White Christians in the South who supported slavery (as most did) had a problem. They were assured from practically every pulpit throughout the cotton states that slavery was an institution sanctioned by God. After all, they were taught, Abraham owned slaves and God never condemned him for it.
But somehow, for many of them, that ecclesiastical reassurance was never quite enough. For one thing, there was that inconvenient command from Jesus Himself that made forcibly keeping people who hadn’t done anything to deserve it in hopeless, never-ending bondage feel a little uncomfortable:
And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. (Luke 6:31)
No matter how completely white Southerners may have convinced themselves that slavery was biblical, none of them ever wanted to be treated like a slave. So, in order to justify treating other people like slaves, they had to find a way to believe that however much they themselves would hate being a slave, the real slaves had no problem with it.
In other words, it was necessary for whites who supported slavery to believe that blacks were content to be slaves.
That’s the attitude I see reflected in an article that appeared in the January 6, 1863 issue of the Richmond Daily Dispatch:
Stonewall’s Property. –We understand that some five or six negroes, belonging to Gen. Stonewall Jackson, passed South through this city, on Saturday afternoon. In consideration of their having the distinguished honor of belonging to the great Stonewall, they were furnished with free passes on the railroad.
Through the thinly veiled contempt for “negroes” evident in the writer’s remarks, it’s clear he actually did think it a “distinguished honor” for enslaved people to “belong” to a Confederate hero such as Stonewall Jackson.
Even today neo-Confederates go to great lengths trying to prove that tens of thousands of black soldiers voluntarily fought for the Confederacy, although historical documentation proves the exact opposite.
I suppose the point, both in 1863 and now, is that if slaves felt honored to belong to their masters, even to the point of being willing to fight to maintain that condition, then slavery was not such an evil system after all.
As I read the Dispatch article, it made me wish modern Confederate apologists would honestly ask themselves: do you really think getting a free pass on the railroad because you belonged to a great general would make you content to be someone’s “property,” trapped in unending bondage for your entire life?
No, I didn’t think so.
© 2014 Ronald E. Franklin