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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Belloc has called the Servile State


On

a South thus angered and smarting under what is felt to be undeserved reproach, yet withal somewhat uneasy in its conscience, for its public opinion in the main still thought Slavery wrong, fell the powerful voice of a great Southerner proclaiming it "a positive good." Calhoun's defence of the institution on its merits probably did much to encourage the South to adopt a more defiant tone in place of the old apologies for delay in dealing with a difficult problem--apologies which sounded over-tame and almost humiliating in face of the bold invectives now hurled at the slave-owners by Northern writers and speakers. I cannot, indeed, find that Calhoun's specific arguments, forcible as they were--and they are certainly the most cogent that can be used in defence of such a thesis--were particularly popular, or, in fact, were ever used by any but himself. Perhaps there was a well-founded feeling that they proved too much. For Calhoun's case was as strong for white servitude as for black: it was a defence, not especially of Negro Slavery, but of what Mr. Belloc has called "the Servile State." More general, in the later Southern defences, was the appeal to religious sanctions, which in a nation Protestant and mainly Puritan in its traditions naturally became an appeal to Bible texts. St. Paul was claimed as a supporter of the fugitive slave law on the strength of his dealings of Onesimus. But the favourite text was that which condemns Ham (assumed to be the ancestor of the Negro race)
to be "a servant of servants." The Abolitionist text-slingers were not a whit more intelligent; indeed, I think it must be admitted that on the whole the pro-Slavery men had the best of this absurd form of controversy. Apart from isolated texts they had on their side the really unquestionable fact that both Old and New Testaments describe a civilization based on Slavery, and that in neither is there anything like a clear pronouncement that such a basis is immoral or displeasing to God. It is true that in the Gospels are to be found general principles or, at any rate, indications of general principles, which afterwards, in the hands of the Church, proved largely subversive of the servile organization of society; but that is a matter of historical, not of Biblical testimony, and would, if followed out, have led both Northern and Southern controversialists further than either of them wanted to go.

It would, however, be hasty, I think, to affirm that even to the very end of these processes a majority of Southerners thought with Calhoun that Slavery was "a positive good." The furthest, perhaps, that most of them went was the proposition that it represented the only relationship in which white and black races could safely live together in the same community--a proposition which was countenanced by Jefferson and, to a considerable extent at least, by Lincoln. To the last the full Jeffersonian view of the inherent moral and social evil of Slavery was held by many Southerners who were none the less wholeheartedly on the side of their own section in the sectional dispute. The chief soldier of the South in the war in which that dispute culminated both held that view and acted consistently upon it.


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