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Evil Necessity

Evil Necessity: Slavery and Political Culture in Antebellum Kentucky

Harold D. Tallant
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Evil Necessity
    Book Description:

    In Kentucky, the slavery debate raged for thirty years before the Civil War began. While whites in the lower South argued that slavery was good for master and slave, many white Kentuckians maintained that because of racial prejudice, public safety, and property rights, slavery was necessary but undeniably evil. Harold D. Tallant shows how this view bespoke a real ambivalence about the desirability of continuing slavery in Kentucky and permitted an active abolitionist movement in the state to exist alongside contented slaveholders. Though many Kentuckians were increasingly willing to defend slavery against northern opposition, they did not always see this defense as their first political priority. Tallant explores the way in which the disparity between Kentuckians' ideals and their actions helped make Kentucky a quintessential border state.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4956-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. 1 The Necessary Evil
    (pp. 1-26)

    The final years of the 1790s found Kentuckians engaged in an earnest debate about what sort of government and society they should have in the future, a debate occasioned by the efforts of many Kentuckians to revise the state’s constitution, then less than a decade old. Joining this debate was a young attorney who had recently arrived from his native Virginia. Writing under the name “Scaevola,” the twenty-one-year-old lawyer penned a letter to a local newspaper urging Kentuckians to abolish slavery in their new constitution. “All America acknowledges the existence of slavery to be an evil, ... ”he wrote. “It...

  5. 2 The Colonizationist Imperative
    (pp. 27-58)

    During the 1830s and 1840s, the Kentuckians who occupied center stage in the debate on slavery gave much of their attention to the issue of colonization. By nearly all accounts, the idea that at least a portion of the state’s black population should be removed from the state proved very popular among white Kentuckians, receiving public endorsements from a wide variety of religious leaders, college presidents, and newspaper editors. Kentucky’s politicians seemed especially drawn to the idea. At one time or another, people ranging from Robert Wickliffe, the state’s largest slaveholder and most outspoken supporter of slavery, to Cassius M....

  6. 3 The Dilemma of Conservative Reform
    (pp. 59-90)

    The debate over slavery and race in the 1830s and 1840s perplexed few Kentuckians more than it did John Clarke Young of Danville. Young, a native of Pennsylvania, moved to Kentucky after his graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1828 to become pastor of a Presbyterian church in Lexington, and he quickly found a place among the state’s elites. He married a member of Kentucky’s illustrious Breckinridge family, became master of his wife’s slaves, and assumed—at the age of twenty–seven—the presidency of Centre College in Danville. Young also quickly became part of a class of people familiar...

  7. 4 The Limits of Political Action
    (pp. 91-114)

    Although abolitionists and other radical antislavery activists worked in Kentucky throughout the 1830s and 1840s, during this period antislavery conservatives dominated the state’s antislavery movement. The conservatives proved to be decidedly cautious reformers, prompting the state’s antislavery movement to support political policies that offered little hope for implementing a truly effective scheme of emancipation. Although much of the conservatives’ caution was rooted in their image of blacks as a permanently hostile race that had to be controlled, the conservatives’ caution also resulted from their conception of how social change occurs. The conservatives’ glorification of progress indicates that they did not...

  8. 5 The Crisis at the Door
    (pp. 115-132)

    If modern psychoanalysts were able to treat the leaders of Kentucky’s antislavery movement for the chronic ailment that so debilitated them, the most likely diagnosis would be manic depression. The historian would readily concur with this diagnosis, for Kentucky’s emancipationists experienced recurring swings of emotion throughout the state’s history. Exultation over apparent advances’ for antislavery in the state was regularly followed by disheartenment over the stubborn refusal of Kentuckians to take any firm action against slavery. For every sign of success—the passage of the Law of 1833, for instance—there always seemed to be a corresponding sign of failure...

  9. 6 The Crossroads
    (pp. 133-164)

    The second half of the 1840s was a period of crisis in American politics. In 1846, the Mexican War introduced the most sectionally divisive issue since the Missouri crisis of 1819–1820: the question of whether slavery should exist in the southwestern territories that the United States hoped to win from Mexico. The issue quickly cut across the traditional partisan rivalries of Whigs and Democrats to call forth uncompromising sectional responses from virtually all politicians. In the North, many leaders urged their section to resist the imperious demands of southern politicians, who had long dominated the nation’s political life. In...

  10. 7 The Quest for Righteousness
    (pp. 165-192)

    On the night of October 16, 1859, a band of zealous abolitionists, led by veteran antislavery warrior John Brown, stormed into the nation’s headlines by seizing the federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. This raid—an attempt to set off a wave of slave insurrections throughout the South—sent shock waves through the teetering edifice of sectional harmony. In the South, John Brown’s raid united southerners as perhaps no event had yet done, enlisting southerners of all stripes in the strident defense of their section—and its peculiar institution—and prompting them to call for swift retribution not only against...

  11. 8 The Relevance and Irrelevance of John G. Fee
    (pp. 193-220)

    Fee’s re-examination of the tactics of reform coincided with a similar re-examination by American abolitionists in general, in response to the rise of popular antislavery in the North and the increased intransigence of slaveholders in the South. These developments affected Fee as well, in some ways even more than it did his northern counterparts, for southern intransigence had a far more direct effect on his life than it did on an abolitionist in Boston or New York. In Fee’s case—and for many northern abolitionists as well—the events of the mid-1850s caused him to abandon much of his hope...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 221-264)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 265-290)
  14. Index
    (pp. 291-307)