Eric Foner writes, "prejudice by itself did not create North American slavery." Examine what did create slavery and the role prejudice played.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Foner makes the argument that slavery was so complex that it could not be reduced to one distinct force of causation.  Prejudice was one part of this construction.  However, Foner feels that there were other forces that helped to create the "peculiar institution of slavery."  Foner asserts that there was an "interplay in a society undergoing both a sectional confrontation and an economic revolution.”  This reveals that material forces were critical in defining how slavery came about.  Foner points out that it was not merely prejudice, but a hierarchal system that helped to ensure power to owners that helped to create slavery:

Slavery freed the upper class from the need to do manual labor, to worry about economic day-to-day realities, and therefore gave them the time and the intellectual ability to devote themselves to the arts and literature and mechanical advantages and inventions of all kinds. So that it was slavery itself which made the progress of civilization possible.

The establishment of a social hierarchy where Southern Whites were able to own the means of production and ensure their own position of strength were factors that helped to advance slavery.  

Foner argues that another reason slavery was able to continue was because of a growing sectionalism that refused to make statements of policy for the nation: “...the Constitution and national political system had failed in the difficult task of creating a nation—only the Civil War itself would accomplish it.”  Foner argues that slavery was the result of a growing sectionalism in which Southern constructions of economic progress were able to manifest without any intervention.  It is this convergence of sectionalism and economic stratification that Foner believes played a critical role in the advancement of slavery.  These forces worked in tandem with prejudice, reflective of the complex historical reality.

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