In The Anxious World of the Slaveowning Patriarch and The Effects of Paternalism Among Whites and Blacks, written by Kathleen Brown and Philip Morgan respectively, it was put forward that the patriarchal authority was as a necessary element in maintaining the slavery institution. The patriarchal society was a tradition that was brought forth by the European colonizers, and this system has been the basis by which to impose the code of practice, not only in the family, but also in the societal, political and legal institutions in Virginia during that time. In her essay, Brown denotes that the master’s patriarchal authority was reflected in terms of domestic submission, and that included slave ownership, “marriage, parenthood, slave ownership and electoral politics, all tested a man” (Brown, 50). This argument was further emphasized by Morgan who suggested that the relationship between the whites and the blacks were woven together by fate, further citing one Virginia lawyer: “Societies of men could not subsist unless there were a subordination of one to another (Morgan, 59). Accordingly, the supportive stance towards patriarchy was the main basis behind the need to will the slaves into subordination and submission, and has been widely used to justify the morality of the institution of slavery.
The Anxious World of the Slave Owning Patriarch
The article by Kathleen Brown showed how the patriarchal authority was strictly guarded by those who happen to be in that position. In order to maintain that air of authority, the elite Virginian men during the 18th century were expected to know to how to respond in a manner that was deemed appropriate in specific situations. This is notable on Brown’s description that, “the authority exercised by elite white men over their wives, children, slaves, and social and economic inferiors as if each relationship existed in isolation from the others”. Most of all, they must know the art of communicating power to those around them, such as shifting their identity according to a given circumstance.
The reiteration and extension of the master’s domination over the slaves were strengthened in the early part of the 18th century, when the slave laws were rewritten by the legislators. With the imposition of new laws, the vast land owners in Virgnia started to calls themselves as patriarchs. For about fifty years, the patriarchal system lasted and the elite men were able to exercise their authority in areas such as having “control over sexual access to women, rights to the labor of slaves and servants, formal access to political life, and the ability to create and manipulate symbols signifying these other sources of power” (Brown, 52). Accordingly, the elite gentlemen of Virginia would later realize that self-restrain is crucial in the ability to exercise dominion over others. However, it remains that inherent in the institution of slavery is the unrelenting appeal of subjecting others to one’s will. As suggested by Brown, the slave owning patriarch, despite their claim for refinement, derive much of their authoritative power from their ability to exploit and inflict pain.
The Effects of Paternalism Among Whites and Blacks
In his essay, Philip Morgan discussed the transition of the relationships between the master and the slave, as well as between the whites and blacks, from the patriarchal system to paternalism.
The principle of paternalism considerably directed the rationale of slavery as patriarchalism was redefined and the slave owners wanted more emphasis over their property rights. Accordingly, the slaves who were viewed as property were increasingly regarded as people without rights. Nevertheless, the transformation of the authoritative patriarchal doctrine to lesser authoritarianism saw light in the second half of the 18th century. The change in the patriarchal system was noted to have brought gentleness and reciprocity, and despite wanting to maintain order and authority, the masters were inclined to show better treatment towards their slaves. For instance, the “late 18th century masters sometimes appealed to rather than threatened their slaves”, the adjustment to a more caring attitude was attributed to the change of the political climate as well as to the transformation to an egalitarian and affectionate family life. Despite the bondage of slavery and incidence where they perceived the need to use force and punishment, the masters realized that employing positive incentives is more beneficial.
In Morgan’s essay, another notable change during the latter half of the 18th century was that there was an increased detachment between the plain white folk and black slaves who once share a closer and open association. Among the cited reason for the increased distance were the decline in the number of white servants, in contrast to the increased number of the blacks, in addition to that, the actions of the ruling class puts the divide between the blacks and the whites. Morgan offered that the relationship of the whites and the blacks during that time was one that was full of twists and paired polarities. For when a master imposes strict discipline and control towards the slaves, they also have to concede to their duty to provide and protect their wards. The slaves were viewed as people without rights, yet the whites cannot deny that they too were an important part of the society.
In her writing Brown, must have wanted to provide us an insight about the predicaments of the elite white men during that time. She has successfully narrated the message, and this can be attributed to the strength of the document which lies in the several examples of real life incidents, including the written accounts of William Byrd. However, a reader may find that the writer downplayed the exploitation of the slaves. As one who has read several accounts of the abuse of the slaves, I felt that, the author restrained from discussing about it in this document.
Accordingly, the essay has the effect of letting the modern day reader to realize how the patriarchal doctrine has largely influenced the system of slavery. The elite gentlemen during the 18th century has always perceived their authority with great importance and has always been extremely vigilant against anything that threatens it. By the authors use of the story of one elite man, William Byrd, the author made her point clearer and easier to comprehend, moreover, this essay serves as an important reminder of the historical system of slavery that has always been a part of our history.
In Brown’s discussion, the elite white man was shown as who exercise complete patriarchal authority over his family, and slaves with patriarchy connoting a “state power under the rule of an absolute monarchy”. The masters during the beginning of the 18th century were further given justification to regard themselves as patriarchs, the law has favored them as such and they have reigned supreme as fathers and political patrons for about fifty years. However, despite the power bestowed on the them, the white elites were not satisfied, often comparing themselves disapprovingly against their English counterparts. In contrast, the masters during the later part of the 18 century were able to reduce this form of comparison, and this might be attributed to the fact that colonial America has distanced itself from the monarchy. In Morgan’s essay, it was claimed that many of the 18th century masters of evidently regarded themselves according to the early patriarchal doctrines and tradition. However, all these have changed due to several reasons such as the change in the political climate and the increased egalitarianism and affection in the family setting as well. In fact, one later slave owners have even expressed the right of his slave to freedom, and his right to his property: “Liberty is sweet and in that they are right—property is comfortable and if I can stop them, I will also be right”. The reason for the slave owner to state this is that they cannot deny the fact that their slaves were also human, and has also rights just as they do.
The Doctrine of Paternalism
Philip Morgan’s objective in the Effects of Paternalism must be to show that change has occurred in the system of slavery, and that the masters have gradually recognized the humanity of the slaves. These concepts were readily seen in Morgan’s discussion of the paired polarity of the master and slave relationship. Accordingly, this is the strength of the author’s discussion because such description allows the reader to readily get his message. On the other hand, the weakness is the same with that of Brown, the apparent downplaying of the system of slavery. I think that, in comparison to other writers who wrote about the institution of slavery, Brown tend to soften on it.
While Brown, in her essay, cited that the authority of the slave owners highly depended on their ability to exact pain to the slaves, Morgan has other things to say about the masters exercise of authority. The transformation of the patriarchal system into paternalism resulted to a more compassionate treatment towards the slaves, and many masters recognized that the best way to gain from their slaves was to treat them well. As one slave owner said, “the greatest incitement to their duty lay in their hopes of living and dying on my property without being separated from their families, connections and friends”
However, despite the claim of mellow paternalism, it remains that most of the white slave owners wanted the slaves to be so all their lives. One can realize, that the better treatment of the slaves is attributed to the recognition of their humanity and their want for freedom as well, and in order to maintain their loyalty, the masters have to treat them as fellow human beings. Thus, during the later part of the 18th century, the mellow paternalism was practiced by most of the elite white masters.
Brown, Kathleen. "The Anxious World of the Slave Owning Patriarch." Major Problems in American History. N.p., n.d. 49-58. Print.
Morgan, Philip. "The Effects of Paternalism Among Whites and Blacks." Major Problems in American History. N.p., n.d. 58-68. Print.