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Chapter 16 - The South and the Slavery Controversy

I. “Cotton’s Is King!”

  1. Before the 1793 invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin,
    slavery was a dying business, since the South was burdened with
    depressed prices, unmarketable goods, and over-cropped lands.
    • After the gin was invented, growing cotton became wildly profitable and easier, and more slaves were needed.
  2. The North also transported the cotton to England and the rest of
    Europe, so they were in part responsible for the slave trade as well.
  3. The South produced more than half the world’s supply of
    cotton, and held an advantage over countries like England, an
    industrial giant, which needed cotton to make cloth, etc…
  4. The South believed that since England was so dependent on them
    that, if civil war was to ever break out, England would support the
    South that it so heavily depended on.

II. The Planter “Aristocracy”

  1. In 1850, only 1733 families owned more than 100 slaves each, and
    they were the wealthy aristocracy of the South, with big houses and
    huge plantations.
  2. The Southern aristocrats widened the gap between the rich and the
    poor and hampered public-funded education by sending their children to
    private schools.
    • Also, a favorite author among them was Sir Walter Scott, author of
      Ivanhoe, who helped them idealize a feudal society with them as the
      kings and queens and the slaves as their subjects.
  3. The plantation system shaped the lives of southern women.
    • Mistresses of the house commanded a sizable household of mostly
      female slaves who cooked, sewed, cared for the children, and washed
    • Mistresses could be kind or cruel, but all of them did at one point
      or another abuse their slaves to some degree; there was no
      “perfect mistress.”

III. Slaves of the Slave System

  1. Cotton production spoiled the earth, and even though profits were
    quick and high, the land was ruined, and cotton producers were always
    in need of new land.
  2. The economic structure of the South became increasingly
    monopolistic because as land ran out, smaller farmers sold their land
    to the large estate owners.
  3. Also, the temptation to over-speculate in land and in slaves caused many planters to plunge deep into debt.
    • Slaves were valuable, but they were also a gamble, since they might run away or be killed by disease.
  4. The dominance of King Cotton likewise led to a one-crop economy whose price level was at the mercy of world conditions.
  5. Southerners resented the Northerners who got rich at their expense
    while they were dependent on the North for clothing, food, and
    manufactured goods.
  6. The South repelled immigrants from Europe, who went to the North, making it richer.

IV. The White Majority

  1. Beneath the aristocracy were the whites that owned one or two, or a
    small family of slaves; they worked hard on the land with their slaves
    and the only difference between them and their northern neighbors was
    that there were slaves living with them.
  2. Beneath these people were the slaveless whites (a full 3/4 of the
    white population) that raised corn and hogs, sneered at the rich cotton
    “snobocracy” and lived simply and poorly.
    • Some of the poorest were known as “poor white trash,”
      “hillbillies” and “clay-eaters” and were
      described as listless, shiftless, and misshapen.
    • It is now known that these people weren’t lazy, just sick,
      suffering from malnutrition and parasites like hookworm (which they got
      eating/chewing clay for minerals)
  3. Even the slaveless whites defended the slavery system because they
    all hoped to own a slave or two some day, and they could take perverse
    pleasure in knowing that, no matter how bad they were, they always
    “outranked” Blacks.
  4. Mountain whites, those who lived isolated in the wilderness under
    Spartan frontier conditions, hated white aristocrats and Blacks, and
    they were key in crippling the Southern secessionists during the Civil

V. Free Blacks: Slaves Without Masters

  1. By 1860, free Blacks in the South numbered about 250,000.
  2. In the upper South, these Blacks were descended from those freed by
    the idealism of the Revolutionary War (“all men were created
  3. In the deep South, they were usually mulattoes (Black mother, White
    father who was usually a master) freed when their masters died.
  4. Many owned property; a few owned slaves themselves.
  5. Free Blacks were prohibited from working in certain occupations and
    forbidden from testifying against whites in court; and as examples of
    what slaves could be, Whites resented them.
  6. In the North, free Blacks were also unpopular, as several states
    denied their entrance, most denied them the right to vote and most
    barred them from public schools.
  7. Northern Blacks were especially hated by the Irish, with whom they competed for jobs.
  8. Anti-black feeling was stronger in the North, where people liked
    the race but not the individual, than in the South, were people liked
    the individual (with whom they’d often grown up), but not the

VI. Plantation Slavery

  1. Although slave importation was banned in 1808, smuggling of them
    continued due to their high demand and despite death sentences to
  2. However, the slave increase (4 million by 1860) was mostly due to their natural reproduction.
  3. Slaves were an investment, and thus were treated better and more
    kindly and were spared the most dangerous jobs, like putting a roof on
    a house, draining a swamp, or blasting caves.
    • Usually, Irishmen were used to do that sort of work.
  4. Slavery also created majorities or near-majorities in the Deep
    South, and the states of South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama,
    and Louisiana accounted for half of all slaves in the South.
  5. Breeding slaves was not encouraged, but thousands of slaves were “sold down the river” to toil as field-gang workers, and women who gave birth to many children were prized.
    • Some were promised freedom after ten children born.
  6. Slave auctions were brutal, with slaves being inspected like
    animals and families often mercilessly separated; Harriet Beecher Stowe
    seized the emotional power of this scene in her Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

VII. Life Under the Lash

  1. Slave life varied from place to place, but for slaves everywhere,
    life meant hard work, no civil or political rights, and whipping if
    orders weren’t followed.
  2. Laws that tried to protect slaves were difficult to enforce.
  3. Lash beatings weren’t that common, since a master could lower the value of his slave if he whipped him too much.
  4. Forced separation of spouses, parents and children seem to have been more common in the upper South, among smaller plantations.
  5. Still, most slaves were raised in stable two-parent households and
    continuity of family identity across generations was evidenced in the
    widespread practice of naming children for grandparents or adopting the
    surname of a forebear’s master.
  6. In contrast to the White planters, Africans avoided marriage of first cousins.
  7. Africans also mixed the Christian religion with their own native
    religion, and often, they sang Christian hymns as signals and codes for
    news of possible freedom; many of them sang songs that emphasize
    bondage. (“Let my people go.”)

