A large majority of whites in the South supported slavery even though fewer of a quarter of them owned slaves because they felt that it was a necessary evil and that it was an important Southern institution.
In 1800 the population of the United States included 893,602 slaves, of which only 36,505 were in the northern states. Vermont, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey provided for the emancipation of their slaves before 1804, most of them by gradual measures. The 3,953,760 slaves at the census of 1860 were in the southern states. Eminent statesmen from the earliest period of the national existence, such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington regarded slavery as evil but necessary. Individuals and groups of people of almost all sects defended slavery. On the whole, antislavery views grew steadily; but many who personally held strong antislavery opinions hesitated to join actively in abolitionist agitation, unwilling to dispute what many citizens held to be their rights. Those Southern whites who didn't necessarily like slavery supported it because they felt it was the South's right to be able to have slavery.
Slavery thus became an increasingly Southern institution. Abolition of slavery in the North, begun in the revolutionary era and largely complete by the 1830s, divided the United States into the slave South and the free North. As this happened, slavery came to define the essence of the South: to defend slavery was to be pro-Southern, whereas opposition to slavery was considered anti-Southern. Although most Southern whites did not own slaves (the proportion of white families that owned slaves declined from 35 percent to 26 percent between 18...
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...ient, and degraded, proslavery advocates responded that only slavery could save the South from the evils of modernity run wild.
From the mid-1840s, the struggle over slavery became central to American politics. Northerners who were committed to free soil, the idea that new, western territories should be reserved exclusively for free white settlers, clashed repeatedly with Southerners who insisted that any limitation on slavery's expansion was unconstitutional meddling with the Southern order and a grave affront to Southern honor. The slavery debate wasn't so much about the morality of the issue, but how it effected the nation politically and economically. This debate would later erupt into war. This furthers the South's commitment to Southern ways, especially slavery, in that they were willing to break from the Union, go to war, and die for the Southern cause.
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