Blog

End of the Semester

Ah, the end of the semester. Classes are basically over, and all that’s left to do is finish writing some 60-90 pages of research papers and historiography reviews. What do I do? Anything else. I will do anything and everything to not finish assignments until the last possible moment.

This week I’ve emptied out the carrel I rent in the library and moved everything to my newly acquired office space. I’ve renewed all the library books I have checked out. I’ve looked into applying for some federal loan assistance for next year (more on this another time, perhaps). I’ve looked into the possibility of getting a new car (1997 Nissan Pathfinder with 190,000 miles is no longer getting the job done. It’s been a great 7 years, car!). I’ve filed my tax return. I’ve done my laundry, cleaned my apartment, and tied up loose ends for some other errands. And now I’m writing a blog post about procrastination.

I’m not really sure why I do this, but I think it has something to do with the anxiety I feel when the semester is over.  Yes, you read that correctly.  As much as the mountain of reading and writing that builds over the semester causes me a great deal of stress, I think I get more anxiety when the semester ends, everything has been handed in, and for the first time in 4-5 months, my time is mine to do what I see fit.

Like a lot of people, I seem to work best under pressure, with a deadline looming.  Knowing that I work best under pressure, and that the free time when I’m done with work gives me an unbelievable amount of anxiety, I think I fill these last days of the semester with so much extra crap to make sure that I don’t finish anything earlier than I’m able to.  The closer to my deadlines I hand things in, the longer I put off the semester-is-over anxiety.

Did I really just say I prefer the stress of lots of work to the week or two of anxiety I get when I don’t have any? Yikes. At least I study for comps this summer, maybe that will keep me occupied.

Self-Enslavement Laws: Introduction and Initial Historiography Review

What follows is a rough, preliminary introduction to my research paper on Texas’s self-enslavement law of 1858, and how it fits into the proslavery rhetoric of the late 1850s. Any comments on structure, style, or anything else would be greatly appreciated. I will be updating this post over the next 24 hours as I add to it, primarily by adding int he proslavery historiography in addition to the free blacks historiography outlined below. Just wanted to get something up 24 hours in advance of class.

Late in 1857, Austin’s State Gazette published an article under the title “A Right Move,” discussing the introduction of a bill into the Texas state legislature that would allow free blacks in Texas to voluntarily enslave themselves to masters of their own choosing.  Or, as the Gazette phrased it, the bill would allow “free negroes to return to their original state of slavery.”  The author continued, noting that “free negroes live in a state of great wretchedness and destitution in the North, who under such a law would be glad to return to slavery.”[1]  Despite the author’s celebration of the introduction of the bill, and his lament of the condition of free blacks in the North, mention of self-enslavement would not appear again in the pages of the State Gazette for over a year, when they reported two stories of free blacks voluntarily enslaving themselves.  In the interim, items stressing the need to reopen the African Slave Trade, the dangers of California and Kansas being admitted as free states, and depictions of black incapacity for freedom filled the pages of the State Gazette.

Self-enslavement laws have typically only been analyzed by historians of free blacks, as they try to piece together often disparate data points to gain insight into free blacks’ social and cultural worlds, especially in the lead up to the civil war.  Though historians’ treatment of self-enslavement laws often provides a summary dismissal of their relation to the reality of free blacks’ lived experiences or acknowledges how they either supported or reflected proslavery ideology, the discussion of these laws seems to be trapped in a historiography within which they cannot be fully understood.  Though a small number of free blacks in the South voluntarily enslaved themselves, the law served a much broader purpose than allowing free blacks a legal mechanism by which they could enter into slavery.

By divorcing self-enslavement laws from the study of free blacks, and instead viewing them from the perspective of wider southern political debates over the future of slavery in the 1850s, these laws appear to have a much different purpose: they allowed southern proslavery ideologues to make certain rhetorical maneuvers, highlighting slavery as a benevolent institution that made blacks into good Christians, provided them moral guidance, taught them necessary habits of industry and discipline, and prevented social and political discord.

