Date of Award
Open Access Dissertation
College of Arts and Sciences
Mark M. Smith
Eminent antebellum intellectuals Thomas Cooper, James Henley Thornwell, William Campbell Preston, and Francis Lieber, not only shaped their sociocultural milieu as published authors, compelling speakers, and powerful politicians, but also created a greenhouse environment of proslavery instruction at South Carolina College (SCC), today the University of South Carolina. As professors and presidents of the state’s landmark institution of learning, they produced some of the South’s most radical proslavery thinkers during the forty crucial years preceding the Civil War. SCC alumni, fresh from the four professors’ hothouse, became seminal figures in fomenting secession, fighting the Civil War, and firing Southerners’ frenzy to turn back the clock during the Redeemer period.
This dissertation also examines the profound effect of European travel on Cooper, Thornwell, Preston, and Lieber’s proslavery thought, resulting in their increased passion to defend slavery. Concepts they internalized across the Atlantic appear as crucial components of their justification of slavery. They decided that the situation of Southern slaves was far more tenable than that of the British and Continental working classes, and, therefore, concluded that European interference in Southern slavery on a humanitarian basis was blatantly hypocritical. Firsthand observations of Europe’s miserable working classes, oppressive manufacturing conglomerates, and absolutist governments fueled their fight to preserve the “republic” of South Carolina’s states’ rights and agricultural status quo.
Four case studies focus on the four professors’ proslavery argument. Cooper, as a lawyer-politician, Thornwell, the South’s most prominent theologian, and Preston, United States Senator, continuously warned their students and all Southerners to avoid Europe’s negative example and protect slavery and states’ rights. Although he did not publish proslavery thought and, at times, denied proslavery sympathy, examination reveals that Lieber evinced the same proslavery beliefs and behavior as his colleagues and passed them on to his students, the future governors, senators, soldiers, and generals of the state and Confederacy. This work discusses the development of the four professors’ proslavery and pro-Southern thought in Britain and the Continent, and how it, in turn, heavily influenced their SCC students, the South, and American history. Transatlantic experience was a significant current within the development of Southern culture.
Wilson, J. D.(2016). Proslavery Thinking In Antebellum South Carolina: Higher Education, Transatlantic Encounters, And The Life Of The Mind. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/3821