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Slavery was the primary provoking factor that made a Civil War break out in the U.S. This was because there was a clear distinction between Northern Abolitionists and people in the South who heavily relied on slavery, because they were required for their agricultural based economy. This issue escalated when the cotton gin was invented because slaves were needed to work the machines in order to produce/clean the cotton. There was only a small percentage of the South’s population that actually owned slaves. This was because they were so expensive to buy, but they were profitable, as Planters made about a 10% profit from slaves annually. Even the people in the South who didn’t own slaves benefited from them, as they helped their overall economy, therefore they supported slavery. In attempt, to convince the opposite side that their view on slavery was more necessary or morally correct, many authors wrote essays about slavery and their opinion on the issue.
Multiple authors argued that slavery was a positive institution. One of these authors was John C. Calhoun. In document A, his key argument in defense of slavery was that it was, without a doubt, necessary for the South’s economy, and he argued that “the political condition of the slave holding states has been so much more stable and quiet than that of the North” (Calhoun). His argument has some merit because the South relied heavily on agricultural and in order to make a profit off of their plantations, Planters needed slaves to do the hard labor of planting, caring for, harvesting, and cleaning cotton as well as other crops. However, I believe that in the long run, the South would’ve been better off without slavery, because in many aspects slavery was holding the South back, such as their industries. There was only 10% of America’s industry in the South, compared to 90% in the North. In order for the south to progress they needed to learn about and use the industries more. Another author who believed slavery was beneficial, was George Fitzhugh. George viewed slavery as favorable for the poor laborers and thought that slavery helped them by giving them a house, food, and clothes. He argued that the free laborer had a lower social status than slaves. As he thought that free laborers sometimes didn’t have a house or a steady job. Fitzhugh also states that the statics of crime were higher for the free laborer population than the slaves. I don’t think there’s any merit to this argument because slaves were treated extremely poorly, with minimal regard for their safety, health and well-being. They lived in poor conditions, some living outside with hardly any clothes or food to survive. It was also out of fear of being shot and killed that they didn’t usually commit many crimes, not that they had higher moral superiority.
On the other hand, there were numerous authors that opposed slavery and wanted to eradicate it from the nation. One of these authors was Theodore D. Weld, whose position was radical, he was vehemently against slavery of any kind. He believed slavery was absolutely outrageous, as he said in document C, “The slaves in the United States are treated with barbarous inhumanity” (Weld). His position was radical because he didn’t wish to use militant force to abolish slavery, instead he wanted to collect eye-witnesses’ statements and facts to present in a testimony. The collection of all this evidence would’ve certainly helped to bring an end to slavery. It would’ve provided the appalling facts of the slaves’ conditions that were needed to prove how wrong and sinful slavery was, as well as the fact that it was unconstitutional because the slaves had little to no rights. Another abolitionist author was James G. Birney. He believed slavery was unjust in the eyes of God and men had no right to carry out slavery, as he thought it was just as bad as murder. Birney’s position on slavery was radical because he strongly states his very significant thoughts on slavery, and he doesn’t believe slavery is right in any way and thinks it should be ended immediately. His words were definitely beneficial to bring an end to slavery because it helped people who had not seen slavery first-hand, to be able to connect it to something everyone knew and agreed on as very wrong (murder, incest, adultery and blasphemy).
He also reminded Christians that God would not approve of slavery. An additional author who absolutely despised slavery was William Lloyd Garrison, who was a radical abolitionist and his position on the matter was almost militant. He demanded an end to slavery, and he strongly stated in document G, “On this subject, I don’t wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation,” (Garrison). Instead, he was determined to set every slave free, and he wasn’t afraid to make the owners of slaves, and everyone who was not against slavery, suffer. Garrison’s strong words and determined actions definitely contributed to the end of slavery. This is because, as he clearly expressed in his writings, he would firmly stand against slavery, apply any force needed to abolish it and would not give in easily. The Declaration of the American Anti-Slavery Society was a group of abolitionists who were strongly against slavery and believed that colored people should have the same rights as any white American. Their position was radical because they openly spoke out against slavery, wanted to stop the institution, and believed that colored American should have the same rights and privileges as any other American.
I think groups such as this one, would have had more of an effect when trying to stop slavery because the government is more likely to listen to a group of people than just one person, and as a group they could do more to attempt to stop slavery and save slaves than a single person. Henry David Thoreau was another radical abolitionist, who believe slavery was absolutely disgraceful and immoral. He explained that if the government tolerated slavery then he would not obey the government. He believed that if he obeyed any laws that were unjust and required him to go against his conscience, in order to obey the government then he would be indirectly supporting slavery. Therefore, he said that if any law is unjust or makes a man go against his moral beliefs, then he should break the law. His position was radical because he was willing to break the law in order to end slavery. His actions and words would further help people (mostly in the North), to understand how wrong and unethical it was and therefore, influenced more people to try and halt the spread of slavery.
However, no one person could end slavery by them self, but radical Abolitionists did greatly influence people’s view on slavery, and prevent its spread. It was evident through David Walker’s writing, such as “Appeal in Four Articles with a Preamble to the Coloured Citizens of the World”, that he deeply opposed slavery as well. His position was radical because of how strongly he spoke out against it, and also militant because, as he stated in document H, he believed, “That unless you speedily alter your course, you and your country are gone!!! God Almighty will tear up the very face of the earth!!!” (Walker). Although some may see David Walker’s along with many other radical abolitionist’s position on abolishing slavery to be too strong and violent at times, these people’s words and actions were necessary in order to bring an end to slavery. This is because they helped others realize how horrific and shocking slavery was, which influenced people living in the North to be highly against it spreading into other parts of America. Without these radical abolitionists, slavery was likely to end but over a longer period.
To conclude the essay, I agree with Henry David Thoreau’s position on civil disobedience concerning slavery. Civil disobedience is justified when the law that they are disobeying is completely unjustified, unfair, or immoral. If everyone just obeyed a law that was wrong, then our country wouldn’t improve and problems such as slavery wouldn’t be solved. For example, Henry Thoreau refused to pay his poll tax because he didn’t want his money going to a government that tolerated slavery. The government was doing this to keep the peace between the South and the North, as they didn’t want a civil war, but Thoreau believed this was still very wrong, and he didn’t want to encourage slavery in any way at all. Although, this alone didn’t end slavery, it did show the government that he did not support slavery, along with multiple others and it did influence many other people’s ideas on slavery.
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