Why did the south defend slavery so vigorously even though only 25% of the population owned slaves?
This is a question which needs answering if one is to truly
understand what drove the South to Civil War. The outline below will
make it clear that the south felt compelled to defend slavery for
I. The Defense of Slavery
A. How did the South Defend Slavery?
1. Before 1830 – The South defended slavery as a
necessary evil. They argued that the emergence of cotton as the most
important cash crop in the country made slaves necessary.
2. After 1830 – A number of factors (outlined below) forced
southerners to change their defense. Instead of defending slavery as
a necessary evil, they began to defend slavery as a “positive good.”
They argued that the slaves were in actuality happy, content and well
cared for. They even went as far as saying that being a slave was
better than being a worker in a northern factory, a condition
referred to as “wage slavery.”
B. Why did the defense of slavery change?
1. Growing abolitonist sentiment.
2. Increased reliance on cottyon as an export crop. By 1860 cotton
was 65% of all of US exports. This led cotton to be referred to as
3. While only 25% of southerners actually owned slaves these
select few were the ones with great political power. If one
considered that a slave in 1850 was worth $2000 then losing 200
slaves would mena a loss of $400,000. This was an astronomical sum at
the time, equal to millions. Southern plantation owners were not
about to lose that kind of money.
4. Almost all southerners, regardless of wether or not they owned
slave, were basically racist. View of blacks ranged from them being
inferior, to being animals, to them being likened to pets. In all
cases slaves were viewed as property, not people.
C. How did Southern Representatives work to protect slavery?
1. Clearly southern represenatives would take any
position that defended slavery and their general economic condition.
The defended nullification, opposed tariffs and worked to get strict
fugitive slave laws passed.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “If you put a chain around the neck
of a slave, the other fastens itself around your own.” In saying
so Emerson looks at the nature of bondage. By owning slaves one
become a slave. Too take away anothers freedom is to take away your
own freedom on many levels.