An Analysis of "Slavery," by Stanley Elkins

Topics: American Civil War, Slavery, Slavery in the United States Pages: 5 (1726 words) Published: February 16, 2014


An Analysis of Slavery, by Stanley M. Elkins
HIS 335: Civil War History
Jason S. Perry
23 January 2014

Slavery, by Stanley Elkins, is a text that does its best to analyze the institution of Slavery from all angles in a more analytical, rather than purely emotional, manner.  It also proves that the topic, which many believed was decided upon and done with at the end of the Civil War, was still as powerful and controversial in the 20th Century as ever.  Elkins approached the topic from several viewpoints, including anthropological, sociological and psychological, even starting the text by examining the works of many “experts” in the field who attempted to analyze it after the end of the Civil War.Though originally published in 1958, the analyses within hold up as well today as they did then, and the additions of even more analyses in the second and third editions give even more insights on how historians are still focusing on this area of American history.

In another text - Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction by James M. McPherson - the author has his own way of looking at Slavery, the Civil War, and the events that would follow that are both similar to and different than that of Slavery.  On the side of similarity, both authors are quite clear that Slavery is an immoral, incorrect institution, and are quite unapologetic about this.  However, McPherson focuses on both the South being completely wrong in almost every situation (not necessarily by citing facts, but the wording and tone used make this irrevocably true), that their insistence on maintaining a Slave-based society held the South back economically and culturally, and that the rise of the Republicans was the end of an era for the South.  Elkins, instead, focuses on several different analyses, giving several possible viewpoints, and showing mistakes made on both sides of the issue, including the fact that, by refusing to compromise, the abolitionists were just as responsible for the war as the Slavery-supporting Southerners.  Really, the major similarities came from showing Slavery as a “wrong” and “immoral” institution, while their differences were in analyzing one viewpoint (McPherson) versus looking at many viewpoints and drawing several possible conclusions (Elkins) about both the institution of Slavery and its effects afterwards.

Having seen this, we can now analyze several key points from Elkins’ work, and see exactly how the institution worked (or did not work, as was the case) from several angles.

On the issue of American institutions (including religious organizations), Elkins had a great deal to say about their influence on the perception of Slavery, or, more correctly, their lack of influence.  The Church - or, rather, the different branches of the Christian religion - influenced each of their groups somewhat differently, but in the end was so fragmented that it lost its real power to influence more than its small groups.  And so, morally, Slavery was looked at through the tinted lenses of “where” the people grew up; to some, it was not only a sin but an absolute moral evil, while, to others, it was the cornerstone of their entire society, both good and right for the well-being of all goodly men.  The legal system, in America, also showed signs of heavy weakening.  Unlike in England, the American bar association had become “democratized,” in which “individual drives rather than institutional needs” prevailed; the system no longer held up to the high institutional standards of its English counterparts, and with that came a decline in standards.  With such a decline in standards, those who practiced (or even simply needed to understand) law would be based on the desires of their brethren rather than the standards of the institution, allowing for fragmentation and social leanings of the legal systems in different areas.  As the argument for Slavery was both a moral and a legal one to those fighting on both sides,...

References: Elkins, Stanley M (1976).  Slavery (Third Edition).  Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Hogue, James K. and McPherson, James M (2010). Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction (4th Edition). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill Higher Education.
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