IN WHAT WAS becoming a familiar dialectic, the North's defense against slavery in the Era of Good Feelings produced a parallel defensiveness in the South. Limited as was abolitionist activity in the North, slavery's aggressions in the Mid-Atlantic and the Northwest had opened the door to more strident antislavery rhetoric. As the British added their voices to this chorus, and as black people resisted slavery more actively, it became apparent that the general tenor of the times was hostile to slavery even as it expanded its territory. All of this pushed many of slavery's protectors to erect stronger ideological fortifications and abandon exposed positions.
Yet white Southerners did not speak as one on such issues. Indeed, the postwar politics of slavery demonstrated the variety of their opinions and highlighted important new trends in Southern thought. Although most Southern politicos retained great faith in the federal government, a small but important minority sought to convince their peers that strict construction of the Constitution and a firmer commitment to state rights were the only sure safeguards for their increasingly peculiar institution. Many slaveholders and their allies welcomed the philanthropic, evangelizing spirit of the postwar period, in part because they hoped to usher in a pious, paternalistic—and thus more defensible —version of slavery. But others (perhaps a majority of slaveholders, and definitely the loudest group) rejected humanitarianism and missionizing as false humanity that would lead to dangerous meddling with slavery. The roles of government and religion in a slave society were very much up for debate within the South.
The spectrum of thought concerning slavery itself was also wide and contested in the postwar South. White Southerners spoke from various points along a continuum that ran from condemning slavery, through acquiescing in it