Slavery In The Southern States

Words: 1334
Pages: 6

Even before the very founding of the United States, slavery was a highly controversial issue. The brutal trans-Atlantic slave trade, which began in the 15th century, sent millions of Africans to work on tobacco and sugar plantations that were vital to the colonial economy and created a system of race-based bondage. Almost all the Founding Fathers owned slaves, but by the time of the Constitutional Convention, many hoped that slavery would quietly disappear. In order to preserve the new union, however, they made small concessions to Southern states that would ultimately cement the institution in Southern life and allow the growth of pro-slavery sentiments in all of the South regardless of socio-economic standing. Although most white Southerners …show more content…
The developing slave-reliant economy, the racist attitudes of whites towards African-Americans, and the perceived rise in hostility towards the Southern way of life increasingly united the South as the sole defender of slavery, an idea which saw its ultimate expression in the Confederate States of America.
As the Southern economy developed in the early 19th Century, it became increasingly centered around cotton. Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1793 facilitated the rise of short-staple cotton as the most profitable crop throughout the South by providing a method to easily remove its seeds (Boyer/EV 347). Slaves were needed to pick and plant the cotton, which resulted in a massive revival of slavery. In 1790, before the cotton boom, there were 700,000 slaves; by 1860, there were nearly 4 million slaves planting and harvesting cotton throughout the South (Boyer/EV 348). As the demand for cotton increased, the entire South felt the effects. Smaller slaveholders and yeoman farmers depended on the new plantation aristocracy for access to cotton gins, markets
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Drawing upon ideas of white supremacy popular throughout both the North and South, Southerners argued that Africans were biologically inferior to whites using pseudo-scientific racial theories. Whites in both the North and South bought into these ideas, as their “whiteness” gave even the poorest hill-people or Irish immigrants elevated status and the privileges of citizens (Ignatiev 4-6). Slavery enabled all whites to feel superior to African Americans, which reduced class conflict between Caucasian groups in the South and strengthened the Southern commitment to their distinct way of life (Ignatiev 6). Some Southerners also argued that slaves were “happy with their lot” as the “relation of master and slave was one of mutual goodwill,” in contrast to the North’s cold, predatory “wage slavery” (Fitzhugh 21-22). Some of the belief in the “benevolence” of slaveholders stemmed from the pervading sense of paternalism towards slaves: masters provided food, shelter, and work for their slaves, and also helped to “civilize” them by teaching them Christianity (Fitzhugh 21, Boyer/EV 358). Southern thinkers postulated that slaves and masters were mutually dependant upon each other, which made Southerners “better husbands, better fathers, and better friends” than their Northern