Instead of being a source of "organized social power" (Elkins 28) the church had "undergone a relentless process of fragmentation." People were religious, but Elkins asserts that people were seeking "individual satisfaction" rather than building "institutional needs." Elkins (150) delves into the Transcendentalists' view of the church, which was very cynical; "the church as an institution was corrupt..." The two author views are radically different one from the other.
SLAVES & MASTERS: Elkins explains that Southerners had "...a paternal affection of the good master for his blacks" and there were "warm sentiments" in southern Society for "faithful slave" (Elkins 61). However, on page 57 Elkins reports a case where a Virginia Judge in 1827 declined to punish the master who had cruelly battered his slave. Slaves had no legal rights and hence masters could take total control over their lives. Elkins does assert that a master could not kill his slave unless the slave was a runaway. McPherson meanwhile disagrees; he writes that the master could "even kill with little fear of being held legally responsible" (McPherson 34). McPherson added that the master had "almost unlimited power...to punish without sanction of the courts..." "Virtually all avenues of recourse for the slave, all lines of communication to society...originated and ended with the master,"
Slaves did have some autonomy over their own lives, according to McPherson (McPherson 34). Leaders among the slave communities "often became eloquent preachers" among gatherings of slaves during church services (some authorized, some not authorized); also, slaves created music (Negro spirituals) and some slave families "provided an impressive example of survival in the face of adversity" (34). Elkins implies that slaves had very little autonomy over their own lives; "The master must have absolute power over the slave's body, and the law was developing in such a way as to give it to him at every crucial point" (Elkins, 49).
LAISSEZ FAIRE CAPITALISM: American devotion to limited government and to a laissez faire form of capitalism did not make the lot of slaves any better in the South. For one thing, as McPherson asserts on page 45 the "phenomenal growth of the cotton kingdom...seemed to make slavery more necessary than ever to the Southern economy." Here we have laissez faire; whatever is needed to grow the economy, leave it alone. Capitalism in the South was about cotton, and since the cotton plantations depended on the labor that slaves provided, it was "a necessary evil" (McPherson, 45). Basically after reading both books, it is apparent that while laws gradually were passed in the North against slavery, no such laws were passed in the South, or at lease very few; and the fact that the political leadership in the South supported the main driver of the economy, cotton and other agricultural products, whatever it took to keep that economy going was not going to be legislatively hampered in any way, moral issues or not.
EVIDENCE PRESENTED for THEIR BOOKS: Both authors used a great deal of anecdotal evidence to support their arguments and historical narrative. But both also quote from what appears to be solid literary and historical sources, quantifiable sources. There is ample quantifiable material available; for example, when an author or editor quotes from a book of letters - such as the Writings of Thomas Jefferson (McPherson, 623) - or other respected books that record the actual dialogue and remarks of history-makers, this is verifiable, quantifiable historical information. McPherson offers 29 pages of footnotes; Elkins' footnotes are printed on the page in which they are referenced.
WHICH AUTHOR IS MORE ACCURATE? Elkins' book is about slavery and McPherson's book is about the Civil War and reasons the war was fought (including slavery and state's rights). Both do a creditable job, but Elkins digs deeper; he takes the reader to Africa and depicts the capturing of innocent African people and the horrendous, hideously cruel conditions that the slaves were subjected to in bringing them by ship to the New World. McPherson is perhaps more scholarly and matter-of-fact, but Elkins is more thorough. Answer: since a reader cannot verify absolute accuracy, the "accuracy" question is not easy to answer. But Elkins' book is devoted to more aspects of antebellum slavery than McPherson's book, so Elkins' gets the nod for most "accurate."
Elkins, Stanley M. (1968). Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life.