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Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South Paperback – December 17, 1989
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"In ten sparkling chapters the book details and illuminates every aspect of slavery....Slavery is viewed not as a method of regulating race relations, not as an arrangement that was in its essence paternalistic, but as a practical system of controlling and exploiting labor. How the slaves worked, how they resisted bondage, how they were disciplined, how they lived their lives in the quarters, and how they behaved toward each other and toward their masters are themes which receive full exploration.... The materials are handled with imagination and verve, the style is polished, the factual evidence is precise and accurate. Some scholars will disagree with the conclusions. No one can afford to disregard them."-- Frank W. Klingberg, American Historical Review
"The Peculiar Institution is one of the most important and provocative works on Southern history to appear in our generation."-- David Donald, Commentary
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Stampp's aim was to provide information lacking (in 1955, and still scant fifty years later) as to the nature of the institution itself, AS an American institution (which it certainly was up until its final (and sloppily inefficient) dismantling beginning 1863 (in the midst of the civil war). The "Peculiar" Insitution (so dubbed by slave owners themselves, in secret (and embarrassed) acknowledgement of the sheer hypocrisy of this institution. Stampp does not attack the morality of slavery, nor does he "witness" the evils of slavery through statements of slaves or abolitionists (he is not writing a polemic); instead he provides us with something far more useful: empirical data on just what the institution was, how it worked, what its practices were and what putative justifications were offered by its proponents for its existence and nature. In doing so, Stampp gives his readers a far more damning criticism of slavery than any other writer I have encountered since reading Stampp's book for a high school history class in 1969. Stampp expertly strips the subject of the emotion and bias (on both sides) that has obscured the facts (history is distinct from myth and propaganda to the extent that it is about *facts* assembled through valid inferences) about slavery.Read more ›
The book attacks a picture of the Old South that attained wide currency after Reconstruction and was carried through American culture in works such as, for example, Gone With the Wind-- that plantation slavery was a benign institution, part of an agrarian way of life, that was accepted by both slave and master. Professor Stampp shows that slavery had an economic, commercial basis, that it was resisted by slaves overtly and covertly, and that led to squalor, cruelty and suffering by the slaves. The peculiar institution does not merit sentimintality in any form.
In reading the book a half-century after its publication, and with some benefit of having read subsequent studies, I was struck with the moderate tone of the book. Yes, there were humane masters in an inhumane system and yes,there were variants in time and place. Stampp gives these variants their due, perhaps more than modern students would be inclined to do.
I was stuck with the tone of slavery's defenders, pre Civil War and thereafter, describing the institution as "patriarchal". Not only is that description in error, as Stampp shows, but for readers in a time beyond the mid 1950s, it is hardly a compliment to call a society "patriarchal", even if it deserved this characterization.Read more ›
Southern slaveowners rationalized the ownership of black human beings for more than a century, and with greater vigor as the institution increasingly fell from acceptance in more liberal societies. Pro-slavery writers used "religious, historical, scientific, and sociological arguments to demonstrate that slavery was a positive good for both Negroes and whites." (383) Stampp assumes the burden of proof, and meets each of these arguments head-on with irrefutable evidence taken from first person sources: inventories, diaries, newspaper advertisements and editorials, slave narratives, and the personal letters of slaveowners. He finds an "important form of protest" in the advertisements for runaway slaves, (110) "managerial inefficiency" not "evidence of the unprofitability of slavery" in the account books of debt-ridden planters, (391) and heartrending humanity in the letter of one slavewoman who, sold away, begged for her daughter, Jennie, to be restored to her, after their separation.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I read this book years ago and my copy was damaged when our sump pump misfunctioned! A mess! So, have recently retired and am re-reading some of my favorite books. Read morePublished 10 months ago by lynn j barbour
By reading this book and other books on slavery, the death of President Lincoln, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow, the reader gets an understanding of the source of current problems of... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Neil Karl
This is the classic book on slavery in America. Kenneth Stampp is a fine author, and his work has held up well over the years. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Scott O