Post Judicial Years
During his early years as resident in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, Ruffin became an established member of an elite community of wealthy lawyers and commercial planters. At one point, Ruffin owned more than one hundred slaves on his Alamance and Rockingham county plantains from which his status as prominent planter formulated. (Morris 2000) Nonetheless, these elite lawyers and planters became “linked together by marriage and common interests,” and “a number of these families figured prominently in promoting railroads, administering local banks, and serving the government.” (Item 75) Additionally, Ruffin’s short term position of the State Bank of North Carolina, at which one point “two-thirds of the funds of the bank were invested in loans to slave merchants, made him more deeply interested than ever in slavery’s problems.” (Yanuck 1955, 461) Also of importance was the fact by 1830, as one Southern scholar notes “The value of slaves began to rise and continued to increasingly higher price levels; slavery grew more profitable than ever before and North Carolina correspondingly less inclined to shake off the slave system. (Yanuck 1955, 457) Therefore by the time Ruffin was elected as president of the North Carolina Agricultural Society in 1854, little doubt arose as to the allegiances Ruffin stood for regarding the interplay of slave labor and new scientific agricultural techniques.
Arguably one of the best pieces of primary evidence complicating Ruffin’s ruling regarding the institution of slavery in Mann is a speech given in front of the North Carolina Agricultural Society in 1885. In his speech, Ruffin made clear his deep personal sentiments not only for promoting statewide agricultural improvements, but also his sincere moral and religious desires to protect the institution of slavery and to continue the Christianization of lost African American souls. Both positive and negative aspects of the institution of slavery were acknowledged by Ruffin. (Morris 1996, 191)
In a section of his speech concerning the “nature of the labor employed in our agriculture” Ruffin states “I very frankly avow the opinion, that our mixed labor of free white men of European origin and of slaves of the African race, is as well adapted to the public and private ends of our agriculture as any other could be…that is has a beneficial influence on the prosperity of the country, and the physical and moral state of both races, rendering both better and happier than either would be here, without the other…My purpose now, however, is merely to maintain that slavery here is favorable to the interests of agriculture in point of economy and profit, and not unwholesome to the moral and social condition of each race.” (Hamilton 1920 329) On what ground did Ruffin find a legal base for these claims? Ruffin stated “…the Constitution clearly recognizes our slavery, sustains the rights of ownership, and enforces the duty of service…” Additionally, Ruffin justified his view of blacks as inherent laborers “since the blacks by the constitutions inherited from their African ancestors, can labor, without detriment, under degrees of heat, moisture, and exposure, which are found to be fatal to the whites, whose systems are better adapted to different conditions of the atmosphere.” This claim most certainly gives evidence of Ruffin’s knowledge of the current literature of Southern agricultural journals and scientific studies on the physical abilities of blacks to labor under extreme conditions. Ruffin furthermore comments of the general perception of slave labor in the state and commented that “with slight exception, the public sentiment is so generally satisfied with the existence of slavery and its propriety here, that it may properly be called universal…These facts, which cannot be denied, will bear reflection, and furnish evidence sufficient to satisfy any fair mind that there is an unanimous conviction of our people that slavery as it exists here, is neither unprofitable, nor impolitic, nor unwholesome.” (Hamilton 1920 329)
In response to those opposed to slavery, Ruffin continues “is it not marvelous that, still, it should be pursued by persons having no knowledge of its [slavery] practical operation, under a phrensy against slavery in the abstract, fatally bent on its restriction and destruction, though they thereby should desolate our fields, desecrate our alters, and cause the blood of both races of our people to flow in rivers”? Furthermore “…where slavery exists labor and capital never come in conflict, because they are in the same hands, and operate in harmony. It is not, then, a blot upon our laws, nor a stain on our morals, nor a blight upon our land.” In refuting the comparison of domestic slavery to political despotism, Ruffin claimed “But authority in domestic life, though not necessary, is naturally considerate, mild, easy to be entreated, and tends to an elevation in sentiment in the superior which generates a human tenderness for those in his power, and renders him regardful alike of the duty and the dignity of this position.” In response to those opposed to the institution of slavery, Ruffin states “to renounce our dominion over them and turn them loose to their own discretion and self-destruction” would be heinous crime. “Their fate would soon turn be that of our native savages or the enfranchised blacks of the West Indies, the miserable victims of idleness, want, drunkenness, and other debaucheries.” (Hamilton 1920 329)
Finally, in admittance that “slavery, indeed, is not a pure and unmixed good,” Ruffin counters “Nor is anything that is human. There are instances of cruel and devilish masters, and of turbulent and refractory slaves…But these are exceptions. Great severity in masters is as much opposed to the usages of our people as to the sentiment of the age, and , indeed to the interest of the master.” Continuing, Ruffin declares “…the interest of the master is not the only security to the slave for humane treatment; there is a stronger tie between them. Often born on the same plantation, and bred together, they have a perfect knowledge of each other, and a mutual attachment…The comfort, cheerfulness, and happiness of the slave should be, and generally is, the study of the master; and every Christian master rejoices over the soul of his slave saved, as a of brother, and allows of his attendance on the ministry of God’s word and sacraments, in any church of his choice in his vicinity…Indeed, slavery in America has not only done more for the civilization and enjoyments of the African race than all other causes, but it has brought more of them into the Christian fold than all the missions to that benighted continent…” (Hamilton 1920, 333)