Reflections on Primary Sources in Apostles of Disunion: Considerations of Class and Support for the Institution of Slavery

In the two appeals for secession from William Harris and Stephen Hale there was clearly a concerted effort to put forward two separate arguments, one that appealed to upper-class slave owners and one that appealed to lower-class southern whites.

The first appeal, the one targeted towards the upper-class, was focused mainly upon the political and economic benefits that slaves provided. The essence of this appeal is as follows: not only were slaves a source of free-labor that the southern economy relied upon but slaves had also become a source of political power with the advent of laws such as the Three-Fifths Compromise.

The second appeal is the concern of this blog post. It was an appeal that relied upon inaccurate characterizations of Republican policy and Northern views on slavery. These came on page 85 and 98 respectively, when both authors  inaccurately portrayed Republicans (and Northerners) as proponents of racial equality. The purpose of this was to play upon the fears of poor southern whites and make them believe that social, political, and economic equality would soon occur and threaten their way of life. Arguments made to convince poor southern whites reflect the importance of racial attitudes to the continuation of slavery as an institution in the South. As a result, the racial anxiety fueled support of the institution of slavery among those who would have benefited from its non-existence.

In summary, the two primary documents found in Apostles of Disunion showed that often racially charged arguments were used to increase support for the institution of slavery among poor southern whites. In a sense elites, who likely ascribed to ideas of scientific racism themselves, appealed to the racially tinged  ‘common sense’ of poor southern whites with the intent to stoke racially fueled fears that led to their support for the institution of slavery.  These two primary documents helped to make this clear.

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