Historians often conflate the passage of self-enslavement laws with black decisions to utilize them.  By viewing more critically the way self-enslavement laws fit in with a broader proslavery ideology, the adoption of self-enslavement laws by state legislatures between 1856 and 1860 highlights the influence of South-wide debates in state capitols, and the way debates there in turn influenced regional ideology.  While self-enslavement laws functioned as a boon to proslavery ideology, their discussion often took a back seat to other proslavery issues in the press.  These broader proslavery arguments are addressed in an extensive historiography on proslavery thought, but that historiography completely ignores the way the passage and discussion of self-enslavement laws fits within that framework.  What we are left with, then, is two parallel strains of historiography speaking past each other.  Historians of free blacks, when they view self-enslavement laws as indicative of something beyond free blacks’ social experience, view them as proslavery thought in isolation; meanwhile, the historiography discussing proslavery ideology and rhetoric fails to acknowledge the way self-enslavement laws represent an important aspect of the development of that strain of thought, especially the way in which national and state-level debates mutually reinforced one another.

In his discussion of self-enslavement laws in Texas in particular, Randolph B. Campbell takes them largely at face value.  He notes that after years of lax enforcement of the state’s 1840 free black expulsion law, free blacks’ social position became far more tenuous in the 1850s.  He cites the passage of the self-enslavement law in 1858 as an indication that “the legislature had made its point of view clear: free Negroes constituted an unwelcome anomaly in Texas.  Only a few would be allowed to remain in the state, and those would be encouraged to return to their ‘natural condition’ as slaves.”[2]  Like other scholars, Campbell takes a remarkably narrow view of Texas’s self-enslavement law, seeing it as reflective of the free blacks’ lived experiences, and their declining social position in the 1850s in Texas.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Melvin Patrick Ely, in what has been one of the most transformative recent books about the southern free black experience, sees Virginia’s 1856 self-enslavement law as indicative of very little, as far as free blacks’ lived realities are concerned, and thus dismisses the enactment of the law as inconsequential.  “Today, people regard that enactment as a sign of Afro-Virginians’ deteriorating position,” Ely argues, “but the actual history of the statute suggests that laws signified little.”[3]  Ely alludes to those taking a position similar to Campbell’s, arguing instead that most Virginians probably did not even know the law existed.  He points to the procedural safeguards included in the law against coercion as indicative of the care with which Virginia’s legislators tampered with black freedom.

Ely is probably correct in his assessment that Virginia’s self-enslavement law reflects little of free black’s social experience in the state, but if he viewed the law and its associated discussion in periodicals more broadly, he would see that the law in fact signified a great deal about white proslavery rhetoric.  Self-enslavement laws fit in perfectly with proslavery arguments about the benevolence of the institution of slavery.  When viewed with an eye towards political culture, the “procedural obstacles” highlighted by Ely as an indication of the laws lack of significance to free black’s social position can be seen as the product of debate within the southern Democratic party.

In his recent legal history of slavery and manumission in the antebellum South, Andrew Fede assesses the petitions submitted to southern courts in response to the passage self-enslavement laws in southern states, and argues that they “speak eloquently of the dilemma that free blacks faced in the late antebellum South.  The Southern legislatures adopted statutes that so limited free black legal rights and social standing that petitioners of both sexes and all ages found slavery to be a better alternative.”[4]  Fede acknowledges the fact that proslavery Legislators and newspaper editors viewed self-enslavement stories as “triumphs of slavery over freedom,” but still places his focus on the social experiences of free blacks, noting that self-enslavement petitions were actually “a result of the unjust laws that provided free blacks with inferior legal rights.”[5]  Fede thus presents the a false dichotomy—the “triumph of slavery” on the one hand, and free black social experiences on the other—when in reality both could potentially be true, as the proslavery objective of self-enslavement laws exist irrespective of the reasons a small number of free blacks may have utilized them.  Historians like Fede have failed to distinguish decisions by free blacks to enslave themselves with white proslavery advocates’ reasoning behind providing them the legal mechanisms to do so.

Likewise, Judith Kelleher Schafer views free black petitions to enslave themselves as evidence that “[a]s the 1850s wore on, free people of color found themselves increasingly despised and feared for their allegedly corrupting influence on slaves,” at least in New Orleans.[6]  Like Fede, Schafer draws only a very thin distinction between the decision by free blacks to enslave themselves to masters of their choosing, and legislators’ decision to pass self-enslavement laws.  Schafer acknowledges that the passage of such laws “showed how thoroughly proslavery logic had conquered the lawmakers,” and that they “represented the culmination of the ‘positive good’ theory of slavery—that people of African descent lived happily as slaves and found freedom inconvenient or miserable.”[7]  Schafer rightly acknowledges that self-enslavement laws and stories served the proslavery cause, but she fails to fully explain how these laws fit within a wider framework of proslavery rhetoric and ideology.

