Explain why northern whites who opposed slavery and southern whites who supprted slavery both believed they were fighting to defend liberty.

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mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both northern whites that were against slavery and southern whites that supported slavery believed they were defending liberty. Northern whites believed that owning a person and not allowing that person to be free and make decisions was the exact definition of not having liberty. They viewed the concept of liberty as one where a person is free to do whatever that person wants to do within the boundaries of a society based on laws.

Southern whites believed they were defending liberty by supporting slavery. Southern whites argued that slaves were treated better in the South as slaves than some free people were treated when they worked in factories in the North. They argued that the needs of slaves were taken care of by the slave owners. In the North, people had to take care of all of their needs themselves. Some people worked in terrible environments, while other people did not have enough money to adequately feed, house, and provide medical care for their families.

Southern whites also believed that they were defending liberty by being able to choose and develop the kind of social system in which they lived. They believed that any government action against owning property, which slaves were considered, was an abuse of government power and a reduction of individual liberty. Southerners believed that the concept of liberty allowed them to have a society that allowed people to own slaves.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These two groups were conceiving of freedom in different ways.  To Northern abolitionists, freedom was something that applied to all people.  They felt that freedom precluded having the people of one race enslaving the other.  But this is not the only way to conceive of freedom.  The South felt that freedom could be defined as the freedom to have whatever economic and social system they wanted.  They felt that freedom included the freedom to own slaves.  This was the freedom to rule themselves in any way they saw fit.  

In this way, they could conceive of themselves as fighting for freedom even when they were fighting to perpetuate the system of slavery.