Wlliam Gilmore Simms
Selections from the Letters and Speeches of the Hon. James H. Hammond, of South Carolina >> Front Matter >> Introduction

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Introduction

Documents | The Reprint Company; John F. Trow & Co. | 1866, 1978
Transcription INTRODUCTION xix
and Europe. It was this audience that the abolitionists had
addressed an audience for which sentimental novels
rather than classical orations provided the imagery of
public discourse.
For such an audience it was necessary to paint
pictures, and this Hammond did. The picture he drew
was of Southern society as a patriarchy, of the plantation
as family "our patriarchal scheme of domestic servi-
tude," a hierarchical order with an unequal distribution
of rights and duties but incorporated for the welfare of
the whole. The portrait was seldom drawn with more
artistry and conviction than by Hammond.
By the use of irony he succeeded in good measure in
turning the rhetorical tables on the abolitionists. They
simply did not know what they were talking about, he
argued. They were agitated not about slavery as it
existed in the South but about what they imagined
existed. Foreign abolitionists "in denouncing our do-
mestic slavery, denounce a thing of which they know
absolutely nothing nay, which does not even exist."
They had convinced themselves and sought to convince
the world that slavery had made Southerners violent,
lazy, sexually immoral, unprogressive, irreligious, and
bad credit risks. In countering this onslaught Hammond
admitted that slavery is an evil in the abstract. He did not
hesitate to admit the existence of corporal punishment
and occasional sexual exploitation. But he insisted upon
rejecting the wholesale stereotype of a hellishly dark and
evil South which had been, implicitly, counterpoised by
the antislavery forces against an impossibly angelic
"free" society. In so doing he made noteworthy (and
perhaps still applicable) suggestions about the religious
life of the South (pages 133-134), and he warned that the
abolitionists have accumulated "a balance of invective
which, with all our efforts, we shall not be able to liqui-