VIII. The Burdens of Bondage

  1. Slaves had no dignity, were illiterate, and had no chance of achieving the “American dream.”
  2. They also devised countless ways to make trouble without getting punished too badly.
    • They worked as slowly as they could without getting lashed.
    • They stole food and sabotaged expensive equipment.
    • Occasionally, they poisoned their masters’ food.
  3. Rebellions, such as the 1800 insurrection by a slave named Gabriel
    in Richmond, Virginia, and the 1822 Charleston rebellion led by Denmark
    Vesey, and the 1831 revolt semiliterate preacher Nat Turner, were never
    successful. However, they did scare the jeepers out of whites, which
    led to tightened rules.
  4. Whites became paranoid of Black revolts, and they had to degrade
    themselves, along with their victims, as noted by distinguished Black
    leader Booker T. Washington.

IX. Early Abolitionism

  1. In 1817, the American Colonization Society was founded for the
    purpose of transporting Blacks back to Africa, and in 1822, the
    Republic of Liberia was founded for Blacks to live.
    • Most Blacks had no wish to be transplanted into a strange civilization after having been partially Americanized.
    • By 1860, virtually all slaves were not Africans, but native-born African-Americans.
  2. In the 1830s, abolitionism really took off, with the Second Great Awakening and other things providing support.
  3. Theodore Dwight Weld was among those who were inflamed against slavery.
  4. Inspired by Charles Grandison Finney, Weld preached against slavery and even wrote a pamphlet, American Slavery As It Is.

X. Radical Abolitionism

  1. On January 1st, 1831, William Lloyd Garrison published the first
    edition of The Liberator triggering a 30-year war of words and in a
    sense firing one of the first shots of the Civil War.
  2. Other dedicated abolitionists rallied around Garrison, such as
    Wendell Phillips, a Boston patrician known as “abolition’s
    golden trumpet” who refused to eat cane sugar or wore cotton
    cloth, since both were made by slaves.
  3. David Walker, a Black abolitionist, wrote Appeal to the Colored
    Citizens of the World in 1829 and advocated a bloody end to white
  4. Sojourner Truth, a freed Black woman who fought for black
    emancipation and women’s rights, and Martin Delaney, one of the
    few people who seriously reconsidered Black relocation to Africa, also
    fought for Black rights.
  5. The greatest Black abolitionist was an escaped black, Frederick
    Douglass, who was a great speaker and fought for the Black cause
    despite being beaten and harassed.
    • His autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,
      depicted his remarkable struggle and his origins, as well as his life.
    • While Garrison seemed more concerned with his own righteousness,
      Douglass increasingly looked to politics to solve the slavery problem.
    • He and others backed the Liberty Party in 1840, the Free Soil Party in 1848, and the Republican Party in the 1850s.
  6. In the end, many abolitionists supported war as the price for emancipation.

XI. The South Lashes Back

  1. In the South, abolitionist efforts increasingly came under attack and fire.
  2. Southerners began to organize a campaign talking about
    slavery’s positive good, conveniently forgetting about how their
    previous doubts about “peculiar institution’s”
    (slavery’s) morality.
  3. Southern slave supporters pointed out how masters taught their
    slaves religion, made them civilized, treated them well, and gave them
    “happy” lives.
  4. They also noted the lot of northern free Blacks, now were
    persecuted and harassed, as opposed to southern Black slaves, who were
    treated well, given meals, and cared for in old age.
  5. In 1836, Southern House members passed a “gag
    resolution” requiring all antislavery appeals to be tabled
    without debate, arousing the ire of northerners like John Quincy Adams.
  6. Southerners also resented the flood of propaganda in the form of pamphlets, drawings, etc…

XII. The Abolitionist Impact in the North

  1. For a long time, abolitionists like the extreme Garrisonians were
    unpopular, since many had been raised to believe the values of the
    slavery compromises in the Constitution.
    • Also, his secessionist talks contrasted against Webster’s cries for union.
  2. The South owed the North $300 million by the late 1850s, and northern factories depended on southern cotton to make goods.
  3. Many abolitionists’ speeches provoked violence and mob
    outbursts in the North, such as the 1834 trashing of Lewis
    Tappan’s New York House.
  4. In 1835, Garrison miraculously escaped a mob that dragged him around the streets of Boston.
  5. Reverend Elijah P. Lovejoy of Alton, Illinois, who impugned the
    chastity of Catholic women, had his printing press destroyed four times
    and was killed by a mob in 1837; he became an abolitionist martyr.
  6. Yet by the 1850s, abolitionist outcries had been an impact on
    northern minds and were beginning to sway more and more toward their
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