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How was the morality of slavery tolerable? What was in the mind of slave holders?

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by Tennessee_Mountainman, Feb 9, 2017.

  1. Tennessee_Mountainman

    Tennessee_Mountainman Sergeant

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    Please refrain from the following: name calling, sarcasm, offensive manners, and off-topic discussions.

    What were some of the reasons that slave owners owned slaves despite the immorality of it? Yes, there is the answer of there being that they saw themselves as superior to blacks, but I want deeper answers. I was watching a documentary at one time that stated that there were a few slave owners who believed that blacks didn't feel any pain. Could it be that over time coping mechanisms were somehow implemented into society to try and justify this horrendous institution?
     
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  3. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Major

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    Economics is the number one reason. ***edited by moderator jgg***
    Leftyhunter
     
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  4. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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  5. atlantis

    atlantis Sergeant

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    Having a few slave owners in the family tree, they were all active in the church and didn't see it as immoral, if you wanted to grow tobacco on a commercial scale you bought slaves, plain an simple. I know quite a few other former slave owning families and never heard that people believed blacks didn't feel pain. ***edited by moderator jgg***
     
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  6. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    Indeed, if the slaves couldn't feel pain, what was the point of whipping them? The whole system rested on a foundation of pain. The trick was not minding inflicting pain on other people. Slave owners couldn't feel pain?
     
  7. dlofting

    dlofting First Sergeant

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    Here's what Robert E Lee wrote about slavery in 1856.

    I was much pleased the with President's message. His views of the systematic and progressive efforts of certain people at the North to interfere with and change the domestic institutions of the South are truthfully and faithfully expressed. The consequences of their plans and purposes are also clearly set forth. These people must be aware that their object is both unlawful and foreign to them and to their duty, and that this institution, for which they are irresponsible and non-accountable, can only be changed by them through the agency of a civil and servile war. There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race. While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things. How long their servitude may be necessary is known and ordered by a merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influences of Christianity than from the storm and tempest of fiery controversy. This influence, though slow, is sure. The doctrines and miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years to convert but a small portion of the human race, and even among Christian nations what gross errors still exist! While we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is still onward, and give it the aid of our prayers, let us leave the progress as well as the results in the hands of Him who, chooses to work by slow influences, and with whom a thousand years are but as a single day. Although the abolitionist must know this, must know that he has neither the right not the power of operating, except by moral means; that to benefit the slave he must not excite angry feelings in the master; that, although he may not approve the mode by which Providence accomplishes its purpose, the results will be the same; and that the reason he gives for interference in matters he has no concern with, holds good for every kind of interference with our neighbor, -still, I fear he will persevere in his evil course. . . . Is it not strange that the descendants of those Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom have always proved the most intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others?

    I'm sure you've seen this before, but it probably represents the views of other Southerners and slave owners. Lee felt that the future of slavery and black slaves was in God's hands (as Lee felt about his own life, the future of the south, Virginia, etc). Lee also believed that each person had his/her place in society, that was ordained by God, and he/she needed to do the duty expected of them. If things needed changing, God would bring that about in time. I think this belief in God's will and man's/woman's place in the world went a long way to offset the acknowledged immorality of slavery.
     
  8. atlantis

    atlantis Sergeant

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    I got to disagree with you matt that the slave owners couldn't feel pain. Most slave owners like my ancestors only had a few slaves any discipline you had to do you did yourself. When you only have a few slaves they aren't faceless drones but part of the household. Now the guys who had a lot of slaves, well they didn't handle discipline that was your overseers job.
     
  9. AndyHall

    AndyHall Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    Churches in the slaveholding states routinely preached in support of the institution, arguing (as Robert E. Lee himself believed) that it was ordained by God, that it was a positive good for those enslaved, and that it would end in its own (indeterminate) time and must not be rushed (i.e., by abolitionism). A number of prominent antebellum southern clergymen, such as Thornton Stringfellow in Virginia, published treatises and essays defending chattel bondage.

    strintp.jpg

    BTW, Thornton Stringfellow was related to Frank Stringfellow, who is (in fictional form) one of the principal characters in the current PBS series Mercy Street -- maybe an uncle, I'll have to double-check.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2017
  10. Tennessee_Mountainman

    Tennessee_Mountainman Sergeant

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  11. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    Well, when you're at the top of the heap, the belief that God has a place for everyone can be mighty comforting. Lee's criticism of anyone who actually does anything to bring slavery to an end, instead kicking back and waiting for God to resolve the issue, sometime in the next ten thousand years or so, that's mighty easy.
     
