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

Introduction and Part I here. The following excerpt is taken from Chapter XV, “Plantation Labor.”

WHILE produced only in America, the plantation slave was a product of old-world forces. His nature was an African’s profoundly modified but hardly transformed by the requirements of European civilization. The wrench from Africa and the subjection to the new discipline while uprooting his ancient language and customs had little more effect upon his temperament than upon his complexion. Ceasing to be Foulah, Coromantee, Ebo or Angola, he became instead the American negro. The Caucasian was also changed by the contact in a far from negligible degree; but the negro’s conversion was much the more thorough, partly because the process in his case was coercive, partly because his genius was imitative.

The planters had a saying, always of course with an implicit reservation as to limits, that a negro was what a white man made him. The molding, however, was accomplished more by groups than by individuals. The purposes and policies of the masters were fairly uniform, and in consequence the negroes, though with many variants, became largely standardized into the predominant plantation type. The traits which prevailed were an eagerness for society, music and merriment, a fondness for display whether of person, dress, vocabulary or emotion, a not flagrant sensuality, a receptiveness toward any religion whose exercises were exhilarating, a proneness to superstition, a courteous acceptance of subordination, an avidity for praise, a readiness for loyalty of a feudal sort, and last but not least, a healthy human repugnance toward overwork. “It don’t do no good to hurry,” was a negro saying, ‘”caze you’re liable to run by mo’n you overtake.” Likewise painstaking was reckoned painful; and tomorrow was always waiting for today’s work, while today was ready for tomorrow’s share of play. On the other hand it was a satisfaction to work sturdily for a hard boss, and so be able to say in an interchange of amenities: “Go long, half-priced nigger! You wouldn’t fotch fifty dollars, an’ I’m wuth a thousand!”

Contrasts were abundant. John B. Lamar, on the one hand, wrote: “My man Ned the carpenter is idle or nearly so at the plantation. He is fixing gates and, like the idle groom in Pickwick, trying to fool himself into the belief that he is doing something. . . . He is an eye servant. If I was with him I could have the work done soon and cheap; but I am afraid to trust him off where there is no one he fears.” On the other hand, M. W. Philips inscribed a page of his plantation diary as follows:


July 10, 1853

Peyton is no more Aged 42

Though he was a bad man in many respects yet he was a most excellent field hand, always at his post.

On this place for 21 years. Except the measles and its sequence, the injury rec’d by the mule last Nov’r and its sequence, he has not lost 15 days’ work, I verily believe, in the remaining 19 years. I wish we could hope for his eternal state.


Theoretically the master might be expected perhaps to expend the minimum possible to keep his slaves in strength, to discard the weaklings and the aged, to drive his gang early and late, to scourge the laggards hourly, to secure the whole with fetters by day and with bolts by night, and to keep them in perpetual terror of his wrath. But Olmsted, who seems to have gone South with the thought of finding some such theory in application, wrote: “I saw much more of what I had not anticipated and less of what I had in the slave states than, with a somewhat extended travelling experience, in any other country I ever visited”; and Nehemiah Adams, who went from Boston to Georgia prepared to weep with the slaves who wept, found himself laughing with the laughing ones instead.

The theory of rigid coercion and complete exploitation was as strange to the bulk of the planters as the doctrine and practice of moderation was to those who viewed the regime from afar and with the mind’s eye. A planter in explaining his mildness might well have said it was due to his being neither a knave nor a fool. He refrained from the use of fetters not so much because they would have hampered the slaves in their work as because the general use of them never crossed his mind. And since chains and bolts were out of the question, the whole system of control must be moderate; slaves must be impelled as little as possible by fear, and as much as might be by loyalty, pride and the prospect of reward.

Here and there a planter applied this policy in an exceptional degree. A certain Z. Kingsley followed it with marked success even when his whole force was of fresh Africans. In a pamphlet of the late eighteen-twenties he told of his method as follows: “About twenty-five years ago I settled a plantation on St . John’s River in Florida with about fifty new negroes, many of whom I brought from the Coast myself. They were mostly fine young men and women, and nearly in equal numbers. I never interfered in their connubial concerns nor domestic affairs, but let them regulate these after their own manner. I taught them nothing but what was useful, and what I thought would add to their physical and moral happiness. I encouraged as much as possible dancing, merriment and dress, for which Saturday afternoon and night and Sunday morning were dedicated. [Part of their leisure] was usually employed in hoeing their corn and getting a supply of fish for the week. Both men and women were very industrious. Many of them made twenty bushels of corn to sell, and they vied with each other in dress and dancing. . . . They were perfectly honest and obedient, and appeared perfectly happy, having no fear but that of offending me; and I hardly ever had to apply other correction than shaming them. If I exceeded this, the punishment was quite light, for they hardly ever failed in doing their work well. My object was to excite their ambition and attachment by kindness, not to depress their spirits by fear and punishment. . . . Perfect confidence, friendship and good understanding reigned between us.” During the War of 1812 most of these negroes were killed or carried off in a Seminole raid. When peace returned and Kingsley attempted to restore his Eden with a mixture of African and American negroes, a serpent entered in the guise of a negro preacher who taught the sinfulness of dancing, fishing on Sunday and eating the catfish which had no scales. In consequence the slaves “became poor, ragged, hungry and disconsolate. To steal from me was only to do justice—to take what belonged to them, because I kept them in unjust bondage.” They came to believe “that all pastime or pleasure in this iniquitous world was sinful; that this was only a place of sorrow and repentance, and the sooner they were out of it the better; that they would then go to a good country where they would experience no want of anything, and have no work nor cruel taskmaster, for that God was merciful and would pardon any sin they committed; only it was necessary to pray and ask forgiveness, and have prayer meetings and contribute what they could to the church, etc. . . . Finally myself and the overseer became completely divested of all authority over the negroes. . . . Severity had no effect; it only made it worse.” This experience left Kingsley undaunted in his belief that liberalism and profit-sharing were the soundest basis for the plantation regime. To support this contention further he cited an experiment by a South Carolinian who established four or five plantations in a group on Broad River, with a slave foreman on each and a single overseer with very limited functions over the whole. The cotton crop was the master’s, while the hogs, corn and other produce belonged to the slaves for their sustenance and the sale of any surplus. The output proved large, “and the owner had no further trouble nor expense than furnishing the ordinary clothing and paying the overseer’s wages, so that he could fairly be called free, seeing that he could realize his annual income wherever he chose to reside, without paying the customary homage to servitude of personal attendance on the operation of his slaves.” In Kingsley’s opinion the system “answered extremely well, and offers to us a strong case in favor of exciting ambition by cultivating utility, local attachment and moral improvement among the slaves.

The most thoroughgoing application on record of self-government by slaves is probably that of the brothers Joseph and Jefferson Davis on their plantations, Hurricane and Brierfield, in Warren County, Mississippi. There the slaves were not only encouraged to earn money for themselves in every way they might, but the discipline of the plantations was vested in courts composed wholly of slaves, proceeding formally and imposing penalties to be inflicted by slave constables except when the master intervened with his power of pardon. The regime was maintained for a number of years in full effect until in 1862 when the district was invaded by Federal troops.

These several instances were of course exceptional, and they merely tend to counterbalance the examples of systematic severity at the other extreme. In general, though compulsion was always available in last resort, the relation of planter and slave was largely shaped by a sense of propriety, proportion and cooperation.

As to food, clothing and shelter, a few concrete items will reinforce the indications in the preceding chapters that crude comfort was the rule. Bartram the naturalist observed in 1776 that a Georgia slaveholder with whom he stopped sold no dairy products from his forty cows in milk. The proprietor explained this by saying: “I have a considerable family of black people who though they are slaves must be fed and cared for. Those I have were either chosen for their good qualities or born in the family; and I find from long experience and observation that the better they are fed, clothed and treated, the more service and profit we may expect to derive from their labour. In short, I find my stock produces no more milk, or any article of food or nourishment, than what is expended to the best advantage amongst my family and slaves.” At another place Bartram noted the arrival at a plantation of horse loads of wild pigeons taken by torchlight from their roosts in a neighboring swamp.

On Charles Cotesworth Pinckney’s two plantations on the South Carolina coast, as appears from his diary of 1818, a detail of four slaves was shifted from the field work each week for a useful holiday in angling for the huge drumfish which abounded in those waters; and their catches augmented the fare of the white and black families alike. Game and fish, however, were extras. The staple meat was bacon, which combined the virtues of easy production, ready curing and constant savoriness. On Fowler’s “Prairie” plantation, where the field hands numbered a little less than half a hundred, the pork harvest throughout the eighteen-fifties, except for a single year of hog cholera, yielded from eleven to twenty-three hundred pounds; and when the yield was less than the normal, northwestern bacon or barreled pork made up the deficit.

