The divine economy: Evangelicalism and the defense of slavery, 1830-1865
Daly, John Patrick
Boles, John B.
Doctor of Philosophy
Evangelical moralism was the ideological foundation of the southern defense of slavery between 1830 and 1865. By 1830, evangelical culture had begun to attain a remarkable ascendancy in the South and the United States as a whole. The sectional debate over the morality of slavery took place largely within the confines of evangelical conceptual categories. In an era when religious ideas still permeated the life of the mind in America, the Old South was less culturally distinctive than historians have usually acknowledged. Southerners, through the medium of their evangelical world view, participated in mainstream nineteenth-century intellectual developments and modernizing trends. The obsession with bourgeois freedom, liberal economics, and material progress apparent in northern (and British) thought and society found expression in the slaveholding South. The southern encounter with Victorian modernity was most clearly reflected in the region's main cultural product: proslavery arguments written by evangelicals. Evangelicals' individualistic view of the work ethic, freedom, and man's relation to God constituted the premise of most proslavery tracts. Southern ministers popularized the identification of individual morality with economic utility and success in a free market environment. They, likewise, promulgated a definition of freedom that equated liberty with moral self-discipline. On the basis of their prior defense of individual freedom and progress southerners supported slaveholding primarily as a form of ethical success--a providential result of and reward for individual virtue and self-discipline. This justification of particular slaveholders did not lead most southerners to an abstract vindication of the institution of slavery or critique of the ideal of individual freedom. According to the dominant proslavery argument, slaves still possessed the inviolable conscience and autonomous will that were the irreducible touchstones of Christian liberty. Southern slavery, therefore, did not contradict one explanation of personal and economic freedom. Proslavery spokesman maintained that any inequities in southern society resulted from an open and ongoing competition to develop moral will power. Racial and labor subordination originated in failure to develop character. On this fundamental level, southern evangelicals' explanations of their economic order were not at odds with northern evangelicals' understanding of free society.
American history; Religious history; Theology