How did white southerners defend the institution of slavery from the 1820s through the Civil War?
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White Southerners defended the institution of slavery on a number of fronts. They said that it was necessary and they said that it was not forbidden, but they also argued that it was a positive good.
Southerners argued that slavery was an economic necessity. They argued that there was no way to get anyone to do the sort of labor that was needed for tobacco (and later cotton) cultivation without coercing them. They argued that slavery was therefore completely necessary for the Southern economy.
The Southerners also argued that there was no reason to think that slavery was immoral. They looked to at least three sources to support this claim. First, they looked to Biblical times. They noted that there was slavery in the Old Testament and the New Testament and that Jesus never spoke against the practice. Second, they looked at classical antiquity. They argued that the Greeks and the Romans had slaves even as they were the source of Western civilization. Finally, they looked to the time of the Founding Fathers. They noted that the people who wrote the Constitution had slaves. With all of these examples in mind, they argued that there was no reason to think slavery was wrong.
Finally, they argued that slavery was a positive good. They argued that slaves were better off than “free” laborers in the North. They said slaves were cared for even when they were too sick or too old to work. This was in contrast to wage laborers in the North.
In these ways, Southern whites defended the institution of slavery.
Some southern defenses of slavery claimed that slavery was supported by the authority of the bible and the wisdom of Aristotle. It was good for the Africans, who were lifted from the barbarism of the jungle and clothed with the blessings of Christian civilization. Slavery was so significant in the South. It was part of a chain. At one end it had the Southern economy. If you were to take out slavery, the chain would be broken. The South relied on slave labor. The cotton economy would collapse. The southern defenses of slavery also claimed that Blacks mostly toiled in the fresh air and sunlight, not in dark and stuffy factories; they did not have to worry about slack times or unemployment, as did the “hired hands”. Also that they were provided with a form of Social Security, they were cared for in sickness and old age, unlike the northern workers, who were set adrift when they outlived their usefulness.
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