As for housing, the vestiges of the old slave quarters, some of which have stood abandoned for half a century, denote in many cases a sounder construction and greater comfort than most of the negroes in freedom have since been able to command.

The death rate was a subject of more active solicitude. This may be illustrated from the journal for 1859-1860 of the Magnolia plantation, forty miles below New Orleans. Along with its record of rations to 138 hands, and of the occasional births, deaths, runaways and recaptures, and of the purchase of a man slave for $2300, it contains the following summary under date of October 4, 1860: “We have had during the past eighteen months over 150 cases of measles and numerous cases of whooping cough, and then the diphtheria, all of which we have gone through with but little loss save in the whooping cough when we lost some twelve children.” This entry was in the spirit of rejoicing at escape from disasters. But on December 18 there were two items of another tone. One of these was entered by an overseer named Kellett: “[I] shot the negro boy Frank for attempting to cut at me and three boys with his cane knife with intent to kill.” The other, in a different handwriting, recorded tersely: “J. A. Randall commenst buisnass this mornung. J. Kellett discharged this morning.” The owner could not afford to keep an overseer who killed negroes even though it might be in self defence. Of epidemics, yellow fever was of minor concern as regards the slaves, for negroes were largely immune to it; but cholera sometimes threatened to exterminate the slaves and bankrupt their masters. After a visitation of this in and about New Orleans in 1832, John McDonogh wrote to a friend: “All that you have seen of yellow fever was nothing in comparison. It is supposed that five or six thousand souls, black and white, were carried off in fourteen days.” The pecuniary loss in Louisiana from slave deaths in that epidemic was estimated at four million dollars. Two years afterward it raged in the Savannah neighborhood. On Mr. Wightman’s plantation, ten miles above the city, there were in the first week of September fifty-three cases and eighteen deaths. The overseer then checked the spread by isolating the afflicted ones in the church, the barn and the mill. The neighboring planters awaited only the first appearance of the disease on their places to abandon their crops and hurry their slaves to lodges in the wilderness. Plagues of smallpox were sometimes of similar dimensions. Even without pestilence, deaths might bring a planter’s ruin. A series of them drove M. W. Philips to exclaim in his plantation journal: “Oh! my losses almost make me crazy. God alone can help.” In short, planters must guard their slaves’ health and life as among the most vital of their own interests; for while crops were merely income, slaves were capital. The tendency appears to have been common, indeed, to employ free immigrant labor when available for such work as would involve strain and exposure. The documents bearing on this theme are scattering but convincing. Thus E. J. Forstall when writing in 1845 of the extension of the sugar fields, said thousands of Irishmen were seen in every direction digging plantation ditches. T. B. Thorpe when describing plantation life on the Mississippi in 1853 said the Irish proved the best ditchers; and a Georgia planter when describing his drainage of a swamp in 1855 said that Irish were hired for the work in order that the slaves might continue at their usual routine. Olmsted noted on the Virginia seaboard that “Mr. W. . . . had an Irish gang draining for him by contract.” Olmsted asked, “why he should employ Irishmen in preference to doing the work with his own hands. ‘It’s dangerous work,’ the planter replied, ‘and a negro’s life is too valuable to be risked at it. If a negro dies, it is a considerable loss you know.‘” On a Louisiana plantation W. H. Russell wrote in 1860: “The labor of ditching, trenching, cleaning the waste lands and hewing down the forests is generally done by Irish laborers who travel about the country under contractors or are engaged by resident gangsmen for the task. Mr. Seal lamented the high prices of this work; but then, as he said, ‘It was much better to have Irish do it, who cost nothing to the planter if they died, than to use up good field-hands in such severe employment.'” Russell added on his own score: “There is a wonderful mine of truth in this observation. Heaven knows how many poor Hibernians have been consumed and buried in these Louisianian swamps, leaving their earnings to the dramshop keeper and the contractor, and the results of their toil to the planter.” On another plantation the same traveller was shown the debris left by the last Irish gang and was regaled by an account of the methods by which their contractor made them work. Robert Russell made a similar observation on a plantation near New Orleans, and was told that even at high wages Irish laborers were advisable for the work because they would do twice as much ditching as would an equal number of negroes in the same time. Furthermore, A. de Puy Van Buren, noted as a common sight in the Yazoo district, “especially in the ditching season, wandering ‘exiles of Erin,’ straggling along the road”; and remarked also that the Irish were the chief element among the straining roustabouts, on the steamboats of that day.ss Likewise Olmsted noted on the Alabama River that in lading his boat with cotton from a towering bluff, a slave squad was appointed for the work at the top of the chute, while Irish deck hands were kept below to capture the wildly bounding bales and stow them. As to the reason for this division of labor and concentration of risk, the traveller had his own surmise confirmed when the captain answered his question by saying, “The niggers are worth too much to be risked here; if the Paddies are knocked overboard, or get their backs broke, nobody loses anything!” To these chance observations it may be added that many newspaper items and canal and railroad company reports from the ‘thirties to the ‘fifties record that the construction gangs were largely of Irish and Germans. The pay attracted those whose labor was their life; the risk repelled those whose labor was their capital. There can be no doubt that the planters cherished the lives of their slaves.

Most of the runaways went singly, but some of them went often. Such chronic offenders were likely to be given exemplary punishment when recaptured. In the earlier decades branding and shackling were fairly frequent. Some of the punishments were unquestionably barbarous, the more so when inflicted upon talented and sensitive mulattoes and quadroons who might be quite as fit for freedom as their masters. In the later period the more common resorts were to whipping, and particularly to sale. The menace of this last was shrewdly used by making a bogey man of the trader and a reputed hell on earth of any district whither he was supposed to carry his merchandise. “They are taking her to Georgia for to wear her life away” was a slave refrain welcome to the ears of masters outside that state; and the slanderous imputation gave no offence even to Georgians, for they recognized that the intention was benevolent, and they were in turn blackening the reputations of the more westerly states in the amiable purpose of keeping their own slaves content.

Virtually all the plantations whose records are available suffered more or less from truancy, and the abundance of newspaper advertisements for fugitives reinforces the impression that the need of deterrence was vital. Whippings, instead of proving a cure, might bring revenge in the form of sabotage, arson or murder. Adequacy in food, clothing and shelter might prove of no avail, for contentment must be mental as well as physical. The preventives mainly relied upon were holidays, gifts and festivities to create lightness of heart; overtime and overtask payments to promote zeal and satisfaction; kindliness and care to call forth loyalty in return; and the special device of crop patches to give every hand a stake in the plantation. This last raised a minor problem of its own, for if slaves were allowed to raise and sell the plantation staples, pilfering might be stimulated more than industry and punishments become more necessary than before. In the cotton belt a solution was found at last in nankeen cotton. This variety had been widely grown for domestic use as early as the beginning of the nineteenth century, but it was left largely in neglect until when in the thirties it was hit upon for negro crops. While the prices it brought were about the same as those of the standard upland staple, its distinctive brown color prevented the admixture of the planter’s own white variety without certain detection when it reached the gin. The scale which the slave crops attained on some plantations is indicated by the proceeds of $1,969.65 in 1859 from the nankeen of the negroes on the estate of Allen McWalker in Taylor County, Georgia. Such returns might be distributed in cash; but planters generally preferred for the sake of sobriety that money should not be freely handled by the slaves. Earnings as well as gifts were therefore likely to be issued in the form of tickets for merchandise. David Ross, for example, addressed the following to the firm of Allen and Ellis at Fredericksburg in the Christmas season of 1802: “Gentlemen: Please to let the bearer George have ten dollars value in anything he chooses”; and the merchants entered a memorandum that George chose two handkerchiefs, two hats, three and a half yards of linen, a pair of hose, and six shillings in cash.”

In general the most obvious way of preventing trouble was to avoid the occasion for it. If tasks were complained of as too heavy, the simplest recourse was to reduce the schedule. If jobs were slackly done, acquiescence was easier than correction. The easy-going and plausible disposition of the blacks conspired with the heat of the climate to soften the resolution of the whites and make them patient. Severe and unyielding requirements would keep everyone on edge; concession when accompanied with geniality and not indulged so far as to cause demoralization would make plantation life not only tolerable but charming. In the actual regime severity was clearly the exception, and kindliness the rule. The Englishman Welby, for example, wrote in 1820: “After travelling through three slave states I am obliged to go back to theory to raise any abhorrence of it. Not once during the journey did I witness an instance of cruel treatment, nor could I discover anything to excite commiseration in the faces or gait of the people of colour. They walk, talk and appear at least as independent as their masters; in animal spirits they have greatly the advantage.” Basil Hall wrote in 1828: “I have no wish, God knows! to defend slavery in the abstract; . . . but . . . nothing during my recent journey gave me more satisfaction than the conclusion to which I was gradually brought that the planters of the Southern states of America, generally speaking, have a sincere desire to manage their estates with the least possible severity. I do not say that undue severity is nowhere exercised; but the discipline, taken upon the average, as far as I could learn, is not more strict than is necessary for the maintenance of a proper degree of authority, without which the whole framework of society in that quarter would be blown to atoms.” And Olmsted wrote: “The only whipping of slaves that I have seen in Virginia has been of these wild, lazy children as they are being broke in to work.” As to the rate and character of the work, Hall said that in contrast with the hustle prevailing on the Northern farms, “in Carolina all mankind appeared comparatively idle.” Olmsted, when citing a Virginian’s remark that his negroes never worked enough to tire themselves, said on his own account: “This is just what I have thought when I have seen slaves at work—they seem to go through the motions of labor without putting strength into them. They keep their powers in reserve for their own use at night, perhaps.” And Solon Robinson reported tersely from a rice plantation that the negroes plied their hoes “at so slow a rate, the motion would have given a quick- working Yankee convulsions.”

