Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Survey: Slavery & the Civil War


Ok, back to Hall, Finkelman, & Ely.  In The People & Their Peace, Laura Edwards argues that a customary law of slavery emerged alongside and at times in defiance of the written law.  One of her most arresting examples is the case of Jesse Ruffin, a slave who leaves his plantation for days on end, makes his own money, buys liquor, and visits friends – all in violation of both his master’s wishes and written law.  A remarkable story in its own right, Jesse Ruffin happens to be owned by Thomas Ruffin, the author of State v. Mann (1829). For those of you who don’t know, Mann is infamous for the line that “[t]he power of the master must be absolute, to render the submission of the slave perfect,” a declaration that has won it a place in several primary source compendiums on slavery, including HFE.  However, HFE makes no mention of Edwards in its note on Mann.  Perhaps it should.  Alternately, why not include one of the local cases that Edwards describes, showing how the customary law of slavery yielded unpredictable results? 

Moving to the Civil War, almost the entire HFE section on the war focuses on rights: first the rights of slave-owners to retrieve runaways, then the rights of slaves in free territories, then the right to secede, then emancipation and Reconstruction, and finally the denial of rights during Redemption.  However, there is a structural aspect to the war that did not involve rights, per se, but still warrants attention.  As Heather Cox Richardson demonstrates in The GreatestNation of the Earth: Republican Economic Policies During the Civil War (Cambridge,MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), the Civil War prompted a dramatic expansion of federal power, including the creation of a national currency, the enactment of federal banking law, and the imposition of a federal income tax.  At least some of these developments warrant mention, arguably more so than both Inaugural Addresses of Abraham Lincoln, which are included in the collection.  Why not cut one address and include something on national currency?  Paul?  Jim?

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