with the riding-whip. Aside from this he is known by his bearing—his frankness and firmness.” Furthermore he is a man of eminent leisureliness, which Van Buren accounts for as follows: “Nature is unloosed of her stays there; she is not crowded for time; the word haste is not in her vocabulary. In none of the seasons is she stinted to so short a space to perform her work as at the North. She has leisure enough to bud and blossom—to produce and mature fruit, and do all her work. While on the other hand in the North right the reverse is true. Portions are taken off the fall and spring to lengthen out the winter, making his reign nearly half the year. This crowds the work of the whole year, you might say, into about half of it. This . . . makes the essential difference between a Northerner and a Southerner. They are children of their respective climes; and this is why Southrons are so indifferent about time; they have three months more of it in a year than we have.

A key to Van Buren’s enthusiasm is given by a passage in the diary of the great English reporter, William H. Russell: “The more one sees of a planter’s life the greater is the conviction that its charms come from a particular turn of mind, which is separated by a wide interval from modern ideas in Europe. The planter is a denomadized Arab;—he has fixed himself with horses and slaves in a fertile spot, where he guards his women with Oriental care, exercises patriarchal sway, and is at once fierce, tender and hospitable. The inner life of his household is exceedingly charming, because one is astonished to find the graces and accomplishments of womanhood displayed in a scene which has a certain sort of savage rudeness about it after all, and where all kinds of incongruous accidents are visible in the service of the table, in the furniture of the house, in its decorations, menials, and surrounding scenery.” The Southerners themselves took its incongruities much as a matter of course. The regime was to their minds so clearly the best attainable under the circumstances that its roughnesses chafed little. The plantations were homes to which, as they were fond of singing, their hearts turned ever; and the negroes, exasperating as they often were to visiting strangers, were an element in the home itself. The problem of accommodation, which was the central problem of the life, was on the whole happily solved.

The separate integration of the slaves was no more than rudimentary. They were always within the social mind and conscience of the whites, as the whites in turn were within the mind and conscience of the blacks. The adjustments and readjustments were mutually made, for although the masters had by far the major power of control, the slaves themselves were by no means devoid of influence. A sagacious employer has well said, after long experience, “a negro understands a white man better than the white man understands the negro.”” This knowledge gave a power all its own. The general regime was in fact shaped by mutual requirements, concessions and understandings, producing reciprocal codes of conventional morality. Masters of the standard type promoted Christianity and the customs of marriage and parental care, and they instructed as much by example as by precept; they gave occasional holidays, rewards and indulgences, and permitted as large a degree of liberty as they thought the slaves could be trusted not to abuse; they refrained from selling slaves except under the stress of circumstances; they avoided cruel, vindictive and captious punishments, and endeavored to inspire effort through affection rather than through fear; and they were content with achieving quite moderate industrial results. In short their despotism, so far as it might properly be so called, was benevolent in intent and on the whole beneficial in effect.

Some planters there were who inflicted severe punishments for disobedience and particularly for the offense of running away; and the community condoned and even sanctioned a certain degree of this. Otherwise no planter would have printed such descriptions of scars and brands as were fairly common in the newspaper advertisements offering rewards for the recapture of absconders. When severity went to an excess that was reckoned as positive cruelty, however, the law might be invoked if white witnesses could be had; or the white neighbors or the slaves themselves might apply extra-legal retribution. The former were fain to be content with inflicting social ostracism or with expelling the offender from the district; the latter sometimes went so far as to set fire to the oppressor’s house or to accomplish his death by poison, cudgel, knife or bullet.”

In the typical group there was occasion for terrorism on neither side. The master was ruled by a sense of dignity, duty and moderation, and the slaves by a moral code of their own. This embraced a somewhat obsequious obedience, the avoidance of open indolence and vice, the attainment of moderate skill in industry, and the cultivation of the master’s good will and affection. It winked at petty theft, loitering and other little laxities, while it stressed good manners and a fine faithfulness in major concerns. While the majority were notoriously easy-going, very many made their master’s interests thoroughly their own; and many of the masters had perfect confidence in the loyalty of the bulk of their servitors. When on the eve of secession Edmund Ruffin foretold the fidelity which the slaves actually showed when the war ensued, he merely voiced the faith of the planter class.

In general the relations on both sides were felt to be based on pleasurable responsibility. The masters occasionally expressed this in their letters. William Allason, for example, who after a long career as a merchant at Falmouth, Virginia, had retired to plantation life, declined his niece’s proposal in 1787 that he return to Scotland to spend his declining years. In enumerating his reasons he concluded: “And there is another thing which in your country you can have no trial of: that is, of selling faithful slaves, which perhaps we have raised from their earliest breath. Even this, however, some can do, as with horses, etc., but I must own that it is not in my disposition.”