American Slave Rebellions in Pro-Slavery Southern Arguments During the Early 19th Century

Snowden, Saylor, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Snowden, Saylor, Arts & Sciences Graduate, University of Virginia

This essay looks at pro-slavery southern arguments and how they changed in the decades leading up to the U.S. Civil War. While the constitutionality of slavery was continually asserted, slaveholders constantly expanded their arsenal of arguments to garner more legal support for the institution of slavery. The intent of the arguments was usually to help convince other politicians or the general population of the necessity for legal backing of slavery in the Union. White southern elites wanted legal reinforcement of the institution to prevent northerners from abolishing slavery. This attitude towards slavery was very different from Thomas Jefferson and others in the founding generation. While many of the founding generation had ambivalent opinions about the continuation of slavery or outright opposed it, figures such as John C. Calhoun sought to reframe the practice of slavery as a positive good. Calhoun and his generation smoothly transitioned many white elites into the idea of keeping the institution of slavery with this theory. However, slave rebellions damaged the ideology that slaves were happy with their current status. This essay hopes to track the changes or continuity of the proslavery arguments supporting the positive good ideology as slave rebellions occur. During the 1820s and 1830s, Denmark Vesey’s conspiracy, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, and two small events in South Carolina take place, causing increasing the need for slaveholders to create more pro-slavery arguments.

MA (Master of Arts)
John C. Calhoun, Slavery
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