Proslavery Rhetoric and the Tragedy of Consensus
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
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Introduction: “Industrious in scattering the seeds of insurrection”
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In late July 1835, the New York–based Ameri can Anti-Slavery Society (AAS) mailed, or, more accurately, tried to mail, the first number of a new publication, Human Rights, to citizens in South Carolina. The pamphlets were never delivered. Seized in the Charleston post office by the postmaster, they were destroyed by a self-appointed vigilante group. There was a flurry of correspondence among the Charleston postmaster (Alfred...
1. “Slavery shall not be discussed”: The Political Power of the Irrational Rhetor
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Slavery was an economic and political institution. It was also, however, a rhetorical construct. People argued for and against it, and, in the course of doing so, implicitly or explicitly defined it. For instance, while various speakers in the gag rule debate disagreed about the identity, motives, and rights of abolitionists, every speaker agreed that “the South” was proslavery. This fantastical synecdoche was created rhetorically, by the constant...
2. “With firm, undaunted resolution”: The Rhetoric of Doom
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Scholars have often remarked on a striking quality of southern antebellum culture: its fatalism, sometimes called “the rhetoric of doom,” “the myth of the lost cause,” or the “rhetoric of defense.” Although any and each of those terms is accurate, I will settle for the rhetoric of doom, an ideology (and practice) that precludes the consideration of particular historical...
3. “A deep conviction, settled on every bosom”: Alarmism, Conspiracy, and Unification
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One reason scholars tend to accept the narrative of calm waters broken by the pamphlet mailings is that there was an impressive amount of anti-abolitionist agitation in the summer and fall of 1835. There were meetings of concerned citizens who passed belligerent resolutions, condemning abolitionists as “mischievous” (“The Union Must Be Preserved,” Western Christian Advocate, September 11, 1835); there were politicians who berated...
4. “For the sake of your wives, children and their posterity”: Manly Politics
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Many of the rhetorical qualities of the newspaper articles discussed in the previous chapter are ones that Richard Hofstadter has identified as elements of the “paranoid style,” which was tremendously popular in the 1820s and 1830s. He says that writers of that era “illustrate the central preconception of the paranoid style—the existence of a vast, insidious, preternaturally...
5. “Careless of the Consequences”: Extended Defenses of Slavery
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Traditionally, rhetoricians describe a triangle of author (intention), text (strategies), and audience, set against a background of context; rhetorical analysis means to explain a text in regard to each of those relations, how the author has shaped a text in order to have a particular intended impact on a certain kind of reader within generic and historical contexts. To categorize the kinds of intentions an author might have, rhetoricians...
6. “Our laws to regulate slaves are entirely founded on terror”: The Political Theory of Slave Codes
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In the previous chapters, I have emphasized how public discourse both appeals to and creates consensus about group identity, with sometimes tragic consequences. Thus far, I have relied on the fairly conventional understanding of public discourse as discourse about policy; in this chapter I want to consider policy itself as a form of public discourse. Specifically, I want to look at laws related to slavery in various states in two, closely...
7. “The Sweet Waters of Concord and Union”: Pro slavery Rhetoric in a Deliberative Setting
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In the 1830s, abolitionism was a good example of what Nancy Fraser has famously called a “subaltern counterpublic.” Politically marginalized (every single speaker in the gag rule controversy distanced himself from abolitionists, even the one who spoke in favor of the petition), made up of the legally marginalized (such as women and free African Americans), abolitionism was further hampered by the dominant constitutional theory.1...
Conclusion: “Any rational plan”: The Responsibilities of Rhetoric
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He describes a “Hesperean” view of the elegant plantation house (I: 230), a sumptuous dinner “served by two or three young slaves, who were drilled to a glance of the eye” (I: 235), and a picturesque village of slave quarters. Yet, once he leaves the picturesque village, he comes across a villainous overseer: “A white man, with a very unpleasing physiognomy, carelessly...
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Page Count: 286
Publication Year: 2009