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E S S A Y O N S O U R C E S Properly, a study of attitudes toward Negroes in early America should be based upon examination of everything written in the period. Human beings are supposed, in theory, frequently to express social attitudes in the most tangential manner on the most unexpected occasions. In early America, in practice, they did. In doing so they produced a bewildering body of miscellany; only at the time of the Revolution did an appreciable number of white men in America begin to write directly about the Negro as such. Of course this partial transformation and proliferation of the historical sources was symptomatic of a major shift in attitudes, a shift which this study in some measure elucidates. Yet the development in the second half of the eighteenth century of a body of literature bearing directly and obviously upon the Negro does nothing (unfortunately ) to diminish the obligation which pertains so clearly to the earlier period. Rather, the necessity of reading everything is heightened and the historian the more stupified. For plainly, if he attends only to the most readily obvious and available sources, he will see only the most salient expressions of attitudes and will be led not merely to generalize too freely as to their explicit content but also to overestimate the saliency and vehemence of attitudes prevailing in the culture at large. It seems probable that men who wrote about Negroes felt differently and more strongly about them than men who did not. There persists in the sources for this study, then, an inherent bias which may be compensated but never wholly corrected. The distortive tendency may be countered in some measure by exercising due restraint, discretion, imagination, and, more particularly, by venturing beyond the most obviously pertinent writing about Negroes in search of more casual, tangential references. Only by undertaking this venture is it possible to say anything, however tentative, about the attitudes of Americans as a people. Yet it is important to remember that the prevailing bias will remain no matter how thorough the research. For if it were possible (fortunately it is not) to prowl through all the extant sources and thereby collar every [ 5 8 6 ] Essay on Sources fugitive allusion, the resultant evidence would still suggest the existence of more salient and more vehement attitudes than prevailed among the people as a whole. Set over against this difficulty is the fact that, in literate societies, written and particularly printed ideas and fancies reverberate almost endlessly through space and time. Written records are not merely fossils of momentary opinion but links in a chain of cultural transmission. In varying measure, every written expression of attitude and opinion exerts influence on every reader. Insofar as they were widely disseminated, then, written expressions concerning the Negro (however indirectly) functioned as social memory traces, as fixed points of reference and departure. Written expressions of attitudes have, especially, a preservative, accretive effect. Some 2,500 years ago Aristotle made some offhand remarks about Africa whose reverberations may be tracked with considerable precision down to the present day. If we are interested in persistency and change in social attitudes, therefore, we may find both spread out for us in the public record of our culture. Indeed, attitudes prevailing today can scarcely be understood without attention to our literate historical experience. Partly for these reasons, this study has drawn principally upon relatively public sources. The result has been to throw emphasis upon the communal aspects of social attitudes at the cost of deemphasizing the functional importance of these attitudes as they operated within individuals. Here again, the nature of available sources has partially fixed the mode of approach, for with very few individuals do we have sufficient information to permit even the most tentative suggestions concerning the relationship between personality and specific attitude. Yet it would be difficult for the historian not to play his attention especially on the shared and interactive aspects of attitudes toward a social group since he must attend always to transmission through time. In light of these considerations, one of the most valuable categories of evidence for this study has been the statutes passed by the colonial and state legislatures. The collections used are indicated in the notes, particularly to chapters 3, 4, and 11. Certain guides are especially useful: William S. Jenkins, comp., A Guide to the Microfilm Collection of Early State Records [ed. Lillian A. Hamrick] (Washington, 1950) and its Supplement (Washington, 1951) and...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469600765
Related ISBN
9780807834022
MARC Record
OCLC
861793501
Pages
696
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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