Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2004 Issue

Slavery in the United States [1836]: It's a Long Road to the Mountaintop<br>By James K. Paulding

Paulding

Portrait of J. K. Paulding by A. S. Conrad. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C.



Introduced by Bruce McKinney


A Review and the Complete Text

If you look in the 1931 edition of the Cambridge History of American History for James K. Paulding [1778-1860] you are going to find references to him on twelve separate pages. Benjamin Franklin appears on 49, James Adair once, Thomas Ash 4 times, John Bartram 3, William Bartram 5, Robert Montgomery Bird 9, Captain Jonathan Carver 11, and so on. By this measure James Paulding was an important man in the world of American letters during the first half of the nineteenth century. A few of his words, if not his name, continue to be spoken in kindergartens and grade schools for he wrote in his book Koningsmarke or Old Times in the New World:
“Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers: Where is the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?"
Interestingly enough, a portion of his career, as a polemicist for the pro-slavery forces of that time, is generally overlooked and for good reason. He was an advocate for the peculiar institution: American slavery and he was entirely unapologetic about it. To read his defense of slavery is to understand the mentality of the South. If you have ever wondered how this dispute could lead to civil war this book lays out the southern mindset in chilling detail. He himself was a northerner, living most of his life in the Hudson Valley of New York State. He held appointed political office for many years, rising to be Secretary of the Navy in the years 1838 to 1840 in the Van Buren administration. (http://76.1911encyclopedia.org/P/PA/PAULDING_JAMES_KIRKE.htm)

In 1836 he issued Slavery in the United States, a 312-page defense of this institution and in so doing, leaves a clear record of rising pandemic concern, anecdotal evidence to unconvincingly support these concerns, and a feeling of the raw emotion that would later drive the nation into civil war. In making his case he denies the humanity of Blacks. He speaks of dashing this book off in a few days but he probably put a bit more effort into it. He includes about 80 footnotes and develops his themes extensively. He was a professional writer and very good at it but it seems his editor may have had northern sympathies as this book has more than the typical number of misspellings and punctuation errors.

At the outset he both claims the Bible as a justification for owning slaves and raises the prospect of civil war should mounting abolitionist pressure force the south to defend its right to keep slaves. The tension of the issue at that time is already palpable although it would be another twenty-five years before Lincoln’s election ended efforts at reconciliation. In 1836 the kettle is already simmering.

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