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American Military University

Money and Politics Defeat Morality: The Course of Slavery in the United States

Brittany Austin HIST 520 Graduate Seminar in U.S. History February 20, 2011


Slavery remains a controversial issue in our society, though it did not only occur in our country. Instances of slavery have been recorded globally, and for quite some time, however, for the United States, the division of the country and continued discrimination and segregation afterwards haunts us. Slavery is well-studied topic, researched and analyzed by multitudes of historians year after year, however, the argument continues over what led slavery to last as long as it did. Another argument deals with whether slavery would have ended on its own without the Civil War and Emancipation occurring. Abolitionists and pro-slavery arguments have been analyzed and presented hundreds of times; however, there is not extensive research discussing the actual data regarding the effect of the abolitionist movement, politics, religion, or public opinion on slavery prior to the Civil War. Despite abolitionist efforts, political realignments, and religion, slavery sustained its increase prior to the Civil War and Emancipation. Also influencing the public opinion of slavery were economic arguments for and against the free labor provided. With the limited research located on this specific topic, the hypothesis can be made that the number of slaves actually increased despite the change in public opinion, religion, and political actions to stop the spread of it into the newly acquired western territories. Manumission increased after 1776, however, not at a pace that would significantly influence the statistical data. The increase in the slave population may possibly be a result of births, considering a child born to a slave woman was automatically a slave. However, it is difficult to survey this type of data considering the validity and actuality of such records. The greater part of the local census records analyzed did not even count slaves, merely white males and females in the county.1 The authors whose works were included in this research offered countless arguments made by pro-slavery 1

National Archives of the United States. 1810 3rd Census of Louisiana. 1934. Microfilm.


activists and abolitionists. No solid evidence was found to support its increase or decrease; however, more evidence points to an unremitting escalating effect until Emancipation was enforced in all states. While this paper may include some discussion about religion and abolitionist arguments, the main focus will be on the economics and politics of slavery. Historians often argue that eventually the peculiar institution would have died out without interference from the government, however, that is simply a hypothesis. As the political firestorm raged, and the abolitionist movement gained momentum, there was still an increase in the census numbers of slaves, and very little increase in slave manumission. While there were many factors that could have contributed to this, the two dominant areas that negated the moral arguments against slavery, politics and basic economics were the most convincing. Economically, the south could not afford to give up slavery, and politically, they did not want their rights limited by the northern ideals against slavery. One historian, Eugene Genovese, examines the institution of slavery through the analysis of capitalism, slave systems, and the arguments in favor of slavery. He details the defense of slavery from various places: the slaveholding class, the church, government officials, etc.2 In reading his work, I have found that there are many influences which shape the policies regarding slavery, but most directly public opinion. Public opinion plays a vital role in society, especially regarding such hot issues as slavery. Directly, public opinion influences politicians, whose actions shape legislative action, often altering the course of history itself. A country’s political realignment very well may have a noteworthy effect on the issues of the time, which is the case with slavery.

2

Eugene Genovese. The World the Slaveholders Made. New York: Pendleton Books, 1969.


According to an article by Stolyarov, “the Founders were willing to allow slavery to persist where it was already so as not to engender disunity and political fractiousness, but they also endeavored to obstruct its spread-for example through the Northwest Ordinance of 1787…”3 Over the course of slavery, certain issues led to the rise and disbanding of multiple political parties, an event the Founders were attempting to avoid. The Federalist Party ultimately disappeared after the War of 1812, leaving room for the Democratic-Republicans to gain strength, until their split into the Jacksonian Democrats and Whigs after 1824. The Whig Party dissipates after 1850, followed by the rise of the anti-slavery Republican Party. While the question of slavery was not contemporary, the way in which parties chose to deal with it evolved over time. Slavery ignited a political firestorm, heightened by the purchase of the Louisiana Territory; most southern states believed slavery should be expanded, whereas most northern states disagreed. Arguments over slave and free states were truly arguments over political representation in the Congress, with both sides fearing the loss of control or influence. Temporarily calming the fire was the Missouri Compromise, which admitted Missouri as a slave state, and Maine as a free state; however, it forbade slavery above 36°30´. From this lax in tension in 1820, the Mexican Cession proved to challenge the compromising position of both sides, with the Democrats taking a stand for popular sovereignty and the Whig stance that all newly added territories should be admitted as free states. Adding fuel to the fire, Congress passing the “Tariff of Abominations” in 1828 upset the southern side further. Through this