Ira Berlin presents perhaps the most measured assessment of self-enslavement as it relates to southern proslavery rhetoric.  Berlin argues that southern newspapers highlighted self-enslavement stories because the stories “verified the sanctity of their ideals.”  Berlin acknowledges the fact that very few free blacks actually utilized these laws, and asserts that this “disproportion of interest to reality suggests that they searched these stories out as jewels to be collected, polished, and displayed as evidence of the beneficence of their society.”[8]  Again, Berlin is right to connect self-enslavement stories to proslavery ideology, but he, like Schafer, does not demonstrate how exactly self-enslavement laws and stories fit within that context.  Further, Berlin seems to oversell the prominence of such stories in southern newspapers, when in fact they generally take a back seat to other, more important issues, making self-enslavement stories like jewels in another sense: their rarity.


[1] Austin State Gazette, Nov. 28, 1857, p. 1. The State Gazette is also referred to as the Texas State Gazette.(go back)

[2] Randolph B. Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821–1865, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), 113­–14.(go back)

[3] Melvin Patrick Ely, Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Slavery and Freedom from the 1790s through the Civil War, (New York: Knopf Press, 2005), 373. (go back)

[4] Andrew Fede, Roadblocks to Freedom: Slavery and Manumission in the United States, (New Orleans: Quid Pro LLC, 2011), 114–16.(go back)

[5] Ibid., 116.(go back)

[6] Judith Kelleher Schafer, Becoming Free, Remaining Free: Manumission and Enslavement in New Orleans, 1846–1862, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003), 145.(go back)

[7] Ibid., 150.(go back)

[8] Ira Berlin, Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974), 367.(go back)

Comps! Comps! Comps, Comps, Comps!

Comprehensive exams are just around the corner. Now, I can try to make this a less painful process by repeatedly reading the title of this post like this:

Or, I can figure out the best way to get organized, study effectively, and give myself enough time to prepare. (In reality, I’m probably going to do both. Just sayin’.)

The first step in the process is putting together everything I have read for each of my fields (primary field is Southern History, second and third fields are 19th Century U.S. and Latin American History.) For that, I don’t have helpful advice so much as “Oh, I’m glad I did that,” but who knows, it might help someone. First, starting my first year of undergrad, I began organizing each of my classes, most importantly the syllabus for each of my classes, into folders by class, semester, and year. I have continued this into grad school, so now I have a way of going back and recalling every book applicable to each of my fields that I have had to read for class up to this point. Many of these books I own (and I’ll get to those in a moment) but for the ones I was too poor/cheap to buy, or have lost in the process of moving from Virginia to New Jersey to Texas, at least it’s a record.

At the start of graduate school 2 years ago, I took the time to enter all (see: most) of the books I own into my Library Thing account. If you use Library Thing already, you already know how fantastic it is. If you don’t, Library Thing allows you to look up any book you own through a simple search (title or author usually gets you there), and then add it to your library with all of the Library of Congress information attached. After doing that, I added tags to all the books in my library to organize them by subject matter, with special attention paid to how they might fit in to my three fields. (On a Library Thing note unrelated to comps, I also used the LOC data to print call number labels for all of my books, while my library is still a manageable size. Is this a completely insane thing to do? Absolutely. But I’ve helped professors unpack their offices when they don’t have an organizational system other than alphabetical by author, and it’s not fun.)

While Library Thing has been/will be immensely helpful in putting together my lists, using a web-based interface for the actual note taking and study process probably isn’t the most effective way to do things. I started using Evernote for my most recent research project, and it seems to be a nice way to organize notes quickly and effectively. Using Evernote I will be able to write down basic summaries of the argument of each book on my lists, how they fit in with the historiography, and then include tags (trying to be more systematic and robust than I have been for my Library Thing) to help study which books are in conversation with one another. (Cameron Blevins has a two great posts on “Surviving Quals” here, and here. I’m looking ahead to my exams, while he is looking back, but those posts were helpful in thinking through some of the issues I might have. He also has an awesome post about what he did with all those book summaries after passing exams.)

