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Ending of Slavery in Zaria and the U.S. South
by   Richard   Rieben
Written – 1976
 
The especial things to consider in contemplating the ending of slavery and its after-effects in any particular society are: what kind of society was this to have had slavery and, if it had had slavery long enough to have become an ingrained part of that society, by what 'failing' of the slave-system or of the slave society did slavery come to an end? Furthermore, could slavery, as a part of the social and economic fabric of a society, be simply eclipsed without regard to the social context in which it had occurred? If slavery is ended within a society by economic and/or social fiat, does this denote a change in the social fabric precipitating the shifting of the over-all social structure? Or, if slavery is ended by some external agency, can this abolition have any viable meaning without a total social over-haul?

If slavery exists as a part of a society, then it is a part of the wider social status quo, not simply an isolated or somehow separate part of the society. As an institution it is, perforce, integral to the social whole ... a manifestation thereof; contributing to and derived therefrom.

If slavery is ended within the context of the society itself (as opposed to being ended by an outside agency), then its ending marks a step in a 'social revolution' (and a corollary economic one as well). The gradual shift in social structure as denoted by the emancipation of slaves does not mark the completion of that shift, but is only an indication that a shift or social change is in progress.

It is important to understand the nature of a society which does accomodate slavery in order to appreciate the position from which the social structure is shifting in a society marked by emancipation. And it is important to understand the nature of a society which does not (or cannot) accomodate slavery in order to comprehend the nature of the over-all social shift from a position of slave-holding. Abolition itself must not be seen as the epitome of the changing social structure, but only as a part (perhaps the most visible, or perhaps the most striking - in terms of having a sudden affect on a large group of people: both slaves and masters); a part which indicates fundamental changes in a broader social context.

To deal with slavery, therefore, and to understand emancipation and the subsequent adjustment of post-slavery society, one must concern oneself with the more relevant, and telling, social circumstances of which the institution of slavery is itself but one manifestation.

One further point to consider is that society (any society of a given structure) is based upon some philosophical premise defining (usually without recourse to articulated formulation) a view of the individual human being (man qua man) and, on this foundation, forming a social structure which accommodates this view. (And which, in primitive social structures, is often defined in terms of survival ... thus man is often defined as a social animal, not necessarily because it is true, but because of its high security value in survival terms.)

The societies which have slavery generally are of a sort wherein the dominant members are seeking to design some degree of guaranteed existence by which they will not have to deal with reality or be troubled by decisions in conjunction therewith. The cultural philosophy of slave-holding societies is generally such as to support the aspirations of the dominant members; at least in principle. It is often the case that slaves or poor members of the master race or class do not oppose the institution which gives to the masters their position, but are envious of that position and curse the fates for their own subordinate position. (The changing of governments without essentially changing the nature of government in such countries as Haiti is a case in point; and one not quite so distant from the institution of slavery as one might think.)

The basic philosophical premise upon which a slave-holding society is predicated is the principle of 'the divine right of stagnation.' The advocates of this principle "are motivated by metaphysical considerations - by a rebellion against the human mode of survival, a rebellion against the fact that life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action - and by the dream that, if only they can harness the men who do not resent the nature of life, they will make existence tolerable for those who do resent it."(1) Witness the rigid social structure of Zaria wherein the details of daily life are conducted according to formulae of tradition and custom; note, also, that life in the South attempted the same kind of social ordering, but without the strength of age-old, local tradition. "In the South, the dreams were feudal. The plantation became a manor, the slaves humble serfs, and the planter a mounted knight, gallant in war, chivalrous, disdainful of materialistic considerations. His highest obligation was to his honor, affixed to the woman who was his own true love.... The participants in these fantasies did not really deceive themselves. They had no such traditions."(2)

The Southerners would have liked to have had a closed and bound communal or kinship type of society based upon status qualifications like that in Zaria, but the United States' Constitution would not concede that much. The issue of States' Rights over which the South seceded from the Union had this much foundation in reality: the Southerners were not prepared to live and let live according to the guarantees set forth for individuals in the Constitution; they wanted the "right" to control their social environment and the members thereof - individuality was alien in concept to the Southerners. The existence of slaves had strengthened their anti-individualism position: simply by their relationship with the blacks. Whether they regarded blacks as human beings on a level commeasurate with the whites or not is irrelevant, the fact is that blacks were in reality as much human beings as were the whites and this fact, even though it was denied by the Southern whites, affected their regard for individuals of any race. After slavery in the South, the very existence of blacks provided conditions which facilitated the continuation of an ordered society.

