James Mcdowell and the Virginia slavery debate of 1831-1832
Hicks, Mary Boyce
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James McDowell (1795-1851) was a planter and politician who resided primarily in Rockbridge County, which lies in the Valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia. Because he was from the western part of the state, McDowell was not as involved in the elite social classes found in the state’s Tidewater or Piedmont, where slavery was far more prevalent than in the mountains. He was elected to the state House of Delegates (1831-35) and then, in 1841, was elected governor, serving a single term. In 1831, Virginians underwent a major debate over the future of slavery in the state. Triggered by Nat Turner’s insurrection, this series of hearings were meant to discuss this evil—slavery. McDowell was a major player in these debates, which ultimately accomplished little. He was an excellent orator and delivered a speech that was recounted and lauded long after the debate took place. My thesis focuses primarily on this debate and McDowell's contribution. What was discussed at this debate and why was so little ultimately accomplished? What parts of McDowell’s background and his constituents contributed to his opinions, as expressed in his highly-lauded speech during the debate? Further, how did McDowell’s status as a slave-holding westerner affect his opinion on slavery and free blacks? Finally, how did this debate influence the perception of slavery and impact the course of slavery in Virginia up to the Civil War?