Envisioning the Perfect Society: The Defense of Slavery and the South
Slavery of the black African was the rock which nearly shattered the American nation. For four decades, North and South debated, argued, skirmished, preached, and finally fought over this issue. During the process, southerners became increasingly paranoid and defensive about their peculiar institution, until, at the end, they believed their only recourse was secession, and ultimately, if need be, civil war. When the war was over, however, and slavery was overcome, few in the South regretted its demise. There was no attempt to reinstitute it (although some of the state Black Codes came close in the years immediately after the war). It was almost as if the South collectively breathed a sigh of relief and was generally pleased to see the institution destroyed. But from 1820 to 1865, southern leadership did everything possible politically, rhetorically, and militarily to preserve and defend human bondage.
Significantly, it was recognized and acknowledged by many that slavery made a difference within the new American nation. James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution," was a Virginia planter and slave owner who remarked that it was "pretty well understood that the real difference of interests lay, not between the large & small but between North & South'n States. The institution of slavery & its consequences formed the line of discrimination."1
Even though sentiment for abolition did not gain wide support until the nineteenth century, there were always some Americans who opposed slavery. In New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and New England slavery was declared illegal in the 1770-1790 period, due primarily to the Quakers in that area who applied pressure to the institution. Not only was there Quaker influence in this Northern area, there were also few slaves with which to deal. In 1790 less than six percent of American slaves lived in the North, by 1820 less than one percent, and during the 1820s it had dwindled to less than