Saturday, December 22, 2007


PROSLAVERY RATIONALE Prior to the enthronement of King Cotton and certainly prior to the debates over the admission of Missouri as a slave state in 1820, the typical southern slave owner (and Southerner) considered Afro-American slavery to be a necessary evil. With the invention of the cotton gin and, concurrently, the rise of abolitionist sentiment in the North,
however, southern apologists for the institution of slavery took the offensive by proclaiming that slavery, in the words of Senator John C. Calhoun, was a "positive good" rather than a necessary evil.

Some writers, such as George Fitzhugh, began arguing that southern African American slavery was more humane than north­ern "wage slavery." Fitzhugh argued in Cannibals All (1857) that while the "negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and, in some sense, the freest people in the world," the northern white laborer "is more of a slave than the negro, because he works longer and harder for less allowance than the slave, and has no holiday, because the cares of life with him begin when its labors end." Earlier, in his Sociology for the South (1854), Fitzhugh justified slavery purely on racial, grounds. He maintained that the South had the advantage of possessing a distinct, inferior race, well suited to the rigors of slavery. Furthermore, inferior races had been created to serve the more superior races. In short, Fitzhugh argued that the existence of African American slavery was entirely consistent with the laws of Nature.

During the early 1830's, Thomas R. Dew, a professor at William and Mary College, asserted that slavery was indispensable to the creation of advanced civilization, giving the superior few the leisure time necessary for the advancement of society. He (and others) also argued that slavery not only had abundant human sanction (having existed from time immemorial), but divine sanction as well. Both Dew and Reverend Thornton Stringfellow of Virginia were fond of quoting Leviticus to "prove" this point: "Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you ... and they shall be your possession." Aside from this, both Dew and Stringfellow believed that human slavery was sanctioned by Christianity itself as a means of converting the African American from his inherent "paganism."

Finally, there was the economic justification. Slavery was por­trayed as a labor system necessary for the maintenance of a healthy southern economy, an economy which, in the classic capitalist sense, provided both slave traders and slave owners with a healthy profit. Whether or not slavery was "profitable" is still debated by historians; the important factor is that this rationale, similar to the others, was repeatedly used by southern­ers to defend their "peculiar institution." See also: ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE.

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