Wednesday, December 3, 2014

History 361 - Antebellum 1820-1860 Opinion Piece #3 - Slavery

            Though we examined a lot of the dynamics of the Antebellum period, the crux of the sectional differences that led to the Civil War, was slavery.  As a result, my final essay will deal with my own revisionist interpretation of that issue. 
            There are several points that I feel are critical when examining slavery in the southern section.  The fact that slaves were only held by the aristocracy or planter class is revealing.   Most accounts that I have seen put that group at less than five percent of the population.  It is my belief that solely on the issue of slavery, the majority of southerners would not have been willing to secede from the union and/or go to war with the north.  The promoters of secession would have sold it by instilling fear of northern aggression and an us against them mentality.  There was a rallying of support based on "southern pride," which still exists today.  Also, I suppose, as long as the blacks were enslaved, the poor, uneducated, white people felt farther up the pecking order.  Maintaining the status quo allayed their fears, that they too could be enslaved by the rich and powerful.   Additionally, there was a trepidation that several million newly freed blacks might seek revenge against southern whites, slaveholders and  non-slaveholders alike.   Of course, this didn't happen when emancipation did come.
            I found it interesting that politicians and newspaper scribes of the day wrote in elevated language that the largely illiterate southerner rabble could not possibly have understood.   In comparison, today's print journalists write in very basic language and we have limitless "news" sources that further simplify and skew it.  The antebellum southerner trusted the more learned among them to make their choices for them. 
            In the north, though the rhetoric was "all men are created equal," and sounded good to gain momentum for the abolitionist movement, did they really believe that?  If so, why did it take 100 years for blacks to have an unrestricted right to vote and to fully be integrated in the  public education system?  Many of those who abhorred the idea of slavery did not consider any people of color their equal, and still don't.  A lot of the opposition to slavery was dread that the expansion to the  territories would create more slave states and weaken their clout in Congress.    In addition, the economic impact of losing the agricultural production of the south was worrisome, as I have seen it estimated at up to three-quarters of the entire national export. 
            Both northerners and southerners believed they had the Bible and the Constitution on their side with regards to the issue of slavery.  The question divided the Christian churches sectionally.    Baptist and Methodist ministers in the south, split from their northern brothers, and changed their doctrine to accommodate the institution of their members and contributors. White southerners, knowing in their heart that subjugation of another human being was evil, insisted that the slaves were no more than property, much like livestock.  This belief allowed them to sleep at night.  They argued for the compatibility of Christianity and slavery,  citing scripture to justify the evil. 
                It is my opinion that if the north had a viable and profitable use of slave labor, the abolitionist movement would have never gotten traction.  It has been a common theme in our nation that capital gains trumps morality and decency.  Before the creation of the Republican Party and the election of Lincoln, no presidents were willing to seriously consider emancipation, rather attempts were made to halt the expansion.  Compromise after compromise was made to placate both sides.  Lincoln was no longer willing to appease the south, nor allow secession,  and the only way to sustain the union was with military might.  Thus, the Civil War.        

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