Slavery as Innate to Christianity
In A Fool’s Errand, Tourgee addresses how white Southerners argued that slavery was endorsed by Christianity. Many Civil War era books discuss the topic of paternalism which argued that because whites were superior to blacks they had an obligation to look after them. However, Tourgee doesn’t look at this idea much. Instead he utilizes a viewpoint which is likely more the perspective of many typical white southern slaveholders. This borrows off the argument that African Americans are intrinsically a lesser race and therefore should be subservient. “Ever since I could remember have heard the institution of slavery referred to in the pulpit and in religious conversations, not so much as a thing that might be proved to be holy, but which was incontestably divine in its origin and character, just as much as marriage, or any other Christian institution” (Item 589). It is fascinating because through this quote you can see the top down strategy being utilized here by which Christian leaders promoted slavery. Because they endorsed this institution, the members of the church who held the leaders in a high regard followed suit. Their argument is interesting as well because it indicates that slavery was a divine measure. It wasn’t simply permitted by the Christian church, it was actually made holy. By these strong proclamations the reader can see additional ways in which the church manipulated their ideals to ensure high economic status.
Tourgee goes on to continue the thoughts of this white southerner who utilized Christianity as a way to understand slavery as necessary, even innate, to African Americans. “Until the war was over, I think, if there was any one thing that I believed stronger and clearer and firmer than another, it was that niggers were made for slaves; and cotton, terbacker, sugar-cane, an' rice, were made for them to raise, and could not be raised in any other way” (Item 589). Though this is just one example from one of Tourgee’s novels it truly encapsulates a widely held belief at the time that African Americans were unfit for any work besides the hard and cruel labor of
slavery. This indicates the white southern viewpoint that African Americans were incapable of education and would be unable to learn any skilled trades even if provided training. Essentially, they believed the extent of their talents was in completing the menial tasks of
farming. It is also interesting that this individual made the point that these farm tasks, such as picking cotton, would not be able to be completed without the work of the slaves though. It was not likely the aim of the speaker but this statement indicates a commitment to slaves that was certainly true, but not typically admitted to by white southerners. For slaveholders to acknowledge their need of slaves it discounts the idea of paternalism in which slaves supposedly need their masters. This is interesting because it highlights a discrepancy between the justifications that white southerners used for owning slaves and the actual reality of the situation which was that as this
individual said, slave masters need slaves.