America in the 1850s


What did Northerners mean when they used the expression the “Slave Power”?

To the historian, the Southern states in the 1850s look beleaguered. Their population growth lagged behind that of the North, and their percentage of the national wealth was slipping. But to Northerners, the South of the mid-1850s looked big and powerful, with possibilities for its becoming even mightier. From this fear came the idea of the Slave Power.

There were, it is true, some Southerners who believed that the production of cotton, with the attendant use of slaves, was an unstoppable thing; these men said that the South should expand into the Caribbean and even the northern part of South America in order to ensure its success. The average white Southerner had no such thoughts; to him, it was sufficient to run his farm and keep his slaves in line. But white Northerners began to develop the idea that the “Slave Power” was on the rise and that it had corrupted many levels of the U.S. government, including the executive branch.


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