3

G. H. Stolyarov. “The Status of Slavery Prior to the Civil War”. May 23, 2007, 1.


debate the Compromise of 1850 emerged, surpassing the Alabama Platform and the failed Wilmot Proviso, two examples of solving the expansion of slavery issue.4 The Compromise of 1850 provided that New Mexico and Utah decide the issue of slavery for themselves, included a ban on the slave trade, not slavery itself, in Washington, D.C. In an effort to appease the southern states, the Compromise additionally increased penalties regarding the fugitive slave laws. Considering the Constitution did not provide a method of dealing with slavery, political action had the responsibility to satiate the population. In 1854 the Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, allowing popular sovereignty to rule in the case slavery; violent local warfare erupted in Kansas between anti and pro-slavery citizens, leading to the term “Bleeding Kansas”. Further complicating this confusing web of legislative actions was the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Dred Scott case, in which slaves were declared as property, not citizens. This further strengthened the southern Democrat belief system and party platform.5 Renown as the anti-slavery party, the Republican Party emerges around 1850. James Huston discusses the realignment of the 1850s: The realignment of the 1850s did set the agenda for the next several decades and did alter policy, but that altered agenda was not the one so many authors have insisted upon…Rather, it was far less than the old Whig program because it was an amalgam reflecting the coalitional nature of the Republican Party.6

4

Divine, Robert, T.H. Breen, George M. Frederickson, R. Hal Williams, Ariela J. Gross, H.W. Brands. America Past and Present, Eighth Edition. AP Edition. New York: Pearson Education, 2007. 5 Divine, Robert, T.H. Breen, George M. Frederickson, R. Hal Williams, Ariela J. Gross, H.W. Brands. America Past and Present, Eighth Edition. AP Edition. New York: Pearson Education, 2007. 6 James Huston. Calculating the Value of the Civil War: Slavery, Property Rights, and the Economic Origins of the Civil War. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2003, 223-224.


Therefore, one could argue that the splitting of parties did not completely destroy their old platforms, but refocused and possibly reignited the fire that set them ablaze in the first place. In yet another of his books, Huston discusses that when the issue of secession arose, not every southern state was in agreement, demonstrating how even in the Democrat party, not everyone believed they should handle the slavery issue in the same manner. Unionists living in the south did not want to leave the union; however, they did not want slavery ended either.7 David Potter references a speech made by John C. Calhoun to the Senate in 1850. “He [Calhoun] made a striking analysis of the “cords” that held the Union together. These cords, he said, were many and various, and some of them had already snapped under tension as the sections drifted apart.”8 Calhoun saw the divisions as they were, and ultimately one can infer he saw them breaking completely in the future. Another interesting study concerns the Republican Party further, concentrating on the free labor argument and issues of nativism and racism in the North. Foner reported that more historians have reverted to the belief that most Republicans were actually racist; they did not attack slavery where it already existed, but they had an repugnance towards an increasing population in newly added western states. He points out that majority of abolitionists supported the Republican Party, thereby indicating that anti-slavery sentiments were ingrained in the party platform. This anti-slavery sentiment did not keep abolitionists from facing violence in opposition to their outspoken behavior regarding slavery. Foner concludes that the “flawed attitude of the Republicans towards race, and the limitations of

7

James Huston. “Southerners against secession: The arguments of the Constitutional unionists in 1850-1851.” Civil War History. 46, no. 4. (Dec. 1, 2000): 281-299. 8 David Potter. The ImpendingCrisis, 1848-1861. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. 1976.: 225.


