Something from the reading that really caught my interest was how aware the founders were of the importance of cotton and how that awareness influenced the debate around slavery in the new nation. George Washington writes to Thomas Jefferson: “the increase of that new material (cotton) . . . must be of almost infinite consequence to the prosperity of the United States.” While the northern states were slowly working towards the abolition of slavery, its concentration and importance continued south. In 1808, of the 133 slave voyages, 126 landed in South Carolina. In the years following the revolutionary war, the debate around slavery was taking form, with a ‘pragmatic’ politicism on the one hand (advocating the continuation of slavery for the material prosperity of the country), and an ‘idealist’ concern on the other (advocating it’s abolition for the consistency of American liberty). My question is to what degree did ‘pragmatic’ concerns influence the debate? The inkling I have now, new to this subject, is that the prosperity concern had to play a big role in justifying the hypocrisy of slavery within a nation of ‘liberty.’

For sources, it’d be important to read through letters, diaries, conversations had on the topic of not only slavery but of the growing cotton industry, such as the quote above, since it directly implied slavery. How are these subjects discussed? Philosophically, what justifications are being made to ‘level’ out the above mentioned hypocrisy? Did “scientific racism” play a major role in that justification/did “scientific racism develop as consequence of needing a justification? Court cases would also be of significance, what rulings were judges making on the legality of slavery, what were their arguments? How did some judges rule in favor of African Americans and others against, especially considering that some state constitutions explicitly stated all men are to be free. The library of congress would be an important digital archive for reading these primary sources, and creating a personal bibliography of secondary sources discussing these topics would help to both tighten the focus/expand understanding and point to many more primary sources.

One thought on “222222222two

  1. Your research question taps into a very important argument that enslavers constructed as a key justification for upholding slavery, I really like your term of “pragmatic politicism.” It captures the significance of the economic scope of slavery, not only to the south, but to the entire nation. I think that the development of scientific racism and the usage of religion as a justification for protecting slavery were certainly factors. Conversely, I would also be interested in arguments that take the other side– how did people who were antislavery use economic philosophies to argue that slave societies were antithetical to the economic progress of the nation? (I’m thinking about the growth of northern industrialism as a symbol of progress for the nation). Either way, the roadmap you provide for answering this question includes a solid foundation of source materials that could provide rich insight.

Leave a Reply