Henry Hughes wrote one book, Treatise on Sociology, Theoretical and Practical. Published in 1854, that book was significant as one of the first American works of sociology and especially as an idiosyncratic contribution to the proslavery argument.
Hughes was born on 17 April 1829 in Port Gibson and grew up there before attending Oakland College. He apprenticed with lawyers in New Orleans and became licensed to practice in 1850. He soon became disenchanted with the profession and grew more interested in scholarship and politics.
Treatise on Sociology, Theoretical and Practical is notable in part because it attempts to fit slavery into a broad definition of human relations. Hughes began with the theoretical points that human societies most need subsistence and then order to guarantee that subsistence: “In every society there must therefore be both orderers and orderees. Some must order; some, be ordered.”
Hughes addressed issues of slavery in a long section on practical sociology. Treatise repeated many points common to the proslavery argument. It argued that southern slaves enjoyed better physical conditions than northern or European industrial workers; that slavery created a system without poverty, labor strife, frustrated ambitions, or the potential for revolution; and that slavery worked best when everyone involved acted out of a sense of mutual responsibility. However, the book was also unique in at least two ways. First, Hughes discarded the terms slave owner and slave in favor of warrantor and warrantee and replaced the term slavery with a new word, warranteeism. His goal was not merely semantic: Hughes believed that, in an ideal society, people with power owned the labor but not the bodies of people without power. Thus, he wrote that warrantors bore responsibility for providing necessities and an orderly society for their warrantees; in return, warrantees bore responsibility for working hard. Second, Hughes’s work stressed the power of the government. While many southern slave owners and their political representatives condemned the growth of any government—state or federal—Hughes argued that government should set and enforce standards for working hours, housing and health conditions, and family relationships. In warranteeism, he wrote, “The supreme orderer is the State.” The final two pages of the book left behind its scholarly approach and language and rhapsodized about the possibilities of a time “when the budding poetry of an all-hoping sociologist, shall ripen to a fruitful history” and the world would “praise the power, wisdom, and goodness of a system, which may well be deemed divine.”
Treatise has had an uneven career, sometimes going unpublished and perhaps unread for decades, sometimes attracting attention either for its importance in the early history of sociology or more commonly as a contribution to proslavery literature. Sections of Treatise on Sociology appear in at least two collections of proslavery writing.
Hughes also wrote a few magazine pieces on the desirability of reopening the slave trade and the need to keep political balance between the North and South. He served as a colonel with the 12th Mississippi Regiment during the war and died of illness on 3 October 1862 at his home in Port Gibson.
- Douglas Ambrose, Henry Hughes and Proslavery Thought in the Old South (1996)
- Drew Gilpin Faust, ed., The Ideology of Slavery (1981)
- Henry Hughes, Treatise on Sociology, Theoretical and Practical (1854)
- Henry Hughes, Selected Writings of Henry Hughes, ed. Stanford M. Lyman (1985)
- Eric McKitrick, ed., Slavery Defended (1963)