Proslavery Historiography

In looking towards a different historiographical strand, the argument of my paper has become clearer.  As discussed last week, the historiography of free blacks in the Old South discusses self-enslavement laws, with older works using the laws as an example of free blacks’ precarious, deteriorating social position in the late 1850s, and newer historiography demonstrating that the laws were rarely utilized, and tell us very little about free blacks lived experiences.

My argument last week was that historians of free blacks fail to recognize the role self-enslavement laws played in southerners’ broader defense of slavery, as they felt it becoming increasingly besieged in the late 1850s.  Fortunately for this research paper, historians of proslavery arguments fail to recognize their importance as well.  While books like Charles F. Irons’s The Origins of Proslavery Christianity: White and Black Evangelicals in Colonial and Antebellum Virginia, and Larry E. Tise’s Proslavery: A History of the Defense of Slavery in America, 1701–1840, provide fantastic analyses of the ways southerners (and Americans more generally) attempted to justify and defend the institution of slavery, they do not acknowledge the (admittedly small) role played by self-enslavement  laws in the support of proslavery rhetoric.

This research paper, then, will attempt to “rescue” self-enslavement laws from the historiography on free blacks, and place it in its proper context within the historiography on proslavery rhetoric.  I feel like I have done a sufficient amount of primary source research into the passage and discussion of self-enslavement laws in Texas and other newspapers, and am now attempting to figure out exactly how the language of these newspaper discussions fits in with the historiography on proslavery arguments.  Any other suggestions on how these self-enslavement laws might fit with the arguments of particular authors, or specific books that might be helpful, would be greatly appreciated.

4 thoughts on “Proslavery Historiography

  1. Sounds like a good way to frame your study, John. Have you been following the recent discussions on H-SHEAR about the impact of the Dred Scott decision on state laws regulating black citizenship and voting? Could it be that the Texas law is partly a response to the Dred Scott decision–a sort of legislative attempt to deal with the ruling that free black persons had no and could have no legal standing as citizens? You may find some good citations in the posts by Finkelman, Gorsuch, Wood, and others.

    P.S. I love the new blog title!

  2. Thanks, I think some of these posts are really going to be helpful. Also, just realized I should have signed up for a lot of these discussion lists a LONG time ago.

  3. I usually follow the RSS feeds for the H-Net lists (with the exception of H-SHEAR). It keeps my inbox from being flooded but allows me to quickly see what’s been happening when I want to.

  4. That’s a good idea. My inbox gets flooded regardless, but maybe that will get me to get back into maintaining my Google Reader.

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