The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders’ Worldview

Nicholas Guyatt writes:

One of the Genoveses’ most prominent subjects, the politician James Henry Hammond, provides telling testimony against their thesis. If Hammond was a God-fearing Christian who read his Bible faithfully, he had a strange way of showing it. In the mid-1840s, he was driven from the governor’s mansion in Charleston when word leaked out that he was having sexual relations with all four of his nieces. A decade later, his career miraculously revived, he became the most prominent spokesperson for what was later termed herrenvolk republicanism: the idea that one race could live happily and prosperously by subjugating another. There’s nothing about Hammond’s personal life in The Mind of the Master Class – even his wife refused to live with him when he insisted on keeping his slave mistress in their home – but the omission of his views on race is especially startling. In 1858 he told the US Senate that all successful societies depended on ‘a class to do the menial duties’, and that this ‘mudsill’ had been provided in the South by slavery. ‘We do not think that whites should be slaves either by law or necessity,’ Hammond said. ‘Our slaves are black, of another and inferior race.’

(LRB 4 October 2007)