free labor outlook in regard to the Negro, foreshadowed the mistakes and failures of the postemancipation years.”9 His study demonstrates how political action may sometimes deter from the truth, whereas as many historians would lead the public to believe all Republicans were anti-slavery for moral or religious reasons, the truth was that some were not even against slavery, posing quite a dilemma to the citizen who has been taught over time that all political party members agree on the platform and actions taken. This is a valuable lesson to be learned from history, which the truth is not always as it seems, and these Republican Party members were not always as moral as they are portrayed in history books. The Free Soil Party and gender issues are another interesting anomaly to the political argument in favor and against slavery. Pierson analyzes the connections between gender and political ideologies, particularly of Republican women who convert to the Free Soil party prior to the Civil War. He states “in an era when family structure and gender roles where in flux, people debated how much change was desirable or whether any alteration was necessary at all”.10 He further analyzes how the Free Soil party welcomed women into an active role, where they began to not only fight to end slavery, but also gain women’s rights as well. He maintains that the women in the Free Soil Party differed from the men in rhetoric and in some cases, ideology. Women were often more radical than men, more demanding in terms of spreading their belief system. He states that most of these women were “usually labeled abolitionists by historians…instead appeared in Republican or Free Soil Party venues and often publicly

9

Eric Foner. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War. New York: University of Oxford Press, 1970, 300-318. 10 Michael D. Pierson. Free Hearts and Free Homes: Gender and American Antislavery Politics. North Carolina: Chapel Hill University of North Carolina Press, 2003, 4.


quarreled with abolitionists.”11 They believed the abolitionist movement was not fighting hard enough or in the right direction. Political upheaval, heated debates, and the weight of public opinion played an immense role in deciding the issue of slavery in our country. Ultimately the election of 1860 would be the end of the power struggle, leading most southern states to believe in succession and the creation of their own government. Stephen A. Douglas was a proponent of popular sovereignty, and according to Potter this was due to his belief in the inferiority of their race. Yet, “slavery seemed an excessively severe form of subordination, and privately he wished that slaveowners would abandon the instutition…he believed that it…was important enough to make of issue of it at the risk of disrupting the Union.” On the other hand, Lincoln felt more of a moral obligation to treat the slaves and freed blacks as humans, not inferior or subordinate. He was conflicted, however, concerned that his belief in the Union and belief in freeing the slaves would ultimately lead to one falling.12 Ultimately, the debates of these two men would give Lincoln the victory in the Illinois senate race, and the national popularity that would take him to the White House in 1860. He would later watch the Union fall apart, wage war on his own countrymen, and give emancipation to the slaves. In continuing with the political theme, the argument for and against slavery often took an economic standpoint. Economically, slavery was quite beneficial for plantation owners, considering the labor force only required room and board, not salary or benefits. The economic arguments for and against free labor vary; however, political economists often disagree on whether the South could sustain its agricultural success without it. In one article, Carlander and Brownlee argue that political economists concluded that the “South could maintain slavery as a 11

Michael Pierson. Free Hearts and Free Homes: Gender and American Antislavery Politics. 47-48. 12 David Potter. The ImpendingCrisis, 1848-1861. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. 1976.: 328-355.


labor system and advance the industrialization of their region. Manufacturing as well as plantation agriculture…could effectively utilize slave labor.”13 Political economists often regard their slaves as investments, which is largely considered a staple of capitalistic society. They contend that the relationship between slave and slave owner can be regarded as one of self preservation in the system of capitalism; slave owners “turned raw slave labor into a capital good”.14 Southern political economists often used the argument of African inferiority to justify their role as a capital good, further reflection of the moral issue of slavery and how it affected almost every aspect of political and economic argument. A second economic viewpoint is that slavery would have ended without the Civil War, due to the industrialization of America. Tuliano argues that the free labor economy was becoming increasingly less profitable due to the ability of factories and industry to exploit workers to maximize profits. Technology led to the increase in production with a decrease in the demand for labor, resulting in a decreasing demand for slaves. Agriculture was becoming a more mechanized enterprise. He concluded that slavery would have eventually ended even if slave owners did not give manumission, due to the shifting economic systems of both the North and South.15 Essentially, his argument is based on the rationale that even with industrialization, that manumission would increase to the point of slavery being obsolete, yet the census shows increasing numbers throughout the 1800’s, until after 1860 when national emancipation

13

Carlander, Jay R. and W. Elliot Brownlee. “Antebellum Southern Political Economists and the Problem of Slavery”. 2006, 5. 14 Jay. R. Carlander and W. Elliot Brownlee. ““Antebellum Southern Political Economists and the Problem of Slavery”. 2006: 7 (3): 389-416, 7. 15 Tuliano, Josh. “Would Slavery Have Ended Without the Civil War?”. April 1, 2009.


