The Peculiar Institution of American Slavery
Slavery scarred everyone associated with it,
both black and white
The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual
exercise of the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and
degrading submission on the other. Indeed I tremble for my country when
I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.
Thomas Jefferson, 1782
I. Slavery's Economic Base
II. Slavery's Social Base
A. While a small number of whites owned slaves (only 1750 families
owned over 100 slaves in 1850), they exerted enormous political and
social power in the South
III. Abolitionist Responses to Slavery
B. Dominance by the aristocracy was basically undemocratic
1. It widened the gap between rich and poor
2. It hampered state-supported public education
3. It attempted to preserve the "cavalier" tradition--courteous,
hospitable, and chivalrous
C. Beneath the plantation slave owner were poor whites with less status
1. Lowland whites--mechanics, tradesmen, small cotton farmers. Owning
no slaves, they were strong defenders of slavery
2. Poor whites--suffering from malnutrition and intense poverty
3. Mountain whites--lived in semi-isolation in Appalachian Mountains.
Independent small farmers resenting both planters and slaves.
D. Beneath the poor whites were the 250,000 free blacks of the
South. Free blacks were resented by Southern whites as examples of
emancipation and many Northern whites because of their competition for
E. Bottom of social pyramid: 4,000,000 slaves.
1. Legal importation of slaves ended in 1808.
2. Slaves mostly concentrated in "black belt" of the Deep South
3. Slaves were bought or sold at auctions
4. Slavery was degrading to the dignity of victims and to the humanity
of the whites
A. Abolitionists differed from early antislavery movements in their
emphasis on racial equality and were divided into two main camps:
1.Gradualists (Theodore Weld) who favored a gradual erasure of slavery
by Southern legislatures
a) Some suggested financial compensation to the owners
2. Militants (William Lloyd Garrison) who argued that no compromise
with the evil of slavery was possible
b) They believed serious social and economic problems could be avoided
with gradual emancipation
a) Demanded immediate emancipation without compensation
3. Organized abolitionists
b) Opposed the Constitution as a "covenant with death and an agreement
c) Garrison published a powerful newspaper entitled The Liberator
which attacked slavery and the government's collusion with the
a) Set up an Underground Railroad that smuggled 2000 slaves a year to
Canada and freedom
b) Barraged Congress with antislavery petitions despite a "gag rule"
designed to prevent the discussion of slavery
c) Entered politics directly by establishing the Liberty Party
B. While abolitionists always remained small in number, their
constant single-issue approach to slavery as a political and moral
issue kept it in the public's eye
IV. Southern Defenses of Slavery
A. Slavery was ordained by God, permitted in the Bible ("Slaves, obey
B. Greek and Roman cultures each featured slavery
C. Essential to the southern economy
D. Preferable to the "wage slavery" of the North
E. Beneficial to the blacks who had traded the barbarism of Africa
for the blessings of security and Christianity
Please cite this source when appropriate:
Feldmeth, Greg D. "U.S. History Resources"
http://home.earthlink.net/~gfeldmeth/USHistory.html (31 March 1998).
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