The history of racial freedom in the United States has been one of continuing inability by the whites to enforce a controlled social order. They have not always and at all times been stopped by laws, but, in the long run, over any particular issue, they have been thwarted in their designs by the United States' Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, both of which documents are based upon principles of natural rights guaranteed to individual citizens. Neither document has ever found overwhelming support upon such a basis, but neither has the opposition been strong enough to consistently or effectively override the principles established by these documents. The greatest folly of the South was to attempt to institute a social order, based roughly upon the British concept of status or class society, under a Declaration of Independence from British domination and a Constitution repudiating British institutions and designed to prevent the social ills which had obtained under British government and through British society. The South was not alone in its attempt to maintain English culture under a form of government which was based upon distinct social principles, (philosophical formulation and articulation had been largely ignored and exact philosophical distinctions implicit in U.S. government went largely unrecognized by the founding fathers). The plantation economy of the South, with the institution of slavery, made the South initially more susceptible than any other part of the country to a culture based upon the 'divine right of stagnation.' Once that culture was firmly implanted, the abolition of slavery alone could not root it out. Today this culture is still an integral part of Southern society, but its effective control over members of that society has faded somewhat - the situation is akin to the strong-holds of traditional Japanese culture in Japan's highly industrialized society, which color that society while no longer controlling it.

In Zaria the social structure is not especially flexible, but it is accommodative and seems to be a system which has evolved in accordance with a minimum of pretence over the fact that they are treating life as anything more than a ritualized game: dignity is not attempted. (Although dignity may give rise to status, the two are essentially antithetical in spirit.) Since they make no claim to human dignity, they have no illusions to posture and no facade which they need to strive to maintain; in brief, they appear to be without moral principles, such as those under which the South labored, and therefore to be a singularly pragmatic people. They tend to work-out their individual lives within the context of the given social order (which provides their essential metaphysical world). The apparent social flux proceeds from available, but essentially limited, options (limited by the total social structure; e.g., there is no place for the single man or woman of reproductive capabilities.)

In conjunction with the ending of slavery in Zaria, a particular question arises: does the ending of slavery have any meaning whatever? This being posed by a related question: did the existence of slavery have any meaning whatever? It was an institution, in some ways economic and in others social, but the over-all social system was designed to accommodate it. As an institution, slavery was not an essential or necessary part of society ... rather, it should be seen as having been a particular manifestation or variant of the socio-political-economic concept of clientage ("an exclusive relation of mutual benefit which holds between two persons defined as socially and politically unequal, and which stresses their solidarity."(3)) The passing of slavery, especially via the insistent gradualism delineated by Lugard's Proclamation, had little bearing on the status-based social order. In keeping with the ideal of pragmatism, there is a respect in which the social system of Zaria might be regarded as flexible: it was not dependent upon any of its particular institutions or rituals, but upon the more basic principle that society is to be processed and ordered ritualistically, (although ordering was predominantly ascriptive according to M.G Smith).(4) The form or content of ritual was generally irrelevant: if one was disallowed (either by reality or by some outside agency) the practice of some particular ritual, another ritual could be devised to meet similar ends. The passage de rite of girls into adulthood via marriage, for example, is highly ritualistic, but it is not rigid: the variations (and options) are great and there is no inherent respect for the elements of the over-all ritual. The only staple element in any of the 'rituals' seems to be the idea of ritual itself. But the very function of ritual is not to deal with reality, but to placate it. Metaphysically, it is a process of evasion. The system of clientage, with its manifold manifestations, is based squarely upon the 'divine right of stagnation' with some form of social (and, ergo, survival) guarantees accorded to all parties thus bound.

Slavery is a social institution. If an entire society is composed solely upon the premise of slavery, as in Zaria (e.g., women losing the rights to their own bodies through marriage, etc., etc., etc.), then the passing of but one form of slavery will have little meaning. A substitute can be devised the more easily for the fact that another form of slavery is the only conceivable option. In general this idea of substitution obtained in immediate-pre-Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction in the South. The South, however, has gradually changed its effective culture, whereas Zarian culture appears (from my reading) to have endured and maintained its predominance.*


footnotes
1 Nathaniel Branden, "The Divine Right of Stagnation," The Objectivist Newsletter, II (August, 1963), 32.
2 Oscar Handlin, The Americans, (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1963). p. 237
3 M.G. Smith, Govemment In Zazzau, 1800-1950, (New York, Oxford University Press, 1950). p. 8
4 Ibid., p. 253
*Note: culture: the cumulative manifestations of the predominant philosophy of a particular society; political, artistic, social, religious, etc.

bibliography
Smith, Mary, Saba of Karo: A Woman of the Moslem Hausa. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, 1964
Meier, August, and Elliott M. Rudwick, From Plantation to Ghetto. New York: Hill & Wang, 1968
Rosengarten, Theodore, All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw. New York: Avon Books, 1974

 

copyright © 2005 by Richard G. Rieben