Slavery was like an addiction that the south could not break. Although it provided economic benefits to both the north and the south, the addiction or “curse” bound the people to the downfalls of slavery as well. Slavery created an oligarchy of which a small aristocracy of slave-owners would dominate political, economic, and social affairs of both blacks and whites. The institutions negative impact on the South, and even the entire nation would eventually lead to a great tragedy: the civil war.
Although the institution of slavery oppressed enslaved individuals, the effects were felt beyond the large slave population. Often, “the whites of the [southern] region were also touched by an institution [slavery] which was central to their way of life” (189). In the early 1800’s, the largest class in the south was yeoman farmers, small-scale, non-slaveholding farmers who, eighty percent of the time, owned their own land (189). Although numerically the yeoman farmers were superior, the balance of power was slanted utterly towards the small slave-holding class. According to Degler, “… the small class of slaveowners actually dominated the economic, political, and intellectual institutions of the whole white South” (189-190). Even in the matter of land distribution, most of the fertile and nutrient-rich land was used to support plantations built by the wealthy slaveowners. In 1860, 92 percent of Georgian slaveholders held land, while only 55 percent of non-slaveholders could be so fortunate to have an acre (190). In the capitalistic economy of the ante-bellum period, “to rise in… one needed slaves…” (190-191).
Even in industry the institution of slavery also affected the status of factory workers. At the time, working conditions were extremely poor. However, factory workers could not unite to form a strike, as “the success of a strike was always threatened by the omnipresent possibility that slaves could be hired to break it as happened at the Tredegar Iron Works at Richmond in 1847” (191). Slavery may have helped produce abundant amounts of cotton cheaply, but it also cursed those who were tangled in the grip of this “peculiar institution”.
Wealthy slaveholding families also dominated politics on both a regional and national level in the ante-bellum era. Slavery, like land, was seen as a sign of wealth, and wealth would provide families with the means to educate their children at private institutions. These families would lose their “investments” (slaves), if slavery was outlawed, therefore the system was “at the core of southern politics, determining issues and influencing men” (192). The need to defend slavery even led to the ultimate demise of the Whig party in the south. Slavery, according to Carl N. Degler, “gave a new, but false, unity to southern political thought” (192). Although the institution of slavery may have unified the south, the effects were temporary, and southern political freedom was cursed with restrictions. The political...