Slavery in the Nineteenth Century

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Was Calhoun's speech about the benefits of slavery effective?

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Calhoun gave many speeches extolling slavery as good. The most famous, though, was delivered before the Senate in 1837, when, after reading aloud a few antislavery petitions, he described slavery as a "positive good":

I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good.

Calhoun was taking a step beyond those defenders of slavery who argued that it was a "necessary evil," an undesirable institution that may one day fade away. Rather, he argued that slavery was good for both the enslaver and the enslaved. He went one step further to argue that slavery shielded the South from the class tensions that plagued industrial societies and claimed that Southern bondsmen were better off than Northern "wage-slaves."

To understand the speech, it...

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