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Slavery in the SouthOnly one-fifth of Southern families owned slaves, and only a...

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Slavery in the South

Only one-fifth of Southern families owned slaves, and only a handful of Southerners owned more than 20 slaves. Yet the vast majority of Southern Whites supported the institution of slavery and fought the Civil War to preserve the slave system.

Why did a large majority of White Southerners support the institution of slavery, even though fewer than a quarter of them owned slaves?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

Posted (Answer #2)

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Books usually give two answers here:

  • The whites who didn't own slaves aspired to be slaveowners.  They didn't hate the slaveowners -- they wanted to be like them.
  • Slavery gave even the poor whites a good feeling.  Because blacks were slaves, even the poorest whites had someone that they could look down on.  (I don't know how they think that they know this, since there weren't opinion polls or anything, but this is something you see quite often in history books.)
mwestwood's profile pic

Posted (Answer #3)

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Many poor Southern whites were indentured servants who were not too much better off than slaves, so they were probably not really concerned one way or the other about the plight of the slaves.  In addition, as documents from the pre-Civil War era reveal, slaves were considered property, rather than veritable people, so attitudes about them were certainly different from contemporary times.

slblondie's profile pic

Posted (Answer #4)

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i think that the poor white southerners didnt really know any better. they went to school but many had to work to help thier families with money.

therefor the majority of the south... which was NOT rich plantation owners. didnt have slaves, and supported the whole institution.

also the few whites that were not wealthy per se, but owned small plantations. saw the slaves as a major help (if they could afford one or two)

geosc's profile pic

Posted (Answer #5)

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Why southern nonslaveowners supported slavery: Since many slaves had never known any responsibility but working in the field and had never known any control but their masters' control, Southern whites feared that the many freed slaves would not be able to make a living except by stealing and that many more would not know how to either restrain themselves or discipline themselves to work, so that they would become a big social problem.Slaves were not allowed to vote.  So, in the South, most voters owned their own means of making a living, and by the experience of managing a farm or a business, they knew when acts of government were harmful to the ways that wealth is generated in a society, and, they were not dependent upon any big man for their living so they could not be told how to vote.  In the North, the common factory worker was able to vote and could (much of the time, not always) be told how to vote by the rich factory owners, and could thus be used by those rich factory owners to transfer wealth from other segments of the economy into the pockets of the rich factory owners; also, they had no experience that enabled them to recognize good acts of government from bad acts of government so that when they did not vote as their masters directed, they often voted in ways that were harmful to the over-all economy.  Southerners feared the end of slavery because that would give the vote to a large class of laboring people who would be no better qualified to vote than the northern factory workers.  Southerners did not like the easy divorce laws of the North, nor the prohibition laws, nor a host of other laws and movements that arose from both the common laboring class and the middle class of the North.  Southerners thought that if their own laboring class became free, worse things would happen in the South.


The social system of the South was dominated by plantation agriculture.  If a small farmer had extra produce or livestock for sale, his market was composed of the plantations and the middle-class professionals of the towns who served the interests of the planters.  If a small farmer or a middle-class professional needed to borrow money, he had to borrow it from a planter or from a bank that was likely to be owned by planters.  Everything in the South was linked to that one social system, and slavery was the labor system of that social system, so to over-turn slavery would destroy the wealth of the slaveowners and would make an anarchy of society.

lrwilliams's profile pic

Posted (Answer #6)

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Slavery was a way of life in the South. Even if you were not a slave owner you still agreed with the right to have slaves and probably aspired to own slaves at some point. The non slave owners were willing to fight to protect this "right" to own slaves. Also you have to keep in mind that slavery was one of several issues leading up to a Civil War.

litteacher8's profile pic

Posted (Answer #7)

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Slavery was a way of life in the South. It was deeply rooted in their culture. The slave owners may have been small in number, but remember that they were rich. They were the ones with the power, and it was generally not a good idea for the poor to defy them. If you didn't have slaves, it wasn't because you though slavery was immoral. It was because you couldn't afford them.

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