Southern History Series: Southern Racial Attitudes On The Eve of the American Revolution

This is nearly impossible for a certain type of Yankee to understand.

In the Old South, everyone had their place in a hierarchical society. Inequality was taken for granted. Children were not the equals of their parents. Wives were not the equals of their husbands. Slaves were not the equals of their masters. Blacks were not the equals of Whites. The common man was not the equal of the gentleman in social status. White men, however, were political and civil equals. They had the same rights under the law and to representation in the political life in the nation.

Southerners commonly distinguished between “civil equality,” “political equality” and “social equality.” The “equality” of rights that our ancestors fought for in the American Revolution was seen at the time as a great struggle between monarchy and republicanism. The question was whether we were capable of ruling ourselves in independent sovereign states. We had already been doing this for generations in the colonial legislatures. Until the aftermath of the French and Indian War, the British had tended to neglect the American colonies, which was why there was so much resentment which set off the power struggle that culminated in the American Revolution when authority was reasserted after 1763.

It never occurred to anyone in the South during the Revolutionary era that “we” meant anything other than the White men who were the political body of the colonies. By overthrowing the British monarchy, we destabilized the social order, but that was as far as our ancestors wanted it to go.

The following excerpt comes from comes from John Richard Alden’s book The South in the Revolution, 1763-1789:

“Below virtually all the Southern whites in status were virtually all the Negroes, even those who were legally free, these being scant in numbers, except in Virginia and Maryland. Although servants rather than slaves, slavery was recognized and perpetuated by Virginia law after the middle of the seventeenth century; and the example of the Old Dominion was followed by her neighbors with respect to the legal condition of the Negroes as it was in many matters. Any person born to a slave woman was by law a slave, except when manumitted, the color and legal standing of the father having no effect upon the status of his offspring. The Negro, while admittedly human, was considered by nearly all Southern whites to be a fundamentally inferior being, even when he was a mulatto descended in part from proudest white stock. Dr. Schoepf, the Hessian physician who toured the United States immediately after the War of Independence, received a shock at Hanover Courthouse in Virginia. “On a very warm mid-day (18 Decemb.) we found here a fine circle of ladies, silk-clad and tastefully coiffured, sitting about a fire. This was not so extraordinary in itself, but it was something new to me that several pretty vigorous young blacks, quite in the natural state, should be tumbling about before the party without giving scandal.” The ladies were not disturbed because it did not enter their heads that they should be attracted by Negro boys.”

Negroes had their place in the Southern social order.

Their place was thought to be at the bottom of the social pyramid. They had been brought here as slaves from Africa to be the little worker bees of their masters.

While virtually all White Southerners at the time of the American Revolution believed in the existence of racial differences, this hardly implies that the predominant attitude toward their slaves was “hate.” Far from hating them, White Southerners tended to be quite fond of their slaves. The nature of slavery as an institution necessarily cultivated a hierarchical, authoritarian social structure and a paternalistic attitude toward the negro. As long as everyone (black, white, male, female) in Southern society was performing their assigned role in their place in the social order, harmony tended to prevail.

We can argue all day about whether the Southern social contract was just or unjust. No one disputes that this is the way it was in the South at the time.

Note: In our present social order, White Southerners are at the bottom of the social order. Jews are now at the top of the social pyramid and have been joined by POC and LBGTQIA Americans with “woke” Whites holding onto a tenuous status somewhere in the middle of the social scale. The lowest rung of our social pyramid is reserved for those Whites who cling to traditional views.

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  1. **We can argue all day about whether the Southern social contract was just or unjust.**

    It didn’t matter whether it was just or unjust. The question is whether it was wise or unwise.

  2. “Southerners commonly distinguished between “civil equality,” “political equality” and “social equality.”

    We still do, if only subconsciously.

  3. Alas, short-sighted Southerners decided it would be a bright idea to bring blacks to America. After all, what could go wrong?

    • “Alas, short-sighted Southerners decided it would be a bright idea to bring blacks to America. After all, what could go wrong?”

      At the time, they weren’t Southerners, they were British settlers from Barbados and the other islands of the Lesser Antilles.

      They weren’t short sighted. They lived in a world that didn’t change, ever, in multiple lifetimes, including theirs.