occurred.16 Arguing that industrialization would have shifted the nature of the south is somewhat illusive, considering that today; the south is considerably less industrialized than the north. His argument does not seem to be based on any proof other than speculation, however, it would be logical to expect that with mechanization and industrialization spreading and agriculture diminishing, slave labor would be less necessary for plantations to functions. However, free labor would still be considered as capital in any type of business; suffice it to say, if slave owners had shifted to an industry, perhaps they would have maintained this capital for their factories as well. Furthermore, the issue of slavery in owner’s eyes in one of property rights, their greatest ammunition was the Dred Scott case, where the court defined slaves as property, not citizens, securing the belief that slaves had no attainable rights in our legal system. James Huston states “property rights were central in both the ideological defense and attack on slavery…and it was the political consequences of property rights, and particularly the strains they necessarily imposed on popular government, that led to the realignment of the 1850s.”17 Property rights as a fundamental argument for the keeping of slaves is inherently flawed, however, because it violates the natural rights of man, thus violating natural laws that free people value over legalistic laws. In a speech by Abraham Lincoln, he concedes that the property value of slaves in our country was estimated at roughly two billion dollars. He stated “public opinion is formed relative to a property basis. Therefore, the slaveholders battle any policy which depreciates their slaves as property. What increases the value…they favor.”18 Perhaps this is why manumission

16

U.S. Bureau of the Census. “Data by Race, 1800-1860”. See Figure 1.6. Huston, James L. Calculating the Value of the Union Slavery, Property Rights, and the Economic Origins of the Civil War. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. 2003, 8. 18 Huston, James L. Calculating the Value of the Union Slavery, Property Rights, and the Economic Origins of the Civil War. 149. 17


was so rare in the South; manumission was more widely accepted in the North, where full emancipation was accomplished with less violence.19 One could assume that fear of losing capital overcame slaveholder’s moral, legal or religious obligations, therefore justifying their argument for free labor. The abolitionist movement spurred some controversy in the United States, obviously in flux with slaveholder beliefs, but also with many northern beliefs as well. Abolitionists believed that the Declaration of Independence‘s rhetoric should extend to all people, slaves included. One author stated “they campaigned for an immediate end to slavery because it was sinful and a direct affront to God…usually dismissed politics, hoping instead to persuade individuals to voluntarily give up slavery as a means to religious and personal redemption”.20 Therein lies the key difference in anti-slavery campaigns and those of abolitionists. Abolitionists wanted to effectively end slavery altogether, whereas anti-slavery proponents wanted to simply shut down the growth of slavery, in hopes of its eventual end. No literature I have read thus far relates the abolitionist movement effect on southern slaveholders, but one can infer that the number of manumissions did not increase dramatically during the key period of the abolitionist movement, thus suggesting it was did not play a significant role in influencing those who actually owned slaves. Nevertheless, abolitionists did influence politicians and perhaps inspire people who were originally not involved in the debate. After all, what could

19

Eltis, David; Frank D. Sokoloff, Kenneth Lee. Slavery in the Development of the Americas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 152. 20 Michael Pierson. Free Hearts and Free Homes: Gender and American Antislavery Politics. 4.


northern industrialists or factory workers do about slaves on southern plantations? Perhaps abolitionists sparked an ideological revolution.21 The role religion played was often ambiguous. Southern Baptists were selling the idea that slavery was biblically acceptable, while others, such as James Pendleton, were unsure. He believed in the Biblical teaching that slavery was immoral, and that free labor was an economically fruitless way to order a society. However, Pendleton did not agree with abolitionist beliefs either, stating that it threatened stability of society and flaunted Christian orthodoxy. “Certainly the Southern religious proslavery elite did their part to defend the peculiar institution, but their support was not uncritical…the proslavery clergy frequently lamented what they saw as slavery’s abuses and excesses…they were unwilling to say that slavery itself was sinful.”22 Pendleton could not be convinced to this belief; he argued that American and biblical slavery differed and that he could not be convinced that the institution should continue in the United States. He believed that slavery “retarded Southern economic growth… [and] undermined the system’s value”.23 Examples similar to Pendleton explain why religious beliefs did not greatly impact the south, which was divided enough over the economic and political issues surrounding slavery; morality was just another split issue. The religious organizations were often as split as the political ones, shamefully reinterpreting the Bible as they saw fit to their political needs. The true definition of morality is questioned during these times, considering some of the most

21

22

Michael Pierson. Free Hearts and Free Homes: Gender and American Antislavery Politics.

