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William A. Smith (William Andrew), 1802-1870 and Thomas O. Summers (Thomas Osmond), 1812-1882
Lectures on the Philosophy and Practice of Slavery as Exhibited in the Institution of Domestic Slavery in the United States; With the Duties of Masters to Slaves
Nashville: Stevenson and Evans, 1856.


As its title suggests, Lectures on the Philosophy and Practice of Slavery (1856) is a collection of lectures comprising an extended apology for slavery both in theory and in practice. The first lecture treats the condemnation of slavery as an aspersion of the morals of the free inhabitants of the South, and calls the reader's attention to the threat such abolitionist sentiments represent to peace both in the South and nationwide. The second lecture treats slavery as an abstract principle, showing that the principle of slavery is valid because it can be compared to the authoritarian bases of religion and civil government. Both operate through the subjection of one's will to another, and since slavery operates the same way, it is also theoretically valid. The following lectures deal with the question of "rights," pointing out that equal rights cannot apply when humans are inherently unequal in various ways. Smith argues that in the state of nature, humans exist within a network of liberty and servitude according to their conditions. In the sixth lecture, Smith turns his attention to scripture, arguing that since scripture explicitly sanctions political government it can by extension be shown to support the principles behind slavery. He refutes the common distinction made between slavery and hired service, and points out that Old Testament Law expressly institutes a system of slavery.

Having made a theoretical case, Smith proceeds to discuss the institution of slavery in its specific context. In the seventh lecture, he makes the case that slavery is a kind of government most suited to the needs of the African population of the south. His next lecture reinforces the point by arguing that Africans are not fitted for self-government and will never enjoy equality, and therefore it should be realized that slavery is the system best fitted for their preservation and civilization. Lecture ten refutes emancipation doctrines, warning that freedom for slaves would result in chaos, and asserting that the slave system is beneficial for everyone involved, including non-slaveholding white southerners. The final lectures of the book weigh the benefits of slave education, show how slavery makes the South a uniquely stable society as compared to immigration-riddled northern states, and articulate the various duties of the master to his slave. Those duties include asking for reasonable amounts of labor and furnishing all the necessities of physical, emotional, and spiritual life. The book ends abruptly with an injunction for slave mistresses to follow the same guidelines as outlined for the masters.

Christopher Hill

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