      There’s also no way that they could have apprehended the historical genesis and creation of Yankees, or that these “Yankees” would be anti-Southern, hostile, aggressive and ambitious, much less be in a position to do anything to prevent it. Which things were necessarily in the future, beyond their own lifetimes, in any case.

    • No, brother. It wasn’t short-sighted Southerners who brought blacks to America and thought this was a wonderful idea. Check your history. The slave trade was always conducted against the South’s better judgment. Slave traders from the mother country started it and kept it up for decades before the money-grubbing New England Yankee began trading his rum for these wretched savages and dumping their sickly human cargoes on the South. Our history is replete with the South’s vehemently protesting this illicit trade and doing everything in its power to put a stop to it. There were no Southern slave traders.The Yankee, being a Yankee, self-righteously declares himself superior in moral judgment since he ended slavery (not to be confused with the slave trade, which he continued virtually until outbreak of the so called “civil war.”) in his states. What he doesn’t tell you in his vaunted “histories” is that he did this for expediency’s and mammon’s sake, and gave himself time in the process to dump the vast majority of his slaves on the South rather than to free them in the North…

      • See e.g. R.L. Dabney’s A Defense of Virginia and the South, chapter II (among several others, including Matthew Fontaine Maury’s Defense of Virginia). Here are a few short snippits from Dabney’s book:

        But England became, on the whole, the leader in this trade, and was unrivalled by any, save her daughter, New England.

        To this end, the royal government of the plantations, which afterwards became the United States, was perseveringly directed. The complaint of Hugh Drysdale, Deputy Governor of Virginia, in 1726, that when a tax was imposed to check the influx of Africans, “the interfering interest of the African company has obtained the repeal of the law,” * was common to him and all the patriotic rulers of the Southern colonies. * Bancroft, vol. iii., p. 415. t Ibid., VOL iii., pp. 411, 412.

        The share of the Colony of Virginia in the African slave trade was that of an unwilling recipient; never that of an active party. She had no ships engaged in any foreign trade; for the strict obedience of her governors and citizens to the colonial laws of the mother country prevented her trading to foreign ports, and all the carrying trade to British ports and colonies was in the hands of New Englanders and Englishmen. In the replies submitted by Sir William Berkeley, Governor, 1671, to certain written inquiries of the “Lords of Plantations,” we find the following statement: “And this is the cause why no great or small vessels are built here; for we are most obedient to all laws, while the men of New England break through, and trade to any place that their interest leads them.” * (Herring, Stat, at Large, vol. ii., p. 516)

        And so on. By all means get Dabney’s book (available on Amazon Kindle) and read it in entirety.

  4. This is a great edition in your series, Sir. Bravo! I could (and might, as time permits and with your approval) cite all kinds of resources in verification of your claims as to relations between Master and slave and etc., but for the time being I must tell a little anecdote relevant to your opening remarks. You wrote:

    Children were not the equals of their parents.

    Indeed. Nor were they the equals of their siblings, in point of fact. The hierarchical order was established all the way down the chain of command, right down to the youngest child of a given family and his conduct governed and disciplined by his older siblings in absence of his parents or other guardians. This order of things and its necessity in a family properly so called and rightly governed as such is fairly easy to understand for Traditionalists who incessantly strive to adhere to Traditionalist principles in the face of the cultural cancer and rot called “egalitarianism.” For everyone else, not s’much.

    Some years back our eldest son was directly confronted with female over-weening and her (demonstrably false) belief that all children are, and of right ought to be, on perfectly equal footing. This was at the hands of his wife, who became enraged when one of my boys his elder took initiative to prevent her younger son from engaging in harmful activity in the absence of his parents and grandparents (my wife and I). Our DiL, while not daring raise the issue with me, took her complaint to her husband (our eldest son), who told me the story of these happenings (with a great deal of laughter interspersed on both our parts) some hours after the fact. His story is very funny, but in short he sat her down and (re)explained all the ‘ins and outs’ of the family hierarchical order she had married into, and had best better get used to since it most certainly wasn’t going to change based on female attachment to and over-weening of her own children prone to make stupid decisions placing themselves and everyone else in harm’s way. And indeed, our son in question (the little tyrant) was subjected to precisely the same treatment by his elder siblings, and so all of his siblings, right up and down the chain of command.

    Don’t get me started on why the boys must be given broad authority over their sisters. Ha!

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