At the heart of the conflict between anti-slavery and pro-slavery thought lay two contrasting visions. For opponents of slavery, each individual must be free to dispose their labor power, whereas pro-slavery or defenders of slavery saw individual rights as particular and reserved for specific individuals. Discuss this dichotomy of thought and explain why there was such a gap between the two schools of thought and how race fits into this dichotomy.

Quick answer:

There was such a gap between pro-slavery and anti-slavery schools of thought because pro-slavery leaders used religion and race to justify the social order of the South, while anti-slavery figures used religion to argue that every individual should be free, regardless of their skin color.

Expert Answers

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In The Old South, a collection of essays and documents edited by Mark M. Smith, an article by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese is excerpted. On page 128, the two authors address the “heart of the conflict between anti-slavery and pro-slavery thought.” For opponents of slavery, freedom was universal. It applied to all individuals regardless of their skin color or place in society. For slavery’s proponents, freedom was “particular.” One's freedom depended on their race and role in society.

The gap between the two schools of thought, in the view of Fox-Genovese and Genovese, can be seen in how the two sides used religion to advance their dichotomous causes. For those in the North, religion was abstract. In the words of the authors, religion “retreated to the swampy terrain of individual conscience.” For Southerners, religion remained exact and about much more than a single individual’s sense of right and wrong.

Southerners used their specific view of religion to justify their social order. For Southerners, slavery was a means of arranging society so that it could “sustain decent and humane values.” In the South, as in the Bible, there was a clear hierarchy. The system of slavery wasn’t evil but a way to protect Christian values from evil. For those on the side of slavery, slavery was synonymous with the institutions, political frameworks, and social parameters that allowed people to serve God in a manner appropriate to their role in life.

Using skewed interpretations of the Bible, Southerners justified a society in which wealthy white men served God by ruling others and Black people served God through bondage. Southerners also cited Christian charity in their pro-slavery arguments, falsely arguing that their slaves were treated better than free workers in other parts of the world.

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