There was clearly no general prevalence of severity and strain in the regime. There was, furthermore, little of that curse of impersonality and indifference which too commonly prevails in the factories of the present-day world where power-driven machinery sets the pace, where the employers have no relations with the employed outside of work hours, where the proprietors indeed are scattered to the four winds, where the directors confine their attention to finance, and where the one duty of the superintendent is to procure a maximum output at a minimum cost. No, the planters were commonly in residence, their slaves were their chief property to be conserved, and the slaves themselves would not permit indifference even if the masters were so disposed. The generality of the negroes insisted upon possessing and being possessed in a cordial but respectful intimacy. While by no means every plantation was an Arcadia there were many on which the industrial and racial relations deserved almost as glowing accounts as that which the Englishman William Faux wrote in 1819 of the “goodly plantation” of the venerable Mr. Mickle in the uplands of South Carolina. “This gentleman,” said he, “appears to me to be a rare example of pure and undefiled religion, kind and gentle in manners. . . . Seeing a swarm, or rather herd, of young negroes creeping and dancing about the door and yard of his mansion, all appearing healthy, happy and frolicsome and withal fat and decently clothed, both young and old, I felt induced to praise the economy under which they lived. ‘Aye,’ said he, ‘I have many black people, but I have never bought nor sold any in my life. All that you see came to me with my estate by virtue of my father’s will. They are all, old and young, true and faithful to my interests. They need no taskmaster, no overseer. They will do all and more than I expect them to do, and I can trust them with untold gold. All the adults are well instructed, and all are members of Christian churches in the neighbourhood; and their conduct is becoming their professions. I respect them as my children, and they look on me as their friend and father. Were they to be taken from me it would be the most unhappy event of their lives.’ This conversation induced me to view more attentively the faces of the adult slaves; and I was astonished at the free, easy, sober, intelligent and thoughtful impression which such an economy as Mr. Mickle’s had indelibly made on their countenances.”

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

The following excerpt is taken from U.B. Phillips’ American Negro Slavery, first published in 1918. Phillips was a somewhat Progressive but relatively unbiased historian, originally from Georgia and educated at Columbia. I have chosen him because his works came during a time when scholarly honesty and academic quality were still prioritized over conformation to official historical Narrative. This exceptionally (or excessively) long excerpt, taken from Chapter XIV “Plantation Management,” is meant to shed light on the actual workings of plantation slavery in the Old South, so often misrepresented in modern discourse. Here is demonstrated the general humaneness of Southern slavery as dictated by the aristocrats themselves, stemming from both their humanitarian instincts and utilitarian interests. Other vantage points will be added in parts II and III. Bear in mind that the plantation system incorporated about 40-50% of slaves in the South, the remainder of which were owned by yeomen operating small farms. The plantation system is generally regarded as the harsher form. To assist with skimming, I have bolded the most relevant passages.

TYPICAL planters though facile in conversation seldom resorted to their pens. Few of them put their standards into writing except in the form of instructions to their stewards and overseers. These counsels of perfection, drafted in widely separated periods and localities, and varying much in detail, concurred strikingly in their main provisions. Their initial topic was usually the care of the slaves. Richard Corbin of Virginia wrote in 1759 for the guidance of his steward: “The care of negroes is the first thing to be recommended, that you give me timely notice of their wants that they may be provided with all necessarys. The breeding wenches more particularly you must instruct the overseers to be kind and indulgent to, and not force them when with child upon any service or hardship that will be injurious to them, . . . and the children to be well looked after, . . . and that none of them suffer in time of sickness for want of proper care.” P. C. Weston of South Carolina wrote in 1856: “The proprietor, in the first place, wishes the overseer most distinctly to understand that his first object is to be, under all circumstances, the care and well being of the negroes. The proprietor is always ready to excuse such errors as may proceed from want of judgment; but he never can or will excuse any cruelty, severity or want of care towards the negroes. For the well being, however, of the negroes it is absolutely necessary to maintain obedience, order and discipline, to see that the tasks are punctually and carefully performed, and to conduct the business steadily and firmly, without weakness on the one hand or harshness on the other.” Charles Manigault likewise required of his overseer in Georgia a pledge to treat his negroes “all with kindness and consideration in sickness and health.” On J. W. Fowler’s plantation in the Yazoo-Mississippi delta from which we have seen in a preceding chapter such excellent records of cotton picking, the preamble to the rules framed in 1857 ran as follows: “The health, happiness, good discipline and obedience, good, sufficient and comfortable clothing, a sufficiency of good, wholesome and nutritious food for both man and beast being indispensably necessary to successful planting, as well as for reasonable dividends for the amount of capital invested, without saying anything about the Master’s duty to his dependents, to himself, and his God, I do hereby establish the following rules and regulations for the management of my Prairie plantation, and require an observance of the same by any and all overseers I may at any time have in charge thereof.”

Joseph A. S. Acklen had his own rules printed in 1861 for the information of applicants and the guidance of those who were employed as his overseers. His estate was one of the greatest in Louisiana, his residence one of the most pretentious, and his rules the most sharply phrased. They read in part: “Order and system must be the aim of everyone on this estate, and the maxim strictly pursued of a time for everything and everything done in its time, a place for everything and everything kept in its place, a rule for everything and everything done according to rule. In this way labor becomes easy and pleasant. No man can enforce a system of discipline unless he himself conforms strictly to rules. . . . No man should attempt to manage negroes who is not perfectly firm and fearless and [in] entire control of his temper.

James H. Hammond’s “plantation manual” which is the fullest of such documents available, began with the subject of the crop, only to subordinate it at once to the care of the slaves and outfit: “A good crop means one that is good taking into consideration everything, negroes, land, mules, stock, fences, ditches, farming utensils, etc., etc., all of which must be kept up and improved in value. The effort must therefore not be merely to make so many cotton bales or such an amount of other produce, but as much as can be made without interrupting the steady increase in value of the rest of the property. . . . There should be an increase in number and improvement in condition of negroes.

For the care of the sick, of course, all these planters were solicitous. Acklen, Manigault and Weston provided that mild cases be prescribed for by the overseer in the master’s absence, but that for any serious illness a doctor be summoned. One of Telfair’s women was a semi-professional midwife and general practitioner, permitted by her master to serve blacks and whites in the neighborhood. For home needs Telfair wrote of her: “Elsey is the doctoress of the plantation. In case of extraordinary illness, when she thinks she can do no more for the sick, you will employ a physician.” Hammond, however, was such a devotee of homeopathy that in the lack of an available physician of that school he was his own practitioner. He wrote in his manual: “No negro will be allowed to remain at his own house when sick, but must be confined to the hospital. Every reasonable complaint must be promptly attended to; and with any marked or general symptom of sickness, however trivial, a negro may lie up a day or so at least. . . . Each case has to be examined carefully by the master or overseer to ascertain the disease. The remedies next are to be chosen with the utmost discrimination; . . . the directions for treatment, diet, etc., most implicitly followed; the effects and changes cautiously observed. … In cases where there is the slightest uncertainty, the books must be taken to the bedside and a careful and thorough examination of the case and comparison of remedies made before administering them. The overseer must record in the prescription book every dose of medicine administered.” Weston said he would never grudge a doctor’s bill, however large; but he was anxious to prevent idleness under pretence of illness. “Nothing,” said he, “is so subversive of discipline, or so unjust, as to allow people to sham, for this causes the well-disposed to do the work of the lazy.”


