Slavery. This was the cause of major debates in American history that contributed greatly to the differences developing between the northern and southern states of America during the 1800’s. These differences would eventually lead to the Civil War, which would cause the still newly formed America to diverge. During the debates over slavery, both the abolitionist and the slave holders fought diligently to protect what they thought to be the best intentions for America and for themselves, but because these two sides were so conflicting in their arguments, it was inevitable that the debate over slavery would eventually end in drastic measures. Although the two sides disagreed on ideas, each had valid points to contribute to their cases.
The Abolitionist, or those who wanted to abolish slavery, believed that slavery violated many rights and beliefs held by the American nation. They argued that capturing others and forcing them into labor was a direct violation of the constitutions inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Even though at the time we were plagued with extreme racism against blacks (some to the extent of believing that blacks were of a sub-human species), the abolitionist argued that everyone should be given the opportunity to have these rights, regardless of race. They strengthened this point by using scriptures directly taken from the Christian bible. Scriptures such as Matt 7:12 “…do to others what you would have them do to you…”,backed up their point that capturing others for forced labor was morally wrong.
Other scripture such as Col 4:1 “Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven”, aided their next major argument against slavery; the treatment of slaves. Many slave holders, or to the slaves, masters, were brutal in the treatment of their laborers. Cruel forms of punishment were used against those slaves who were rebellious or did not work to their master’s standards, but rarely did a slave holder kill their slaves. At up to $2000, the were much too valuable “property” to simply kill. This treatment outraged the abolitionist, and the debate raged on.
The slave holders of the south presented many valid arguments. The southern states stated that abolishing slavery would be devastating to the economy of America. Three of the nations largest crops, cotton, tobacco, and rice, were profitable only because of slave labor. Such a large amount of workers were needed, that slavery was one of their only options that would not cost more than the money they made from their cash crops themselves. Slavery was cheaper because the slaves worked consistently, as opposed to laborers of the north who were in constant competion of each other, and in and out of work. If slavery were to be outlawed, these crops would eventually fail, causing an economic turmoil in the nation. Profits made from trading with other counties would plummet and, the north would also be greatly affected because the only way many of the industrial workers in the north could afford clothing was to wear those made of the cotton imported from the south. This led to their next point against abolitionist. Wage Slavery. Although abolitionist believed the north was giving their civilians their freedom rights, the
only choice for most of the northern laborers was to work or starve. Many parents were forced to sell their children into contracts with companies as soon as they were old enough to work (5-6 yrs. old by northern standards), just so they could help their families survive. The south argued that working conditions for children laborers in the north were worse than their slaves of the south, and at wages of just cents a day, and no guarantee of food, shelter, or clothes, the slaves were virtually living in a paradise. The slave holders also used the bible to their advantage, much like the north. Verses such as Col 3:22 “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.”, not only strengthened the south’s case morally but it was also useful in keeping their slaves in line during sermons when they were “christianizing” them. The most prominent point though, was that slavery, was legal.
Both the north and the south contributed many viable points, but in the end, slavery was abolished. Its final days ended when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all of the enslaved blacks of the south. Even though the north won, I believe the answer to this debate over slavery lays somewhere between both arguments. All great societies throughout history have been built largely on slavery, but the oppressing of a people for racial reasons is what I believe to be morally wrong. Whether strong-willed opinions or compromise wins out is always up to us as a democratic nation.