I’m hoping that already having a good chunk of my library organized, and using Evernote to help organize my book summaries will help me prepare for comps more quickly and effectively than I could with just pen and paper, or even with just basic word documents. With that plan, and a solid soundtrack, I hope to be done with this in early August, so I can start thinking about my trip to Colombia.

Digitization and 19th Century Newspapers, continued thoughts.

So in thinking more about how I might go about using some kind of spatial mapping to demonstrate the relative importance of the self-enslavement laws in comparison with the re-opening of the African slave trade, the admission of Kansas as a free state, I’ve come across some really great stuff from other people who have thought (and acted) much more deeply on these issues than I have.

In a joint venture between Stanford University and University of North Texas, Mapping Texts assesses patterns for hundreds of thousands of pages of Texas newspapers, from 1829 to 2008. I haven’t found a way to do very much with it just yet, but it’s something I’m going to look into, to see if there is a way I can get “under the hood” so to speak. One interesting thing I noticed in a preliminary assessment is that between 1856 and 1861, ‘Kansas’ is one of the top 30 most frequently named entity’s, higher than every other state other than Texas (of course,) and New York.

Another post that has less of a bearing on the issues I’m working through but is still interesting is two posts from April 2011 about how changing database construction in America’s Historical Newspapers as it pertains to the way in which advertisements are identified and counted as articles can skew results.

I’m glad I’m really starting to think critically about how these databases are constructed, not just about the images they contain. And I’m glad so many other people have gotten there first.

Methodology, Technology, and Historical Newspaper Databases

The use of newspaper databases (America’s Historical Newspapers, for example) has in many ways drastically changed the way historians conduct research.  No longer doomed to pore over microfilm day by day, column by column hoping we find something useful, historians/we can now utilize strategic keyword searches—for this project, phrases like “going into slavery” and “chose + master”—to find the articles we’re looking for, or figure out they don’t exist.  Historians like Matthew Rainbow Hale and Carol Lasser have used these databases in truly innovative ways, using the frequency of appearance of certain keywords to support their arguments about the shape of discourses regarding political time and antislavery rhetoric, respectively.[1]  These scholars should be applauded for their unique use of new technologies to substantiate their claims; however, in researching the ways that Texas’s self-enslavement law of 1858 relates to the wider defense of slavery in the state, and the South, I have realized a potential pitfall of using these databases.

Part of the way I am organizing my argument is in interpreting self-enslavement laws not through the lens of free blacks’ social position, but by placing them in the context of proslavery rhetoric.  The passage of voluntary enslavement laws across the South in the late 1850s makes infinitely more sense when considered in conjunction with the historiography of the southern defense of slavery, and proslavery thought more generally.  Herein lies one of the issues with digital newspaper databases: a researcher could easily find stories of self-enslavement from across the South through a keyword search, and take these to reflect an increasing desperation among free blacks in the 1850’s, or a sudden decision by southern states to enforce existing free black expulsion statutes.  To a certain extent, that should be mitigated against simply from taking the same caution with newspapers that we do with other sources, that’s fairly clear; but it is only by viewing these newspapers in full, and looking at dozens of issues in which self-enslavement stories don’t appear, that what I would argue is their proper context can be understood.

Stories of voluntary enslavement appear sporadically in southern newspapers in the late 1850s, but with nowhere near the frequency, nor the importance, ascribed to them by Ira Berlin.[2]  In Texas at least, self-enslavement stories typically seemed to be extremely short, and almost never appeared on the front page.  In contrast, stories about the need to re-open the African slave trade, the admission of Kansas to the Union, and the scarcity and high price of slave labor (among others) all take up drastically more attention, and space, in the columns of Texas newspapers.  The ability to get straight to self-enslavement stories through keyword searches sometimes risks allowing historians to skip over the forest, and get straight to the trees.

