The American South did not invent African slavery. It did inherit a British colonial labor system which populated both North and South with African labor; New England’s slave trading and cotton mills helped greatly in perpetuating that labor system as well as Manhattan bankers who extended credit to planters for expansion westward. The great tragedy is that the South was not left to solve the riddle itself, and Northern abolitionists never offered a practical and peaceful solution to what they expressed so much concern over.
Berhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
America’s Inescapable Tragedy
“There has been a tendency, stubbornly persistent even in our time, to mistake the planter aristocracy for the entire South. It is therefore important to point out that if one could identify an average Southerner of the eighteen-fifties, statistics would demand that he be, at least by plurality of numbers, a non-slaveholding white farmer who cultivated a few acres with the help of his wife and children. A small nucleus, about 4 percent of all slaveholders, held on hundred or more slaves. Yet it was the large slaveholder, fictionalized by partisan pens, that has constituted popular portraits of the South.
Moreover, a sense of history was conspicuously lacking in antebellum Northern views of the South. It is not inappropriate here to recall that the beginnings of slavery coincide with the first English settlements in America. During the seventeenth century slave-traders of many nations joined in establishing in America, North and South, an institution which was not to become “peculiar” in anyone’s eye’s for nearly two centuries.
No generation was alone responsible for the enslavement of men; but no generation could escape the mounting social tensions and moral complexities that accompanied its growth. By the time prevailing ideologies of the world had become expressly opposed to slavery, most Southerners had come to consider it indispensible to either their economic or their social well-being. To understand the tragedy of the South is to realize that it is inescapably America’s tragedy.”
(The South in Northern Eyes, 1831 to 1861, Howard R. Floan, McGraw-Hill, 1958, pp. viii-ix)