BUCKINGHAM, James Silk (1786-1855). The Slave States of America. London and Paris: Fisher, Son, & Co., 1842.

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2 volumes. 8vo, (9 x 5 ¾ inches). 4-page list of Subscribers and Reviews in volume one, 8-page publisher’s Advertisement in volume 2. Engraved frontispieces in each volume, 6 engraved plates (some spotting and staining). Original publisher’s brown blind-stamped cloth, spine gilt, UNOPENED (spine of volume one split but holding, some staining to both volumes, a bit worn).

First edition. Buckingham travelled extensively from a very early age, and was a voluminous writer, supporting himself on his travels, including those described in his "Slave States of America," by giving public lectures describing his travels in the east while touring: "He published numerous books on his foreign travels—which are especially notable for the information they provide about social conditions in the many countries he visited—and wrote a large number of pamphlets on social and political subjects. He was probably best known, however, as a lecturer, undertaking speaking tours in both Britain and North America. His enthusiasm for campaigns of reform was unrestrained; in his own words, he could ‘never find anything in a defective state without feeling an instinctive desire to improve it’. The sheer variety of his undertakings was not perhaps well calculated to ensure him immediate success in any one of them individually; indeed, his many critics judged him capricious and shallow. His seemingly eclectic political creed has puzzled historians as much as it infuriated his opponents. In sum, the remarkable range of his travels, the diversity of his interests, and the extent of his writings testify to a life of energy if not of achievement" (G. F. R. Barker, rev. Felix Driver for DNB).


Greatly concerned with the welfare of the enslaved in America, Buckingham does not shrink from expressing his often controversial opinion: "In the same spirit of impartiality, I have endeavoured to describe the state of Slavery in the Southern States, of which these volumes will contain a full account. I shall perhaps be blamed by some English readers for the admissions which I make, if not in favour, at least in palliation, of the conduct of many slaveholders in America, as well as in the confessions which truth demands, of the well-being, and even comfort, of some of the domestic slaves. On the other hand, I expect my full share of censure from a large section, at least, of the people of America, for daring to speak, as truth compels me to do, of the wretched condition of the great body of the African race throughout the South; and of the reckless indifference to human life, and human obligations of every kind, which the very system of Slavery engenders in nearly all the white population who live beneath its influence. To the censures of both these parties I shall be willing to submit, and console myself with the belief that I have served the cause of truth and justice, better than by attempting to please either" (Preface).

The modern world had never seen such a vast and powerful slave society as existed in antebellum America: "the fundamental tragedy of this time, this era of revolutions in politics, transportation, and reform was also a period when an empire for slavery extended across a quarter of the new nation. Slavery, propelled by the same territorial expansion and technological innovation that drove so much else in the new country, spread like a hemorrhage. Over 300,000 slaveowners held nearly 4 million people in bondage by 1860. Slavery, contrary to the expectations of virtually everyone in 1815, grew stronger with each passing decade, embracing an ever larger part of the continent to the South and West, holding more people within its bonds, accounting for a larger share of the nation's exports. Cotton and slavery created a per capita income for white southerners higher than that of any country in Europe except England.

"The discussions in the churches, the reform organizations, and the political parties turned repeatedly, if fitfully and sometimes obliquely, to the morality of slavery and the sectional conflict it bred. Rivalry and distrust between the North and the South came to infect everything in public life. Each section viewed the other as aggressive and expansionist, intent on making the nation all one thing or another. The North claimed that the slaveholder South would destroy the best government on earth rather than accept the results of a fair election. The white South claimed that the arrogant and greedy North would destroy the nation rather than tolerate a labor system the Constitution itself had acknowledged. Both sides were filled with righteous rage, accepting violence to gain the upper hand, whether that involved capturing fugitive slaves or applauding John Brown's failed insurrection. Americans could not stop the momentum they themselves had created.

"What most Americans thought of as progress brought on the Civil War. Had the nation not expanded so relentlessly, the elaborate compromises of 1820, 1850, and 1854 might have held. Had the nation not been made so aware of itself through newspapers, novels, and sermons; through political parties and reform organizations; and through railroads and telegraphs, the bargains and evasions of the Revolutionary generation might have endured. Had cotton not been so in demand and so crucial to the prosperity of the nation and Europe, slavery might have faded rather than growing stronger. No one sought a war that would kill 630,000 Americans, but the killing came on the heels of many changes people did desperately seek. The war that broke out, suddenly and irrevocably defining this era, bore the marks of the emerging modern world. It would rage with terrifying efficiency and far-reaching consequences, forever, changing the way Americans thought of the years that had come before" (Edward L. Ayers for ANB). Howes B917. Sabin 8899.