I am trying to determine if there is a methodology that will allow me to more scientifically highlight the discrepancy in importance between self-enslavement stories and the reopening of the slave trade, for example, in Texas’s proslavery periodicals.  Hale, for instance, puts together a table in which he tracks references to certain key phrases, and how those references changed over time.  Hales methodology has its own inherent drawbacks, but since self-enslavement articles and others generally defending slavery as a “positive good” tend to use similar language, I’m not sure this approach would work well for my purposes.  I have considered either using multiple papers within a small date-range surrounding the passage of the law, or a single paper over a greater period of time, to compare the surface area of the paper taken up by various issues.  If we assume editors gave more, and more prominent, space in the paper to the issues of greatest importance, I could perhaps come up with a formula in which each line, and each column was assigned a particular value, depending on which page it appeared: 50 lines on page 1 would be weighted as more important than 50 lines on page 4, etc.  This is something I am attempting to work through, but I think it could ultimately provide a nice graphic representation of the ways in which self-enslavement was a part, but only a very small part, of the wider defense of the institution of slavery, if coupled with a more traditional evidence base.


[1] Matthew Rainbow Hale, “On Their Tiptoes: Political Time and Newspapers during the Advent of the Radicalized French Revolution, circa 1792–1793,” Journal of the Early Republic, 29, no. 2 (2009), 191–218”; Carol Lasser, “Voyeuristic Abolitionism: Sex, Gender, and the Transformation of Antislavery Rhetoric,” Journal of the Early Republic, 28, no. 1 (2008), 83–114.

[2] Ira Berlin, Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974), 366–67.

Paul D. Escott, “What Shall We Do With the Negro?” Lincoln, White Racism, and Civil War America

In “What Shall We Do With the Negro,” Paul D. Escott explores the efforts, or often the lack of effort, of northern and southern governments to confront and address the issue of race, and racial inequality.  Escott expends a great deal of effort to eschew what he sees as the tendency of historians to look at the Civil War era, and Lincoln in particular, through rose-tinted glasses, and attempts to “illuminate attitudes and policies affecting the future status of freed people” in both the North and the South.  Escott argues that any racial “progress” that occurred during the Civil War period (emancipation, for instance) occurred as a result of unanticipated events, namely the war itself, rather than the egalitarian vision of great leaders.  Both northern and southern governments took complex, roundabout routes to dealing with issues of racial equality, and even then they dealt with many other questions before addressing the future of African Americans.

Escott, like others, for Lincoln, emancipation was an unintended consequence of war.  Escott goes further than many though, spotlighting Lincoln’s negative view of African Americans, arguing that Lincoln would have preferred peace and union over an elevation of the status of blacks, and that his priorities in terms of racial equality were far different than those ascribed by popular culture to the “Great Emancipator.”  Even in 1865, when Oakes argues Lincoln had become more radically egalitarian as a result of the war, Escott argues that Lincoln’s expectations for the improvement of the status of free people was modest at best, and only came to the national agenda as a result of the events of the Civil War.

Escott’s ultimate goal seems to be to reconcile celebrations of the Civil War era, and put them more squarely in line with the low points of Jim Crow.  He feels that the pendulum has swung too far in favor of Lincoln, and towards a celebration of the racial progress of the mid-nineteenth century.  He argues that the real story of race in the Civil War-era—where changes in racial policies only occur as reactions to unanticipated events—properly highlights America’s racist past, and is “tragically consistent” with the Jim Crow era.  Escott’s title, a question asked by many Americans during the Civil War period, highlights the fact that many believed African Americans were never equals, and instead were a problem that whites were entitled to deal with as they saw fit.

James Oakes, The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass are arguably two of the most studied historical actors of the mid-nineteenth century, and in The Radical and the Republican James Oakes assesses their antislavery attitudes jointly, providing the reader a greater understanding of both men.  Oakes argues that though both men were marked by skepticism in the early 1850s—Lincoln of the effectiveness of radical abolitionism, Douglass of the depth of Lincoln’s commitment to antislavery—by the late 1850s the positions of the two men came closer together, as two of the most dominating figures championing the cause of antislavery, if still approaching the issue with different means.  While Oakes notes Douglass’s continued skepticism of Lincoln extending into the war years, he argues that the Civil War radicalized Lincoln’s approach to antislavery, and this in turn allowed Douglass to take a more practical, republican approach to antislavery politics.  Even as their actual views and positions edged closer together, “so long as they found it necessary to present themselves as the conservative politician and the radical reformer, the differences between them would seem greater than they actually were” (xx).  Ultimately, by the end of the war, Oakes argues that Lincoln and Douglass both shared a commitment to equal rights for African Americans, making Lincoln’s republicanism seem more radical, and Douglass’s radicalism seem more republican

Part of me questions Oakes assessment of Lincoln’s views on and approach to antislavery as becoming increasingly radicalized during the war years.  To me, he takes a more direct approach to emancipation during the war years not because he has become more radical, but because it was not until involved in a military conflict that the constitution permitted him to do so.  The war powers act, and military necessity abetted Lincoln’s “radicalism” during the Civil War, perhaps calling into question Oakes’s model of Lincoln and Douglass slowly coming around to one another’s position.

