Honor and Slavery: Lies, Duels, Noses, Masks, Dressing as a Woman, Gifts, Strangers, Humanitarianism, Death, Slave Rebellions, the Proslavery Argument, Baseball, Hunting, and Gambling in the Old South / Edition 1

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Overview

The "honorable men" who ruled the Old South had a language all their own, one comprised of many apparently outlandish features yet revealing much about the lives of masters and the nature of slavery. When we examine Jefferson Davis's explanation as to why he was wearing women's clothing when caught by Union soldiers, or when we consider the story of Virginian statesman John Randolph, who stood on his doorstep declaring to an unwanted dinner guest that he was "not at home," we see that conveying empirical truths was not the goal of their speech. Kenneth Greenberg so skillfully demonstrates, the language of honor embraced a complex system of phrases, gestures, and behaviors that centered on deep-rooted values: asserting authority and maintaining respect. How these values were encoded in such acts as nose-pulling, outright lying, dueling, and gift-giving is a matter that Greenberg takes up in a fascinating and original way.

The author looks at a range of situations when the words and gestures of honor came into play, and he re-creates the contexts and associations that once made them comprehensible. We understand, for example, the insult a navy lieutenant leveled at President Andrew Jackson when he pulls his nose, once we understand how a gentleman valued his face, especially his nose, as the symbol of his public image. Greenberg probes the lieutenant's motivations by explaining what it meant to perceive oneself as dishonored and how such a perception seemed comparable to being treated as a slave. When John Randolph lavished gifts on his friends and enemies as he calmly faced the prospect of death in a duel with Secretary of State Henry Clay, his generosity had a paternalistic meaning echoed by the master-slave relationship and reflected in the pro-slavery argument. These acts, together with the way a gentleman chose to lend money, drink with strangers, go hunting, and die, all formed a language of control, a vision of what it meant to live as a courageous free man. In reconstructing the language of honor in the Old South, Greenberg reconstructs the world.

