Charleston, Slavery, and the Slow March Toward Civil War
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A tenacious chronicle of the pernicious construction of South Carolina’s slave-driven political orthodoxy.

Kelly (Literature/Coll. of Charleston) thoroughly demonstrates how the “slaveocracy” of the state repeatedly swept away any elements of good conscience, from Charleston’s founding in 1670 through Reconstruction, in favor of “unchecked greed” and the status quo. When rice became the colony’s first cash crop, the use of slaves to do the “backbreaking, miserable, dangerous” labor of clearing the swamps that the white indentured servants would not do provided the first rationale for the importation of Africans. The wealth was held by a few very rich families on vast plantations, creating an entrenched, incestuous oligarchy. While the other American colonies were rallying around the idea that “all men were created equal,” the handful of powerful Lowcountry dynasties was anxious to get back to the work of making a profit after the Revolution, resuming the suspended slave trade thanks to cotton production while institutionalizing the notion of “paternalism” to render their slave-owning more palatable. The Denmark Vesey Rebellion of 1822 “burned all liberal sentiment” from the hearts of South Carolina whites, Kelly eloquently writes, making room for arguments for “perpetual slavery” as a necessary evil (and even, as a civilizing force on Africans, a “positive good”), encouraging politicians like Charleston Mayor James Hamilton Jr. to expel free blacks and instigate police-state measures. As vice president under President Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun cast his deciding vote against the tariff of 1828, thus spearheading the nullification movement, which would strengthen the sense of states’ rights and justification for secession. Kelly delineates the ideological straitening for a “lost generation” headed for war.

An elucidating study by a Charleston historian who sees the shadow of nullification still looming.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-59020-719-2
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2013


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