Just as ardently as abolitionists fought the institution of slavery, many citizens of the United States argued the advantages of owning human beings and keeping them in servitude as a piece of property. Slavery was not America’s finest hour, but the anti-abolitionists saw nothing wrong with the practice, arguing three key beliefs why slavery should be sanctioned: economic, religious and legal.
The American South became increasingly dependent on the lucrative cotton industry. The wealth and status associated with cotton prompted the expansion of plantations westward (Tindall & Shi, 2010, p.438, para. 2). Large plantations needed a huge labor force to harvest crops, and African slaves were cheaper and more readily available than indentured laborers from Europe. “They could more easily be bought from traders on the West African coast and were more immune to European diseases than indigenous Americans or imported white slaves” (Nash, A., n.d.). To free the slaves, proponents of slavery argued, would have a profound economic impact on the South, where reliance on slave labor was imperative to their success and survival. In addition, releasing four million slaves in to the general population would create competition for jobs and resources.
The religious argument defending slavery referred to biblical passages and claims that slavery was sanctioned by the Bible. Clergymen of all denominations joined in the dispute. “Had not the patriarchs of the Hebrew Bible held bondsmen? Had not Saint Paul advised servants to obey their masters and told a fugitive servant to return to his master? And had not Jesus remained silent on the subject, at least insofar as the Gospels reported his words?” (Tindall & Shi, 2010, p.436, para.4). Slaveholders viewed themselves as charitable and righteous, giving food, shelter and comfortable surroundings to those they viewed as property, not people, and they felt they were giving slaves something much more than they had or could ever attain on their own. John C. Calhoun, a prominent U.S. politician, told the Senate that slavery was not evil, but was “good – a great good” (Tindall & Shi, 2010, p. 436, para. 3) and spoke of the greatness of bringing Christianity to the heathens from across the ocean. This argument was particularly effective because it exploited the basic principles of the one area the majority of people believed in – Christianity and the Bible.
Supporters of slavery also rationalized the legality of slavery, pointing to the United...