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Editorial Reviews

American Historical Review
This is a valuable book. . . . [V]ivid and persuasive. . . . [G]iven the engaging quality of Greenberg's writing, coupled with his notable ability to tell a story, the book should receive a wide audience among historians and an appreciative one among students of the nineteenth-century American South.
— Dickson D. Bruce, Jr.
American Journal of Sociology
This collection of intriguing essays is a worthy addition to the literature. . . [Greenberg] offers telling reflections on these subjects that sharpen the reader's appreciation for how different the world of slavery and honor was from our own. . . . We should acknowledge the vitality and versatility of the author's exemplary handling of a topic too long dwelling in the historical shadows.
— Bertram Wyatt-Brown
Journal of Southern History
This volume works with great imagination and complexity to show how elite men understood themselves as slave owners and as men.
— Ted Ownby
Georgia Historical Quarterly
Greenberg's study is easy to praise. It is readable and insightful. . . . More important, it is a fine introduction to the new linguistic approaches to history, wherein dull and seemingly trivial customs can be made fun and important.
— John Mayfield
The Boston Globe
A surprisingly sprightly little volume that serves as a window into a world long gone. . . . Greenberg . . . is our tour guide in this forbidding, forgotten territory. He's knowledgeable and good-natured. He has an eye for detail, and just as important, an ear for nuance.
— David M. Shribman
The [London] Times
[Greenberg] writes with agreeable clarity, and in five short chapters, his easy, freewheeling style carries us a remarkably long way.
— Ian McIntyre
The Review of Politics
Greenberg's thesis and accompanying analysis are tightly interwoven. His discussion is both entertaining and thought provoking, and his conclusions fit well with other discussions of the role of honor in Southern history. . . . Highly readable and interesting.
— Robert P. Steed
The Boston Book Review
This is an unusual book, and one that isn't easily categorized. For a historical work it's short and uncharacteristically wry, but Greenberg writes with a lexicographic and historical earnestness of purpose that doesn't allow him to slip into irony at the expense of his subject matter. . . .there's an awful lot of significance to be gleaned from the marginal and the superficial.
— Toby Lester
The Boston Globe - David M. Shribman
A surprisingly sprightly little volume that serves as a window into a world long gone. . . . Greenberg . . . is our tour guide in this forbidding, forgotten territory. He's knowledgeable and good-natured. He has an eye for detail, and just as important, an ear for nuance.
The [London] Times - Ian McIntyre
[Greenberg] writes with agreeable clarity, and in five short chapters, his easy, freewheeling style carries us a remarkably long way.
American Historical Review - Dickson D. Bruce
This is a valuable book. . . . [V]ivid and persuasive. . . . [G]iven the engaging quality of Greenberg's writing, coupled with his notable ability to tell a story, the book should receive a wide audience among historians and an appreciative one among students of the nineteenth-century American South.
American Journal of Sociology - Bertram Wyatt-Brown
This collection of intriguing essays is a worthy addition to the literature. . . [Greenberg] offers telling reflections on these subjects that sharpen the reader's appreciation for how different the world of slavery and honor was from our own. . . . We should acknowledge the vitality and versatility of the author's exemplary handling of a topic too long dwelling in the historical shadows.
The Review of Politics - Robert P. Steed
Greenberg's thesis and accompanying analysis are tightly interwoven. His discussion is both entertaining and thought provoking, and his conclusions fit well with other discussions of the role of honor in Southern history. . . . Highly readable and interesting.
Journal of Southern History - Ted Ownby
This volume works with great imagination and complexity to show how elite men understood themselves as slave owners and as men.
Georgia Historical Quarterly - John Mayfield
Greenberg's study is easy to praise. It is readable and insightful. . . . More important, it is a fine introduction to the new linguistic approaches to history, wherein dull and seemingly trivial customs can be made fun and important.
The Boston Book Review - Toby Lester
This is an unusual book, and one that isn't easily categorized. For a historical work it's short and uncharacteristically wry, but Greenberg writes with a lexicographic and historical earnestness of purpose that doesn't allow him to slip into irony at the expense of his subject matter. . . .there's an awful lot of significance to be gleaned from the marginal and the superficial.
From the Publisher
"A surprisingly sprightly little volume that serves as a window into a world long gone. . . . Greenberg . . . is our tour guide in this forbidding, forgotten territory. He's knowledgeable and good-natured. He has an eye for detail, and just as important, an ear for nuance."—David M. Shribman, The Boston Globe

"[Greenberg] writes with agreeable clarity, and in five short chapters, his easy, freewheeling style carries us a remarkably long way."—Ian McIntyre, The [London] Times

"Many of Greenberg's observations offer revealing contextualizations. Particularly interesting are chapters on death and on the duel."Publishers Weekly

"A piercing—and decidedly offbeat—look into the mind of the Old South. . . . Charged with ideas, this is a cheerfully speculative and valuable addition to the library of the Civil War."Kirkus Reviews

"This is a valuable book. . . . Vivid and persuasive. . . . Given the engaging quality of Greenberg's writing, coupled with his notable ability to tell a story, the book should receive a wide audience among historians and an appreciative one among students of the nineteenth-century American South."—Dickson D. Bruce, Jr., American Historical Review

"This collection of intriguing essays is a worthy addition to the literature. . . [Greenberg] offers telling reflections on these subjects that sharpen the reader's appreciation for how different the world of slavery and honor was from our own. . . . We should acknowledge the vitality and versatility of the author's exemplary handling of a topic too long dwelling in the historical shadows."—Bertram Wyatt-Brown, American Journal of Sociology

"Greenberg's thesis and accompanying analysis are tightly interwoven. His discussion is both entertaining and thought provoking, and his conclusions fit well with other discussions of the role of honor in Southern history. . . . Highly readable and interesting."—Robert P. Steed, The Review of Politics

"This volume works with great imagination and complexity to show how elite men understood themselves as slave owners and as men."—Ted Ownby, Journal of Southern History

