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Pro-Slavery Beliefs And Ideologies

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For slave owners, many arguments that were believed to be powerful enough to overwhelm the abolitionist’s theories have been repeated and taught as a pro-slavery ideology. Slave owners argued that ending slavery would have had a profound and budgetary effect in the As their ethics became bombarded by the anti-slavery bias, slave owners and politicians used religion, the economy, and paternalism to sustain themselves and their beliefs. Slaveowners justified slavery on social and economic grounds. They were aware that owning people was wrong, but if they did not own people then they felt as if their sense of security and provision was gone. Southerners wanted to keep the tradition of the slave labor alive and were attempting to justify slavery in any way possible. The southern financial system had become so deeply tied to slavery that it would, arguably, fall apart.

First, since the time of the ancient Greeks, many have argued in support of the existence of natural rights, meaning those rights that men possessed as a gift from nature (or God) prior to the formation of governments. It is generally held that those rights belong equally to all men at birth and cannot be taken away (Natural Rights, Even though the natural rights theory posed the first major challenge to proslavery in America, advocates of slavery were not left defenseless (Tise, 2017) Their reliance on slave’s hard work turned into the foundation of their financial system. The cotton financial system would fall apart. The tobacco crop could dry inside the fields. Rice would stop being worthwhile. Many slave owners argued that if all of the slaves had been freed, there might be a colossal amount of unemployment and disarray. This would cause rebellion, bloodshed, and disorder. They pointed to the mob’s ‘rule of terror’ during the French Revolution and rooted for the duration of the demand, which turned into conveying wealth and equality for the slaveholding class and for all of the people who loved the bounty of the slave society.

Countless slave owners argued that slavery had existed throughout history and was the necessity of mankind. The Greeks had slaves, the Romans had slaves, and the English had slavery during these days. Slave owners even cited that in the Bible, Abraham had slaves. According to Time, “out of the more than three-quarters of a million words in the Bible, Christian slaveholders—and, if asked, most slaveholders would have defined themselves as Christian—(Rae, Cited, 2018) According to Genesis 9: 18–27, it says: “The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These three were the sons of Noah, and from these, the people of the whole earth were dispersed. Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.’ He also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.’ After the flood, Noah lived 350 years.”

‭‭Genesis‬ ‭9:18-28‬ ‭ESV‬‬. The rest of the Old Testament become frequently mined by slave owners for examples proving that slavery was commonplace among the Israelites to justify holding slaves. In the long run, it turned into the primary text for the slave owners who wished to justify mastery on Biblical grounds.

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Another defense card that many slave owners played after the Declaration of Independence was the excuse that they were “blessing” their slaves by giving them the bare necessities in life such as water and a place to sleep. The majority of slaveholders, white and black, owned only one to five slaves. More often than not, and contrary to a century and a half of bullwhips-on-tortured-backs propaganda, black and white masters worked and ate alongside their charges; be it in house, field or workshop ( Grooms, 6) they stated that they would defend and assist them when they had been sick and aged, unlike others, who did not have a job, we’re left to fend helplessly for themselves. In an article from 1842, it asserted that “Abolitionist, whether successful or not, is injurious to the slaves. It scatters discontent, and therefore unhappiness among them in their present state; it increases their insubordination, and thus subjects them to severe usage: should it free them from bondage, it would at the same time free their masters from the care of providing for them, and leave them an improvident class unprovided for, to suffer in rags and starvation, or under crime and its effects (Trott S; Cincinnati Post and Anti-Abolitionist) There was a sense of dependency and need when it came to the slave owners keeping slaves. To them, slavery was a wonderful thing because they attained a lot from it. For many, they enjoyed the control and assurance that it brought.

Furthermore, Historians have recognized that a crucial aspect of proslavery beliefs was planters’ assets in paternalism. According to, paternalism is defined as, “the system, principle, or practice of managing or governing individuals, businesses, nations, etc., in the manner of a father dealing benevolently and often intrusively with his children.” This paternalism supplies an approach for scholars to explain the bias of slave owners to picture their homestead as extended households, themselves as benevolent fathers, and enslaved African Americans as wayward children in need of guidance (“Proslavery Arguments: An Overview.” Gale Library of Daily Life: Slavery in America,, 10 Dec. 2019, But what if we look at things from a from a slave a slaves perspective? One of the foremost corrupt scenes in Douglass’ 1st biography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, depicts the way he ate: ‘Our food was coarse corn meal boiled. This was called mush. It was put into a large wooden tray or trough and set down upon the ground. The children were then called, like so many pigs, and like so many pigs they would come and devour the mush; some with oyster-shells, others with pieces of shingle, some with naked hands, and none with spoons. He that ate fastest got most; he that was strongest secured the best place, and few left the trough satisfied.’ Douglass makes it a point to nail the boastful lie put out by slaveholders that ‘their slaves enjoy more of the physical comforts of life than the peasantry of any country in the world (Martyris, Nina. “Frederick Douglass On How Slave Owners Used Food As A Weapon Of Control.”) This goes against the defense of paternalism that slaveowners have used to justify slavery.

According to Solomon Northup, in the book, 12 years a slave, he said, “…There may be humane masters, as there certainly are inhuman ones…nevertheless, the institution that tolerates such wrong and inhumanity as I have witnessed, is a cruel, unjust and barbarous one. Men may write fictions portraying lowly life as it is, or as it is not — may expatiate with owlish gravity upon the bliss of ignorance — discourse flippantly from armchairs of the pleasures of slave life; but let them toil with him in the field — sleep with him in the cabin — feed with him on husks; let them behold him scourged, hunted, trampled on, and they will come back with another story in their mouths. Let them know the heart of the poor slave — learn his secret thoughts (Northup, 157-158) From a slaveowners perspective, paternalism was essentially practiced as a mindset. Part of its origin stems from a political need by Southern leaders to justify slavery beyond the previously traditional routes. To them, it was a ‘necessary evil,’ that without it there would be a race war, and they believed the only way to maintain the South’s agricultural economy. However, paternalism was also rooted in the very heart of Southern social values. Beyond simply believing that ownership over slaves was right, the Southern master class (who were not all wealthy planters,) concluded that it was a breed apart from traditional men of any color, that it was made up of society’s natural-born leaders who deserved to rule, while the rest of society (blacks, women, poor/propertyless whites) deserved to follow. Paternalism was a ‘father-knows-best’ attitude that expected people, not only slaves, to know their place, and to defer to their benevolent rule. It was, of course, assumed that the paternalist’s rule was for the ultimate benefit of everyone in society, that despite needing to keep people in line now and then, their rule created general harmony and happiness.

Often times, slave owners contended that their slaves were inferior beings.


  1. Rae, Noel. “How Christian Slaveholders Used the Bible to Justify Slavery.” Time, Time, 23 Feb. 2018,
  2. Martyris, Nina. “Frederick Douglass On How Slave Owners Used Food As A Weapon Of Control.” NPR, NPR, 10 Feb. 2017,
  3. Rae, Noel. “How Christian Slaveholders Used the Bible to Justify Slavery.” Time, Time, 23 Feb. 2018,
  4. “Black Slave Owners Civil War Article by Robert M Grooms.” Black Slave Owners Civil War Article by Robert M Grooms,
  5. Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1845.

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