Ulrich Bonnell Phillips
|Ulrich Bonnell Phillips|
November 4, 1877|
La Grange, Georgia
|Died||January 21, 1934(aged 56)|
|Institutions||University of Wisconsin–Madison
University of Michigan
|Alma mater||University of Georgia
|Academic advisors||Frederick Jackson Turner|
Ulrich Bonnell Phillips (November 4, 1877 – January 21, 1934) was an American historian who largely defined the field of the social and economic history of the antebellum American South and slavery. Phillips concentrated on the large plantations that dominated the Southern economy, and he did not investigate the numerous small farmers who held few slaves. He concluded that plantation slavery produced great wealth, but was a dead end, economically, that left the South bypassed by the industrial revolution underway in the North.
He concluded that plantation slavery was not very profitable, had about reached its geographical limits in 1860, and would probably have faded away without the American Civil War, which he considered needless conflict. He praised the entrepreneurship of plantation owners and denied they were brutal. Phillips argued that they provided adequate food, clothing, housing, medical care and training in modern technology—that they formed a "school" which helped "civilize" the slaves. He admitted the failure was that no one graduated from this school.
Phillips systematically hunted down and revealed plantation records and unused manuscript sources. An example of pioneering comparative work was "A Jamaica Slave Plantation" (1914). His methods and use of sources shaped the research agenda of most succeeding scholars, even those who disagreed with his favorable treatment of the masters. After the Civil Rights Revolution of the 1960s historians turned their focus away from his emphasis on the material well-being of the slaves to the slaves' own cultural constructs and efforts to achieve freedom.
By turning away from the political debates about slavery that divided North and South, Phillips made the economics and social structure of slavery the main theme in 20th century scholarship. Together with his highly eloquent writing style, his new approach made him the most influential historian of the antebellum south. His interpretation of white supremacy as the "central theme of southern history" remains one of the main interpretations of Southern history.
Born Ulysses Bonnell Phillips, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Georgia (UGA) in 1897. He obtained his Master of Arts degree from UGA as well in 1899 and his Ph.D. in 1902 from Columbia University where he studied under William Dunning. His dissertation, Georgia and State Rights won the Justin Winsor Prize and was published by the American Historical Association.
Phillips was especially influenced by Frederick Jackson Turner who invited Phillips to the University of Wisconsin where Phillips taught from 1902 to 1908. He taught for three years at Tulane University. In 1911, Phillips moved to the University of Michigan where he taught until 1929 when he left to teach at Yale until his death in 1934.
Some of Phillips's views were rejected in the 1950s, but they were revived again in the 1960s. As Harvard Sitkoff wrote in 1986, "[I]n the mid-1960s Eugene D. Genovese launched a rehabilitation of Phillips that still continues. Today, as in Phillips's lifetime, scholars again commonly acknowledge the value of many of his insights into the nature of the southern class structure and master-slave relationships."
The Phillips school asked, what did slavery do for the slaves? As the historian Herbert Gutman noted, the Phillipsian answer was that slavery lifted the slaves out of the barbarism of Africa, Christianized them, protected them, and generally benefited them. Scholarship in the 1950s then moved to the question, what did slavery do to the slaves, and concluded it was a harsh and profitable system. More recently, scholars such as Genovese and Gutman asked, "What did slaves do for themselves?" They concluded "In the slave quarters, through family, community and religion, slaves struggled for a measure of independence and dignity.
Phillips concluded slavery was inefficient
Phillips argued that large-scale plantation slavery was inefficient and not progressive. It had reached its geographical limits by 1860 or so, and eventually had to fade away (as happened in Brazil). In 1910, he argued in "The Decadence of the Plantation System" that slavery was an unprofitable relic that persisted because it produced social status, honor, and political power, that is, Slave Power.
Phillips' economic conclusions about the inefficiency of slavery were challenged by Robert Fogel in the 1960s, who argued that slavery was both efficient and profitable as long as the price of cotton was high enough. In turn Fogel came under sharp attack by other scholars.
An essay by the historians George Fredrickson and Christopher Lasch (1967) analyzed limitations of both Phillips and his critics. They argued that far too much attention was given to slave "treatment" in examining the social and psychological effects of slavery on Afro-Americans. They said Phillips had defined the treatment issue and his most severe critics had failed to redefine it:
- "By compiling instances of the kindness and benevolence of masters, Phillips proved to his satisfaction that slavery was a mild and permissive institution, the primary function of which was not so much to produce a marketable surplus as to ease the accommodation of the lower race into the culture of the higher. The critics of Phillips have tried to meet him on his own ground. Where he compiled lists of indulgences and benefactions, they have assembled lists of atrocities. Both methods suffer from the same defect: they attempt to solve a conceptual problem—what did slavery do to the slave?—by accumulating quantitative evidence.... The only conclusion that one can legitimately draw from this debate is that great variations in treatment existed from plantation to plantation."
