Saturday, February 8, 2014

Mangement of Slaves

It only stands to reason that slavery would come in for significant discussion in the agricultural journals of the antebellum South. Advice on how to get the most our of one's workforce was dispensed to owners (both resident and absentee), overseers, and housekeepers to consider and apply at their discretion.

In the October 1846 issue of the Southern Agriculturist reran an article from the Southern Cultivator. It was composed by a committee of three men from the Barbour County, Alabama Agricultural Society.

The article included an introduction that discussed how important this particular topic was to planters and mentioned that with Southern society being so different from Northern society it needed even more thought. "With them [Northerners] their only property consists of lands, cattle, and planting implements. Their laborers are merely hirelings, while with us our laborers are our property; and certainly, the most important portion of it, whether we regard them merely in the light of property, or as intellectual beings, for whose welfare we are in a great degree accountable," the committee wrote.

The society that slavery provided came in for comment, too. "No more beautiful picture of human society can be drawn than a well organized plantation, thus governed by the humane principles of reason. When the negroes are well fed, well clothed, and have not unreasonable burthens imposed on them, but are accustomed to a systematic and regular course of labor, especially if the slaves have been born and reared up in the master's household, or have been long members of his family, and hence have that strong attachment which never fails to grow up between the master and his slave in the course of time, the picture never fails to remind one of the patriarchal days when Abraham had slaves born in his house or purchased with his money. Under such as state of things the master knows the man; the man, his master."  

Later in the article the committee offered a list for the best government of their enslaved workers. Not surprising is their paternalistic nature:
"Rule 1st. Never punish a negro when in a passion. No one is capable of properly regulating the punishment for an offense when angry.
2d. Never require of a negro what is unreasonable. But when you give an order be sure to enforce it with firmness, yet mildly.
3d. Always attempt to govern by reason in the first instance, and resort to force only when reason fails, and then use no more force than is absolutely necessary to procure obedience.
4th. In giving orders, always do it in a mild tone, and try to leave the impression on the mind of the negro that what you say is the result of reflection.
5th. In giving orders, be sure that you are understood, and let the negro always know that he can ask for an explanation if he does not understand you.
6th. When you are under the necessity of punishing a negro, be sure to let him know for what offense he is being punished.
7th. Never act in such a way as to leave the impression on the mind of the negro that you take pleasure in his punishment - you manner should indicate that his punishment is painful.
8th. A regular and systematic plan of operation on the plantation is greatly promotive of easy government. Have, therefore, all matters as far as possible, reduced to to a system.
9th. Negroes lack the motive of self interest to make them careful and diligent, hence the necessity of great patience in the management of them. Do not, therefore, notice too many small omissions of duty.
10th. The maxim of making haste slow in plantation operations, is equally applicable as in ordinary life. The meaning of which is, not by attempting to do too much, to overwork and consequently injure your hands [slaves]. Recollect that the journey of life is a long, and at best, a tedious one. The traveler who wishes to make a long and safe trip, always travels in regular and moderate stages. Do not kill the goose to obtain the golden egg."

The committee ended the article by suggesting that if these rules were followed by all masters the claims of abolitionists would ring hollow and "even the slaves themselves will not thank them for their efforts, but laugh them to scorn."    

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