A Peculiar Humanism: The Judicial Advocacy of Slavery in High Courts of the Old South 1820-1850

Overview

In early-nineteenth-century America, and especially in the Old South, the use of oratory appealed to legal professionals—judges as well as advocates. Consistent with the humanism proclaimed in classical and neoclassical works, appellate judges perceived their civic duties to demand oratorical skill as well as legal expertise. In A Peculiar Humanism, William E. Wiethoff assesses the judicial use of oratory in reviewing slave cases and the struggle to fashion a humanist jurisprudence on slavery despite the ...

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Overview

In early-nineteenth-century America, and especially in the Old South, the use of oratory appealed to legal professionals—judges as well as advocates. Consistent with the humanism proclaimed in classical and neoclassical works, appellate judges perceived their civic duties to demand oratorical skill as well as legal expertise. In A Peculiar Humanism, William E. Wiethoff assesses the judicial use of oratory in reviewing slave cases and the struggle to fashion a humanist jurisprudence on slavery despite the customary restraints placed on judicial advocacy.

Drawing attention to a neglected intersection of law and letters, Wiethoff analyzes the proslavery discourse embedded in antebellum judicial opinions by examining the public addresses, judicial narratives, and private papers of sixty-nine appellate judges. By contrasting the judges’ proslavery appeals in a variety of cases in the upper and deep South, Wiethoff shows how context shaped the judges’ perceptions, priorities, and arguments. An outstanding contribution to the literature on law and slavery, A Peculiar Humanism testifies to the character of the legal profession in the Old South and serves as an index of the beliefs and attitudes that coexisted with legal decision making.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Wiethoff invokes a fresh perspective from which to investigate the interplay of judicial oratorical practice and antebellum southern defense of slavery.”—Argumentation and Advocacy

“Wiethoff’s book undoubtedly constitutes a valuable addition to recent scholarship dealing with southern slavery and the law.”—Alabama Review

“This book gives us a valuable source of facts and poses a number of tantalizing questions.”—Journal of Southern History

“A major step forward, is highly thoughtful, and presents an able discussion of those subjects discussed . . . Historians will be using his work for years to come”—H-Net

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820336329
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2010
  • Pages: 262
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

William E. Wiethoff is a professor emeritus of the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University. He is also the author of The Insolent Slave and Crafting the Plantation Overseer’s Image.

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