The instructions with one accord required that the rations issued to the negroes be never skimped. Corbin wrote, “They ought to have their belly full, but care must be taken with this plenty that no waste is committed.” Acklen, closely followed by Fowler, ordered his overseer to “see that their necessities be supplied, that their food and clothing be good and sufficient, their houses comfortable; and be kind and attentive to them in sickness and old age.” And further: “There will be stated hours for the negroes to breakfast and dine [in the field], and those hours must be regularly observed. The manager will frequently inspect the meals as they are brought by the cook—see that they have been properly prepared, and that vegetables be at all times served with the meat and bread.” At the same time he forbade his slaves to use ardent spirits or to have such about their houses. Weston wrote: “Great care should be taken that the negroes should never have less than their regular allowance. In all cases of doubt, it should be given in favor of the largest quantity. The measure should not be struck, but rather heaped up over. None but provisions of the best quality should be used.” Telfair specified as follows: “The allowance for every grown negro, however old and good for nothing, and every young one that works in the field, is a peck of corn each week and a pint of salt, and a piece of meat, not exceeding fourteen pounds, per month. . . . The suckling children, and all other small ones who do not work in the field, draw a half allowance of corn and salt. …. Feed everything plentifully, but waste nothing.” He added that beeves were to be killed for the negroes in July, August and September. Hammond’s allowance to each working hand was a heaping peck of meal and three pounds of bacon or pickled pork every week. In the winter, sweet potatoes were issued when preferred, at the rate of a bushel of them in lieu of the peck of meal; and fresh beef, mutton or pork, at increased weights, were to be substituted for the salt pork from time to time. The ditchers and drivers were to have extra allowances in meat and molasses. Furthermore, “Each ditcher receives every night, when ditching, a dram (jigger) consisting of twothirds whiskey and one-third water, with as much asafoetida as it will absorb, and several strings of red peppers added in the barrel. The dram is a large wine-glass full. In cotton picking time when sickness begins to be prevalent, every field hand gets a dram in the morning before leaving for the field. After a soaking rain all exposed to it get a dram before changing their clothes; also those exposed to the dust from the sheller and fan in corn shelling, on reaching the quarter at night; or anyone at any time required to keep watch in the night. Drams are not given as rewards, but only as medicinal. From the second hoeing, or early in May, every work hand who uses it gets an occasional allowance of tobacco, about one sixth of a pound, usually after some general operation, as a hoeing, plowing, etc. This is continued until their crops are gathered, when they can provide for themselves.” The families, furthermore, shared in the distribution of the plantation’s peanut crop every fall. Each child was allowed one third as much meal and meat as was given to each field hand, and an abundance of vegetables to be cooked with their meat. The cooking and feeding was to be done at the day nursery. For breakfast they were to have hominy and milk and cold corn bread; for dinner, vegetable soup and dumplings or bread; and cold bread or potatoes were to be kept on hand for demands between meals. They were also to have molasses once or twice a week. Each child was provided with a pan and spoon in charge of the nurse.

In the matter of sanitation, Acklen directed the overseer to see that the negroes kept clean in person, to inspect their houses at least once a week and especially during the summer, to examine their bedding and see to its being well aired, to require that their clothes be mended, “and everything attended to which conduces to their comfort and happiness.” In these regards, as in various others, Fowler incorporated Acklen’s rules in his own, almost verbatim. Hammond scheduled an elaborate cleaning of the houses every spring and fall. The houses were to be completely emptied and their contents sunned, the walls and floors were to be scrubbed, the mattresses to be emptied and stuffed with fresh hay or shucks, the yards swept and the ground under the houses sprinkled with lime. Furthermore, every house was to be whitewashed inside and out once a year; and the negroes must appear once a week in clean clothes, “and every negro habitually uncleanly in person must be washed and scrubbed by order of the overseer—the driver and two other negroes officiating.”

As to schedules of work, the Carolina and Georgia lowlanders dealt in tasks; all the rest in hours. Telfair wrote briefly: “The negroes to be tasked when the work allows it. I require a reasonable day’s work, well done—the task to be regulated by the state of the ground and the strength of the negro.” Weston wrote with more elaboration: “A task is as much work as the meanest full hand can do in nine hours, working industriously. . . . This task is never to be increased, and no work is to be done over task except under the most urgent necessity; which over-work is to be reported to the proprietor, who will pay for it. No negro is to be put into a task which [he] cannot finish with tolerable ease. It is a bad plan to punish for not finishing tasks; it is subversive of discipline to leave tasks unfinished, and contrary to justice to punish for what cannot be done. In nothing does a good manager so much excel a bad as in being able to discern what a hand is capable of doing, and in never attempting to make him do more.” In Hammond’s schedule the first horn was blown an hour before daylight as a summons for work-hands to rise and do their cooking and other preparations for the day. Then at the summons of the plow driver, at first break of day, the plowmen went to the stables whose doors the overseer opened. At the second horn, “just at good daylight,” the hoe gang set out for the field. At half past eleven the plowmen carried their mules to a shelter house in the fields, and at noon the hoe hands laid off for dinner, to resume work at one o’clock, except that in hot weather the intermission was extended to a maximum of three and a half hours. The plowmen led the way home by a quarter of an hour in the evening, and the hoe hands followed at sunset. “No work,” said Hammond, “must ever be required after dark.” Acklen contented himself with specifying that “the negroes must all rise at the ringing of the first bell in the morning, and retire when the last bell rings at night, and not leave their houses after that hour unless on business or called.” Fowler’s rule was of the same tenor: “All hands should be required to retire to rest and sleep at a suitable hour and permitted to remain there until such time as it will be necessary to get out in time to reach their work by the time they can see well how to work.” Telfair, Fowler and Hammond authorized the assignment of gardens and patches to such slaves as wanted to cultivate them at leisure times. To prevent these from becoming a cloak for thefts from the planter’s crops, Telfair and Fowler forbade the growing of cotton in the slaves’ private patches, and Hammond forbade both cotton and corn. Fowler specifically gave his negroes the privilege of marketing their produce and poultry “at suitable leisure times.” Hammond had a rule permitting each work hand to go to Augusta on some Sunday after harvest; but for some reason he noted in pencil below it: “This is objectionable and must be altered.” Telfair and Weston directed that their slaves be given passes on application, authorizing them to go at proper times to places in the neighborhood. The negroes, however, were to be at home by the time of the curfew horn about nine o’clock each night. Mating with slaves on other plantations was discouraged as giving occasion for too much journeying.

“Marriage is to be encouraged,” wrote Hammond, “as it adds to the comfort, happiness and health of those who enter upon it, besides insuring a greater increase. Permission must always be obtained from the master before marriage, but no marriage will be allowed with negroes not belonging to the master. When sufficient cause can be shewn on either side, a marriage may be annulled; but the offending party must be severely punished. Where both are in wrong, both must be punished, and if they insist on separating must have a hundred lashes apiece. After such a separation, neither can marry again for three years. For first marriage a bounty of $5.00, to be invested in household articles, or an equivalent of articles, shall be given. If either has been married before, the bounty shall be $2.50. A third marriage shall be not allowed but in extreme cases, and in such cases, or where both have been married before, no bounty will be given.”

“Christianity, humanity and order elevate all, injure none,” wrote Fowler, “whilst infidelity, selfishness and disorder curse some, delude others and degrade all. I therefore want all of my people encouraged to cultivate religious feeling and morality, and punished for inhumanity to their children or stock, for profanity, lying and stealing.” And again: “I would that every human being have the gospel preached to them in its original purity and simplicity. It therefore devolves upon me to have these dependants properly instructed in all that pertains to the salvation of their souls. To this end whenever the services of a suitable person can be secured, have them instructed in these things. In view of the fanaticism of the age, it behooves the master or overseer to be present on all such occasions. They should be instructed on Sundays in the day time if practicable; if not, then on Sunday night.” Acklen wrote in his usual peremptory tone: “No negro preachers but my own will be permitted to preach or remain on any of my places. The regularly appointed minister for my places must preach on Sundays during daylight, or quit. The negroes must not be suffered to continue their night meetings beyond ten o’clock.” Telfair in his rules merely permitted religious meetings on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. Hammond encouraged his negroes to go to church on Sundays, but permitted no exercises on the plantation beyond singing and praying. He, and many others, encouraged his negroes to bring him their complaints against drivers and overseers, and even against their own ecclesiastical authorities in the matter of interference with recreations.

