Defending Slavery (Wednesday, November 13)


  • How did Southerners defend the institution of slavery?
  • How did slaves resist their masters?

The Declaration of Independence, which launched the American Revolution, put on paper the very values that the United States of America stood for:that all men are created equal, that each person is born with certain unalienable (natural rights), and that government exists to protect those rights.

It should be easy to see that these beliefs are in direct conflict with the idea of slavery. So what happened to slavery as a result of the American Revolution? In the debates over creating a government at the Constitutional Convention, the delegates compromised on the issue of slavery – neither Northern nor Southern states got exactly what they wanted BUT the Constitution did not abolish slavery. In fact, many historians argue it protects slavery through certain clauses (ex: the prohibition on banning the slave trade, the 3/5ths compromise, and the fugitive slave clause).

Even though the Constitution did nothing to attack slavery, the northern states began to individually abolish slavery, finding it incompatible with the ideals of the American Revolution.

But in the South, slavery continued to expand, thanks in large part to a new invention: Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, which made the production of cotton more profitable. As slavery exploded throughout the South and become the bedrock of the southern economy, southerners took great pains to make sure that slavery was defended. In your slavery packet, you will find two primary sources, both by southerners, in which they rationalize slavery. There arguments are completely absurd and ridiculous by 21st century standards, but that does not mean they are unworthy of our study. These arguments give us a glimpse into the dark mind of a slaveowner and helps us to more fully understand the horrors of the institution of slavery.

Be sure to read these two sources and summarize the various arguments southerners made in defense of slavery. When you are finished, please continue on in your packet to examine how religion was used both to justify (southern perspective) and to undermine (slave’s perspective) slavery.

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