"Greenberg's study is easy to praise. It is readable and insightful. . . . More important, it is a fine introduction to the new linguistic approaches to history, wherein dull and seemingly trivial customs can be made fun and important."—John Mayfield, Georgia Historical Quarterly

"This is a valuable book. . . . [V]ivid and persuasive. . . . [G]iven the engaging quality of Greenberg's writing, coupled with his notable ability to tell a story, the book should receive a wide audience among historians and an appreciative one among students of the nineteenth-century American South."—Dickson D. Bruce, Jr., American Historical Review

"A piercing—and decidedly offbeat—look into the mind of the Old South. . . . Greenberg handles his arguments deftly, full as they are of odd digressions, to show [a culture] with a unique code of custom and communication. . . . Charged with ideas, this is a cheerfully speculative and valuable addition to the library of the Civil War."Kirkus Reviews

"Many of Greenberg's observations offer revealing contextualizations. Particularly interesting are chapters on death and on the duel and its rather less drastic variation, the tweaking of the nose, a symbol of masculine honor."Publishers Weekly

"This is an unusual book, and one that isn't easily categorized. For a historical work it's short and uncharacteristically wry, but Greenberg writes with a lexicographic and historical earnestness of purpose that doesn't allow him to slip into irony at the expense of his subject matter. . . .there's an awful lot of significance to be gleaned from the marginal and the superficial."—Toby Lester, The Boston Book Review

". . . should be required reading for anyone interested in its [Southern] life and culture before the Civil War."Library Journal

"Greenberg provides an in-depth study of the language of honor in the Old South. He skillfully demonstrates how this language embraced a complex system of phrases, gestures, and behaviors that asserted authority or maintained respect. . . . His work gives a clear view of what it meant to live as a courageous free man in the Old South and should be required reading for anyone interested in its life and culture before the Civil War."Library Journal

The Boston Globe

A surprisingly sprightly little volume that serves as a window into a world long gone. . . . Greenberg . . . is our tour guide in this forbidding, forgotten territory. He's knowledgeable and good-natured. He has an eye for detail, and just as important, an ear for nuance.
— David M. Shribman
The Boston Book Review

This is an unusual book, and one that isn't easily categorized. For a historical work it's short and uncharacteristically wry, but Greenberg writes with a lexicographic and historical earnestness of purpose that doesn't allow him to slip into irony at the expense of his subject matter. . . .there's an awful lot of significance to be gleaned from the marginal and the superficial.
— Toby Lester
American Historical Review

This is a valuable book. . . . [V]ivid and persuasive. . . . [G]iven the engaging quality of Greenberg's writing, coupled with his notable ability to tell a story, the book should receive a wide audience among historians and an appreciative one among students of the nineteenth-century American South.
— Dickson D. Bruce, Jr.
Journal of Southern History

This volume works with great imagination and complexity to show how elite men understood themselves as slave owners and as men.
— Ted Ownby
American Journal of Sociology

This collection of intriguing essays is a worthy addition to the literature. . . [Greenberg] offers telling reflections on these subjects that sharpen the reader's appreciation for how different the world of slavery and honor was from our own. . . . We should acknowledge the vitality and versatility of the author's exemplary handling of a topic too long dwelling in the historical shadows.
— Bertram Wyatt-Brown
Georgia Historical Quarterly

Greenberg's study is easy to praise. It is readable and insightful. . . . More important, it is a fine introduction to the new linguistic approaches to history, wherein dull and seemingly trivial customs can be made fun and important.
— John Mayfield
The Review of Politics

Greenberg's thesis and accompanying analysis are tightly interwoven. His discussion is both entertaining and thought provoking, and his conclusions fit well with other discussions of the role of honor in Southern history. . . . Highly readable and interesting.
— Robert P. Steed
The [London] Times

