Thursday, March 20, 2014

Just Finished Reading - Social Relations in Our Southern States

I have recently enjoyed reading a couple of books that were published during the antebellum era. A previous post briefly discussed slave housing as it was described in A South-Side View of Slavery, which was originally printed in 1854. Earlier this week, I finished reading Social Relations in Our Southern States, written by D. R. Hundley, and published in 1860.

While often presenting deeply biased perspectives, these books' advantages are precisely that. These works allow the reader to see the time periods being described through the authors' eyes. This is especially true in Hundley's book.

I will not belabor you with Hundley's biography, but I will recommend its reading in the online version of the Encyclopedia of Alabama. In Social Relations, Hundley provides his impressions on the various class divisions of Southern society. His categories are: the Southern Gentleman (in which he would likely place himself), the Middle Classes, the Southern Yankee, Cotton Snobs, the Southern Yeoman, the Southern Bully, Poor White Trash, and the Negro Slaves. I found it interesting that he did not include free men and women of color in his categories.
Some of Hundley's class descriptions are quite similar. For example, there is seemingly not much difference between the Southern Yankee and the Cotton Snobs.  Likewise, little distinction is made between the Middle Classes and the Southern Yeoman, other than possibly the point that many of the Middle Classes were merchant men, while yeomen were largely farmers.

I found Hundley's examination of the Southern Yeoman as perhaps the most intriguing. Hundley describes these people as "nearly always poor," He claimed that "As a general thing they own no slaves." But, Hundley also contends that the Southern Yeoman "are almost unanimously pro-slavery in sentiment." His discussion of why these men were the way they were makes for a good  explanation as to why so many non-slaveholding whites eventually fought for the Confederacy.

Hundley boldly asked, "were you so situated [as the Southern Yeoman] would you dare advocate emancipation?" He continued, "would you be pleased to see four millions of inferior blacks suddenly raised  from a position of vassalage, and placed upon an equality with yourselves? made the sharers of your toil, the equals and associates of your wives and children? You know you would not." Hundley admits that the Southern Yeoman was not as educated as some of the other classes, but "they yet possess the hearts of men, of fathers and husbands, and they know as well as any political economist of you all, that their own class, in the event of emancipation, would suffer the most of all classes in the South, unless we except the negroes themselves."

Personally, Hundley's examination of the Negro Slaves as a class was the most disappointing. I was hoping for an intimate view of the minutia of African American life in the slave states through the eyes of a white man. But instead he provided a discussion on how the institution was providentially ordained and how slavery had served as a civilizing influence to blacks. In this chapter Hundley argued that "a man has to be educated to appreciate Freedom," but did not seem to want to comprehend that in most slave states an education - whether formal or informal - was not only not available to the vast majority of the enslaved, it was usually illegal.

I highly recommend reading Social Relations in Our Southern States. Its publication on the eve of secession and the Civil War, and its frank discussion of sectional divisions due to the institution of slavery should not be ignored. It provides an intriguing insight into Southern society, by a native Southerner, and it comes with all the baggage of that fact.

No comments:

Post a Comment