Thesis ID: CBB001561243

“The Offspring of Infidelity”: Polygenesis and the Defense of Slavery (2008)


Luse, Christopher (Author)

Emory University
Roark, James L.

Publication Date: 2008
Edition Details: Advisor: Roark, James L.
Physical Details: 506 pp.
Language: English

***** This dissertation examines an internal debate within the antebellum South over the nature of slavery and race. Focusing on the printed materials of the public sphere, this work explores the impact of a newly popular doctrine within ethnology, polygenesis, on the southern defense of slavery. Supporters of polygenesis claimed that non-white races were not merely inferior, but separately created species with fundamentally different physiological, intellectual and moral natures. For centuries polygenesis had been over shadowed by the orthodox doctrine in ethnology, monogenesis, which claimed that all races descended from a common ancestor (Adam and Eve). Under attack from antislavery forces, white southerners turned to polygenesis. They asserted that only the permanent inferiority of blacks justified bondage. Southern physicians were at the forefront of popularizing this defense, using their knowledge of medicine and physiology to claim that blacks resembled apes more than Caucasians. Southern newspaper editors took up the cause to refute abolitionist attacks. Supporters developed the theory of "hybridity," claiming that people of mixed racial ancestry were "hybrids" doomed to disease, infertility and an early death. Southern supporters used this theory to assert only slavery prevented "amalgamation." In response, southern Christians heatedly attacked this new "infidelity" as undermining the Bible, the chief defense of slavery. Southern ministers defended their vision of "Christian Slavery." They claimed that southern slavery was based on a beneficial paternalistic master-slave relationship. Polygenesis undermined the common bonds of humanity necessary for paternalism. Southern Christians used the latest scientific research to argue for a common physical and moral nature among all the races. With the coming of the Civil War, southern Christians attempted to reform slavery up to "Bible Standards" by legalizing slave marriages and access to the Bible. They failed. In the aftermath of defeat, many white Christians adopted polygenesis to attack Reconstruction and racial equality. *****


Description Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. A 69/10 (2009). Pub. no. AAT 3332327.

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Authors & Contributors
Nelson, G. Blair
Mooney, Katherine C.
Evans, Jazmin Antwynette
Willoughby, Christopher D. E.
Kimani S. K. Nehusi
Justene Hill Edwards
Science and Education
Journal of Southern History
History of the Human Sciences
Business History Review
University of Wisconsin at Madison
Temple University
Yale University Press
University of North Carolina Press
University of Georgia Press
Pickering & Chatto
Monogenism; polygenism
Science and race
Science and religion
Physical anthropology
African Americans
Darwin, Charles Robert
John Peter Mettauer
Nathan Bozeman
Cartwright, Samuel A.
Nott, Josiah Clark
Sims, James Marion
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
Early modern
United States
Southern states (U.S.)
Great Britain

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