- Southern Manhood: Perspectives on Masculinity in the Old South
The central purpose of this anthology, according to its editors, Craig Thompson Friend and Lorri Glover, is to complicate and diversify our current understanding of manhood and masculinity in the Old South. They suggest that the discussion of this question has been bounded too exclusively by an honor/mastery model of manhood, a model wherein manhood is constructed out of the private mastery of women and slaves and the public recognition of that mastery through codes of honor. This model of manhood is grounded largely in the experience of the slaveholding planter class and what this collection of essays does is to consider the experience of the other men of the antebellum South: the non slaveholding professional class men, the enslaved and free African American men, and the Native American men. These essays even take on the changing experience of planter class men themselves, in the face of first the burgeoning market culture of the 1830s and 1840s, and then of the intensifying sectional crisis of the 1850s. By widening the group of antebellum men considered, and by historicizing the experience of the planter class itself, the nine authors of this collection do begin what will undoubtedly be a long process of emancipating our understanding of manhood and masculinity from the single handed grip of the chivalrous and hard drinking, dueling and minimally literate, honor bound and mastery driven, slave owning planter of the antebellum South.
Two factors appear over and over again in these essays as critical to a more diverse construction of manhood in the antebellum South. One is the role of education and educational institutions, certainly not a topic that has garnered much attention with regard to the antebellum South, and the other is the role of the market, a topic that has been debated at some length with regard to the planter class, but rarely from the perspective of the impact of market growth and integration upon the social construction of manhood. In these essays it becomes obvious that education and the market actually worked together to promote the development of a more diverse construction of manhood during the antebellum period. As Heather Williams discusses in her essay, literacy, while critical to the [End Page 182] freed people's ability to negotiate the public arena of the market, was perhaps even more important in enabling a once enslaved person to actually feel like a free man. In a similar approach to the meaning of education for individual self construction, Craig Friend tells the story of a blacksmith's son, Cyrus Stuart, who while able to acquire the trappings of gentlemanliness through education and to thus advance himself in at way, ultimately was not able, like Heather Williams's freedman, to master the most important lesson, how to carry himself with conviction, to feel himself to be a man. In her essay on the development of southern institutions for the sons of the planter elite, Lorri Glover makes a similar observation with regard to the planter elite themselves. Confronted by rising sectional hostility, planters themselves were required to build separate southern institutions so that their sons might be enabled to continue to feel themselves to be men in a way acceptable to their culture.
The most powerful essay in this collection, however, by Edward Baptist, has, at least on the face of it, nothing to do with education. By the market definition, slaves were property, not men. Perhaps, however, slaves could be, as Stephanie McCurry has argued for the white yeoman, masters of their own small worlds, men to their children, men to their wives, men to their communities. By focusing on slave men who were stripped of even these small worlds through forced migration, Baptist cuts to the heart of the matter, and asks how a man, alone, stripped entirely of both public honor and private mastery, without any mitigation from the market or from educational institutions, might feel about himself as...