John David Smith of North Carolina State University argues:
- "[He was] a conservative, proslavery interpreter of slavery and the slaves.... In Life and Labor in the Old South Phillips failed to revise his interpretation of slavery significantly. His basic arguments—the duality of slavery as an economic cancer but a vital mode of racial control—can be traced back to his earliest writings. Less detailed but more elegantly written than American Negro Slavery, Phillips's Life and Labor was a general synthesis rather than a monograph. His racism appeared less pronounced in Life and Labor because of its broad scope. Fewer racial slurs appeared in 1929 than in 1918, but Phillips's prejudice remained. The success of Life and Labor earned Phillips the year-long Albert Kahn Foundation Fellowship in 1929-30 to observe blacks and other laborers worldwide. In 1929 Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, appointed Phillips professor of history."
Phillips contended that masters treated slaves relatively well. His views were rejected most sharply by Kenneth M. Stampp in the 1950s. However, to a large degree Phillips' interpretive model of the dynamic between master and slave was revived by Eugene Genovese, who wrote that Phillips's "work, taken as a whole, remains the best and most subtle introduction to antebellum Southern history and especially to the problems posed by race and class." In 1963, C. Vann Woodward wrote: "Much of what Phillips wrote has not been superseded or seriously challenged and remains indispensable."
Phillips denied he was proslavery. He was an intellectual leader of the Progressive Movement and slavery, in his interpretation, was inefficient and antithetical to the principles of progressivism. Phillips (1910) explained in detail why slavery was a failed system. It is Smith's opinion that:
- "Phillips's contributions to the study of slavery clearly outweigh his deficiencies. Neither saint nor sinner, he was subject to the same forces-- bias, selectivity of evidence, inaccuracy--that plague us all. Descended from slave owners and reared in the rural South, he dominated slave historiography in an era when Progressivism was literally for whites only. Of all scholars, historians can ill afford to be anachronistic. Phillips was no more a believer in white supremacy than other leading contemporary white scholars."
Race as "central theme" of southern U.S. history
In "The Central Theme of Southern History" (1928), Phillips maintained that the desire to keep their region "a white man's country" united the white southerners for centuries. Phillips' emphasis on race was overshadowed in the late 1920s and 1930s by the Beardian interpretation of Charles A. Beard and Mary Ritter Beard, who in their enormously successful The Rise of American Civilization (1927) emphasized class conflict and downplayed slavery and race relations as a cause of the American Civil War. By the 1950s, however, the Beardian economic determinism was out of fashion, and the emphasis on race (rather than region or class) became a major topic in historiography.
- "The ways in which white southerners "met" the race "problem" have intrigued historians writing about post-Civil War southern politics since at least 1928, when Ulrich B. Phillips pronounced race relations the "central theme" of southern history. What contemporaries referred to as "the race question" may be phrased more bluntly today as the struggle for white domination. Establishing and maintaining this domination--creating the system of racial segregation and African American disfranchisement known as Jim Crow--has remained a preoccupation of southern historians."
In his review of Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited From Slavery By Anne Farrow, Joel Lang and Jenifer Frank, the historian Ira Berlin wrote, "Slavery in the North, like its counterpart in the South, was a brutal, violent relationship that fostered white supremacy. Complicity 's authors shred the notion, famously advanced by the Yale historian U.B. Phillips, that the central theme of Southern history was the region's desire to remain a white man's country. Phillips was not so much wrong about the centrality of white supremacy to the South as blind to its presence in the North."
- Georgia and State Rights; a Study of the Political History of Georgia from the Revolution to the Civil War, with Particular Regard to Federal Relations. American Historical Association Report for the Year 1901, Vol. 2. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902, his dissertation, earned him the Justin Winsor Prize awarded by the American Historical Association (reprint 1983) online edition
- American Negro Slavery; a Survey of the Supply, Employment, and Control of Negro Labor, as Determined by the Plantation Regime. (1918; reprint 1966)online at Project Gutenberg; google edition
- A History of Transportation in the Eastern Cotton Belt to 1860. (1908). online edition
- Life and Labor in the Old South. (1929). excerpts and text search
- The Life of Robert Toombs. (1913). online edition
- The Course of the South to Secession; an Interpretation. (1939).
- Seeing the New South: Race and Place in the Photographs of Ulrich Bonnell Phillips edited by Patricia Bellis Bixel, and John David Smith. University of South Carolina Press, 2013.
Works edited by Phillips
- The Correspondence of Robert Toombs, Alexander H. Stephens, and Howell Cobb. Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1911, Vol. 2. Washington: 1913.
