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An Old Creed for the New South

Proslavery Ideology and Historiography, 1865-1918

John David Smith, With a New Preface by the Author

Publication Year: 2008

An Old Creed for the New South: Proslavery Ideology and Historiography, 1865–1918 details the slavery debate from the Civil War through World War I. Award-winning historian John David Smith argues that African American slavery remained a salient metaphor for how Americans interpreted contemporary race relations decades after the Civil War.

Smith draws extensively on postwar articles, books, diaries, manuscripts, newspapers, and speeches to counter the belief that debates over slavery ended with emancipation. After the Civil War, Americans in both the North and the South continued to debate slavery’s merits as a labor, legal, and educational system and as a mode of racial control. The study details how white Southerners continued to tout slavery as beneficial for both races long after Confederate defeat. During Reconstruction and after Redemption, Southerners continued to refine proslavery ideas while subjecting blacks to new legal, extralegal, and social controls.

An Old Creed for the New South links pre– and post–Civil War racial thought, showing historical continuity, and treats the Black Codes and the Jim Crow laws in new ways, connecting these important racial and legal themes to intellectual and social history. Although many blacks and some whites denounced slavery as the source of the contemporary “Negro problem,” most whites, including late nineteenth-century historians, championed a “new” proslavery argument. The study also traces how historian Ulrich B. Phillips and Progressive Era scholars looked at slavery as a golden age of American race relations and shows how a broad range of African Americans, including Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois, responded to the proslavery argument. Such ideas, Smith posits, provided a powerful racial creed for the New South.

This examination of black slavery in the American public mind—which includes the arguments of former slaves, slaveholders, Freedmen's Bureau agents, novelists, and essayists—demonstrates that proslavery ideology dominated racial thought among white southerners, and most white northerners, in the five decades following the Civil War.




Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Title Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xvii

The release of the Southern Illinois University Press edition of An Old Creedfor the New South, twenty-three years after its first printing, provides a welcome opportunity for me to reflect on the book's intellectual moorings and origins, and to comment on its method, arguments, reception, and...

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pp. xviii-xxi

I began this book a decade ago. At the University of Kentucky Charles P. Roland first introduced me to the ways of the Southland and then directed this study in its infancy. I remain in his debt for his patience, his insistence on clear exposition, and, through the years, his unflagging...

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pp. 3-13

In 1959 historian Stanley M. Elkins published a masterful historiographical essay on black slavery, one that remains insightful and influential today. Commenting on postemancipation thought about slavery, Professor Elkins remarked that following Appomattox the peculiar...

Part One: The Old Arguments Anew: Proslavery and Antislavery Ideology in the Postwar Mind

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pp. 15-99

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1. Emancipation and the Origins of the New Proslavery Argument

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pp. 17-40

Slavery as an idea died a slow death in the half-century after Appomattox. Even before the war's end, white southerners contemplated shaping their peculiar institution to the new order of things should the Confederacy fail. Early in 1865 a Virginian explained...

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2. Reconstruction and the Fashioning of the New Proslavery Argument

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pp. 41-67

The old proslavery argument found a new home in the reconstructed South. While few postbellum writers publicly endorsed reenslavement, during Reconstruction many nevertheless revived the essential ingredients of the old proslavery argument. Harkening back to antebellum...

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3. Antislavery Thought from Reconstruction to Reconciliation

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pp. 69-99

The adamant refusal of white southerners to accept abolition did not go unnoticed in the North. Proslavery propaganda only fueled the resurgence of northern antislavery thought during Reconstruction. Criticisms of slavery and the new forms of quasi-slavery appeared regularly...

Part Two: The Formative Period of American Slave Historiography

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pp. 101-124

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4. The Nationalist Historians and the Continuance of the Abolitionist Tradition

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pp. 103-135

As the first three chapters have argued, during the post-Civil War decades black slavery remained a salient metaphor for the ways in which white Americans, especially southerners, viewed race relations. Whites could not free themselves from viewing blacks as slavelike figures...

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5. The Study of Slavery at Johns Hopkins

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pp. 137-161

While Rhodes, Hart, and the other Nationalist historians worked to counterbalance the rhetoric of the post -Civil War proslavery spokesmen, a movement was under way to remove partisanship from slavery scholarship altogether. Trained in the new "scientific" history of their day...

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6. Institutional Studies of Slavery

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pp. 163-196

The Johns Hopkins University Studies not only set a scholarly standard for institutional monographs on slavery, but served to establish slavery as one of the most popular subjects of inquiry for graduate students and other investigators. But after the turn of the century, Johns...

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7. A Different View of Slavery: Blacks Confront the New Proslavery Argument

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pp. 197-238

Although the paternalistic interpretation dominated views of slavery during the postemancipation generation, blacks refused to let the new defenses of the peculiar institution go unchallenged. Continuing the assault on slavery leveled by blacks during Reconstruction, many late...

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8. American Negro Slavery: The Triumph of the New Proslavery Argument

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pp. 239-283

Blacks had no more formidable opponent in their fight against the new prosIavery argument than the pioneer white historian Ulrich B. Phillips (1877-1934). Phillips dominated slavery scholarship in the years before World War I and rose in stature to become regarded as far and...

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Conclusion: Proslavery Ideology In the Age of Jim Crow

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pp. 285-293

Phillips's ethos of plantation paternalism capped several decades of post-Civil War proslavery thought. His historical writings combined the best "scientific" methodology then available with an obsession with racial control. Slavery as metaphor, symbol, and subject of historical...

Select Bibliography

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pp. 295-299


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pp. 301-314

Author Bio

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pp. 315

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809387199
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809328444

Publication Year: 2008