Pro Slavery in the Antebellum Period Essay

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Proslavery arguments were the justifications proslavery propagators used to justify the institution of slavery. The period that saw the rise of these arguments was the 1830s through to the 1860s as the abolitionist movement gained ground and made their concerns more visible to the nation. This essay examines the theories proslavery propagators used to justify the institution of slavery and also slaves' view of the practice. All factors considered, the South's position on slavery was mainly for self-preservation and to protect their economic interests that were mainly supported by slave labor.

Slavery Theories

Proslavery theorists were champions of a contemporary, class-sensitive American antebellum society. Their view was that having landless poor people in the community was one of the reasons leading to societal failure. A population of landless poor, they argued, could very easily fall prey to manipulation and this meant an unstable society. Thus, they saw that the biggest threat posed to stability and democracy was a rise of landless poor as this could cause class warfare. [footnoteRef:1] [1: ibid]

"Mudsill theory" supposed that there has to be a lower class upon which the upper class rests. One wealthy plantation owner in the south, James Henry Hammond, used the theory to explain his position on theory justifying it by saying that the slaves willingness to do menial work allowed higher classes help advance civilization. Thus, race or class equality efforts would hinder the advancement of civilization. [footnoteRef:2] [2: ibid]

Proslavery theorists in the South argued that the existence of slavery ensured that there were no attempts at race equality or class equality and also ensured that the landless poor were not engaged in the political process. Their lack of participation in the political process would ensure that those who were the most likely to undermine the process or threaten democracy were kept aloof from the processes. Their mindset was that slavery was good as it protected the interests of all parties -- the society, the masters, and even the slaves. [footnoteRef:3] [3: ibid]

Positive Good

John C. Calhoun gave a speech in 1837 to the Senate arguing for the "positive good" school of thought on slavery and stated that slavery was not evil but good. Their argument was that the nature of slavery and its ability to ensure the status quo in social class made society more stable.
[footnoteRef:4] [4: ibid]

The arguments asserted the propertied elite's rights against perceived threats arising from the abolitionist movement, non-whites, and lower classes who wanted to raise the standards of living. John C. Calhoun together with various pre-Civil War Democrats saw slavery abolition as a threat to the Southern Market which had become powerful. It was a market dependent on plantation system that was run primarily using slave labor. [footnoteRef:5] [5: ibid]

William Joseph Harper made several racial, economic, and philosophical arguments for slavery, but his main contention was that slavery anticipates civilization's benefits and retards civilization's evils. His assessment of various around the world supported his line of argument. He pointed out those civilizations that did not have slaves, such as the Great Britain was heavily divided by political radicalism and inequality, whereas, States in the south like Cuba, Brazil and the United States that still practiced slavery were making good progress. [footnoteRef:6] [6: ibid]

Supporting Slavery

Defenders of slavery argued that ending slavery would grossly impact local economy in the South where most of the economic activities were supported by slave labor. The tobacco, rice, and cotton economies were seen as some of the areas that would face imminent death with the abolition of slavery. [footnoteRef:7] [7: "The Southern Argument for Slavery." 2008. Accessed October 12, 2016.]

Other defenders argued that it was the nature of humanity to have slaves as centuries-old practices evidenced. The Romans, Greeks and even the English had slaves. They also used the Bible's Abraham having slaves to support their argument. They pointed to the Ten Commandments stating that one should not covet his neighbor's manservant or maidservant. They also pointed out that even though slavery existed during Jesus era, he did not speak out against it. [footnoteRef:8] The slavery defenders made….....

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"Slavery: A Southern Mindset." 2015. Accessed October 12, 2016.

"The Proslavery Argument." 2016. Accessed October 12, 2016.

"The Southern Argument for Slavery." 2008. Accessed October 12, 2016.

Conlin, Joseph R. American past, 1877: a survey of American history. [S.l.]: Wadsworth, 2009.

Wheeler, William Bruce, and Susan, Becker. Discovering the American Past: A Look at the Evidence, Volume I: To 1877. Cengage Learning, 2016.

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