In The Old South, Mark Smith mentions that Antebellum Southern ministers such as William Harper and William Thornwell offered an elaborate theory of providential relations and particularistic rights, according to which all human beings did not have the same rights. Wives did not have the rights of husband, a father has the rights of father, and the slaves had the rights of slave. Discuss the above statement and discuss ministers’ perspective on racial and gender relations. What category of people would appreciate and benefit from their teachings?

The ministers’ perspectives on racial and gender relations relate to their interpretations of Christianity. They justified the uneven distribution of rights by pointing to the inequality that appears throughout the Bible. Their teachings seemed to especially benefit nonslaveholders and smaller slaveholders.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Old South, a collection of scholarly essays and primary documents edited by Mark M. Smith, an essay by Stephanie McCurry is excerpted. Her article focuses on how Antebellum ministers—including William Harper, William Thornwell, and John B. Adger—justified the unequal distribution of rights in the South.

The perspectives of the ministers are linked to the Bible. In the Bible, people did not have the same rights, so, in turn, people in the Southern Christian republic shouldn’t have equal rights. It’s Adger who argues that a father should have “the rights of a father; and a slave, only the rights of a slave.” According to McCurry, a perspective like Adger’s means that Christianity and the conservative social order of the South were “inseparable.”

Harper, meanwhile, acknowledges that women might possibly “attain the distinctions of society” that men possess. In the same breath, Harper poses the question, “Who complains of the order of society by which they are excluded from?” Perspectives like Harper’s maintained that slavery was an effective bulwark against the chaos that would happen if women and Black people were treated like white men. Whatever its faults, ministers drove home the idea that the South was a fundamentally “benevolent” and “peaceful” way of life.

The teachings of the ministers seemed to particularly benefit small slaveholders and nonslaveholders. The ministers taught these white males that, regardless of their economic class, they were still a part of the South’s network of meaning and value. They also benefited from the order of slavery, so they should remain loyal to the South and the institution of chattel slavery.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team