The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988 Page: 101
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disfavor. During the forties and fifties his demeaning view of blacks and
his sanguine view of slavery became embarrassing to Americans caught
up in fighting Nazi racism and trumpeting liberal-democratic ideals to
a postwar world where Communism and anticolonialism waxed strong.
It is ironic that a renaissance of interest in Phillips's ideas on southern
social relations and economic development should have begun during the
mid-1960s, the peak years of the civil rights movement. C. Vann Wood-
ward, in his introduction to a 1963 reissue of Life and Labor (though this
reissue and Vann Woodward's plaudits are not mentioned by Dillon),
followed by Eugene D. Genovese, in his foreword to a 1966 reprint of
American Negro Slavery, sought to rescue Phillips's wisdom about the Old
South from total contamination by his outdated racism.
Unlike Vann Woodward and Genovese, Dillon is not a specialist in
southern history; and he voices more vehement indignation than they at
Phillips's racist condescension toward black Americans. Dillon's special-
ty is pre - Civil War abolitionists, to whom he has attributed an admirable
degree of moral courage and grandeur. Phillips, scion of a planter fami-
ly, believed that only a native southerner could evaluate the history and
culture of the region with proper understanding. He viewed abolition-
ists as zealots who could not see beyond moral absolutes to appreciate
the paternalistic fashion in which the antebellum planter elite had disci-
plined and schooled an inferior race. Dillon cannot resist delivering an
occasional reproof to the proslavery Georgian. The most dramatic rebuke
comes during the discussion of Life and Slavery: "Only great insensitivity
would allow a writer to equate slavery with enforced alimony payments,
as Phillips does in perhaps the most jarring passage in all his writing.
In that grotesquely inappropriate simile Phillips trivializes the central ex-
perience of an entire people and, it may be, of a nation" (p. 138). None-
theless, Dillon, making good use of unpublished letters, has written an
equitable and readable biography, though not a complete or definitive
one. It offers a better than adequate account of Phillips's family
background, professional career, and personal life; but the slim volume
will disappoint the reader who wants a thorough or incisive investigation
of Phillips's work in economic history, or of his impact on subsequent
generations of southern historians.
That Dillon can treat his subject fairly, even respectfully, reflects to
some extent his conscious awareness that Phillips, like most historians,
was largely a product of his own background. The Georgia aristocrat,
shaped by an elitist upbringing and a racist culture, "does not say what
a later era wants and needs to hear" (p. 167). Dillon also acknowledges
that Phillips promoted sound scholarship even if the subject held no charm
for him. While on the faculty at the University of Michigan from 1911
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988, periodical, 1987/1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101211/m1/127/: accessed July 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.