Harlow, Luke E. “Neither Slavery Nor Abolitionism: James M. Pendleton and the Problem of Christian Conservative Antislavery in 1840s Kentucky”. Slavery and Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies. 2006, 4. 23 Harlow, Luke E. “Neither Slavery Nor Abolitionism: James M. Pendleton and the Problem of Christian Conservative Antislavery in 1840s Kentucky. 3.


staunch Christians were of the slave-holding class, which today is viewed as Biblically wrong by majority of religious standards. As for the many factors that weighed on the issue of slavery, overall political dissidence and power struggles fueled by economic rationales won over morality and religious beliefs. In the end, whether one calls it the need for survival, or greed, southerners wanted to keep their free labor system and continue purchasing land in new territories to grow vast crops. Northerners who were more industrialist in nature believed that the South should become more industrialized, and pay their workers like human beings. The argument can be made that factory workers were not treated much better than slaves, however, anti-slavery propaganda failed to mention this opinion. Economically the south benefited from slavery, and continued to benefit thereafter when the sharecropping system came to fruition. The North did not suffer any losses that were not easily remedied by the continued mass production of goods, and later the imperialistic age where they would find new markets overseas. Politically, the debates after the Civil War between the two halves were still quite different and quite heated. Perhaps there will never be a single interpretation of the course of slavery that is without a doubt agreed upon. Until then, the issue remains one worth studying, by the best and brightest of historical persons.


Works Cited Carlander, Jay R. and W. Elliot Brownlee. “Antebellum Southern Political Economists and the Problem of Slavery. 2006.7(3):389-416. http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/ 14664650600956585. (accessed July 27, 2010). Divine, Robert, T.H. Breen, George M. Frederickson, R. Hal Williams, Ariela J. Gross, H.W. Brands. America Past and Present, Eighth Edition. AP Edition. New York: Pearson Education, 2007. Eltis, David; Lewis, Frank D; Sokoloff, Kenneth Lee. Slavery in the Development of the Americas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. http://www.netlibrary.com.ezp roxyl.apus.edu/Reader/. (accessed August 8, 2010). Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. Genovese, Eugene D. The World the Slaveholders Made. New York: Pantheon Books, 1969. Harlow, Luke E. “Neither Slavery Nor Abolitionism: James M. Pendleton and the Problem of Christian Conservative Antislavery in 1840s Kentucky”. Slavery and Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies. 2006. 27(3):367-389. http://www.informaworld.com/10. 1080/01440390601014625. (accessed July 27, 2010). Huston, James L. Calculating the Value of the Union: Slavery, Property Rights, and the Economic Origins of the Civil War. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. 2003. http://site.ebrary.com.ezproxy2.apus.edu/lib/apus/docDetail.action?docID=10064766. (accessed August 1, 2010). _____. “Southerners against secession: The arguments of the Constitutional unionists in 185051.” Civil War History. 46, no. 4. (Dec. 1, 2000): 281-299. http://www.proquest.com .proxy2.apus.edu/. (accessed July 25, 2010). National Archives of the United States. 1810 3rd Census of Louisiana. 1934. Microfilm. _____. 1810 8th Census of Louisiana: Slave Schedule. 1934. Microfilm. Pierson, Michael D. Free Hearts and Homes: Gender and American Antislavery Politics. North Carolina: Chapel Hill University of North Carolina Press, 2004. http://www.netlibrary.co m.ezproxyl.apus.edu/Reader/. [accessed August 28, 2010].


Potter, David. The Impending Crisis:1848-1861. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1976. Stolyarov, G. II. “The Status of Slavery Prior to the Civil War”. May 23, 2007. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/2522967/the_status_of_slavery_prior_to_the.ht ml. (accessed July 30, 2010). Tuliano, Josh. “Would Slavery Have Ended Without the Civil War?”. April 1, 2009. http://associatedcontent.com/article/1606700/would_slavery_have_ended_without_the.html?. (accessed July 30, 2010). U.S. Bureau of the Census. “Data by Race, 1800-1860”. http:/slaverysite.com/Body/facts%20 and%20figures.htm (accessed July 27, 2010)

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Money and Politics Defeat Morality: The Course of Slavery in the United States American Military University

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