In America, slavery was the main conflict between the North and South. However, it is little understood why the Southern states wanted to keep the institution of slavery in the era when human rights, equality were accepted in other parts of the society. After the enlightenment, nobody would have expected the South’s stubbornness to keep slaves. The below paper is going to examine the reasons behind the decision.
Why in 1860 did white southerners remain committed to the institution of slavery and its expansion?
Some authors state that the South needed slavery to keep its agriculture-based economy going. Unlike the industrial Northern states, farmers worked with a very small profit margin and claimed that they could not afford paying workers. According to Cooper ( p. 3. ), by 1860 the institution of the slavery was already more than 150 years old. The economic patterns were all built around plantations using slaves. The author also states that “Negro slavery reinforced that foundation” of the colonial South. Other than economic considerations, this pattern was later complemented with “racial slavery”. White Southerners thought that Black people were “inferior” and even Thomas Jefferson stated that they were several cultural levels below white people. (Cooper, p. 36.)
Further, the previous rebellions of Black slaves might have also scared landowners. They felt like they had to “control and restrict” Negroes in order to keep their property. The emancipation of some black slaves and their ideas, gatherings simply frightened the white population, which is understandable, giving the large number of slaves working on the farms. (Wade, 1967) The author mentions several incidents and attacks against black religious congregations and the general assumption that Negro slaves had no moral judgment also meant that the white slave-owner population assumed that their liberation would lead to increased crime rates and pose a threat on their property.
The two major reasons why the South did not want to abolish slavery have been identified above; economic and racist considerations both contributed towards politicians’ and slave-owners’ decision to keep the institution in 1860.
Cooper, W. (2000) Liberty and Slavery: Southern Politics to 1860. University of South Carolina Press.
Wade, R. (1967) Slavery in the Cities : The South 1820-1860: The South 1820-1860. (Google eBook)