Arguments For Slavery Essay
Just as ardently as abolitionists fought the institution of slavery, many citizens of the United States argued the advantages of owning human beings and keeping them in servitude as a piece of property. Slavery was not America’s finest hour, but the anti-abolitionists saw nothing wrong with the practice, arguing three key beliefs why slavery should be sanctioned: economic, religious and legal.
The American South became increasingly dependent on the lucrative cotton industry. The wealth and status associated with cotton prompted the expansion of plantations westward (Tindall & Shi, 2010, p.438, para. 2). Large plantations needed a huge labor force to harvest crops, and African slaves were cheaper and more readily available than indentured laborers from Europe. “They could more easily be bought from traders on the West African coast and were more immune to European diseases than indigenous Americans or imported white slaves” (Nash, A., n.d.). To free the slaves, proponents of slavery argued, would have a profound economic impact on the South, where reliance on slave labor was imperative to their success and survival. In addition, releasing four million slaves in to the general population would create competition for jobs and resources.
The religious argument defending slavery referred to biblical passages and claims that slavery was sanctioned by the Bible. Clergymen of all denominations joined in the dispute. “Had not the patriarchs of the Hebrew Bible held bondsmen? Had not Saint Paul advised servants to obey their masters and told a fugitive servant to return to his master? And had not Jesus remained silent on the subject, at least insofar as the Gospels reported his words?” (Tindall & Shi, 2010, p.436, para.4). Slaveholders viewed themselves as charitable and righteous, giving food, shelter and comfortable surroundings to those they viewed as property, not people, and they felt they were giving slaves something much more than they had or could ever attain on their own. John C. Calhoun, a prominent U.S. politician, told the Senate that slavery was not evil, but was “good – a great good” (Tindall & Shi, 2010, p. 436, para. 3) and spoke of the greatness of bringing Christianity to the heathens from across the ocean. This argument was particularly effective because it exploited the basic principles of the one area the majority of people believed in – Christianity and the Bible.
Supporters of slavery also rationalized the legality of slavery, pointing to the United...
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In the mid- 1800’s, pro-slavery ideology was a strong current of thought in the United States. In retrospect, supporting slavery is a terrible idea—but it was a popular and widespread belief at the time. Pro-slavery beliefs were justified in several ways. The first was Christianity; defenders of slavery used religion to condone it. Secondly, slavery was not viewed as a cruel, brutal, unfair system (which it was) with poor moral standards, but rather a pillar of American society—that blacks were simply inferior to whites and slavery was a societal norm. Lastly, supporters of slavery used the successes of the American economy to justify slavery. Pro-slavery ideologists used religion, societal views, and the successful American economy to justify slavery.
Pro-slavery ideologies were largely influenced and justified by religion—Christianity in particular, as slaveholders and slavery supporters would quote scripture from the Bible that reinforced the idea of slavery. Additionally, they argued that slavery was the preference of God, as seen in Josiah Priest’s 1852 essay: “We believe that the institution of slavery received the sanction of the Almighty” (Priest, VI).
An argument supporting slavery citing scripture as evidence.
White people who were slave supporters in mid 1800’s America believed that God meant for blacks to live in servitude to whites. This point of belief is also noted by Priest: “God formed and adapted every creature to the country…the negro was created as he is, and has not been produced and modeled by circumstances and accidents” (Priest, 98)
Pro-slavery essay that cites the Bible as justification.
This passage, in particular, highlights the belief adopted by many that black slaves were meant to serve whites—slave supporters believed that God created black people with slavery as their purpose as a race. Largely, slave supporters tried to use Christianity to refute to position that slavery was a horrible, cruel, and unjust system. Now, we know that it was all of those things, but in the 1800’s, that truth was not so clear: “Therefore we come to the conclusion, that it is not sinful to enslave the negro race, providing that it is done in a tender, fatherly and thoughtful manner” (Priest 102-103). However, as is commonly known, slavery was neither tenderly, fatherly, nor thoughtful. It was a cruel system, and those in support of slavery used the Bible to try and justify it.
Slavery: A Societal Norm
In addition to Biblical reinforcement for the support of slavery, supporters also claimed that slavery was a societal norm—and it didn’t need to change. Pro-slavery ideologists argued that slavery was so rooted in American history that it did not need to change. The system, was in fact, an old one; however, slavery was seen as normal just because it was a part of the way things were.
