12 - Physicians versus the slaves  pp. 175-184

Physicians versus the slaves

By Kenneth F. Kiple and Virginia Himmelsteib King

Image View Previous Chapter Next Chapter



When we look at the Southern Negro physically and intellectually, we find him emphatically dissimilar to his bipedal fellow of the white race … he is (the negro) palpably antipodal to the white man.

Dr. H. A. Ramsay (1852)

The physician is, par excellence, the slaves' friend.

Dr. S. A. Cartwright (1853)

The binomial nomenclature of Linnaeus dominated scientific attitudes on race during most of the eighteenth century. Species were classified neatly by genus and although men might differ, they were more alike than different and certainly all of the same race. Differences were attributed to environmental factors such as a “vertical sun” which had turned the Negro black, temperate zones that colored the Caucasian white, and in-between climates that produced in-between hues.

This “environmentalism” also had the virtue of squaring with the Mosaic account of man's creation. Yet from this flowed a concept of the equality of all men that did not square with the practice of chattel slavery, particularly not in the United States, which was noisily claiming to have constituted a government on that principle.

But uncomfortable as the contradiction was, as the eighteenth century dissolved into the nineteenth, the pain was expected to be of short duration. Provision had been made for closing the slave trade in a few short years, and most states had already ceased slave importations. As for slavery itself, even its defenders described it as a “temporary evil,” while few expected the peculiar institution to outlive the demise of the slave trade for any length of time.