The Long-Stemed Roots of the Debate Over Slavery

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The debate of slavery is often considered a crisis of the 1850s, acting as the major instigator for the Civil War, but conflict has roots that stem back farther. Mason argues that the reality of the slave debate's importance in the young republic was much more prominent than traditionally perceived. Instead of simply appearing during the Missouri debates of 1819, the battle over slavery, along with its fate, was a heated topic even in during the foundation of the nation. In no way had it been smooth sailing for the union up until the Missouri crisis, Mason argues, but that the "bitterness" of released in the battle over Missouri's fate was "many years in the making" (3). Politically, the increasing sectionalized north and south remained at each other's throats over the issue, making the assumption of a calm early national era look naïve.
Mason places the fledgling begins of the debate over the institution during the era of the American Revolution. For America, the Revolution was the first time an abolitionist movement outside of the Quakers had formed. Mason indicates two sources for a mainstream objection to slavery. First, the rise of evangelicalism in the later 18th century lent some ideas of "a benevolent form of Christian slaveholding". Second, the "Enlightenment" rhetoric of freedom "brought some minds to the conclusion that slavery was unnatural and immoral" (12). After Lord Dunmore's Proclamation, which offered freedom to slaves who joined the British army, many Revolutionary Americans began oppose the abolitionist movement, accusing supporters of being loyal to Britain. The sectionalization of the republic had begun by during the revolution with northern states like passing manumission laws. Mason noted, "By ...

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...ans. With the perception of blacks jaded in both the north and south, a removal from the European dominated society was a legitimate option.
The resistance of Americans to the spread of slavery further into the union was not a sudden paradigm that cropped up because of Missouri entering a slave state. Mason makes a compelling and more conclusive argument to the beginnings of the American abolitionist movement. Tensions between free and slave states were inevitable when the morality of slavery was first questioned. Abolitionist rhetoric fueled increasing draconian reactions by slaveholders. Of course, this era did not come close to reaching the solution for the slave question. As Mason summarized, "The 1810s were not the 1850s. But antebellum strife over slavery took the shape it did... because of developments and lessons learned in that crucial decade" (237).

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes mason's argument that the battle over slavery, along with its fate, was a heated topic even during the foundation of the nation.
  • Explains that the american revolution was the first time an abolitionist movement outside of the quakers had formed.
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