Southern Pro-Slavery Rhetoric

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Southern Proslavery Rhetoric

By1860, the slave states had approximately four million slaves making up approximately one-third of the South's population. However, opposition to slavery began as early as the 1700's by religious leaders and philosophers in North America and Europe who condemned the practice, arguing that slavery was contrary to God's teachings and violated basic human rights. During the Revolutionary War, many Americans came to feel that slavery in the United States was wrong because they believed that protection of human rights was one of the founding tenets of the United States, and slaves were not accorded rights. Slavery was likely opposed more rapidly in the North in part because fewer people in the North owned slaves. Northern abolitionists began organized efforts to end the practice of slavery in the 1800's. But much of the American South, believed that slavery was vital to the continuation of its livelihood and lifestyle and therefore defended the institution of slavery.

As the abolition movement picked up, southerners became organized in their support of slavery in what became known as the proslavery movement. Some southerners involved in the movement maintained the position that slavery was like "the law of nature" which allowed the strong to rule the weak. Thus is was appropriate for whites to own blacks as slaves because they believed whites were the dominant race. Some supporters of slavery believed that the Bible clearly condoned the practice of slavery. Still others argue that southern slaves were provided with lifelong homes and better living conditions than they would have experienced living in Africa. By 1860, almost all southerners thought slavery should continue.

The Southern philosophers were, in some measure, great theorists. Their ability to defend the institution of slavery as a good for society can be considered through three justifications: socio-political, economic/socio-economic, and religious.

Of all the areas with which the southerners contended, the socio-political arena was probably their strongest. It is in this area that they had history and law to support their assertions. With the recent exception of the British, the slave trade had been an integral part of the economies of many nations and the slaves were the labor by which many nations and empires attained greatness. Southerners envisioned an American empire and that required slave labor.

In addition, the Enlightenment that had so revolutionized thought in Europe was strongly opposed in the American South. The American South, and, to a certain extent, even the North, rejected both the enthronement of reason over faith, and the rights of individual men over social responsibilities. The political culture of the American South demanded strong authority and a social hierarchy. Most of the Governors of the American South were "new money" aristocrats who were landowners and slave owners and their wealth determined their political power. The importance of the social system governed their beliefs on the institution of slavery. For Southerners, slaves were an extension of the household. Thus, the move to abolish slavery represented, among other things a radical an attack on the traditional family.

Much of the American North differed significantly from this view of social hierarchy. The North, though holding to some of the principles espoused by the South, saw slavery as a direct contradiction of the Declaration of Independence. As such, the North wanted to avoid the obvious hypocrisy of upholding the Declaration while condoning slavery. The South, in its support of the institution of slavery chose to challenge the validity of the Declaration instead.

The Southerners, did not limit their defense to philosophical arguments. They also pointed out that the laws of the United States protected the institution of slavery. Article I, section 9, clause 1 of the Constitution of the United States...
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