A Source Book of American Political Theory

By Benjamin Fletcher Wright Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII THE SLAVERY CONTROVERSY

INTRODUCTION

From early colonial times there existed in America some opposition to negro slavery. Religious and humanitarian movements, the equalitarian philosophy of the Revolution, and the unprofitable character of slavery in the northern states and in a large part of the south aided in spreading this anti-slavery sentiment. By 1787 slavery seemed well on the road to extinction or at least to isolation in the coastal region of South Carolina and Georgia when the cotton gin was invented and the growing of inland, short-staple cotton by slave labor made profitable. Within a few years the opening of the rich lands in the south west produced a great migration into the sections where slave labor could be applied with great success to the growing of such plantation crops as cotton, rice, and cane. Before the middle of the nineteenth century there was a solid tier of states, stretching from South Carolina to Texas, in which the dominant political group was firmly attached to the interests of the slave owners.

About the time that this development was reaching maturity the founding of the Liberator in Boston, with its gospel of immediate and complete abolition, and Nat Turner's slave rebellion in Virginia, in which over fifty whites were murdered, ushered in thirty years of passionate debate on the subject of slavery. Under Garrison's inspiration the tepid humanitarianism of the previously existing opposition to slavery was transformed into a crusade. At first the number of people fired with zeal for immediate abolition by any means, even those of violence, was very small. For many years the abolitionists were an unpopular, frequently a persecuted, minority in the north. Most of those who wished

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