Slavery was not a new concept when the first slaves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. In fact, slavery was common practice throughout the history of the world, although in the past it more closely resembled indentured servitude. The South’s voracity and dependence on labor would transform slavery into an unprecedented institution. Abolitionists in the North argued against it, calling slavery morally reprehensible.
However, pro-slavery arguments were so effective that it was not abolished until 1865, by the Thirteenth Amendment. The justification of slavery had a wide range of basis from philosophical, religious, economic, and even legal standpoints. Some of the oldest arguments in favor of slavery came from early Greek philosophers, Aristotle and Plato. Aristotle believed that there were only two kinds of people in the world; people who were born to be slaves and people who were not slaves. Since natural born slaves lacked the ability to live on their own the guidance from their masters was essential for survival, this was simply the natural order of the world. Plato agreed, stating that the inferior needed to be ruled by the better.
This was how slavers in the South viewed their slaves. Multiple language barriers and vastly different customs contributed to the Southerners view of slaves as simple and incompetent. If it weren’t for the slavers looking after them, the slaves would not have been able to survive in the foreign land. In this way slavery actually benefitted the slaves, because they were being housed and fed by their masters/owners. Religion was an integral force in the lives of both Northerners and Southerners alike. To live a God-fearing, pious life was consistent with having good moral standing.
By this logic, slavery was not morally reprehensible because it was present and acceptable in the Bible. Texts from the Old Testament were used to draw comparisons with the Israelites and their practice of slavery, as well as slave owners considering themselves to be worthy and virtuous. In comparison, their African slaves were thought of as the descendants of Ham, who was cursed by God to live a life of servitude. One of the strongest arguments for slavery was that it was beneficial to the economy. Despite the opposition it faced, slavery was a vital institution for both the South and the North. Southerners needed slave labor in order to sustain their plantation economies and genteel lifestyle, and the North relied on the raw goods produced by the slaves to power their industrialized society. At this time nearly everything being exported from the United States was based on slave-produced goods.
The hypocrisy that tinged the North’s opposition only further cemented the fact that slavery was the backbone of the United States economy. The fact that slaves were viewed as property and not people was the South’s strongest defense against their actions. Their actions could not be morally wrong because they were providing their slaves with the minimum requirements to live. For slave masters providing slaves with unnecessary luxuries would come at a personal cost that they could not justify spending on property.
To feel such sympathy for them would be akin to feeling sorry for their horse because it had to live in a stable. Additionally, slavery was not illegal in the Constitution. Clauses such as the 3/5th Compromise actually protected slavery. Since slavery was decided by the States, the southern states could legally continue using slave labor.
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