Winner of the Allan Nevins Award of the Society of American Historians. In 1865, the Confederacy passed into history, but its ideological cornerstone survived. War had ended slavery, but war had not ended Southern planters' attachment to it. This is a history of that moment when planters became masters without slaves.
James L. Roark's Masters without Slaves is a well-written and solidly-grounded academic study of the ideological and cultural foundations of slavery and their transition into the ethos of white supremacy that still flourishes in America today. Roark relied heavily on first-hand accounts – letters, diaries, and notebooks – augmented by scholarly works from distinguished historians such as Willie Lee Rose, Charles Roland, Kenneth Stampp, and Eugene Genovese. As the back cover blurb stated, his intention was to “capture reality as the planters knew it.” He succeeded so well he earned the 1974 Allan Nevins Prize of the Society of American Historians.
Masters without Slaves reinforces the argument that the American Revolution was not revolutionary. It was simply a war for independence. The true American revolution was fought from 1861 to 1865. This upheaval overturned the political, economic, social, and racial status quo throughout much of the nation – and nowhere more so than in the plantation south. Much of American history since 1861, and certainly our domestic politics, has been dedicated to dealing with the still-unresolved repercussions of the 1861-65 revolution. Roark nudged us along a little more toward understanding where we are now and how we arrived here.
This history is told from letters and diaries of Southern plantation owners during the Civil War and early Reconstruction. It gets into the heads of the planters, maddening as that may be, showing how their attitudes changed over time as their aristocracy collapsed. This is history done well and essential to understanding the Reconstruction period.