Reconfiguring the Old South: Solving the Problem of Slavery, 1787–1838


Examining the choices that confronted the American South in the era of the cotton revolution, Lacy Ford outlines the tensions that appeared as both the upper and the lower South attempted reconfigurations of slavery after the foreign slave trade ended in 1808. Upper South politicians sought a demographic reconfiguration, or a “whitening” of the region, to reduce the number of slaves living there through both colonization and the sale of slaves to the lower South. Lower South leaders, meanwhile, sought an ideological reconfiguration to make slaveholding consistent with existing republican and emerging humanitarian ideals by transforming slavery into a “domestic” institution legitimated by paternalism. As Ford shows, the divergent efforts at reconfiguration pitted spokesmen of the upper and lower South against each other even as the antagonists displayed a shared and fundamental unwillingness to undermine slaveholding and slaveholders.

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The full text of the article as it appeared in the June 2008 issue of the Journal of American History.

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