Fighting among the negroes was a common bane of planters. Telfair prescribed: “If there is any fighting on the plantation, whip all engaged in it, for no matter what the cause may have been, all are in the wrong.” Weston wrote: “Fighting, particularly amongst women, and obscene or abusive language, is to be always rigorously punished.” “Punishment must never be cruel or abusive,” wrote Acklen, closely followed by Fowler, “for it is absolutely mean and unmanly to whip a negro from mere passion and malice, and any man who can do so is utterly unfit to have control of negroes; and if ever any of my negroes are cruelly or inhumanly treated, bruised, maimed or otherwise injured, the overseer will be promptly discharged and his salary withheld.” Weston recommended the lapse of a day between the discovery of an offense and the punishment, and he restricted the overseer’s power in general to fifteen lashes. He continued: “Confinement (not in the stocks) is to be preferred to whipping; but the stoppage of Saturday’s allowance, and doing whole task on Saturday, will suffice to prevent ordinary offenses. Special care must be taken to prevent any indecency in punishing women. No driver or other negro is to be allowed to punish any person in any way except by order of the overseer and in his presence.” And again: “Every person should be made perfectly to understand what they are punished for, and should be made to perceive that they are not punished in anger or through caprice. All abusive language or violence of demeanor should be avoided; they reduce the man who uses them to a level with the negro, and are hardly ever forgotten by those to whom they are addressed.” Hammond directed that the overseer “must never threaten a negro, but punish offences immediately on knowing them; otherwise he will soon have runaways.” As a schedule he wrote: “The following is the order in which offences must be estimated and punished: 1st, running away; 2d, getting drunk or having spirits; 3d, stealing hogs; 4th, stealing; 5th, leaving plantation without permission; 6th, absence from house after horn-blow at night; 7th, unclean house or person; 8th, neglect of tools; 9th, neglect of work. The highest punishment must not exceed a hundred lashes in one day, and to that extent only in extreme cases. The whip lash must be one inch in width, or a strap of one thickness of leather 1 1/2 inches in width, and never severely administered. In general fifteen to twenty lashes will be a sufficient flogging. The hands in every case must be secured by a cord. Punishment must always be given calmly, and never when angry or excited.” Telfair was as usual terse: “No negro to have more than fifty lashes for any offense, no matter how great the crime.” Manigault said nothing of punishments in his general instructions, buj,sent special directions when a case of incorrigibility was reported: “You had best think carefully respecting him, and always keep in mind the important old plantation maxim, viz: ‘never to threaten a negro,’ or he will do as you and I would when at school—he will run. But with such a one, … if you wish to make an example of him, take him down to the Savannah jail and give him prison discipline, and by all means solitary confinement, for three weeks, when he will be glad to get home again. . . . Mind then and tell him that you and he are quits, that you will never dwell on old quarrels with him, that he has now a clear track before him and all depends on himself, for he now sees how easy it is to fix ‘a bad disposed nigger.’ Then give my compliments to him and tell him that you wrote me of his conduct, and say if he don’t change for the better I’ll sell him to a slave trader who will send him to New Orleans, where I have already sent several of the gang for misconduct, or their running away for no cause.” In one case Manigault lost a slave by suicide in the river when a driver brought him up for punishment but allowed him to run before it was administered.


In the overseer all the virtues of a master were desired, with a deputy’s obedience added. Corbin enjoined upon his staff that they “attend their business with diligence, keep the negroes in good order, and enforce obedience by the example of their own industry, which is a more effectual method in every respect than hurry and severity. The ways of industry,” he continued, “are constant and regular, not to be in a hurry at one time and do nothing at another, but to be always usefully and steadily employed. A man who carries on business in this manner will be prepared for every incident that happens. He will see what work may be proper at the distance of some time and be gradually and leisurely preparing for it. By this foresight he will never be in confusion himself, and his business, instead of a labor, will be a pleasure to him.” Weston wrote: “The proprietor wishes particularly to impress upon the overseer the criterions by which he will judge of his usefullness and capacity. First, by the general well-being of all the negroes; their cleanly appearance, respectful manners, active and vigorous obedience; their completion of their tasks well and early; the small amount of punishment; the excess of births over deaths; the small number of persons in hospital; and the health of the children. Secondly, the condition and fatness of the cattle and mules; the good repair of all the fences and buildings, harness, boats, flats and ploughs; more particularly the good order of the banks and trunks, and the freedom of the fields from grass and volunteer [rice]. Thirdly, the amount and quality of the rice and provision crops. . . . The overseer is expressly forbidden from three things, viz.: bleeding, giving spirits to any negro without a doctor’s order, and letting any negro on the place have or keep any gun, powder or shot.” One of Acklen’s prohibitions upon his overseers was: “Having connection with any of my female servants will most certainly be visited with a dismissal from my employment, and no excuse can or will be taken.

Hammond described the functions as follows: “The overseer will never be expected to work in the field, but he must always be with the hands when not otherwise engaged in the employer’s business. . . . The overseer must never be absent a single night, nor an entire day, without permission previously obtained. Whenever absent at church or elsewhere he must be on the plantation by sundown without fail. He must attend every night and morning at the stables and see that the mules are watered, cleaned and fed, and the doors locked. He must keep the stable keys at night, and all the keys, in a safe place, and never allow anyone to unlock a barn, smoke-house or other depository of plantation stores but himself. He must endeavor, also, to be with the plough hands always at noon.” He must also see that the negroes are out promptly in the morning, and in their houses after curfew, and must show no favoritism among the negroes. He must carry on all experiments as directed by the employer, and use all new implements and methods which the employer may determine upon; and he must keep a full plantation diary and make monthly inventories. Finally, “The negroes must be made to obey and to work, which may be done, by an overseer who attends regularly to his business, with very little whipping. Much whipping indicates a bad tempered or inattentive manager, and will not be allowed.” His overseer might quit employment on a month’s notice, and might be discharged without notice. Acklen’s dicta were to the same general effect. As to the relative importance of the several functions of an overseer, all these planters were in substantial agreement. As Fowler put it: “After taking proper care of the negroes, stock, etc., the next most important duty of the overseer is to make, if practicable, a sufficient quantity of corn, hay, fodder, meat, potatoes and other vegetables for the consumption of the plantation, and then as much cotton as can be made by requiring good and reasonable labor of operatives and teams.” Likewise Henry Laurens, himself a prosperous planter of the earlier time as a statesman, wrote to an overseer of whose heavy tasking he had learned: “Submit to make less rice and keep my negroes at home in some degree of happiness in preference to large crops acquired by rigour and barbarity to those poor creatures.” And to a new incumbent: “I have now to recommend to you the care of my negroes in general, but particularly the sick ones. Desire Mrs. White not to be sparing of red wine for those who have the flux or bad loosenesses; let them be well attended night and day, and if one wench is not sufficient add another to nurse them. With the well ones use gentle means mixed with easy authority first—if that does not succeed, make choice of the most stubborn one or two and chastise them severely but properly and with mercy, that they may be convinced that the end of correction is to be amendment.” Again, alluding to one of his slaves who had been gathering the pennies of his fellows: “Amos has a great inclination to turn rum merchant. If his confederate comes to that plantation, I charge you to discipline him with thirty-nine sound lashes and turn him out of the gate and see that he goes quite off.”

The published advice of planters to their fellows was quite in keeping with these instructions to overseers. About 1809, for example, John Taylor, of Caroline, the leading Virginian advocate of soil improvement in his day, wrote of the care and control of slaves as follows: “The addition of comfort to mere necessaries is a price paid by the master for the advantages he will derive from binding his slave to his service by a ligament stronger than chains, far beneath their value in a pecuniary point of view; and he will moreover gain a stream of agreeable reflections throughout life, which will cost him nothing.” He recommended fireproof brick houses, warm clothing, and abundant, varied food. Customary plenty in meat and vegetables, he said, would not only remove occasions for pilfering, but would give the master effective power to discourage it; for upon discovering the loss of any goods by theft he might put his whole force of slaves upon a limited diet for a time and thus suggest to the thief that on any future occasion his fellows would be under pressure to inform on him as a means of relieving their own privations. “A daily allowance of cyder,” Taylor continued, “will extend the success of this system for the management of slaves, and particularly its effect of diminishing corporal punishments. But the reader is warned that a stern authority, strict discipline and complete subordination must be combined with it to gain any success at all.”

Another Virginian’s essay, of 1834, ran as follows: Virginia negroes are generally better tempered than any other people; they are kindly, grateful, attached to persons and places, enduring and patient in fatigue and hardship, contented and cheerful. Their control should be uniform and consistent, not an alternation of rigor and laxity. Punishment for real faults should be invariable but moderate. “The best evidence of the good management of slaves is the keeping up of good discipline with little or no punishment.” The treatment should be impartial except for good conduct which should bring rewards. Praise is often a better cure for laziness than stripes. The manager should know the temper of each slave. The proud and high spirited are easily handled: “Your slow and sulky negro, alIthough he may have an even temper, is the devil to manage. The negro women are all harder to manage than the men. The only way to get along with them is by kind words and flattery. If you want to cure a sloven, give her something nice occasionally to wear, and praise her up to the skies whenever she has on anything tolerably decent.” Eschew suspicion, for it breeds dishonesty. Promote harmony and sound methods among your neighbors. “A good disciplinarian in the midst of bad managers of slaves cannot do much; and without discipline there cannot be profit to the master or comfort to the slaves.” Feed and clothe your slaves well. The best preventive of theft is plenty of pork. Let them have poultry and gardens and fruit trees to attach them to their houses and promote amenability. “The greatest bar to good discipline in Virginia is the number of grog shops in every farmer’s neighborhood.” There is no severity in the state, and there will be no occasion for it again if the fanatics will only let us alone.