[Greenberg] writes with agreeable clarity, and in five short chapters, his easy, freewheeling style carries us a remarkably long way.
— Ian McIntyre
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"I hope that I have established enough associations to have created an elementary primer of the language of honor," says Greenberg, a Suffolk University professor of history and author of Masters and Statesmen, at the end of this study of the Southern chivalric code. That code was held by "Southern Men of Honor" whose values, beliefs and behaviors determined what most Northern readers will see as not just one but many "peculiar institutions" south of the Mason-Dixon line. Many of Greenberg's observations offer revealing contextualizations. Particularly interesting are chapters on death and on the duel and its rather less drastic variation, the tweaking of the nose, a symbol of masculine honor. Sometimes, he stretches his points, as with the issue of lying when John Randolph says to a would-be guest: "Sir, I am not at home." "This interaction illuminates one meaning embedded in the idea of `giving the lie' in the culture of honor.... You did not own a lie until you were called a liar." (Greenberg also fails to make clear why he doesn't translate Randolph's "at home" in the 18th- and 19th-century sense in which it meant "accessible to strangers.") Greenberg argues that the slave-master relationship molded the conduct of Southern gentleman, conduct in which open confrontation, for example, by being associated with slaves was considered dishonorable. According to Greenberg, this same code caused baseball to be less popular in the South than in the North. "The act of running in baseball implied a change of position that seemed inappropriate to a man of honor." Gambling, on the other hand, was considered an appropriately elitist pastime and one, he says, that would inform Confederate strategists. "The Confederacy may well have lost the Civil War as a result of lessons learned at Southern card tables and racetracks." (May)
Library Journal
Greenberg (Masters and Statesmen, Johns Hopkins, 1988) provides an in-depth study of the language of honor in the Old South. He skillfully demonstrates how this language embraced a complex system of phrases, gestures, and behaviors that asserted authority or maintained respect. His examples portray a range of situations in which the works and gestures of honor came into play, for example, during heated arguments on the floor of the House of Representatives or when an impetuous gesture could easily lead to a duel, as it did between Henry Clay and John Randolph. Greenberg makes the situations comprehensible to the modern reader. His work gives a clear view of what it meant to live as a courageous free man in the Old South and should be required reading for anyone interested in its life and culture before the Civil War.-W. Walter Wicker, Louisiana Tech Univ., Ruston
Kirkus Reviews
A piercing—and decidedly offbeat—look into the mind of the Old South.

"This book," writes historian Greenberg, "is a work of translation. It is a reconstruction and interpretation of a `dead language' "—the sometimes courtly, often evasive language of the cavaliers and landed gentry who guided the Confederacy into revolt. That language, he notes, was not always spoken; in the entertaining essay that opens his book, for instance, he writes of the strange Southern custom of nose-pulling; the essay draws in discussions of the South's dislike for the New England showman P.T. Barnum; the social history of practical jokes; and the Southern nobility's perception of self. Greenberg handles his arguments deftly, full as they are of odd digressions, to show that the Old South was a world of master and slave far removed in manner from our own, one with a unique code of custom and communication. Without an understanding of just how different it was, Greenberg suggests, much early Southern history will seem incomprehensible to the modern student. Thus, when relating the story of how at the end of the Civil War Jefferson Davis tried unsuccessfully to flee advancing Northern troops by dressing as a woman—a story subsequently enshrined by none other than P.T. Barnum, who "understood that people would pay to see a re-creation of the humiliation of the Confederate leader"—Greenberg takes us through a leisurely dissection of the concepts of honor, power, and social masking, observing that to unmask a man of honor was a grievous and unforgivable insult. While this does little to explain Davis's choice of garb, it does shed light on the lingering sense of outrage over the war's conclusion in some Southern circles.

Charged with ideas, this is a cheerfully speculative and valuable addition to the library of the Civil War.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691017198
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 10/13/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 752,863
  • Product dimensions: 6.07 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface
Acknowledgments
1 The Nose, the Lie, and the Duel 3
2 Masks and Slavery 24
3 Gifts, Strangers, Duels, and Humanitarianism 51
4 Death 87
5 Baseball, Hunting, and Gambling 115
Notes 147
Index 171
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