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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

Review of a First Rate Cotton Plantation (1845), Frederick Law Olmstead - Document Overview

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Southerners certainly wrote about their world, extolling their culture and defending their peculiar institution, but many other people, such as Northerners and foreign visitors, journeyed to the South to see and comment on it for themselves. To them such a trip was a combination of exotic adventure and reformist crusade, for southern lands and ways fascinated, confused, and in some instances, repelled them. The South embodied such powerful dichotomies under its strong sun and shielding shade trees—beauty versus ugliness, good against evil—that the stories about it, fictional and factual, could not help but reflect that.

The tales were many and varied as the witnesses to the society and slavery of the South each saw or experienced different aspects of the culture. Slaves, and many free blacks, looked at southern society from the bottom up: from the bottom of the cotton and tobacco rows, the receiving end of the whip, and the rough floors of their quarters. Slaveowners saw it from quite a different perspective as they surveyed their fields from horseback or carriage, labored over the financial equation of provisions versus profits, and tried to establish or maintain comfortable, if not always gentile lifestyles. Their non-slaveowner neighbors wrestled with desire and distress: many desired to own their own laborers and thereupon build their estates, but some were distressed at the cost—both financial and moral. Visiting diarists and reporters often brought with them preconceived notions by which to interpret this southern scene, while the readers of their publications added their own interpretations. Thus, whether from different regions of America or from Europe, observers added their stories to that of the South.

That observers came from abroad, and that their accounts and those of Americans were published overseas as well as in the United States, indicates that southern society and the growing conflict between North and South, captivated and concerned foreign as well as domestic audiences. Slavery was an international issue. As the British and Foreign Anti-slavery Society noted in 1839, slavery existed in "British India, in the colonies of several of the nations of Europe, in the United States of America, in Texas, and in the Empire of Brazil." Anti-slavery organizations reached out to one another in attempts to end it in all of these places. Such international agitation and cooperation did serve to contain, though not eradicate, the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the early nineteenth century, but such activism faced greater resistance within nations. Although England abolished slavery in the British isles by the late eighteenth century, outlawed its slave trade in 1807, and then used its navy to police against illegal slaving on the oceans, some in England did not want the issue to interfere with other strategic and economic interests. Across the ocean, in accordance with a constitutional provision, Congress abolished the external slave trade in America in 1808, but smuggling, often via Cuban traders, continued. Furthermore, when foreign reformers condemned the institution as it existed within the states, slavery proponents and even some abolitionists decried outside intervention in the country's internal affairs.

Antislavery sentiment had appeared with the introduction of slavery in the colonial era, but the creation of a formal organization against the institution did not occur until the Revolution. As Americans debated and fought for liberty and freedom, some saw the inherent contradiction of slavery. That perception, especially when added to certain religious beliefs, led to antislavery activism. Quakers founded the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery in 1775. The society was essentially inactive during the war years, but in 1785 and especially 1787 when constitutional debate led to hopes of reform, the society vigorously pushed for abolition. It did not get what it wanted in the new Constitution, but at that time, even in the South, many agreed that slavery's days were numbered; the fact that manumission was on the rise seemed to give proof to that. Due to no sense of urgency, abolitionism languished. But when planters moved out into the rich lands of the Old Southwest, and after the cotton gin made the processing of that crop easier, slavery grew—and that growth spurred the development of a new abolitionist movement.

Advocates on both sides of this great struggle presented their basic premises in the 1830s and then rehashed them again and again throughout the 1840s and 1850s until they threw away the words to pick up arms. Slavery may not have been the only cause of the Civil War, but as a physical presence and ideological issue it helped dig the grave of, if not bury, the early union. Attacked and defended culturally, socially, politically, and religiously, the South's peculiar institution became America's particular problem.

Many nations of the Atlantic world and beyond contended with the issue of slavery in the nineteenth century. As part of their internal reforms and international relations, these countries sometimes struggled to define and implement notions of citizenship and universal human rights. Yet although slavery was an international problem, it was a distinct American tragedy. In the United States, it contributed to a particularly bloody internal war and illuminated discrepancies between ideology and practice in the republic that was supposed to stand as an enlightened example to the rest of the world.


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