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In Kentucky, the slavery debate raged for thirty years before the Civil War began. While whites in the lower South argued that slavery was good for master and slave, many white Kentuckians maintained that because of racial prejudice, public safety, and property rights, slavery was necessary but undeniably evil. Harold D. Tallant shows how this view bespoke a real ambivalence about the desirability of continuing slavery in Kentucky and permitted an active abolitionist movement in the state to exist alongside contented slaveholders. Though many Kentuckians were increasingly willing to defend slavery against northern opposition, they did not always see this defense as their first political priority. Tallant explores the way in which the disparity between Kentuckians’ ideals and their actions helped make Kentucky a quintessential border state.

Harold D. Tallant is associate professor of history at Georgetown College.

"Tallant's work and insightful analysis of contemporary political thought is a valuable contribution to the study of slavery and the politics of slavery in the South."—American Nineteenth Century History

"A thoughtful, trenchant, and impressively textured work of microscopic analysis of Kentucky anti-slavery in a work of intellectual, social, and political history that has implications for all students of liberalism in the Old South."—Civil War Book Review

"A well-researched and nuanced study. . . . A solid and intelligent book that clearly makes the point that Kentucky's 'moderation' in reality did little to help the nation move beyond this tragic institution."—H-Net Reviews Challenges conventional wisdom and has important implications for

"A landmark study. Features a fresh and clearly argued thesis, excellent research, good writing, and sound conclusions. Tallant's study reiterates how complex the slave culture of the south could be."—James C. Klotter, State Historian of Kentucky, Georgetown College

"A much-needed study of the economic, social, and political complexities that molded attitudes toward slavery in the crucial border state. . . . Without question, Tallant's work brings Kentucky's internal slavery struggle into sharp focus."—Journal of American History

"On several occasions during the 1840s, northern antislavery activists predicted that Kentucky would be the first major southern state to free its slaves. . . . Tallant convincingly demonstrates why this was a plausible assumption and why it was decidedly incorrect."—Journal of Southern History

"Not only provides excellent historic scholarship, it also imports the sense of the emotional ambiguity through its direct and lively account."—Kentucky Kaleidoscope

"Examines the interconnected series of ideologies and economics that history is now only beginning to understand."—Kentucky Monthly

"A compelling must-read for anyone who wishes to comprehend crucial truths about the history of Kentucky race relations."—Lexington Herald-Leader

"A major contribution to the study of slavery in Kentucky. Tallant has made excellent use of a wide variety of sources, and he writes well."—Lowell H. Harrison, Bowling Green Daily News

"The research and use of sources is excellent, the documentation is thorough and complete, and the writing style is both erudite and interesting. His analyses are skillfully drawn, his logic is flawless throughout, and his writing is dispassionate. The book will be the best discussion of the ideology of slavery and politics in Kentucky for the crucial thirty years before the Civil War when the slavery issue became dominant in national politics."—Marion B. Lucas, Western Kentucky University

"A thoughtful, well-researched, and detailed story of the moral and political perils of moderation in the face of extremity."—North Carolina Historical Review

"Fills an important gap in explaining how white Kentuckians defined and understood slavery in the three decades before the Confederate states seceded."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Explains the tangle of contradictions in Kentucky's antebellum political culture."—American Historical Review

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Kentucky, Slavery


United States History

Evil Necessity: Slavery and Political Culture in Antebellum Kentucky
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