America in the 1850s

Slavery and Sectional Animosity

Did white Southerners regard slavery as morally wrong?

One naturally hesitates to make too strong a claim because of the possibility that other evidence will emerge. But for the most part, it seems plain that the large majority of white Southerners did not regard slavery either as an absolute wrong or as a moral failure on their part. When white Southerners spoke of their “peculiar institution,” they meant that the peculiar circumstances of Southern life made slavery necessary.

The South had very few abolitionists, and those who existed almost certainly kept their mouths shut. At the same time, the South had a great many people whose lives were not connected to the institution of slavery; only 350,000 of 1.3 million families owned any slaves whatsoever. These two numbers naturally make it seem as if slavery stood on a narrow platform, and that most white Southerners did not have a reason to fight for it. Yet, oddly enough, many white Southerners would, indeed, fight for an institution that brought them no special benefit.


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