In dismissing the stale notions that slaveholder paternalism developed from the ancient habit of noblesse oblige or from the peculiar conditions of Southern slavery, Ford makes his most important contribution to our understanding of the development of Southern society. He demonstrates that paternalism was made, not born, the product of an intense, if often bewildering debate among the slaveholders themselves.
The problem, however, was that paternalism was a fiction. Slaves understood that the plantation was no community and the master no father; the actions of the slaveholders revealed that they did as well. When periodic insurrections and insurrection scares made it clear that paternalism did notcreate “hard-working, loyal and well-behaved” slaves, masters returned to the fist, lash and noose. All of which suggests that whatever the regional differences were among slaveholders, the ownership of slaves did in fact pull them together. Slaveholdersin the upper and lower South may have shared only their opposition to abolition, but that was enough.