“As described in the previous chapter, well-meaning, God-fearing, and idealistic citizens—both Northern and Southern—sought to move their country in the direction of a new democracy and civil society that could accommodate the existence of slavery.

Some slaveowners were still looking for a way to avoid condoning the more barbarous features of human enslavement while stopping short of advocating abolition. In The Legacy of the Civil War (1961), Robert Penn Warren’s classic reflection on that conflict’s 100th anniversary, he wrote: “More than one slaveholder is on record as sympathizing with the distress of a certain Gustavus Henry, who admitted to his wife that ‘I sometimes think my feelings unfit me for a slaveholder.’

“Abraham Lincoln, during his first debate with Stephen Douglas in Ottawa, Illinois, on June 24, 1858, captured another side of the dilemma in what literary scholar John Burt calls Lincoln’s penchant for “tragic pragmatism”:

Doubtless there are individuals on both sides who would not hold slaves under any circumstances; and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew, if it were out of existence. We know that some southern men do free their slaves, go north, and become tip-top abolitionists; while some northern ones go south and become most cruel slave-masters.”

Excerpted from The Liberating Promise of Philanthropy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s