The Peculiar Institution of American Slavery
Antebellum Slavetrading Storefront
The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submission on the other. Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever. Thomas Jefferson, 1782
I. Slavery's Economic Base
II. Slavery's Social Base
A. While a small number of whites owned slaves (only 1750 families owned over 100 slaves in 1850), they exerted enormous political and social power in the South
III. Abolitionist Responses to Slavery
B. Dominance by the aristocracy was basically undemocratic
1. It widened the gap between rich and poor
2. It hampered state-supported public education
3. It attempted to preserve the "cavalier" tradition--courteous, hospitable, and chivalrous
C. Beneath the plantation slave owner were poor whites with less status
1. Lowland whites--mechanics, tradesmen, small cotton farmers. Owning no slaves, they were strong defenders of slavery
2. Poor whites--suffering from malnutrition and intense poverty
3. Mountain whites--lived in semi-isolation in Appalachian Mountains. Independent small farmers resenting both planters and slaves.
D. Beneath the poor whites were the 250,000 free blacks of the South. Free blacks were resented by Southern whites as examples of emancipation and many Northern whites because of their competition for work
E. Bottom of social pyramid: 4,000,000 slaves.
1. Legal importation of slaves ended in 1808.
2. Slaves mostly concentrated in "black belt" of the Deep South
3. Slaves were bought or sold at auctions
4. Slavery was degrading to the dignity of victims and to the humanity of the whites
A. Abolitionists differed from early antislavery movements in their emphasis on racial equality and were divided into two main camps:
1.Gradualists (Theodore Weld) who favored a gradual erasure of slavery by Southern legislatures
a) Some suggested financial compensation to the owners
2. Militants (William Lloyd Garrison) who argued that no compromise with the evil of slavery was possible
b) They believed serious social and economic problems could be avoided with gradual emancipation
a) Demanded immediate emancipation without compensation
3. Organized abolitionists
b) Opposed the Constitution as a "covenant with death and an agreement with hell."
c) Garrison published a powerful newspaper entitled The Liberator which attacked slavery and the government's collusion with the institution
a) Set up an Underground Railroad that smuggled 2000 slaves a year to Canada and freedom
b) Barraged Congress with antislavery petitions despite a "gag rule" designed to prevent the discussion of slavery
c) Entered politics directly by establishing the Liberty Party
B. While abolitionists always remained small in number, their constant single-issue approach to slavery as a political and moral issue kept it in the public's eye
IV. Southern Defenses of Slavery
A. Slavery was ordained by God, permitted in the Bible ("Slaves, obey your masters")
B. Greek and Roman cultures each featured slavery
C. Essential to the southern economy
D. Preferable to the "wage slavery" of the North
E. Beneficial to the blacks who had traded the barbarism of Africa for the blessings of security and Christianity
Please cite this source when appropriate:
Feldmeth, Greg D. "U.S. History Resources"
http://home.earthlink.net/~gfeldmeth/USHistory.html (31 March 1998).
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