Sunday, April 10, 2016

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2016, April 10: The martial South and the slave patrols

John Hope Franklin pointed out the effect of the everyday life of the slavery system in creating an authoritarian and martial atmosphere among planters and throughout white Southern society in Slavery and the Martial South Journal of Negro History 37:1 (Jan 1952):

The planter was forced to regard arms as a necessary adjunct to the machinery of control. The lash might be used generously or sparingly, depending on the temperament of the master and the tractability of the slave. There was always the possibility, moreover, of resorting to more deadly weapons. If the slave resisted the "mild" discipline of the lash or undertook to return blow for blow, how else could the master maintain his complete authority except through the use of, or the threat to use, the weapons whose possession was forever denied the slave?

Going about armed with knives and guns became the daily habit of many masters and overseers. And if the armed conquerors, in moments of anger, sometimes turned their weapons against each other, it was no more than was to be expected among an aggregation of armed men. The rule of tyranny by which they lived naturally fostered an independence and self-sufficiency-one is tempted to call it an individual sovereignty-that would, on occasion, burst out in all its fury in their quarrels with each other.

If the relationship between master and slave was that of a superior and a subordinate, a despot or tyrant and a powerless subject, or an armed victor and a vanquished foe, it can almost be described as a state of war. At least it is possible to recognize the martial spirit that pervaded the entire plantation atmosphere. The conduct of the master toward the slave was determined by rules and considerations not unlike those that characterized a military situation. [my emphasis]
Speculations about collective "character" are always dubious, at best.

But Franklin here is not making such an argument. He is pointing out specific patterns of behavior in Southern society that contributed to the practical consequences that ensued. And the periodic outbursts of panic over slave revolts interacted in a poisonous way with this martial state of mind:

The slave was never so completely subjugated as to allay all fears that he would make a desperate, bloody attempt to destroy the institution to which he was bound. Fear and apprehension were relative matters in the ante bellum South; but they were always present. If the slaves seemed satisfied and did not appear to be up to some deviltry, such as running away or revolting, the fears, while still present, were not easily discernible. But if there was even the slightest rumor of an uprising, the entire countryside was not only terrified, but the alarm was sounded. All whites - loyal Negroes, too - were expected to do their share to prevent death and destruction from stalking through the land and to restore the natural foe to his natural condition. [my enphasis]
Franklin connects this phenomenon directly to the formation of the slave patrols, which were a key tool for giving the nonslaveowning whites a psychological stake in the slave system:

Despite the fact that the plantation sought to be self-sufficient and succeeded in many respects, the maintenance of a stable institution of slavery was so important that owners early sought the cooperation of the entire community. This cooperation took the form of the patrol, which became an established institution in most areas of the South at an early date. There were many variations in the size and organization of the patrol. Rather typical was the South Carolina patrol that was established by law in 1690. The law set up patrol detachments of ten men under the captain of a militia company. All white men were eligible for patrol service. In 1819 all white males over eighteen were made liable for patrol duty, the non-slaveholders being excused from duty upon reaching the age of forty-five.
This kind of militarization of Southern civil government and social life meant in practice that at the start of the Civil War, the South had an initial advantage in military preparedness because more Southern men had current military training of some sort.

Bertram Wyatt-Brown gives a couple of examples of how this violent and authoritarian mentality played out in daily practice:

It was a matter of personal reputation to prove oneself a master of events to one's family and household, as well as to the world at large. For instance, when Robert E. Lee of Arlington, Virginia, discovered that two young slaves bad run away to Pennsylvania, he had them sought after and returned. An anonymous critic informed the Northern public, through the New York Tribune, that Lee had personally supervised their flogging. Lee was responsible for some sixty-three slaves, not all of whom could be usefully employed at the Arlington plantation. He sent some to eastern Virginia, particularly the rebellious ones, who would have less opportunity there to flee northward. Perhaps, as Douglas Southall Freeman claims, that was the extent of his reaction to the runaways' offense. Wesley Norris, one of the pair, gave a grim account of the whipping, however. He said that Lee bad watched the proceedings with eyes black with fury and had ordered brine poured into the wounds. Whether this and like reports are to be believed, it must be remembered that even the gentlest masters-and Lee was reputedly one of them-found occasion when there seemed to them very little choice about the use of coercion. It would not do for any slave to take flagrant advantage of a master's delicacy of conscience. To push too hard against the institution or against an owner's sense of self-esteem was to threaten the social order as it was then understood. Failure to react appropriately could be misinterpreted, not only by the compliant slaves but by the white community, too. The moral problem was itself built into the Southern ethic. One simply could not be made to look inept, powerless, or squeamish. For these reasons, in a case about which there can be no doubts, the Rev. Charles Colcock Jones of Liberty County, Georgia, had a slave girl flogged until she revealed the name of the individual who had fathered a mulatto child she had given birth to. The gentleman in question had been the elderly clergyman's secretary, a member, temporarily, of the household. Jones was incensed at this breach of the rules regarding hospitality, and his torture of the mother to confirm his suspicions was the consequence.
This shows an integral side of what the title of Wyatt-Brown's book from which that quote is taken, Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South (1982).

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