SLAVERY AND FREEDOM: An Interpretation of the Old South by James Oakes

SLAVERY AND FREEDOM: An Interpretation of the Old South

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In his second book on slavery in America, Oakes (The Ruling Class, 1982) mostly rehashes familiar material. In an often ponderous tone, Oakes offers such assertions as that ""the Civil War was inescapably a fight about slavery,"" and goes on to write convincingly of what we have long been convinced of by innumerable historians and political writers: that the relationship of master and slave in the South was totally oppressive and far worse than anything known in ancient Greece, Rome, or Brazil, and that it compared unfavorably with the condition of serfs in Russia; that race bigotry was essential to rationalize oppression; that slavery can be defined by the absence of freedom; that freedom in the US was reserved for male whites; that the concept of individual rights, a cornerstone of ""liberal capitalism,"" conflicts with social responsibility and duty; that there was political and economic tension between slaveholders and nonslaveholders; and that capitalism was both dependent upon and hampered by the institution of slavery. Oakes' book, composed of four essays and an epilogue, is, as he admits, not original, not definitive, not a study of the Civil War, not a work of ""world-historical analysis""--but an effort to clarify his own thinking and to synthesize the work of others. Although Oakes does come up with some interesting musings on the exceptional nature of American slavery, this work has probably been more useful as an exercise for its author than as a new contribution to the body of literature on slavery and freedom.

Pub Date: March 21st, 1990
ISBN: 0393317668
Publisher: Knopf