America in the 1850s

Slavery and Sectional Animosity

Did white Northerners regard slavery as morally wrong or the South as morally degenerate?

As late as the year 1850, most white Northerners were willing to let white Southerners do what they wanted with their peculiar institution. Was it really the right of the North to tell the South what to do? Most Northerners would argue that it was not. There was a small but growing number of people in the North that accused the South of moral degeneracy, however, and this number would only increase during the decade to come.

Moral degeneracy is not quite the same as evil or absolute wrong. White Northerners often accused their Southern cousins—an expression of speech—of having degenerated over the previous two generations. There had been a time when it seemed that the white Southerners would voluntarily free, or manumit, their slaves, but that day was long past, and it seemed—to men and women of the North—that the South was less conscious of evil, sin, and wrongdoing than in the past.


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