How did those involved convince themselves that it was acceptable to enslave Africans?

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are a number of ways in which people involved in slavery were able to justify the practice to themselves.  Let us look at a few of them.

  • Necessity.  It was simply not possible to get free people to work in the conditions of a colonial sugar plantation or an antebellum cotton plantation.  Therefore, slavery was a necessary evil.
  • Christianity permitted slavery.  There is nothing in the Bible that criticizes slavery.  The Old Testament patriarchs engaged in it.  Jesus did not denounce it.  Therefore, it was acceptable.
  • Slavery makes slaves Christian.  Those who do not believe in Christ are doomed to Hell, according to traditional Christian theology.  By enslaving these Africans and taking them away from Africa, the Europeans and Americans were saving their souls.
  • The Greeks and Romans had slaves.  In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries (and even beyond) people looked up to the Greeks and Romans.  They were the founders of Western civilization.  Our democratic form of government came from them.  So did things such as philosophy and art.  If they had slaves, slavery must be acceptable.
  • Slavery was better than wage labor.  Slaves were secure for life.  They would be cared for when sick or old.  This was not true of wage laborers.
  • Racism.  If you do not believe that Africans are truly human, then there is no problem with enslaving them.  People kept white women subjugated because they were inferior to white men.  There was, therefore, no problem with keeping inferior blacks subjugated as well.

All of these arguments, of course, have huge holes in them, but these were the arguments most commonly used to justify slavery.