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Lawrence R. Tenzer,White Slavery And The Civil War

816 words - 3 pages

Lawrence R. Tenzer has devoted a great deal of time and energy tostudying what he believes is a sadly overlooked aspect of the slavery issueand its impact on the minds of Northerners and Southerners alike. This isthe topic of white slavery. Tenzer argues that many contemporaries knew itexisted and were deeply shocked. This helped to lead them to oppose theextension of slavery into the western territories and thus was a significantcause of the Civil War. Tenzer emphatically states that the possibility ofwhite slavery is a definite contribution to tensions of civil war.White slavery resulted from the strict laws and social practices ofthe South. There was so little tolerance of racial mixing and such adesperate effort to protect slavery that the South strove to ensnare allpeople of even slightly dark blood in the institution. Anyone who had atleast one eighth black blood in their veins was defined as a negro or amulatto. If the mother was a slave then the offspring was defined as a slaveregardless of how little black blood they may have. Observers often notedseeing slaves with facial features and skin color that were indistinguishablefrom whites.Tenzer assembled a great deal of evidence.He has the historical documentation to show that the eroding linebetween slave and free was much on the mind of the average person andcontributed to the country's willingness to take up arms over an issue thathad so far only risen to the level of a disagreement. He surveyed personalaccounts, travel literature, published essays, census data, the activities ofthe illegal slave trade after 1808, and abolitionist newspapers andpamphlets to amass a mountain of proof that Northerners and Southerners(including Abraham Lincoln) discussed white slavery at length. He pointsout that the 1840 census data was skewed to make it appear that mulattoeswere physiologically inferior to either whites or blacks, that they died at afaster rate than their pure-blooded counterparts. Tenzer analyzes theprevailing scientific defenses of slavery and notes that people like JosiahNott tried to argue that mulattoes would become progressively sterile themore they reproduced. There was no end to which the opponents of racialmixing did not go to curb what they believed was a diluting of the South'sracial stock.Tenzer is fully aware of the differences in language used in this issue. Hepoints out that Northerners feared the curtailment of their economicopportunities if slavery spread to the territories. But he also notes that theytruly believed slavery might literally enslave white people all across the...

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