What were the justifications for slavery between 1820 to 1860?

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enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The justifications for slavery were as numerous as the justifications for abolishing it. However, the key reason slavery persisted in the United States was to provide a labor supply for labor-intensive agricultural efforts, chiefly tobacco, then cotton.  Whitney did not invent the cotton gin, but his machine increased quantity by sacrificing quality; the cotton fibers were damaged somewhat in the process, but it fulfilled the demand for a cheaper grade of cotton, and subsequently the demand to produce cotton increased the demand for slaves. However, as mechanization of agriculture continued, human labor became relatively more expensive -- machines could do it more efficiently, and the wise planter would put his money in machines than slaves. That alone would have ended slavery.

When slavery was extant, it was legal for an owner to kill slaves.  Although wager earners in the North would not be cared for when old or sick, slaves wouldn't get the chance to be old or sick.

The Bible has been used by many groups throughout history to argue opposing opinions.  Perhaps God's on both sides.

Social stratification was not only necessary to insure slavery, it was legally encoded in Virginia after Bacon's Rebellion in 1676.

The South did not secede from the United States over the issue of slavery.  The Southern States and their people perceived that their agrarian way of life was constantly undermined by the North, engaging in unfair business practices within shippping and banking.  However, before the shooting war started, the South had already lost the culture war; contrary to Jeffersonian thinking, the US became more Federalized or centralized, Central banking, which favored the North, became the standard, and the country was becoming more industrial.  The war only added the dimension of slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, when the war was well underway.

geosc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The idea that slave owners killed their slaves so that they did not have to care for them during their old age is ludricous and slanderous; and probably is not what the writer meant to say, but that is what he did say.

Justifications given for slavery between 1820 and 1860 included:

If the slaves had not been brought out of Africa, many of them would have been killed in tribal wars or placed in a much worse form of slavery in Africa.  (I am not saying that slavery in Africa was worse than in America; I do not know.  I am saying that was a justification given.)

Slavery permitted Americans to teach the Christian religion to the Africans whose souls would have been lost if they had stayed in Africa.

Slavery permitted the Africans to enjoy more of the benefits of civilization than they would have had in Africa.

Slavery provided a better living to Africans in the South than wage labor would have provided them.  (And if we look at the condition of wage laborers in the North of the time, that is probably true.  But only from an economic standpoint.  There were no doubt benefits to freedom and disadvantages to slavery that outweighed this economic advantage; the slaves seemed to think so.)

These are some of the justifications that were given; whether or not they were true, is another question.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many of the justifications took on an economic spin.  The invention of Whitney's cotton gin and the increase in production of cotton necessitated the presence of increase of slaves in the South in order to keep pace with the North.  This was one of the strongest arguments used to justify slavery in the South.  At the same time, it was argued, as previously noted, that slavery in the South was no different than the dehumanization factory life in the North.  At the very least, Southern slaveowners contended, they were giving room and board to slaves, more humane than the brutal facts of urbanization in the North.  Finally, the notion of tradition and autonomy began to be woven into the discourse.  Abolitionist and Northern calls to end slavery were countered with the idea that "this is our tradition" and the call for states' rights and the ability to live freely was invoked.  Of all of the arguments, this was the most unique, as freedom was called as it oppressed another.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There were many justifications for slavery during this time.  Here are some of the major ones:

  • Slavery was no worse than wage labor in the North.  In fact, it was better.  The argument said that wage laborers would not be cared for when sick or old but slaves would be, etc.
  • Slavery was okay with God.  There is slavery in the Bible and no mention of any opposition to slavery by Jesus.
  • There was also slavery in Greek and Roman society as well as in the time of the Founders of the US -- all of these were great societies so slavery couldn't be bad.
  • Blacks were not intelligent enough to be able to survive outside of slavery on their own.
  • Slavery was good for the US economy.
krishna-agrawala | Student

The justifications for slavery given in the previous two posts are valid only from the view point of the people who captured, traded in, owned and used slaves. Viewed from the view point of the person who is forcibly captured, taken away his home and near and dear ones, and forced to to not just work, but also to submit to any and every wishes of the owner, having no right to even liberty, leave alone to other fundamental rights like right to speech, there can be no justification for slavery in today's society. At best we can classify the justifications listed in answers above as just invalid excuses for slavery.

To put the arguments of people who supported slavery in 1820 to 1860, or may support even now, let us look at the falsehood of some of the arguments.

Slavery was no worse than wage labor: Then why it was necessary to force people into slavery but not for becoming wage labour?

Slavery was okay with God: Did Jesus really approve of Slavery? Did he not spread the message of love rather than physical force and punishment which is an essential part of slavery. Is it being implied that as per Christian religion it is all right to forcibly capture people, separate them from their loved ones, causing misery to them as well as to their families, and then give them no liberty, no equality, no right to justice?

There was slavery in Greek and Roman society and in the time of the Founders of the US. : Is it being implied that we should continue to follow the thoughts and practices of people who lived and thousands or hundreds of years, disregarding all improvements in ways of living and thinking that have taken place subsequently.

Blacks were not intelligent enough to able to survive outside of slavery of their own.: Really? People in Africa were happy living the way they were in their home lands The presumably more intelligent people used their intelligence not to help them but to bring misery in their life.

Slavery was good for economy: Slavery was good only for the slave owners and traders. Also, it is important to note that labour productivity of free people today is more than that of either slaves or the oppressed labour of the past. It is now clear that slavery and oppression is bad for any country or economy.

Constitution implicitly supported slavery: Implicit or even explicit support by constitution, only reflects the popular thinking and political reality of that time. It is important to note that the bill of rights was not a part of the original constitution. That does not justify denial of fundamental rights of US people. Constitutions can be imperfect. Further these can be changed to correct their original faults as well as to respond to needs of changing times.

Social stratification was necessary. : Why and for whose benefit? How can we justify forcing a large number of people to live a life of misery and social degradation to support the life of luxury for a few.

mkcapen1 | Student

The idea of slavery was not new.  It had been around since the dawn of early civilization.  When the English colonies were set up in the southern states there just were not enough people to allow for the growth of the land development at the rate that the land owners desired.  In addition, the propagation of land would ensure abundant riches for the states as well.

One of the justifications that the south used to continue slavery was the history of slavery throughout different nations.  They presented slavery as a social obligation to care for and protect the population of beings unable to provide for their own care and who exhibited a diverse and savage life when left to his own will. (slaves)

The level of hierarchy in the south demanded that the level of social stratification was necessary and that slaves were needed to maintain the class patterns and it was socially responsible to do this.

"The Constitution also implicitly supported the institution of slavery in article IV, section 2, clause 3, which stated:

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due” (USC). "

The south also argued that the north benefited from slavery as well but hid it better.  The south stated that the northern labor system was no better and no different than slavery.

norepinephrinergic | Student

These sound an aweful lot like todays justifications for unnecessary meat consumption.