George N. Fredrickson, Big Enough to Be Inconsistent

In Big Enough to Be Inconsistent: Abraham Lincoln Confronts Slavery and Race, George N. Fredrickson attempts to strike a scholarly balance in assessing Lincoln’s views on race and slavery.  Fredrickson opens this work with an extended historiographical assessment, focusing primarily on some of the more recent scholarship.  He notes that the historiography addressing Lincoln’s racial and anti-slavery views have essentially fallen into two camps: the hagiographic praise of Lincoln as the great emancipator, or one in which he is viewed solely as a dyed-in-the-wool white supremacist.  Fredrickson argues that Lincoln shouldn’t be forced into one of those two camps, and rather, that while Lincoln had long been committed to anti-slavery, he was a political pragmatist whose racial views changed over the course of his political career.

Fredrickson argues that in Lincoln’s “Illinois Years,” prior to 1860, Lincoln was committed to anti-slavery, but only within the bounds of constitutional, legal, and political constraints.  He also contends that Lincoln was “clearly” a white supremacist, though he argues that there can be degrees of racism.  Fredrickson states that Lincoln’s racism was based on conformity to the wider Illinois electorate, and thus he was a passive white supremacist, out of conformity and political expediency.

During the Civil War, however, Lincoln’s racial views changed.  While he was able to reconcile his respect for the constitution with his anti-slavery views by framing emancipation as a military necessity, increasing the Union’s manpower while destabilizing the southern economy.  As large numbers of blacks enlisted in the Union Army, however, Lincoln’s commitment to colonization waned.  Lincoln’s commitment to republican ideology would not allow for the enlistment of blacks in the military, but the denial of their rights as citizens.

By parsing out the evolution of Lincoln’s views on slavery and race separately, and by placing them in the context of the broader public opinion, Fredrickson successfully provides necessary nuance in the egalitarian vs. racist debate.

Proslavery Christianity

So in delving more deeply into Charles Irons’s argument, I think I may have found an important element that bears on my research project here.  In discussing Thornton Stringfellow’s Scriptural and Statistical Views in Favor of Slavery, he notes that part of Stringfellow’s argument is that enslavement is necessary for the conversion of blacks to Christianity.

Irons states that Stringfellow “was not content, as some in the early national period had been, to argue that evangelicals could make the most of a flawed institution by trying to proselytize slaves.  Instead, he assumed that slavery in the Bible corresponded to American slavery.  Moreover, he asserted that the status of black Americans as slaves was a necessary link in the chain that led to their conversion.  Breaking that link, as abolitionists threatened to do, would disrupt the mission and probably result in catastrophic loss of life.” (my bold, obviously)

If slavery is a necessary pre-condition for black conversion to Christianity, this puts self-enslavement laws in a different light.  One could view them as a necessary legal maneuver to allow for making free blacks into good Christians.  I’m not sure this is the whole impetus behind passing them, but some of the language in Texas newspapers discussing how they are not reluctant supporters of slavery gives credence to that conclusion I think.  For instance, on February 10, 1858—just 2 weeks after the final passage of the self-enslavement law—the Houston Weekly Telegraph argued that “[s]lavery is right in itself,” and more importantly that “slaves are far better as such, than wild negroes in Africa….As slaves, they are humanized and Christianized to a degree entirely unattainable by them as a race in any other condition.  Slaves are better off as such than in a state of freedom in America.”

The key phrase, it seems, is that the “humanization” and “Christianization” offered by slavery is “entirely unattainable,” in the mind of the author, by free blacks in America.

Edit: Stringfellow’s pamphlet/book is published in 1856, as is William A. Smith’s Lectures on the Philosophy and Practice of Slavery that takes a view similar to that of Stringfellow. In the same year, Virginia’s state legislature passes their self-enslavement law. Just a thought.

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.