An essay written after long experience by Robert Collins, of Macon, Georgia, which was widely circulated in the ‘fifties, was in the same tone: “The best interests of all parties are promoted by a kind and liberal treatment on the part of the owner, and the requirement of proper discipline and strict obedience on the part of the slave. . . . Every attempt to force the slave beyond the limits of reasonable service by cruelty or hard treatment, so far from extorting more work, only tends to make him unprofitable, unmanageable, a vexation and a curse.” The quarters should be well shaded, the houses free of the ground, well ventilated, and large enough for comfort; the bedding and blankets fully adequate. “In former years the writer tried many ways and expedients to economize in the provision of slaves by using more of the vegetable and cheap articles of diet, and less of the costly and substantial. But time and experience have fully proven the error of a stinted policy. . . . The allowance now given per week to each hand … is five pounds of good clean bacon and one quart of molasses, with as much good bread as they require; and in the fall, or sickly season of the year, or on sickly places, the addition of one pint of strong coffee, sweetened with sugar, every morning before going to work.” The slaves may well have gardens, but the assignment of patches for market produce too greatly “encourages a traffic on their own account, and presents a temptation and opportunity, during the process of gathering, for an unscrupulous fellow to mix a little of his master’s produce with his own. It is much better to give each hand whose conduct has been such as to merit it an equivalent in money at the end of the year; it is much less trouble, and more advantageous to both parties.” Collins further advocated plenty of clothing, moderate hours, work by tasks in cotton picking and elsewhere when feasible, and firm though kindly discipline. “Slaves,” he said, “have no respect or affection for a master who indulges them over much. . . . Negroes are by nature tyrannical in their dispositions, and if allowed, the stronger will abuse the weaker, husbands will often abuse their wives and mothers their children, so that it becomes a prominent duty of owners and overseers to keep peace and prevent quarrelling and disputes among them; and summary punishment should follow any violation of this rule. Slaves are also a people that enjoy religious privileges. Many of them place much value upon it; and to every reasonable extent that advantage should be allowed them. They are never injured by preaching, but thousands become wiser and better people and more trustworthy servants by their attendance at church. Religious services should be provided and encouraged on every plantation. A zealous and vehement style, both in doctrine and manner, is best adapted to their temperament. They are good believers in mysteries and miracles, ready converts, and adhere with much pertinacity to their opinions when formed.” It is clear that Collins had observed plantation negroes long and well. Advice very similar to the foregoing examples was also printed in the form of manuals at the front of blank books for the keeping of plantation records; and various planters described their own methods in operation as based on the same principles. One of these living at Chunnennuggee, Alabama, signing himself “N. B. P.,” wrote in 1852 an account of the problems he had met and the solutions he had applied. Owning some 150 slaves, he had lived away from his plantation until about a decade prior to this writing; but in spite of careful selection he could never get an overseer combining the qualities necessary in a good manager. “They were generally on extremes; those celebrated for making large crops were often too severe, and did everything by coercion. Hence turmoil and strife ensued. The negroes were ill treated and ran away. On the other hand, when he employed a good-natured man there was a want of proper discipline; the negroes became unmanageable and, as a natural result, the farm was brought into debt.” The owner then entered residence himself and applied methods which resulted in contentment, health and prolific increase among the slaves, and in consistently good crops. The men were supplied with wives at home so far as was practicable; each family had a dry and airy house to itself, with a poultry house and a vegetable garden behind; the rations issued weekly were three and a half pounds of bacon to each hand over ten years old, together with a peck of meal, or more if required; the children in the day nursery were fed from the master’s kitchen with soup, milk, bacon, vegetables and bread; the hands had three suits of working clothes a year; the women were given time off for washing, and did their mending in bad weather; all hands had to dress up and go to church on Sunday when preaching was near; and a clean outfit of working clothes was required every Monday. The chief distinction of this plantation, however, lay in its device for profit sharing. To each slave was assigned a half-acre plot with the promise that if he worked with diligence in the master’s crop the whole gang would in turn be set to work his crop. This was useful in preventing night and Sunday work by the negroes. The proceeds of their crops, ranging from ten to fifty dollars, were expended by the master at their direction for Sunday clothing and other supplies. On a sugar plantation visited by Olmsted a sum of as many dollars as there were hogsheads in the year’s crop was distributed among the slaves every Christmas.

The Duality of the Southern Thing

In my song, I discussed the dualities of being from a region that is known for great music and literature and art and something called “Southern hospitality,” but is also known for Jim Crow laws, slavery, racism and the Ku Klux Klan. I talked about being fiercely proud of the good parts of my heritage and mortified and ashamed of the bad parts, the ones that too often define how other people perceive us.

Patterson Hood

Most thought and writing concerning the South and its history, including my own, references the Southern tradition, singular. While “tradition” in this sense generally always means the conservative tradition, it is a bit of a misnomer; at least, it simplifies the subject to a degree which can hamper proper delineation of Left and Right. In reality, the intelligent Southerner today who is not sui generis has essentially two traditions from which he can choose without losing much Southern or traditionalist credibility.

The great centuries-long battle for the preservation of the Southern worldview is normally framed as the South vs. the North, Southern whites vs. Southern blacks, or maybe the South vs. the Western World. I assert that the true conflict is better framed as Southern liberalism vs. Southern conservatism, or more properly labelled Southern Leftism vs. Southern Rightism, in which outside forces in nearly every instance support the former. This frame is more historically illuminating and also discourages the mistaken belief, common to Right-leaning Southerners, that the South itself is not susceptible to the ever tempting and false promises of Leftism.

The Southern liberal tradition can be traced from Thomas Jefferson and John Taylor on through Hinton Helper, Cassius Clay, Andrew Johnson, the New South, Harper Lee, LBJ, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton; today ably represented by such as Rod Dreher, Patterson Hood and Lindsay Graham. The driving impulse behind Southern liberals has always been to reform Southern society (to varying degrees) along Progressivist lines, usually by using mainstream American society as a guiding light.  These are generally lite-Leftists; they recognize much of the craziness inherent to high-test Leftism as well as much of the good inherent to Rightism. They are idealistic and intelligent but refrain from radicalism. Generally their stated motivation is to “save the South from itself,” which in practice means to destroy the very things that make the South Southern.

They primarily err in that their chosen reforms of Southern society inevitably chip away at the foundation which gives the South its benevolent and noble qualities. (Sometimes this acknowledged goodness is unspoken, but is evidenced by the fact that many Southern liberals never move out of the South, or do and end up returning.) The few Southern radicals are generally driven by an excessive urge to stand out from their somewhat homogenous surroundings – to gain the detached haughty aura of the iconoclast.

The Southern liberal tradition occupies a strange position on the American political spectrum. They are nearly always a minority within the South, but consistently win because they have the undying support of mainstream American society. Southern liberals act as a sort of proxy forward guard for the campaign to Americanize the South. Sans the Southern liberal tradition, USG would likely have had to utilize much more autocratic methods in its governance of the South if it hoped to effect any cultural reforms at all.

Where perhaps Southern liberals do their most harm is when they normalize inherently anti-Southern beliefs for their fellow Southerners, which confuses the heretofore beneficial prejudicial impulse. This has reached its apex in recent times, as it’s becoming increasingly acceptable for plebeian and proletarian Southerners to support racial equality, women’s rights, and (to a lesser degree) homosexual normality, among other Progressive pillars. This has the effect of lowering the line of demarcation which separates lower-class prejudicial impulses from the middle-class tendency to fall in with the mainstream, ensuring the downward spiral of Rightist marginalization.

On the other hand, there is the Southern conservative tradition. It has always been the dominant force within Southern society itself. As with all conservative impulses, it is mostly prejudicial – but the prejudices by which it is characterized have generally been beneficial, because they were sourced from the dominant characteristics of the Old South civilization. Since the Revolutionary period, Southern conservatives were generally composed of the aristocrats and the proletariat, the former due to vested interest in the status quo, the latter due to aforementioned prejudice. The intellectual tradition of Southern Rightism was most ably set down by the antebellum “Reactionary Enlightenment” figures, then more or less continued by the Southern Agrarians, Richard Weaver, ME Bradford, and Clyde Wilson. Political representatives include John C. Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, Wade Hampton III, and George Wallace.

The conflict between the Southern Right and Left has passed through fairly distinct phases, which it is necessary to outline here in order to assist with the occasionally difficult identification of the different elements. These phases also demonstrate my assertion that to attempt to reform only “bad” aspects of Southern culture inevitably leads to unintended and wholesale transformation of Southern society towards the distasteful American mainstream.

From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, the point of contention was, of course, slavery. Southern liberals found the system either immoral or inefficient, and generally expressed a desire for gradual emancipation and/or slave repatriation to Africa. However, they failed to provide anything like a concrete plan for the attainment of these goals, and almost without exception found the Garrisonian abolitionists fanatical and unsavory. Late antebellum was the sole period in which the Southern Rightist element almost wholly dictated Southern policy and thought, and the liberal element was duly marginalized. The Reactionary Enlightenment was the purest expression of Southern Rightist thought ever put forth; it, of course, being relegated to seeming obsolescence by Civil War defeat.

