Essay: Slavery

From the 1800s to 1850s, slavery became the largest trade in the Southern states of the US. What was originally thought of as “a necessary evil” was now an essential to the Southern economy. The South’s belief in slavery progressively polarized them from the North economically, morally, and politically as the Civil War reached closer.
During the nineteenth century, cotton became the largest crop to be produced in the world. A good three-fourths of the world’s supply of cotton was exported from the US, specifically in the South. Dubbed the South’s “White Gold” (Foner, Give Me Liberty!, 406), cotton was a raw material used to make cloth. Naturally, an increase in production and exporting of cotton meant an increase in the number of workers, and specifically in the South’s case, slaves. From 1800-1850, the population of slaves in the South exploded from 893,602 to 3,204,313 (Foner, 410). The economy of the South virtually revolved around slavery. Southern banks were essentially catered to plantation owners. However, because of the hyper focus on slavery and agriculture, industrial growth was severely stunted, as opposed to the North that was flourishing in industrial and technological progress. (Foner, 409). Still, white Southerners still held tightly to the idea that slavery was good.

In 1808, Congress prohibited the massive slave trade from Africa. Therefore, a trade within the US, called the Second Middle Passage, began from the Upper South to the Deep South (Foner, 407). During that time, over 2 million slave men, women, and children were torn from families and traded to the Deep South. How the South could stand to watch this happen before their eyes is mind-boggling to anyone with a decent sense of sympathy. However, the South firmly believed they were doing the right thing. The North and the South both believed in the idea of “perfect equality” and freedom, however the two regions could not have interpreted that more differently. In the North, perfect equality meant equality to all men of all race, which was why they were free states. In the South, in large contrast, believed that the “perfect equality” was geared only toward whites, and the freedom was from the whites having to do “menial jobs.” Racism, intertwined with skewed ideas from the Bible, was the founding pillar of proslavery arguments (Foner, 414).

Politically, tensions between the North and South over slavery started coming to a head in the 1840s when the US gained Southwestern territories from the Mexican cession. Should slavery be allowed in these new territories? That was the question on everyone’s mind. The North believed and supported the Wilmot Proviso, which was a proposal banning slavery in the new western territories, but it was unfortunately defeated by Southern Senators, led by John C. Calhoun (Foner, 490). The North tried again, proposing the Free Soil Appeal, which barred slavery under the racist pretense that the West was free soil for whites to compete with themselves and not with “black labor” (Foner, 492). Eventually, Congress came together to create the Compromise of 1850, which admitted California as a free state and let Utah and New Mexico territories be decided based on settler beliefs.

The Compromise of 1850 certainly wasn’t the last argument over slavery before the Civil War, but it was probably the point in US history where neither side of the debate could ignore or allow the other side to flourish without conflict. So polarized were the sides of this debate that any provision made after the Compromise presented harsh opposition, no matter the topic. The South’s defense of slavery created a massive divide economically, morally, and politically that couldn’t be fixed anytime soon.

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