The Spirit of Governance
Several instances of relatively benevolent conduct toward slaves, directed usually toward a house servant, a skilled artisan, a “family slave,” or a mixed-race person, can be discovered in the Polk family records. White women sometimes pressed their husbands or their sons to act more benevolently than they would otherwise have done. But expressions of genuine feeling for a black person were exceedingly rare, and the actions of the Polk men (and some of the women) were normally governed by self-interest — sometimes dressed in beguilingly paternalist language. The Polk family records lend little support to the view that the men in this family acted largely in consonance with the paternalist code that was supposed to govern their conduct.
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