The Debate over Slavery in the United States

Published: 2021-06-22
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University of California, Santa Barbara
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Slavery in America was started to help the young nation in its development. African slaves were brought to North America to help in the farming of cash crop such as cotton and tobacco which was a lucrative endeavor. Slavery was widespread and acceptable in the 17th and 18th century. The slaves were used in building the new nations economy by providing free labor. The 19th century saw an anti-slavery movement that provoked a great debate and was accredited for causing the American civil war. After the war, slaves were freed and allowed to become American citizens with equal rights and liberties. More than four million slaves were released and given civil rights when Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery. According to William Lloyd in his speech at Charleston, South Carolina, a constitution that does not provide freedom to all is not a constitution (William, par. 5).


People who favored slavery came up with different theories to justify slavery. George Fitzhugh supported slavery by arguing that slaves are just grown up children, and they needed their masters to act as a guardian for them (Fitzhugh, par.1). He also argued that Negros were irresponsible and if they were freed, they would be a burden to the society. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the community to keep them as slaves. Fitzhugh further argued that since the black race is inferior to the white, the slaves will not be able to survive in a free world due to their limited intellectual capabilities (Fitzhugh, par. 1). He claimed that by being in America, the slaves had been saved from a much worse slavery in Africa. The slaves in America were getting a favor by being christened and civilized. According to Fitzhugh, the slaves in the south were free and happy since they were provided with comfort and necessities of life (Fitzhugh par. 2). They supposedly enjoy liberty in that they dont have any care in the world and they are not oppressed by labor. The work condition is good since they work in good weather and for only nine hours a day. The pro slave was trying to use such an argument to prove where slavery should continue.

Intellectual men such as doctors tried to prove why slavery is justified. Dr. Cartwright in his article Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race claim that slaves have a disease that only affects the blacks. He argues that the slaves suffer from a disease called Drapetomania which cases the negro to run away. The disease causes slaves to run away from their service, but it can be cured. The justification that slaves who run away are suffering from mental illness is a wrong assumption. It tries to justify the enslavement of people. Individuals who want to be free according to Dr. Cartwright are sick and need medical attention. According to the Cartwright, slaves are supposed to be in a submissive position, and white men should not try to raise them to their level (Diseases and Peculiarities, par. 2). God intended blacks to be slaves, and white masters should respect that otherwise, the slaves will run away. Another disease that is peculiar is the Dysesthesia Aethiopica, and it affects the Negro that lives a free life in a cluster. The condition makes the slaves rowdy, and they destroy everything that they touch. According to Cartwright, almost all slaves that are free are affected by this disease (Diseases and Peculiarities, par. 3). He suggests therefore that every black person should have a white man to guide him so as not to get the disease. The authors believed the slave were inferior to the whites and their duty was serving their masters. The argument was wrong since no scientific research had been done to prove these claims.

The political class used their position to spread their ideas on why slavery should continue. According to James Henry Hammond, slavery was not a sin. He argued that slavery was allowed by God and it was a commandment for America to have slavery (Hammond, par. 1). The use of religion to justify slavery was the tactic that he used to give his actions justification. According to his Mudsill Theory, there should be people who do manual jobs. That class of individuals is important otherwise there wont be the other type of individuals who brings progress and civilization. Hammond believed that as long as slaves are cared for, then the practice is justified (Hammond, par. 2). He declared that a society that abolishes slavery is inviting poverty. The theory does not have any merit or scientific prove to show which race is inferior to the other.


Counter claims were made to prove the evils of slavery. David Walker is one of the people who was against slavery and wanted it to be repealed. In his speech Appeal, he told the people about his experience having traveled all over the United States. He claims that the colored people are the most degraded people he has ever seen in his life. Walker argues that Americans call themselves Christians yet they inflict the worst suffering to the black Americans ("David Walker's Appeal", par. 1). He wanted the Christians to show them where in the Bible the Israelites were treated like the blacks by being told they were not of the human family. He compared the Blacks to a caged animal and the whites a free animal. He questions whether it is expected that the free animal can run as fast as the free animal when they are released. Walker asserts that just like the blacks, the whites die too and get eaten by worms ("David Walker's Appeal", par. 6). Why would the blacks then answer to a white person as a master yet the black might be better than them? He finishes by asking the Americans to treat them like human beings if they want to be friends with him. People deserve to be treated with respect and dignity if they have to live together.

Liberty and freedom should be enjoyed by every citizen and not by a few individuals. Another staunch supporter of the abolishment of slavery was Frederick, Douglass. In the article what to the slaves is the fourth of July, he acknowledges that there is hope in the dark clouds that hang on them since America is still a young nation. He questioned the wisdom of having slavery while its colonial masters abolish it. He asks the America why they do not free slaves and give them freedom just like the British did to them. The fourth of July is the celebration of American independence. The Americans gained the independence by not allowing themselves to be oppressed and enslaved by the British (Frederick, par. 3). The freedoms and justice that has been embroiled in the Declaration of Independent do not extend to the Black Americans. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were the inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony (Frederick, pg. 4, par.18). He urges the Americans to understand that just like the way they yearned for independent, the blacks too would love to get their independence. The slaves desire liberty and freedom just like any other country fought to gain its rights from the colonialists (Frederick, pg. 5).

There are different methods that were used for the fight to free slaves including organizing matches and demonstrations. William Lloyd Garrison was a staunch critic of the slave trade and his speech at Charleston, South Carolina on the 14th of April, 1865; he talks about how he was taken to prison for speaking the truth about slavery (William, par.1). He, however, praise President Lincoln for his contribution in abolishing slavery. He campaigned for the abolishment of slavery and the rights of every black person. He was glad that his efforts had bared fruits (William, par. 2). The American Anti-Slavery Society was an organization that fought for the abolishment of slavery. They convened a meeting in Philadelphia where they promulgated some declarations. They remember the freedom fighters who had assembled at the same sport and declared that man is made equal and given the right to life and liberty by God. They condemned slavery in all its form and demanded the right to enjoy liberty and freedom ("The American Antislavery Society: Declaration of Sentiments " 68). There is no man who has a right to enslave other and the bible cannot be used to justify such a practice.


The different groups of people argued for or against slavery depending on where they stood. The people who were for slavery even went ahead to invoke the name of God in justifying slavery. Dr. Cartwright tried to justify slavery by explaining how slave have a mental illness if they are not under a white master (Diseases and Peculiarities, par. 2). Others used their political positions to push their agenda and justify slavery. The abolitionist did not waiver and kept the fight going for the freedom of slavery. Slavery was an immoral act, and the explanation that some race is superior to the other without any scientific evidence is not acceptable. The fight to have every American enjoy the civil rights were finally won, and today the liberty that is enshrined in the constitution is enjoyed by all Americans (William, par. 2).


"Diseases And Peculiarities Of The Negro Race, By Dr. Cartwright (In DebowS Review)". Pbs.Org, 2017,

"William Lloyd Garrison". Spartacus Educational, 2017,

David Walker's Appeal". Pbs.Org, 2017,

Hammond Henry, James. "Speech to the U.S. Senate, March 4, 1858". Pbs.Org, 1858,

Fitzhugh, George. The Universal Law of Slavery. Pbs.Org, 1976,

Frederick, Douglass. What To The Slaves Is The Fourth of July. 1st ed. 1852. Web. 7 Apr. 2017

The American Anti-Slavery Society: Declaration of Sentiments ". Utc.Iath.Virginia.Edu, 2017, 1851,


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