The debate around slavery versus equality increasingly polarized in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Those in favor of abolition saw slavery as a moral wrong that was completely unjustifiable: it simply was not right for one human to own another and slavery had to end immediately. Those...
The debate around slavery versus equality increasingly polarized in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Those in favor of abolition saw slavery as a moral wrong that was completely unjustifiable: it simply was not right for one human to own another and slavery had to end immediately. Those in favor of slavery often argued that slaves were "better off" under slavery: they were fed, housed and Christianized. Abolitionists, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom's Cabin, argued otherwise, painting a convincing portrait of blacks even in "good" households at the mercy of a cruel system: children as young as four, for example, could be separated from their mothers and sold to settle debts or a "good" owner could die, leaving slaves at the mercy of someone cruel. As opinions hardened and polarized, any conversation or common ground became impossible to establish, leading to war.
Pro-slavery proponents argued that slavery was economically necessary to the South and that without it the agrarian economy would collapse, leaving blacks and whites alike in a terrible situation. Some also argued that the slaves were not ready for freedom and used racist arguments about alleged inferiority to justify slavery.
Abolitionists countered that it was only social conditions that kept blacks down. However, even abolitionists often could be racist in the sense of not wanting to actually mingle with blacks. Some in the North feared that a huge influx of former slaves would depress wages and put strains on social services, as most blacks were kept illiterate and ignorant by design. This led to movements such as one to return former slaves to Liberia, a plan not much favored by blacks themselves.
As the end of the Civil War demonstrated, the South had the most to lose by the abolition of slavery. Slavery, terribly cruel as it was, was an economic engine bringing wealth to a least a small sliver of the society. When it was abolished, some states, such as Mississippi and Alabama, fell into an economic decline that they never quite recovered from.