chapter  5
27 Pages

Wards of the State: Th e Progressive Tutelage of the Races

A particular combination of paternalist liberal and racist ideological elements bound slavery and white supremacy within a liberal republic. Proslavery thinkers produced that combination, in the fi rst three decades of the nineteenth century, under the intense pressure of abolitionist challenges and black resistance to the institution of slavery, challenges that drew on the egalitarian implications of revolutionary ideals and Christian evangelical doctrine. Tested in this early struggle, the conjunction of racial hierarchy and paternalist liberalism proved suffi ciently stable to provide the framework for a defense of subordinate status for freed people during and after Reconstruction. Th e previous two chapters have emphasized, however, the basic incompatibility of more egalitarian forms of liberalism with this ideological structure. Versions of liberalism lacking the crucial concept of dependence lack, as a consequence, the self-limiting quality of paternalist liberalisms. I have emphasized this logical incompatibility, and noted the diffi culty with which, for example, the new emphasis on “freedom of contract” was reconciled to the defense of anti-miscegenation laws and peonage. Incipient industrialization, meanwhile, along with the disintegration of the household, disrupted settled patterns of interaction, gave legal dependents new grounds for self-assertion, and challenged those who presumed to mastery of the South.