A proslavery flyer warning abolitionists against the fight against slavery.
That being said, it was seen as a white man’s natural right to own, control, and enslave black people (as seen in E.N. Elliott’s essay): “The Master, as head of the system, has a right to the obedience and labor of the slave” (Elliott, vii). In addition to this belief, supporters of slavery also claimed that slavery was not evil—rather, a morally right system that was part of society. This position often fused with Christianity: “It is objected to the defenders of American Slavery, that they have changed their ground, that from being apologists for it as an inevitable evil, they have become its defenders as a social and political good, morally right, and sanctioned by the Bible and God himself” (Elliott, VIII). This quote reinforces the idea that pro slavery believers thought slavery was just in the way of things, and not a cruel and unfair system.
Propaganda promoting slavery as an integral part of American culture.
Additionally, slavery was thought to be so old, so ingrained in American history, and such a part of American culture that it was deeply intertwined with society: “Our fathers left it to us as a legacy, we have grown up with it; it has grown with our growth, and strengthened with our strength, until it is now incorporated with every fibre of our social and political existence” (Elliott, IX).
Slavery’s Economic Impact
Perhaps the largest argument slavery supporters used was the impact slaves had on the American economy. This came with good reason; slaves did not have to be paid, and had no control over their work hours or jobs. This, in turn, proved to have a positive impact on the American economy in the 1800’s–obviously, it was much cheaper and easier to own slaves than to pay wage workers.
The cotton gin, a tool used to cultivate cotton, was key in the importance of free labor to the American economy.
The free labor of slaves was not only a crucial asset for the American economy, but also a prominent aspect of world trade, as Elliott notes when speaking of the assets the colonies provided to England at the time: “Of the commodities which she imported from them—tobacco, rice, sugar, rum—ten millions of dollars worth, annually, were re-exported to her other dependencies, and five millions to other countries—thus making her indebted to these colonies, directly and indirectly, for more than one half of all her commerce” (Elliott, 45).
Internally, the free labor of slaves was essential in stabilizing the financial state of America at the time, as noted in William Harper’s 1852 essay on the subject: “Without it, there can be no accumulation of property, no providence for the future, no tastes for comfort of elegancies, which are the characteristics and essentials of civilization” (Harper, 4). This is why supporters of slavery argued that it was a key component of the American economy.
Pro-slavery ideologists used several methods to justify the practice of slavery in the American Colonies in the 1800’s. They cited religion, slavery’s position in society, and the American economy to condone slavery. Supporters of slavery would claim that it was God’s wish for black people to be enslaved; additionally, they deduced that slavery was such a normal pillar of American society that it did not need to change. Lastly, they used the surprising success of the American economy (and pointed slavery’s crucial role in that) to justify human enslavement.
Elliott, E.N. Cotton is King, and Pro-Slavery Arguments: Comprising the Writings of Hammond, Harper, Christy, Stringfellow, Hodge, Bledsoe, and Cartwright, on This Important Subject. Atlanta: Pritchard, Abbott, and Loomis, 1860. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/003488537
Harper, William. Harper on Slavery. Charleston, 1852. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009588810
Priest, Josiah. Bible Defence of Slavery. Glasgow, Ky: W.S. Brown, 1852.http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=miun.aev3898.0001.001;view=1up;seq=7
Railton, Stephen. Pro Slavery Riot Flyer. Digital image. University of Virginia, n.d. Web. http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/abolitn/images/mobhpb.jpg
Williams, R.G. How Slavery Honor’s Our Country’s Flag. Digital image. Alderman Library, University of Virginia, n.d. Web. http://pursuitoffreedom.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/044_full.jpg
Bible Defense of Slavery. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. http://i.ebayimg.com/00/s/ODY4WDEyMDA=/$T2eC16NHJGwE9n)ySfi-BP-jrZtQs!~~60_35.JPG
Nellie Norton: Or, Southern Slavery and the Bible. A Scriptural Refutation of the Principal Arguments upon Which the Abolitionists Rely. A Vindication of Southern Slavery from the Old and New Testaments. Digital image. Documenting the American South. The Southern Homefront, 2004. Web. http://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/warren/nortontp.jpg
Woods, Robert O. How the Cotton Gin Started the Civil War. Digital image. Asme. N.p., Mar. 2011. Web. https://www.asme.org/getmedia/00597f07-c2a2-4eb5-bd74-f8c3da8bd908/CottonGin.jpg.aspx