Slavery in the Nineteenth Century Questions and Answers

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Why did Southerners support slavery if they didn't own slaves?  

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White Southerners supported slavery for a variety of reasons. But many did so despite not owning slaves themselves. The main reason for doing so was that slavery was the foundation of the Southern economy and Southern society. To supporters of "the peculiar institution," slavery was the keystone that held the entire system together. If slavery was abolished, then the whole system could quickly collapse into chaos and disorder. Many white Southerners genuinely believed that the abolition of slavery would lead to acts of revenge on the part of emancipated slaves. The dominant racial prejudice looked upon people of color as wild and barbarous individuals who would undermine society without the discipline of slavery.

White people on the bottom rung of the economic and social ladder were among the strongest supporters of slavery despite not being able to afford slaves themselves. If the slaves were emancipated, these whites reasoned, then former slaves would act as direct competition in the...

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