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The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders Paperback – January 17, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0393317053 ISBN-10: 0393317056 Edition: First Print
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Invaluable.” (Los Angeles Times)

About the Author

James Oakes is the author of several acclaimed books on slavery and the Civil War. His history of emancipation, Freedom National, won the Lincoln Prize and was longlisted for the National Book Award. He is Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the Graduate Center, CUNY.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Print edition (January 17, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393317056
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393317053
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Thomas W. Robinson on November 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
I like to consider myself a student of 19th century American history, and especially of the South. But, I was not that knowledgable on the everyday lives of slaves or their masters. While there are several good works on the lives of slaves, I couldn't find a decent one on slaveholders until I picked this one up. Oakes has crafted an excellent look at what it was like, day to day, for the average slaveholder. Rather than looking at just the large plantation owners, he delves into the lives of slaveholders who owned 1 slave or 100. He focuses not on just one state, but several. The book was both well researched and well written. Most of the book reads very well because Oakes cites numerous diaries, letters, and newspapers. The book makes for quite a good read and will really add to your knowledge of slaveholders in the South.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on November 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
James Oakes' The Ruling Class is a history of American slaveholders that effectively dispels the image of the paternalistic plantation aristocrat as the definitive, or even typical, portrait of the average slaveholder. It was interesting to see how much the Southeners and the Northeners had in common in political and ecomonic outlook. The average slaveholder was a grasping capitilist continually on the move and trying to advance himself. Slaves were a commodity to be used in this regard, as were the slaveholders' democratic politics and the expansion south and westward in the United States. The paternalist image built up in mythology after the Civil War existed but it was not representative. This book is effective is demonstrating the ways in which the slaves were an active, often rebellious, factor in this capititist drama as they also rejected any paternalist notion of their enslavement and saw the truth of the picture. They were a commodity both for labour and commerce. The book is excellant in portraying a complicated picture of the slaveholding class that involved many people of different ethnic, religious, political, and economic backgrounds all bound up in a capitilist explotiation of the slaves as a source of upward mobility in a very fluid society. A good place to begin to learn about this period of history.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Errol D. Alexander on July 26, 2011
Format: Paperback
I think the history of American Slaveholders and how they ruled as outlined in James Oakes's book is a must read and very well done to its subject. When one compares the economic forces of many different societies and ruling classes in America and elsewhere, it becomes clear that captialism was the chief engine for the rise of slavery, once one explored the alternatives. The other dominating force controlling American Slavery was the politics within a society (ie. events, laws and personalities)

Like Oakes I see economic forces and politics as like legs in a forcep operating similar to jaws in a pair of pliers squeezing slavery to be shaped a certain way or releasing it to take its own form. Further slavery seldom grow in an idle economic down time, during droughts or natural diasters, but it grows by leaps and bounds when a society is prospering. Also certain forms of slavery can grow faster in times of war. In short, captialism changes the type of ownership and the laws governing the slaves versus the rights of masters. Politics determine the pace of these changes.

Setting all that aside, this became clearer when researching the story of Archer Alexander (an ancestor 1815-1880) as written by W. G. Eliot over a sixty-five life history, indicating vividly how his life as slave was totally different depending on the different locations where he was residing, economic forces and military laws as well as the reigning political thought at that time. Seems so simple, yet most of us historians and leadership professors skip over how people(especially the slave) react to these forces.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lowell "RaceMan" Thompson on February 20, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is not for casual readers. You have to really want to know the real history of our "guilty land" to stick with it.
It can be pretty dry at times, but it also gave me insights that I never learned in school.
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13 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 20, 1996
Format: Paperback
With this book, Oakes brings to light the other side of the
master/slave relationship in the south. The information
presented is quite intriguing, and certainly interesting,
but I think that Oakes missed whatever mark he was trying to
make. The point that he attempts to drive home is murky, at
best, concentrating on the differences between the "old" and
the "new" slaveholding class. Oakes subscribes to Genovese's
concept of paternalism in the slaveholding class, and effectively makes the argument that there was a difference between
the parvenus of the class, and the old blood. Unfortunately,
his comparison, although the details are interesting, ultimately
turns out to be confusing and becomes instead just a collection
of facts about the slave owning society in the South.

Despite this weakness, however, the book is well worth reading
for the new slant that it gives on the "master class," and
their attitude about their slaves, the South, and their view of
the world.
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