  12. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    They didn't believe it was immoral to enslave blacks. They believed it was the best existence for black people.
     
  13. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    In a sense, slave owners had to believe that the enslaved felt pain and could be controlled by pain. Agony, and the fear of agony was what made the system operate.

    I believe, that some slave owners argued that black people's love, for their children, and wives and husbands, were shallower and therefore selling away a child or spouse was somehow less painful, then it would be for white people. In 12 Years a Slave Solomon Northrup describes a mother crying over having her children sold away for her. The slave dealer struck her and threatened her with more severe beatings. Clearly he thought that his ability to inflict physical pain on this mother was an effective way of stopping her from expressing the emotional pain of losing her children.

    Its been years since of read the book, but I believe the mother continued to cry.
     
  14. AndyHall

    AndyHall Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    If you look at history, across all cultures and periods, you'll find over and over again a tendency for people to find scriptural justification to do whatever it is they want to do. True of individuals, and true of nations.
     
  15. Tennessee_Mountainman

    Tennessee_Mountainman Sergeant

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    Good points everyone. It's hard to comprehend why people who seemed so good also at the same time saw slavery justified. People such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, etc. Especially when looking at it from a modern lens.
     
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  16. AndyHall

    AndyHall Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    A lot of them, like Jefferson, were troubled by it. But it's very, very hard to hold to an abstract principle when both your own self-interest and the larger society around you say otherwise.
     
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  17. Allie

    Allie Captain

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    One of my Civil War relatives, CSO Rice, wrote in his memoirs that he believed no Northerner could appreciate the deep love between master and "servant." He gave an account of overhearing his slave pray for him. Other family members fondly recorded visiting the home of the freed woman who had been their mammy, "Mom Bess," who remained on the plantation after emancipation. They claimed to legitimately believe that their slaves were thrilled with being slaves and loved them, and this may in some cases have been true - one of CSO Rice's fellow soldiers and next-door neighbor, ER Oldham, went to war with Louis Napoleon Nelson, who is famous on Black Confederate sites for having his picture taken in Confederate uniform and being buried in a Confederate flag draped coffin. In the case of Nelson, at least, he openly claimed allegiance to his owners and masters even after he was freed.

    However, that's at best half the story. Another of Oldham's wartime servants, Auterick, betrayed the encampment to the Yankees, resulting in a midnight shelling. And I have found half a dozen of CSO Rice's slaves who ran away to become USCTs.

    I know how CSO justified this to himself, because he talks about it a little - he believed blacks were easily led astray from their best interests by Yankees. Therefore, any slaves who seemed happy, he gave himself and the fine Southern "institution" the credit, and any who seemed unhappy, he gave the credit to the Yankees.
     
  18. Tennessee_Mountainman

    Tennessee_Mountainman Sergeant

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    So what you are trying to say is that it's a matter of conformity to live up to the social expectations to that time? I can see it that way.
     
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  19. JerseyBart

    JerseyBart Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    Very interesting topic. :thumbsup:

    I attended plenty of lectures where the excuse of Africans' lives as slaves was better for them. They were being brought religion and civilization and that slaves masters were stunned/angered when slaves attempted to escape because it was as if they did not realize and appreciate what was being done for them.
     
  20. Tennessee_Mountainman

    Tennessee_Mountainman Sergeant

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    Very interesting! Thanks for sharing that.
     
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  21. Tennessee_Mountainman

    Tennessee_Mountainman Sergeant

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    Thanks JB. It seems to all connect; when Europeans came over to America in the first place, you can even see this exact excuse being told as to why they were taking land from the Natives.
     

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