I feel like returning tonight to South Carolina in the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution to learn more about the eternal principles of classical liberalism from the men who were behind the American Founding in the Deep South.
The following excerpt comes from Rachel N. Klein’s book Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760-1808:
“Political leaders of the South Carolina backcountry shared with other Americans of the post-Revolutionary generation a network of assumptions about government, power, liberty, and property. They believed that property was essential to individual liberty and that a just government would necessarily protect the independence of its citizens by safeguarding their possessions from arbitrary seizure. Fearful of governmental corruption, they thought that popular representation, grounded in an independent and hence virtuous citizenry, was the best defense against despotism. They looked with suspicion upon inherited political privilege and sought to stifle signs of incipient “aristocracy” in their own midst. At the same time, they feared unrestrained majority rule because the resulting “anarchy” would prove ripe ground for demagogues who, in turn, could threaten the very independence that they designed their government to protect.
So far, this sounds kind of like classical liberalism, but not quite.
“Republican political ideas, as interpreted by South Carolina’s leaders reflected and reinforced a confident commitment to slavery. The notion of independence that formed the bulwark of their political vision presumed that the social order consisted in relations of inequality. South Carolina leaders assumed, in other words, that men who entered the political arena as citizens would be presiding over households composed of dependents. Throughout the later years of the eighteenth century, no state representative questioned the assumption that independence was a prerequisite to citizenship; no one openly proposed an extension of political rights to dependent household members, black or white. South Carolinians debated the extent of political equality only with respect to independent white men.”
They were republicans and white supremacists, not liberals.