James Henry Thornwell, president of South Carolina College and editor of the Southern Presbyterian Reivew, regarded slavery as ordained by God, and one of his writings in 1841 argued that abolitionism was one form of “madness,” “fanaticism,” and “great disease” that was destroying both Church and state. Explain Thornwell’s perspective on race, the public reaction to his perspective, and how his argument fits into the pro-slavery plantation South.

Thornwell believed that white people were innately superior to Black people. His ideas were popular among the pro-slavery plantation South but harshly critiqued by abolitionists.

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James Henry Thornwell was a fervent supporter of slavery in the United States, and he was heavily influenced by the ideas of fellow anti-abolitionists like Thomas Cooper. People like Cooper and Thornwell believed the false notion that white people are innately superior to people of color. This belief informed their...

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James Henry Thornwell was a fervent supporter of slavery in the United States, and he was heavily influenced by the ideas of fellow anti-abolitionists like Thomas Cooper. People like Cooper and Thornwell believed the false notion that white people are innately superior to people of color. This belief informed their idea that slavery was just. In Thornwell’s infamous Inaugural Address of the Confederate Presbyterian Church, he explained his racial defense of slavery, saying:

We are profoundly persuaded that the African race in the midst of us can never be elevated in the scale of being. As long as that race, in its comparative degradation, co-exists side by side with the white, bondage is its normal condition.

This passage demonstrates Thornwell’s extremely racist viewpoint on people of color, particularly Black people. He thought that keeping Black people in bondage was not only necessary but natural. This was a popular point of view in the pro-slavery plantation South. White plantation owners used the idea that white people were innately superior to people of color to justify owning people of color as property.

The public reaction you discuss in your response to this prompt is dependent on which “public” you are referring to. For instance, the pro-slavery public in the South would have supported Thornwell’s view because it was ideas like his that allowed them to continue profiting off of the labor of enslaved people. However, if you were to discuss the reaction of abolitionists, they were fiercely opposed to Thornwell's flawed arguments.

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