Even the greatest minds of the past were twisted. In 1862, in order to observe the Civil War on his own, Nathaniel Hawthorne decided to leave New England and travel south. On his way he met a group of black slaves, who were making their way to the northern states. Later he wrote down his impressions of this meeting: “They seemed a kind of creature by themselves, not altogether human, but perhaps quite as good, and akin to the fauns and rustic deities of olden times.”
Hawthorne did not mean to insult the slaves, but it was one of many sayings that stung David Brion Davis’s heart painfully enough to make him finish his final volume of the trilogy on slavery. “The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation” is an exceptional book, written by an American historian, whose main study fields are abolition and slavery. In the introduction of his work, Davis wrote: “I have long interpreted the problem of slavery, centering on the impossibility of converting humans into the totally compliant, submissive, accepting chattel symbolized by Aristotle’s ideal of the ‘natural slave’. ”
How derisive is the fact that it was the same country, where cruelty and injustice of slavery were as common, as dreams of freedom and equal opportunities for everyone. Living by double standards seems to be one of most common human traits. David Brion Davis appears to be more of a philosopher and a psychologist than just a historian in this work of his. Referring to the theories of Descartes and Freud, he claims slaveholders to project the qualities they suppressed in themselves onto their “living” property. That is where the myths of lazy, silly and imperfect black people came from. These myths were tools that gave white people something like potential rights to own blacks; they were just an excuse, which allowed the whites to take all the guilt away from themselves.
In his book “The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation” Davis focuses mostly on abolitionism of the 19-th century and on the cultural, theological and intellectual origins of the American antislavery movement. He studies the aftermath of Haitian Revolution, the slave trade, the process of colonization and, naturally, he studies the movement of resistance – both of black and white abolitionists. He refers both to David Walker’s “Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World” and to The Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, while exploring the matter of abolitionism and the concept of slavery itself. There are two main conclusions of his study. The first one is that the causes and motivations of abolitionism were diverse. And the second one… According to Davis, “Moral progress seems to be historical, cultural and institutional, not the result of a genetic improvement in human nature.”