- Florida Plantation Records from the Papers of George Noble Jones. (coedited with James D. Glunt). (1927).
- Plantation and Frontier Documents, 1649–1863; Illustrative of Industrial History in the Colonial and Antebellum South: Collected from MSS. and Other Rare Sources. 2 Volumes. (1909). online edition
Major articles by Ulrich B. Phillips
- Phillips, Ulrich B. (1905). "Transportation in the Antebellum South: An Economic Analysis". Quarterly Journal of Economics 19 (3): 434–451. doi:10.2307/1882660. JSTOR 1882660.
- Phillips, Ulrich B. (1905). "The Economic Cost of Slaveholding in the Cotton Belt". Political Science Quarterly 20 (2): 257–275. doi:10.2307/2140400. JSTOR 2140400.
- Phillips, Ulrich B. (1906). "The Origin and Growth of the Southern Black Belts". American Historical Review 11 (4): 798–816. doi:10.2307/1832229. JSTOR 1832229.
- Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell (1907). "The Slave Labor Problem in the Charleston District". Political Science Quarterly 22 (3): 416–439. doi:10.2307/2141056. JSTOR 2141056.
- Phillips, Ulrich B. (1909). "The South Carolina Federalists, I". American Historical Review 14 (3): 529–543. doi:10.2307/1836445. JSTOR 1836445.
- Phillips, Ulrich B. (1909). "The South Carolina Federalists, II". American Historical Review 14 (4): 731–743. doi:10.2307/1837058. JSTOR 1837058.
- Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell (1910). "The Southern Whigs, 1834-1854". Essays in American History Dedicated to Frederick Jackson Turner. H. Holt. pp. 203–229.
- Phillips, Ulrich B (1910). "The Decadence of the Plantation System". Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 35 (1): 37–41. doi:10.1177/000271621003500105. JSTOR 1011487.
- Phillips, Ulrich B. (1914). "A Jamaica Slave Plantation". American Historical Review 19 (3): 543–548. doi:10.2307/1835078. JSTOR 1835078.
- Phillips, Ulrich B. (1915). "Slave Crime in Virginia". American Historical Review 20 (2): 336–340. doi:10.2307/1835473. JSTOR 1835473.
- Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell (1922). "Michigan". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York.
- Phillips, Ulrich B. (1925). "Plantations with Slave Labor and Free". American Historical Review 30 (4): 738–753. doi:10.2307/1835667. JSTOR 1835667.
- Phillips, Ulrich B. (1928). "The Central Theme of Southern History". American Historical Review 34 (1): 30–43. doi:10.2307/1836477. JSTOR 1836477.
- Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell (1945). "The Traits and Contributions of Frederick Jackson Turner". Agricultural History 19 (1): 21–23. JSTOR 3739695.
- Slave Economy of the Old South: Selected Essays in Economic and Social History. Louisiana State U.P. 1968.
- Peter J. Parish, Slavery: history and historians (1990) p. 6
- Parish, p. 8
- Georgia Encyclopedia article on Phillips by historian John David Smith at North Carolina State University, Raleigh
- Smith, John David (2003). "Ulrich Bonnell Phillips (1877-1934)". New Georgia Encyclopedia.
- Sitkoff review of Dillon, "Ulrich Bonnell Phillips" in The Journal of American History, 73#3 (Dec., 1986), p. 780.
- American Social History Project, City University of New York, "Who Built America? series" ; Herbert Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom 1750–1925, (1977) p. 25, said "Critics, including such able scholars as E. Franklin Frazier, Kenneth M. Stampp, and Stanley M. Elkins, sharply rejected the racial assumptions of Phillips and his followers but focused on the same question."
- George Fredrickson and Christopher Lasch, "Resistance to Slavery," Civil War History, 13 (December 1967), 315-29.
- New Georgia Encyclopedia: Ulrich Bonnell Phillips (1877-1934)
- In 1982, Stampp wrote, "In their day the writings of Ulrich B. Phillips on slavery were both highly original and decidedly revisionist... . He was about as objective as the rest of us." Cited in Smith and Inscoe, p. 10
- Genovese, In Red and Black: Marxian Explorations in Southern and Afro-American History (1971) 275-76
- Woodward, "Introduction" to 1963 edition of Life and Labor in the Old South page v.
- Smith and Inscoe 1990 p. 10
- Darden Asbury Pyron, "U.B. Phillips: Biography and Scholarship," Reviews in American History 1987 15(1): 72-77; Thomas Pressley, American Interpret their Civil War 238ff on Beard, 278ff on Phillips. W.H. Stephenson wrote in 1955, "Historically speaking, Phillips's central theme of southern history was correct, for white southerners from colonial days to the twentieth century advocated white supremacy." Stephenson in Smith and Inscoe, p. 28. On the revival of interest in Phillips's "central theme," see Robert E. Shalhope, "Race, Class, Slavery, and the Antebellum Southern Mind," Journal of Southern History 37 (November 1971), 557-74 and James M. McPherson, "Slavery and Race," in Perspectives on American History 3 (1969), 460-73.
