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Slavery: A Justified Institution

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Social Issues

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As the nineteenth-century emerged, the infamous institution of slavery grew rapidly and produced some surprising controversy and rash justification. Proslavery, Southern whites used social, political, and economical justifications in their arguments defining the institution as a source of positive good, a legal definition, and as an economic stabilizer. The proslavery supporters often used moral and biblical rationalization through a religious foundation in Christianity and supported philosophic ideals in Manifest Destiny to vindicated slavery as a profitable investment. They also examined the idea of popular sovereignty and the expansion of slavery in territorial plans like the Kansas-Nebraska scheme to support their arguments. The proslavery advocates even went far enough to include the Constitution as a fair legal justification for their practices. Clear-cut attempts to bend the rules on the legality of slavery in documents like the Lecompton Constitution made some rationalizations look weak and rash in concept. With the South's slavery dependent and fragile economy, Southerners were ready to fight for their survival with whatever means were necessary.
Proslavery whites launched a defensive against slavery which explained the "peculiar institution" as a positive good, supported, in fact, by the sacred words of the Bible and the philosophy of the wise Aristotle. The moral and biblical justification surrounding their belief that the relations between slave and man, however admitting to deplore abuses in it, was compatible with Christianity, and that the presence of Africans on American soil was an occasion of gratitude on the slave's behalf before God ' basically, the slaves should have been grateful for their bondage. Plantation owners even stressed religion by teaching the slaves the principles of Christianity and by brainwashing the slaves into thinking they were blessed by God to be given a master who cares for them and a Christian family to live with. In accordance with religion, proslavery Southerners used the idea of Manifest Destiny ' the belief that God predestined the United States for a hemispheric career ' to defend their fragile position by explaining that slavery promoted territorial expansion, thus adhering to the expansionist principles of Manifest Destiny and promoting slavery as a positive good. Southerners used this argument timely ' right in the middle of an era of domestic expansion led by President Pierce and supported by people like Stephen Douglass. Douglass proposed the controversial Kansas-Nebraska scheme ' a plan to resolve a sectional imbalance in newly surveyed territory ' which directly relied on the idea of popular sovereignty to be compromised. Due to the fact that popular sovereignty is an ideal based on the tenets of democracy which support the "people's will," Southerners used popular sovereignty to justify their slavery practices ' ultimately slavery is supported through popular sovereignty since it is the "people's will" to enslave blacks, or at least the "Southerners' will." Another social aspect of rationalization in the slavery institution is derived from the Southern argument which contrasted the "happy" lives of their slaves to the overworked and exhausted Northern black wage workers. In the South, they claimed, the slaves worked in the sunshine and fresh air with secure lifetime benefits; whereas in the North blacks were caged in dank and dark factories and were released after their usefulness had served its purpose. Why work in the North when there are safe, comfortable plantations to work on in the South?
Though the social aspects of slavery helped to directly support the moral arguments of proslavery Southerners, the legal aspects of slavery more or less served as visible victories and defining events in Southern philosophy. The Dred Scott Case is a prime example of the legal side to the Southern defensive arguments and the Southern definition of popular sovereignty. The Supreme Court decreed that because a slave was private property, ...

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