By 1860, the slave states had approximately four million slaves making up approximately one-third of the South's population. However, opposition to slavery began as early as the 1700's by religious leaders and philosophers in North America and Europe who condemned the practice, arguing that slavery was contrary to God's teachings and violated basic human rights. During the Revolutionary War, many Americans came to feel that slavery in the United States was wrong because they believed that protection of human rights was one of the founding tenets of the United States, and slaves were not accorded rights. Slavery was likely opposed more rapidly in the North in part because fewer people in the North owned slaves. Northern abolitionists began organized efforts to end the practice of slavery in the 1800's. But much of the American South, believed that slavery was vital to the continuation of its livelihood and lifestyle and therefore defended the institution of slavery.
As the abolition movement picked up, southerners became organized in their support of slavery in what became known as the proslavery movement. Some southerners involved in the movement maintained the position that slavery was like "the law of nature" which allowed the strong to rule the weak. Thus is was appropriate for whites to own blacks as slaves because they believed whites were the dominant race. Some supporters of slavery believed that the Bible clearly condoned the practice of slavery. Still others argue that southern slaves were provided with lifelong homes and better living conditions than they would have experienced living in Africa. By 1860, almost all southerners thought slavery should continue.
The Southern philosophers were, in some measure, great theorists. Their ability to defend the institution of slavery as a good for society can be considered through three justifications: socio-political, economic/socio-economic, and religious.
Of all the areas with which the southerners contended, the socio-political arena was probably their strongest. It is in this area that they had history and law to support their assertions. With the recent exception of the British, the slave trade had been an integral part of the economies of many nations and the slaves were the labor by which many nations and empires attained greatness. Souther...
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...e the institution of slavery itself was not evil, there were evils associated with the practice. As such, the clergy often fell into disfavor with the extremists of the proslavery movement.
Many Southerners supported, in some measure, the position of the clergy to some extent. Yet, they did not wish to abandon their system suddenly and without an adequate replacement. They were also concerned that free labor promoted infidelity, secularism, liberal theology, perversities, egotism and personal license to the detriment of God-ordained authority and the Christian social order.
In studying the Southern defense of slavery, it appears that southerners were defending a way of life. Many believed that the institution of slavery was the lesser of two evils in terms of providing benefits for workers, others believed that it was at the very foundation of a free society to own slaves and still others saw it merely as an expedient means to an economic end. Although one may acknowledge that the South had understandable political, social and religious reasons for supporting the institution of slavery, the fundamental moral obligation to treat all humans as equals supercedes them all.
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