From the Civil War until World War Two, the conflict shifted to industrialism vs. agrarianism, and populism vs. aristocratical elitism. Southern liberals now possessed the material and political support of Northern demagogues and capitalists, and the New South slowly ground down opposition to its Progressive vision for Southern society. It is worth noting that almost every Southern liberal of the antebellum period would have reckoned this development as an almost unqualified evil. Class warfare, hitherto unknown, was introduced; Southern cities became home to the newly empowered bourgeois element, and lost no time in developing a capitalist character unknown to the Old South.

Between World War Two and the 1970s, the conflict again shifted, now to the question of racial equality and integration; again, an agenda that would have horrified and dismayed the Southern liberals of the previous period. Contrary to popular belief, Southern conservatives were able to mount only token resistance to the Civil Rights movement, as integration came about quietly and smoothly throughout most of the South. In some ways, this second Reconstruction was the final chance for the Southern conservatives to utilize widespread popular support to regain control over Southern society; but in reality, this avenue had been doomed a hundred years prior.

Today, the battle between Southern Leftism and Rightism has reached a strange sort of stalemate. The conservative element is almost wholly restricted to the small rural communities which dot the countryside; few urban areas in the geographical South maintain any recognizable Southerness. While this element has lost nearly all power to influence the direction of the greater South, it has also developed defenses which inhibit gross Progressivization to a great degree. These defenses are often the very things which prevent greater influence over the direction of society, but that is another topic which needs further exploration.

The convolution which has characterized Southern history must be reckoned in the proper light if we hope to use history to inform our views for the present and plans for the future. It is all too easy for today’s Rightist Southerners to blame the North, the US Government, blacks, the Jews, or the greater direction of the Occident for our present predicament, but in reality the crux of the battle has always been in our hands. We’ve lost battle after battle against ourselves, and without an accurate and unflinching analysis of our own faults there is little doubt that this pattern will perpetuate into oblivion.

Prognosticating Our Long Term Future

This post is a response to Mr. Ted Colt’s tweet, displayed below:

Mr. Colt is, of course, correct about finding and fixing flaws, though I’d rephrase his statement a bit. Southern civilization (the Old South) was destroyed from the outside, when emancipation removed the aristocracy’s foundation and source of power – property. It wasn’t a failing of Southern culture that resulted in the destruction of the Old South, but rather outside circumstances that the South had no control over. That said, the Old South wasn’t, of course, perfect. There existed strains of Leftism, primarily introduced via Revolutionary figures like Jefferson, but by 1860 the so-called “Reactionary Enlightenment” was driving the South ever Rightward towards a more-or-less total repudiation of the original Enlightenment. Had the South achieved independence, I assess that it would have continued on this path. There is little reason to believe Southern culture would have succumbed to the self-destructive tendencies which characterize the modern West (some caveats here, which I will discuss in some future post).

As it happened, Southern society (no longer a distinct civilization) was forcibly tethered to American society, for better or worse, via which Leftism began to be administered intravenously. For us, this muddies the waters in that it’s difficult to discern whether Leftist tendencies which exist in the South today are organic developments which would survive severance from USG, or if their source is extraneous and shallow. I think it safe to say that while the source of most of the modern manifestations of Southern Leftism is foreign, some of these tendencies now have a strong hold on Southern culture which will prove problematic in a post-USG scenario.

Jeffersonianism is the most prominent example of home-cooked Leftism. Jefferson’s influence on the South has waxed and waned over time, but it’s always been present in some form or another. With the recent growth of libertarianism in the South, Jefferson has regained his status as a primary figure for Southerners looking for alternatives to the modern state. One reason is practical: despite recent rumblings, Jefferson clings to his status as a “mainstream figure” and thus provides a measure of legitimacy to disgruntled Southerners. Another is theoretical: Jefferson’s philosophy of individualism, republicanism, and government decentralization serves to provide an alternative vision to the ever-increasing totalitarianism of USG.

Jeffersonianism is mostly Leftist at heart and lies somewhere on a spectrum from inefficient to totally impractical for use in a post-USG independent South. The “Reactionary Enlightenment” figures realized the anti-civilizational character of Jeffersonianism prior to the Civil War, and were in the process of expunging the more Leftist elements of it from the Southern worldview. Jeffersonianism is simply not conducive, on the whole, for protecting or maintaining a traditionalist aristocratic society, and for our purposes, even less so for building one. The prominence of Jefferson’s philosophy on the modern Southern psyche poses a strong obstacle to reconstituting a distinct Southern civilization.

Baser modernist facets of Leftism, such as materialism, atheism, feminism, and progressivism, are almost wholly recently acquired and have much less of a hold on today’s Southern culture (being almost totally endemic to white urban areas). Still, in my view it would be a mistake to write this problem off as a non-factor. Depending on the geographical and cultural makeup of a post-USG Southern state, it is theoretically possible that urban mores will take precedence in establishing the philosophical foundation of said state. This, of course, would be an unmitigated disaster.

The question becomes: how in the world can these infectious philosophies be cleansed, or even mitigated? It seems quite clear to me that nothing significant can be done while the Leftist zeitgeist remains in control of the South’s destiny. Indeed, even if the South gained independence tomorrow, this Southern Leftism would assuredly dictate the formation of the government, and we would almost certainly be quite as bad off as we are now. Rightism is simply too marginal, leverage-wise, to affect any significant social change in the current milieu. The only way to gain the power to affect said change is to use corrupting Leftist tactics, such as demotic “activism.”

The only way Rightist elements can return to a guiding role for the South is through some kind of cleansing or transitional period. Unfortunately, any way you slice it, this period will be difficult and ugly, though not necessarily absolutely so. It will require a total reformation into a society and government which will seem completely alien to the modern layman. This will happen, though the timeframe and manner are anyone’s guess.

Likely the easiest way to accomplish this cleansing would be through some form of a Rightist dictatorship, ala maybe Pinochet or Sulla. This hypothetical dictator would have absolute authority, or nearly so, to reform government and social influences at will, and thus could take the requisite steps to eliminate or at minimum marginalize the anti-civilizational disease of Leftism. How exactly this could be done is outside of my purview, though it seems self-evident that it is theoretically possible. Of course, this option carries with it a certain amount of risk – how do we know the dictator won’t be another Caligula or Lincoln (ha)? In short, we don’t – but risk must be assumed at some point to get civilization back on track. A dictatorship could accomplish our aims with a minimum of blood and tears. The optimal endstate would be a transition from dictatorship to government via an organic state, such as a traditionalist aristocracy. The reader may form his own opinion on how likely or attractive of an option this is for our necessary cleansing period.

In my view it is much the better option than our alternative – a cleansing period characterized by some kind of fiery cataclysm brought on by the drunk-at-the-wheel guidance of Leftism. It is almost useless to pontificate on the exact nature of this cataclysm, simply due to the huge number of variables involved. What seems sure is that it will happen in some form and at some time. Ethnic turbulence? Economic crash? Political splintering? Terrorist attack? Mass revolt? Simple prolonged power outage? The potential embers which may fall on this powder keg we inhabit appear legion. Once it happens, it will be big, it will be ugly, in all likelihood it will be bloody. In a word, it will be cataclysmic. What will emerge is anyone’s guess, but I believe this forcible reversion of civilization will naturally demonstrate the utter fallibility of most or all facets of Leftism.

This might happen next year or next century. At any rate, the most a Southern Reactionary might do in the meantime is try to increase our sphere of influence and promote blood and heritage ties among our thede. Leftism is pernicious and, for now, all-powerful. We should endeavor to outlast it and plan for its eventual fall from grace.

The Confederacy Vortex

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time…

William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust

The Civil War / War Between the States / War of Secession is unquestionably the Main Event of Southern history, and even Southern identity. And it should be. As prophesied by wise men in the antebellum period, the War was a defining moment for the New World, and even, if I may, the entire Occident. Whether one considers it good or bad, Northern victory is the acknowledged foundation on which much of the modern world rests. The history of it reads like an epic drama – it’s the most written about event in American history, producing more than one book published per day since 1865. It simply possesses a huge amount of appeal for anyone with a modicum of interest in history.

This has both positive and negative effects for those of us who want to preserve and revive the Southern worldview. The positive effect is the Old South receives what amounts to a ton of free advertising. While just about all of it is anti-Southern, as they say, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” Likely a non-negligible number of people are attracted to the Southern viewpoint after coming into contact with all this talk about the War. This is beneficial and is a major reason why interest in the Confederacy remains relatively high (as compared to, well, any other losing side in history).

