Slavery advocates: It Was "positive good"

In 1919, Mildred Lewis Rutherford provided the following strict guidance, endorsed by the United Confederate Veterans, to schools, colleges, and libraries regarding acceptable literature and text books discussing slavery and the Civil War:

“[R]eject a book that speaks of the Constitution other than a Compact between Sovereign States.

“Reject a text-book that does not give the principles for which the South fought in 1861…

“Reject a book that calls the Confederate soldier a traitor or rebel, and the war a rebellion.

“Reject a book that says the South fought to hold her slaves.

“Reject a book that speaks of the slaveholder of the South as cruel and unjust to his slaves.

“Reject a text-book that glorifies Abraham Lincoln and vilifies Jefferson Davis …. “

M. Rutherford, A Measuring Rod to Test Text Books, and Reference Books in Schools, Colleges and Libraries at 5 (1919) (reprinted by Forgotten Books, 2018), also available at, accessed Oct. 26, 2020. See also Heim, “Teaching America’s Truth” (Wash. Post Online, Aug.28, 2019) at www. washingtonpost.comleducation/2019/08/28/teaching-slavery-schools/? arc404 =true, accessed Oct. 25, 2020.

“The slave enjoyed what we might call comprehensive social security.”

Dr. Adam Dean, “’Who Controls the Past Controls the Future:” The Virginia History Textbook Controversy at 334 (Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol 17, no. 4, 2009), quoting a Virginia eleventh grade textbook in the mid-1900s.

“We find in the days of Sir Matthew Hale, a very singular pamphlet attributed to him. It was an attempt to prove that two healthy laborers, marrying and having in the usual time four children, could not at ordinary labor, and with ordinary wages, support their family. The nursing, washing, cooking and making clothes, would fully occupy the wife. The husband, with the chances of sickness and uncertainty of employment, would have to support four. Such is the usual and normal condition of free laborers. With six children, the oldest say twelve years of age, their condition would be worse. Or should the husband die, the family that remained would be still worse off. There are large numbers of aged and infirm male and female laborers; so that as a class, it is obvious, we think, that under ordinary circumstances, in old countries, they are incapable of procuring a decent and comfortable support. The wages of the poor diminish as their wants and families increase, for the care and labor of attending to the family leaves them fewer hours for profitable work. 

“With negro slaves, their wages invariably increase with their wants. The master increases the provision for the family as the family increases in number and helplessness. It is a beautiful example of communism, where each one receives not according to his labor, but according to his wants.

George Fitzhugh, Sociology for the South at 28-29 (1854), available at the Academic Affairs Library, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Emphasis added.

“However sound the great body of the non-slaveholding States are at present, in the course of a few years they will be succeeded by those who will have been taught to hate the people and institutions of nearly one-half of this Union, with a hatred more deadly than one hostile nation ever entertained towards another. It is easy to see the end. By the necessary course of events, if left to themselves, we must become, finally, two people. It is impossible under the deadly hatred which must spring up between the two great nations, if the present causes are permitted to operate unchecked, that we should continue under the same political system. The conflicting elements would burst the Union asunder, powerful as are the links which hold it together. 

“Abolition and the Union cannot coexist. As the friend of the Union I openly proclaim it,—and the sooner it is known the better. The former may now be controlled, but in a short time it will be beyond the power of man to arrest the course of events. We of the South will not, cannot, surrender our institutions. To maintain the existing relations between the two races, inhabiting that section of the Union, is indispensable to the peace and happiness of both. It cannot be subverted without drenching the country or the other of the races. 

“…But let me not be understood as admitting, even by implication, that the existing relations between the two races in the slaveholding States is an evil:—far otherwise; I hold it to be a good, as it has thus far proved itself to be to both, and will continue to prove so if not disturbed by the fell spirit of abolition. I appeal to facts. Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually.

“In the meantime, the white or European race, has not degenerated. It has kept pace with its brethren in other sections of the Union where slavery does not exist. It is odious to make comparison; but I appeal to all sides whether the South is not equal in virtue, intelligence, patriotism, courage, disinterestedness, and all the high qualities which adorn our nature.

“But I take higher ground. I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good.” 

“I feel myself called upon to speak freely upon the subject where the honor and interests of those I represent are involved. I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other. Broad and general as is this assertion, it is fully borne out by history.”

Slavery a Positive Good at, accessed Sept. 19, 2020. Emphasis added.

“The negroes thus introduced into America, were gross and stupid, lazy and superstitious. With an occasional exception of a captive warrior, they were only transferred from the slavery of a savage to that of a civilized and Christian master. … To the fact of their improved condition, as well as their natural constitution and habit, the want of a common language, a common sympathy, and a common grief, may be attributed the absence of any concerted attempt at rebellion, even in those colonies where they outnumbered the white population. …

“The negroes thus imported were generally contented and happy. The lamentations placed in their mouths by sentimental poets, were for the most part without foundation in fact. In truth their situation when properly treated was improved by the change. Careless and mirthful by nature, they were eager to find a master when they reached the shore, and the cruel separations to which they were sometimes exposed, and which for the moment gave them excruciating agony, were forgotten at the sound of their rude musical instruments and in the midst of their noisy dances. The great Architect had framed them both physically and mentally to fill the sphere in which they were thrown, and His wisdom and mercy combined in constituting them thus suited to the degraded position they were destined to occupy. Hence, their submissiveness, their obedience, and their contentment.”

Thomas R.R. Cobb, AN INQUIRY INTO THE LAW OF NEGRO SLAVERY IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Vol I, at cli-clii, clvi-clvii, clix-clx (T. & J. W. Johnson & Co., 1858), available from the Library of Congress at Footnotes omitted.