Antebellum Slavery/Paternalism

Paternalism Section Review 4


Rodrigo Silva

The Erosion of the Three-tier System

Between 1820 and 1861 tremors produced by sectional conflicts in South Carolina increased restrictions for the free black population. Tremors peaked in 1860 with a "campaign to enslave free persons of color"(Drago 29). In Charleston, white mechanics tried to end the competition from blacks though sectional conflict. Black elites attempted to stay away from the rest of the free and enslaved blacks but realized that they were already caught in racism.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 diffused the issue of slavery but only for a certain amount of time. By this time, the effects of racism had already affected Charleston. Denmark Vesey, a black Methodist, told his followers about antislavery speeches delivered by Rufus King, a U.S. senator from New York. This caused that a law in 1822 restricted severely the rights of the blacks. Colored males over fifteen years of age had to find a white guardian to approve of them, otherwise they would have to face enslavement. Blacks were also prohibited to leave the state. This law did not only affect the poor free and enslaved blacks but also the richest and the black elites. Between 1832 and the following year, the nullification crisis worsened the economic situation in Charleston bringing more tension and more competition between the white mechanics and the people of color. One fourth of Charleston's free blacks left between 1828 and 1834.

In December 1834, The South Carolina legislature expanded the laws against the education of slaves. Not even free black people were allowed to teach a slave how to read or write. Schools in this state were only possible if they were staffed by white people.

In the early 1840s laws made it difficult for slaves to blend in with free blacks in society. On July 13, 1849 a slave named Nicholas threatened to strike his master with a hammer. As the white man ran from his slave, a group of black men joined in the chase. Nicholas was caught the next day and was tried by a mob of whites.

The agitation of the labor issue caused whites to vie free blacks the same and served to undermine further whatever existed of the three-tier system.

In 1848 Micahel Eggart was elected vice president of the FMS, the Friendly Moralist Society, which consisted of 43 members and was approximately 11.5% of Charleston's free blacks between the ages of 15 and 80. FMS rules limited to free "brown" men over the age of eighteen. About 280 mulatto men existed in Charleston between the ages of fifteen an eighty who were eligible. Most of them could not afford the fifteen dollar fee to join the society. Other societies forced some of the members of FMS to leave the state making the society open its doors to more people. The denial of membership to Richard Gregory and Charles Just Sr. caused the loss of members. Religious and church affiliation was an important part to understanding the FMS's struggle to open membership to a wider number of people. Distinctions between Methodists and Episcopalians in free black communities were not always clear -cut.  When Methodists reopened membership, their churches became increasingly crowded. In 1844 white Methodists decided to break away from the issue of slavery. Slowly, whites and blacks began to mix in society. Still there were some who tried passing laws to restrict rights of blacks but were not successful.

Works Cited:

Drago, Edmund L. Initiative, Paternalism & Race Relations. Athens, Georgia:   University of Georgia Press, 1990.