But it is the drawbacks which I wish to discuss here. For the pro-Southern camp, excessive emphasis on the War creates what I call the Confederacy Vortex. This is a sinkhole-like effect in which people are pulled into refighting the War in a historical context, to the detriment of preserving the principles for which they fought today. You likely know the types I mean – those who spend huge amounts of time arguing over the internet or elsewhere about the causes of the War, the way it was fought, etc. Essentially, they endlessly argue over who was right.

Of course, I believe that the Confederacy was right, and I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to convince others of this. I spent years trapped in the Confederacy Vortex; years which yielded little return and which would have been more productively spent on other studies. Not much more than a basic grasp of the history of the War is required to demonstrate the rightness of the Confederate cause (although coming to terms with slavery takes a bit more); the Vortex prevented me from doing anything meaningful with that knowledge. I simply had to spend my time reinforcing my positions again and again, rather than resting assured that my analyses were correct and expanding into other areas.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans is a good example of an organization trapped in the Confederacy Vortex. SCV proponents can and will defend the Confederacy from all assaults. But this overarching focus on the Confederacy to the detriment of other periods of Southern history encourages attempts to progressivize the Confederacy (for example- “Secession had nothing to do with slavery”). Restricting one’s focus to CSA-promotion requires one to try and adapt the Confederacy to whatever the prevailing winds of contemporary feeling happen to be. Hence “Rainbow Confederates.” One need look no further than SCV worship of figures like H.K. Edgerton – doubtless a good man, but it is delusional to think he should be the face of a Confederate organisation.

Another example is the book The South Was Right!, a sort of neo-Confederate historical manifesto. It’s been a long while since I’ve read it, and when I read it I was exactly the type of person at which this post is targeted. I remember agreeing with all the viewpoints which the book presented, but even then I was kind of annoyed; I felt it could do nothing more than preach to the choir. No doubt it won a few people over, but it certainly isn’t optimized for this purpose, with its gaudy cover and non-serious title. Not to say it isn’t a good book; but what has it done to improve our overall chances of success against the forces of modernity? Not much, in my estimation.

The thing which those caught in the Confederacy Vortex have in common is that they greatly reduce their ability to influence the future of the South in any meaningful way. They focus all of their energy on reliving and refighting one battle that has already been lost, rather than focusing on the war which we are in the process of losing. They stand in formation at Gettysburg while General Lee flees towards Appomattox. To fulfill our inherited obligation to our ancestors who died on those fields, we must work to understand the society from which they came, and try to revive the principles which underlay that society. This can only be accomplished by close and unfettered study of the entirety of Southern history.

Excessive emphasis on the War, when not relegated to pure historical interest, hinders our ability to understand our current struggle by way of reframing the entire dispute. True, the War was North vs. South, but a deeper understanding tells us it was in reality a battle of Left vs. Right. North vs. South, while not a completely inaccurate way to frame our modern struggle, is on the whole obsolete and insufficient for delineating our friends and enemies. The Left vs. Right dichotomy places the War in its proper context and sheds light on the greater conflict which started before the War and continues today.

Another way which the Confederacy Vortex confounds is that the short view of history which characterizes it emphasizes single individuals and events instead of the forces which drive them. For example, those in the Confederacy Vortex tend to consider Abraham Lincoln as a Bad Guy who was the author of the destruction of the South. While this view is not wrong, it is shallow in that it overlooks the forces which produced Lincoln and gave him his place in history: Leftism and liberalism. Lincoln was ultimately a placeholder, not a Great Man, not a true influencer of history. He was simply a representative of a more sinister force which survives and continues to wreak havoc today. Had Lincoln never lived, another would have filled his place; it would have changed nothing but minutia.

Lest my meaning be misconstrued: I am not saying “Forget about the Confederacy.” The Confederacy in nearly all respects embodied the Old Southern civilisation and therefore should be held in high esteem by all defenders of the principles of said civilisation. The problem arises when the Confederacy is emphasized as the end-all, be-all. In the final analysis, the Confederacy represents only four years of a struggle in which the South has been embroiled since 1789. There is a way to properly venerate our ancestors today, and it is assuredly not to continue to fighting their 150 year old battle. North vs. South has been lost; only a clean up crew remains. The war of Left vs. Right still rages; while our prospects aren’t looking bright, our chance, our opportunity to participate in this conflict lies before us still. On its face, the Confederacy Vortex can appear to be satisfying and worthwhile; the problem is that it doesn’t lead anywhere.

On Mainstream Southerners and the Asking of Questions

“Mainstream” Southerners today – that is, Southerners who are largely accepted by polite American society despite maintaining some overt Southern signalling – are quite the curious breed. Most are true thedish Southerners, born and raised in culturally strong Southern areas. Perhaps strangely, most must necessarily actively choose to retain their Southerness; on television, in books, and in school, Southerners are almost without exception presented as the Other. This awkward self-awareness presents the intelligent Southerner with a choice to be made very early on in life: actively resist the often unconscious impulse to suppress Southerness, or actively purge Southern characteristics which may out one as Other. Fortunately, more than a few choose the former.

However, this presents additional difficulties. One who hesitates to jettison all Southern signalling will often be made an object of derision; harmless joking at best, or outright ostracizing at worst. The strong-willed will nonetheless hold the course, to their credit. Unfortunately, even for the non-history-minded there is one large spectre which will always hang over them, preventing them from going too far in overt endorsement of their homeland and their ancestors – racist slavery. The sin of sins.

This creates a strange creature. The mainstream Southerner can only stay mainstream by maintaining a highly irregular, psychologically speaking, interpretation of his people’s history. He can appreciate only a very limited and self-flagellating view of the past. He may endorse his grandfather as a good man, perhaps his great-grandfather, but to go farther back than that is to get into some very morally murky water – racism! the Klan! Jim Crow! lynchings! and ultimately… slavery! How does the mainstream Southerner come to terms with this?

In short, he doesn’t. He is forced to divorce himself from his not-so-ancient ancestors, in much the same way a regular American is divorced from his European origins. To him, the slaveowners were not us; they were fundamentally different, perhaps a mutation of some sort; a primitive or maybe degenerative people with whom we only bear a passing resemblance. We share a geographical region and maybe some blood – if I could count how many times I’ve heard said “Of course my family didn’t own slaves” – at most. This may be all well and good, were it true. In reality, we are them. The slaveowners, the Klansmen, the Confederates are our close ancestors and differ from the modern Southerner in few, if any, appreciable ways. To study them honestly is to study ourselves. To divorce from them is to confound our understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit. Further – it is to ensure the ultimate destruction of our worldview.

To even ask the question – was slavery actually an evil practice? Was Jim Crow segregation driven by anything other than blind hatred? Could there have been – gulp – noble Klansmen? To even contemplate the question is to reveal yourself as not simply the Other, but the Enemy. You are one of those vile racists who have polluted the Southern image! The mainstream Southerner is practically obligated to battle against The Asker of Questions if he has any hope of retaining his mainstream status. This creates a strong incentive against the Asking of Questions and ensures that the Southern worldview, deprived of historical nourishment, will continue to fade.

Slavery, Jim Crow, KKK, etc. are currently used as cudgels to bludgeon mainstream Southerners from straying too far outside of the progressivist interpretation of the South by preventing those Southerners from even questioning it in the first place. “Oh, you think the Old South had some points in its favor? I guess you want to bring back slavery!” Normal people don’t want to be accused of these things and thus find it is far easier to just. Not. Ask. Questions.

How to undermine the power of these cudgels? It’s quite simple, but it requires two things not so easily attained: a willingness to be forcibly removed from the mainstream, and an truly open mind. They are both necessary to allow oneself freedom of movement to investigate these matters in full and gain confidence in your conclusions. Let’s say you find that slavery was, in the end, as great of a moral evil as Garrison would have you believe. Even though your view of history may not have radically changed, the very act of giving Fitzhugh, Hammond, Dabney, and Bledsoe a fair hearing will magically remove the power of the cudgels to influence your thought in any direction whatsoever. This assumes, of course, that you don’t use your newfound perspective to empower the cudgels’ usage on others.

Having performed this same procedure, as near as I might, I have arrived at nearly the opposite conclusion. I may say in honesty that the cudgels have no power over me. Of course, my views are as far from mainstream as you can get, but I may posit that I’ve acquired enough perspective to be able to intrigue people I converse with enough so that they begin questioning some of their deeply-held beliefs. Our initial task with regards to recruitment should be to promote the simple Asking of Questions, rather than immediately winning all of our acquaintances over to our side. To do this ably requires a strong knowledge and perspective on both the Leftist and Rightist interpretations of Southern history.

For those interested in sources, I may refer you to my Recommended Reading page. Additionally, I have a How to Become a Southern Reactionary post in the works, but I will have to put it off for the time being, as I’ll be travelling for the next week. See y’all when I get back.