If You Were Alive (And White) in 1850, You Probably Would Have Supported Slavery

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If You Were Alive (And White) in 1850, You Probably Would Have Supported Slavery

Posted in : Current Events on by : Michael Maharrey

I see a lot of people going out of their way to denounce slavery lately.

Mostly, it comes by way of support for tearing down Confederate statues or denouncing certain Southern symbols.  But despite all of the virtue-signaling and moralizing, the vast majority of white people condemning anything remotely connected to slavery today would have supported the institution in 1850. There were even black people on board with the institution.

Abolition was an extreme political position.

The Liberty Party was home to moral abolitionists. In the 1844 presidential election, its candidate garnered an unimpressive 2.3% of the vote.  Many northern abolitionists weren’t morally opposed to slavery. They certainly weren’t concerned about the plight of the black man. The majority of northern opposition to slavery was rooted in economic concerns as opposed to moral principle. Many Americans, including Abraham Lincoln, wanted to deport all of the black people back to Africa. The dominant worldview was decidedly racist.

Slavery was the law of the land. Most of the same white people who advocate monument removal in 2017 would likely have supported federal enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act. I can hear the rationalization now. “Well, I don’t really like the idea of sending those people back down South, but you know, it’s the law.”

And of course, in the South, slavery was an accepted social institution. In fact, for most of human history, all around the world, slavery was the norm. Times were certainly changing in some parts of the world in the mid-1800s, and there was a growing recognition that human bondage was morally wrong. But great social changes typically move slowly. Antebellum Southerners were locked in a time and place. As you sit comfortably in front of a computer more than 150 years removed from their world, you  would be wise to recognize that had you lived in their time, you would have been one of them.

Condemning slavery in 2017 requires no moral courage.  Speaking out against slavery costs you nothing. It’s the majority opinion. You’ll get plenty of Facebook likes.

How about taking a stand against a moral outrage that most of your fellow Americans support.

Denounce the wars.

Denounce government’s inherent coercion and violence.

Stand up for the teachings of Jesus.

You’ll be denounced .

You’ll be ridiculed.

You’ll be made fun of for straying off the 3×5 index card of allowable opinion.

Those are hard stands to take in 2017. That’s why so few people will even consider them. Kind of like questioning slavery in 1850.

 

 

3 thoughts on If You Were Alive (And White) in 1850, You Probably Would Have Supported Slavery

  • roy knapp August 17, 2017Reply

    long time ago, I noticed that all those freed slaves did not move north, after the war.
    I was politely ignored, at best.

  • Paul Knecht August 18, 2017Reply

    I don’t hear anyone arguing the virtues of slavery. I hear a lot of people arguing about racism. And the prevailing argument amongst the white majority is that racism doesn’t really exist. Or if it is acknowledged, its with the caveat that reverse racism happens just as much.

    The question I have is this. How often do whites challenge other whites when a racist or bigoted comment is made? My hope is that 100 years from now, someone will post an article about how easy it is in their time to denounce racism because it’s the default position of American society.

    • Michael Maharrey August 18, 2017Reply

      I’m really addressing a pretty specific debate in this article. Where the slavery issue comes up over and over again is in connection with the War Between the States, and specifically right now, the debate over Confederate symbolism. Any comment in defense of secession, or any personality involved in the Confederacy, or addressing any of the the complexity is immediately met with “but slavery.” That’s the context of this article.

      More broadly, I’m more interested in living my life among my neighbors in a what that shows love and respect for all individuals rather than getting caught up in identity politics.

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