- , "Introduction" in Jane Dailey, Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, and Bryant Simon, eds. Jumpin' Jim Crow: Southern Politics from Civil War to Civil Rights (2000), online excerpt.
- Ira Berlin, "The Battle Over Memory," Washington Post Book World February 12, 2006; page BW10
- Dillon, Merton Lynn. Ulrich Bonnell Phillips: Historian of the Old South (1985), biography
- Fogel, Robert William. The Slavery Debates, 1952-1990: A Retrospective Louisiana State University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8071-2881-3, chapter 1.
- Genovese Eugene D. "Race and Class in Southern History: An Appraisal of the Work of Ulrich Bonnell Phillips." Agricultural History, 41 (October, 1967): 345-358. in JSTOR
- Genovese Eugene D. "Ulrich Bonnell Phillips & His Critics." [Introduction to] Ulrich Bonnell Phillips. American Negro Slavery: A Survey of the Supply, Employment and Control of Negro Labor as Determined by the Plantation Regime Louisiana State University Press, 1966, pages vii-xxi.
- Hofstadter Richard. "U.B. Phillips and the Plantation Legend." Journal of Negro History, 29 (April, 1944): 109-124. in JSTOR
- Kugler Ruben F. "U.B. Phillips' Use of Sources." Journal of Negro History, 47 (July, 1962): 153-168. in JSTOR
- Landon, Fred, and Everett E. Edwards. "A Bibliography of the Writings of Professor Ulrich Bonnell Phillips," Agricultural History, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Oct., 1934), pp. 196–218 in JSTOR
- Parish, Peter J. Slavery: history and historians (2nd. ed. 1990)
- Potter, David M. "The Work of Ulrich B. Phillips: A Comment." Agricultural History, 41 (October, 1967): 359-363. in JSTOR
- Pressly Thomas J. "Ulrich B. Phillips." In Americans Interpret Their Civil War (Princeton University Press, 1962), pages 265-272.
- Roper John Herbert. U.B. Phillips: A Southern Mind Mercer University Press, 1984.
- Singal Daniel Joseph. "Ulrich B. Phillips: The Old South as the New," Journal of American History, 63 (March, 1977): 871-891. in JSTOR
- Smith John David. An Old Creed for the New South: Proslavery Ideology and Historiography, 1865-1918 Greenwood Press, 1985, Chapter 8.
- Smith, John David; and John C. Inscoe eds; Ulrich Bonnell Phillips: A Southern Historian and His Critics (1990) online, essays by leading scholars, pro and con
- Smith, John David. "Ulrich Bonnell Phillips (1877-1934)" in The New Georgia Encyclopedia (2003) online version
- Smith, John David. Slavery, Race and American History: Historical Conflict, Trends and Method, 1866-1953 (1999)
- Smith, John David. "U. B. Phillips, the North Carolina State Literary and Historical Association, and the Course of the South to Secession," North Carolina Historical Review, (2010) 87#3 pp 253–282
- Stampp Kenneth M. "Reconsidering U.B. Phillips: A Comment." Agricultural History, 41 (October, 1967): 365-368. in JSTOR
- Stampp Kenneth M. "The Historian and Southern Negro Slavery." American Historical Review, 57 (April, 1952): 613-624. in JSTOR
- Stephenson Wendell H. "Ulrich B. Phillips: Historian of Aristocracy." in The South Lives in History: Southern Historians and Their Legacy Louisiana State University Press, 1955, pages 58–94.
- Tindall George B. "The Central Theme Revisited." In Charles G. Sellers Jr., ed. The Southerner as American University of North Carolina Press, 1960, pages 104-129.
- Wish Harvey. "Ulrich B. Phillips and the Image of the Old South." in Wish, The American Historian: A Social-Intellectual History of the Writing of the American Past Oxford University Press, 1960, pp. 236–264.
- Wood, Kirk. "Ulrich B. Phillips." In Clyde N. Wilson, ed. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Twentieth-Century American Historians. Gale Research, 1983, pages 350-363.
- Woodward C. Vann. "Introduction" in Ulrich B. Phillips. Life and Labor in the Old South. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1963, pages iii-vi.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1920 Encyclopedia Americana article Ulrich Bonnell Phillips.|
- Works by Ulrich Bonnell Phillips at Project Gutenberg
- Ulrich B. Phillips Collection, Yale University Manuscripts & Archives