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Slavery & Southern Antebellum Society

Harmony in the South

Non-slave owners aspired to become slave owners.

If slavery exists there is always someone lower than you - Last Place Aversion Theory

Most non-slave owners had at least one relative

that did own slaves.
Political power was held by the common man slaveowners were the major tax payers.
Economic transaction occurred regularly between
slave owners and non owners.

The Good Society Argument

By the 1830s
slavery is seen as a
positive good with
increasing benefits
for both the North
and South.
The Cotton Gin
provided long term
economic benefits.

King Cotton

Cotton makes up 50% of all exports after 1840.

The South produces 50% of the worlds cotton supply.
75% of Britains cotton comes from the South.

Britain is the worlds leading industrial power.

Before the Industrial Revolution,
most Southern planters made
little profit from slave labor.
However, the invention of the
cotton gin by Eli Whitney made
slavery profitable.

Production massively increases

More Americans begin to think of
slavery as a positive good.
Slave labor quintuples as a result by

Slave Produce Crops

Slave Distribution

The Planter Aristocracy

Government by the
few in the South.
Wealth & power are
concentrated in the
hands of an elite
upper class cottonocracy.

1,733 families owned 100+ slaves.

Social Structure of the South

Planter Aristocracy on top (Whigs)
Lesser Masters - less than 10 slaves
Yeoman Farmers - subsistence farmers, usually

Majority of white population by 1860. Known as crackers, hillbillies and clayeaters

Non-Slaveholding Whites
Poor White Trash - Mountain dwelling whites.
(Will support the Union)

Slave Codes

Slave laws are state laws which define slaves as

property (Can be bought, sold, mortgaged, etc)
Slaves cannot testify, own property, have legal
However, slaves COULD be seen as people in the
criminal system. Slaves could be tried for crimes
and crimes committed against slaves could be

Economic Weakness of the Plantation

Plantation farming is land intensive, leads to soil depletion.

Involves huge capital investments in land and labor.

As a result cotton production is monopolistic

It discourages economic diversification.

Hence why the South has no manufacturing


Slavery was a tremendous investment.

One slave cost ~$35,000-$40,000

Plantation Slave Life

Work took place from dawn to dusk
Slaves were kept ignorant (9/10 were illiterate)
Physical discipline was common, but minimilized didnt want to damage the investment.
Religion is a large part of slave life - Sundays are
Various forms of slave resistance

Work Slowdowns
Runaways and Rebellions.

Nat Turners Rebellion - 1831

Nat Turner is a preacher/slave

Leads an uprising of 40 slaves who kill 60 whites, mostly in their
beds while they sleep.
Turner is captured, hung and skinned.
Sets off mob violence as revenge against blacks.
Effect: Confirmed the greatest fear of whites in the south and
caused the end of abolition in the South.

Fugitive Slaves

Running away was the

most common form of
resisting slavery.
most ran away for a short
time due to feeling the had
received an unjust
punishment or to look for
Punishment was typically
10 lashings for each day
they were missing.

Early Abolitionism
Quakers were first, as early as the Rev
1816 - The American Colonization

Transported 15,000 former slaves to Liberia

Most did not want to go.
Favored by Lincoln early in his career.

The British abolished slavery in 1833

Radical Abolitionism

William Lloyd Garrison

See the Constitution as an agreement with hell

Writes The Liberator, 1831
The newspaper comes out the same year as Nat Turners
Rebellion - Garrison is seen as a terrorist.
Founds the American Anti-Slavery Society - 1833


Garrison believed:
Slavery undermined Republican
Slavery was a moral, not
economic issue
Immediate emancipation was
necessary with no
compensation to owners.
Full and complete equal rights
for blacks
He is dispised in the South and even
the North views him as too radical.

Northern Reaction to Abolition

Most treat the abolitionists as radicals

The North has significant economic interests in the South.


Abolitionists are targeted for violence

Broadcloth Mob dragged Garrison through the streets of Boston in 1835

Rev. Elijah Lovejoy was killed in IL in 1837

Black Abolitionists

David Walker
Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, 1829
Called for violence as a means for freedom rather than wait to
be set free by whites.
Terrified whites in the south who believed his work could
cause a slave uprising.
Sojourner Truth - Freed when New York abolished slavery. Wrote a
autobiography with the help of Oliver Gilbert.
She would tour the nation giving speeches about the evils of
slavery. Would be a strong advocate for womens rights as well friend of Lucretia Mott.


Frederick Douglass

Escaped slavery as a young man.

Wrote The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Established The North Star and abolitionist newspaper.
Believe education was the key to ending slavery.


Harriet Tubman

Known as the Black Moses for helping more than 300 slaves escape the South.
She would continue to serve in the cause of freedom as a spy for the Union during
the Civil War.
Perhaps the most important conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Events Securing Southern Support of


Defeat of VAs emancipation proposals - 1831

Nat Turners Rebellion - 1831
Nullification Crisis (in SC) - 1832
Proslavery efforts to defend the peculiar institution
Christanity arguments - in the bible
Defense of master-slave relationship as a father-child
Myth of the happy slave vs. the oppressed Northern Industrial
Government Crackdown on Free Speech (Jackson)
1835 - Postmasters are restricted in transmitting abolitionist
1836 - Gag Rule in the House - All anti-slavery appeals are