A question of honor: State character and the Lower South's defense of the African slave trade in Congress, 1789--1807
Connolly, David Hugh, Jr
Boles, John B.
Doctor of Philosophy
The vehement defense of the African slave trade by Georgia and South Carolina in United States Congress during the trade's constitutionally protected period cannot be fully explained by a Lower South planter concern for the security of slavery. Honor and state character were critical considerations in shaping the arguments raised by Lower South representatives in defense of African importation. Accordingly, the debates were as much about honor and character as they were protection of slavery. Because of importation, antitrade congressmen attacked the Lower South's character as inconsistent with purported American ideals and republican values. Georgia and South Carolina representatives struggled to reconcile the trade with honorable conduct and the evolving American character by crafting constructions of republicanism, the United States Constitution, and American character that protected state reputation within the national community embodied by the Congress. The Lower South's proffered interpretations of republicanism, the Constitution, and American character sought to minimize the trade as an appropriate standard by which to judge South Carolina and Georgia. The trade was consistent with republican values as access to slaves was the only means by which the two states could develop their economies and thus gain sufficient economic independence to maintain their equality with the other states. Moreover, this productivity benefited the young nation as a whole through the export of its slave-based agricultural products to world markets. Lower South representatives argued that the region could not be disparaged morally for importation as the Constitution guaranteed that privilege. They saw anti-trade forces' attacks on moral grounds as an attempt to invest the Constitution with moral standards external to that document which were inappropriate to judging a member of the union by the federal government or other states. The rights provided by the Constitution were the only ones by which the region could be judged with regard. Georgia and South Carolina possessed an American character in spite of slave importation. Each had participated in the American Revolution and otherwise contributed to the country's well-being. Lower South representatives focused on patriotism and loyalty as the fundamental criteria by which the region should be judged.
Black history; American history