@Article{ quintana2015,
    author = {Ryan A. Quintana},
    title = {Planners, Planters, and Slaves: Producing the State in Early National South Carolina},
    journal = {Journal of Southern History},
    volume = 81,
    number = 1,
    month = {February},
    pages = {79-116},
    year = 2015,


Quintana argues for a reconsideration of early national South Carolina state-building as part of a larger nineteenth-century movement towards “liberal governmentality,” in which state planners practiced modern statecraft in several ways:

  • production of spatial territoriality through maps, surveys, etc. (p. 85-89)
  • infrastructural improvements—roads, canals, etc. (p. 89-92)
  • bureaucratization of the state (Board of Public Works) to oversee these projects (p. 93-96)
  • “moral reform” efforts designed to cast the state as the protector of the public welfare—e.g., penal and labor reform and regulation (p. 96-98)

He relies here on work by Patrick Joyce, Jo Guldi, William Novak, Matthew Hannah and others on the modern state.

In a sense, Quintana is showing that the spatial organization of the Plantation South noted in camp2004 and johnson2013 (the “carceral landscape”) was driven by state planners as well as by individual planters, who both benefitted from and chafed against some of the practices of the centralizing state, not least when they were asked to send the people they enslaved to work on public projects. That struggle went back to the colonial period:

Since its inception, South Carolina relied on the enslaved to construct and maintain not just its plantations but also its infrastructure—roads, canals, causeways, and bridges. In virtually every piece of legislation concerning the state’s transportation infrastructure, the General Assembly mandated that slaves labor for six days each year on nearby developmental projects. Slave labor was so integral to internal improvement that the Catawba Canal Company was incorporated with the exclusive right to import three hundred slaves directly from Africa to labor on its works, making the company immediately one of the largest slaveholders in the state (p. 103).

The dependence of the state on enslaved laborers for its new projects created a problem or dilemma similar to the one that scholars have attributed with producing paternalist ideology on the plantation, however. While needing the labor of slaves on public works, the state intentionally facilitated the mobility of enslaved people who created their own landscapes and networks, which exposed the limits of the state’s control over its territory (despite the precise abstractions represented on maps and surveys) and often became the basis for resistance against the plantation regime. As a result, despite its pretensions of creating a humane state concerned for the public good (as seen, for example, in penal reforms designed to punish the murder of enslaved people), the state’s “governing praxis” depended on the violent policing of black Carolinians.


p. 82-83:

… South Carolinians, and southerners more broadly, were ardently committed to the project of modern state governance. They sought to consolidate ever more power within the hands of a centralized government that would become the [p. 83] primary source of the people’s welfare and, in so doing, embraced the practices of statecraft. Besides committing more funds per capita to the project of state development than did any of their peers across the nation, South Carolinians were also among the first Americans to transition to the modern practices of governance—creating institutional bureaucracies, relying on expertise and moral authority to legitimate the state’s positive claims to power, and actively seeking to shape and define the state’s territoriality through cartography and infrastructural development.

p. 84:

In order for elite Carolinians to make real their idealized visions for the state, themselves, and the self-governing subjects they sought to create, planners and planters necessarily had to consider black Carolinians—not just the labor they provided, which most whites took for granted, but also the challenges slaves and slavery posed to the very project of liberal modernity.

p. 94, on creation of Board of Public Works, with relevance to Texas Roads:

… the state diluted the power of local administrators who had previously been in charge of parish, district, and county roads. The commissioners of roads became in this way focal points for the state’s overall control rather than centers of their own power. This diminution and transformation of oversight was one of the key ways that the board attempted to realize the centralization of state power. Taking charge of a practice [p. 95] that had once been entirely a community responsibility transformed the state’s abstract dominion into real mastery. Public works projects and the bureaucratic structures created to see them through were more than merely utilitarian; they were manifestations of the state’s governing logic. It made sense of the board to take charge of road improvements even if it never intended to work on them, for … the state was a single body, a whole within which only the state—the sovereign—wielded power.

p. 96, with relevance for how I might talk about Henry W. Allen:

Alongside the call for economic development was an equally powerful demand for moral reform, reflected in South Carolina as throughout the nation through changes to penal and legal policy, an expansion of educational opportunities, and a call for social welfare. That such sentiments infused the decision making of state leaders in this era is not surprising. As a number of historians have demonstrated, both evangelical Christianity and seismic shifts in the discourse of race, humanity, and morality changed how people interacted with and understood the world around them. Many scholars, particularly historians of the South, have focused on how this shift led to the rise of planter paternalism, altering the discourse, if not the lived practice, of mastery. But these same ideas also clearly influenced state leaders, who sought to dictate and direct the habits and morals of their citizen-subjects. … [p. 97] As William Crafts, a famed orator, lawyer, and key legislative promoter of internal improvements and reform, argued, “The characteristic of the age in which we live is a growing sense of the necessity of adapting the administration of government to the public good.”

p. 108:

… in order for elite Carolinians to realize their efforts at legitimation and to create the liberal space they desired, they relied on the labor of the enslaved. But slaves took advantage of this dependence and created their own vibrant world, which could not be ignored. Exacerbating this dilemma was the fact that slaves’ troublesome practices were not confined to runaways … but were the result of everyday labor, which was absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the plantation enterprise and, more important, for the state’s improvement and economic expansion.

p. 115:

Humane reforms, expert bureaucracies, and expensive infrastructural improvements were paired with a governing praxis that [p. 116] focused substantial energy on maintaining through violence the unfree status of more than half the territory’s inhabitants, coercing their labor to secure the freedom and economic opportunities of the state’s white population.