Thursday, January 6, 2011

Causes of the War - Slavery

Slavery was the main cause of the secession of the deep South states, and it is what most people today believe was the cause of the war. But there are many misconceptions about what slavery was like, and whether or not it was a good thing.

Cruelty of Slavery

The book that had the greatest influence on the Northern and modern perception of slavery is Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. That book caused many of the Northerners to believe that slaves were being tortured and needed to be freed, and that view continues until today. The problem is Harriet Beecher Stowe gave an incorrect picture of how slavery actually was. Not that the stories contained in her book were not based on fact – many of them were. But Stowe said they all happened to one family. It would be like someone today finding every horrible story about child abuse in the newspaper and writing a book saying they happened to one family. And what may seem cruel to us today would have been normal at that time. For example, beating. Slaves were beaten from time to time, but at the same time sailors were sometimes beaten with thousands of lashes. Practices which would have been normal at the time seem very evil to us today.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Racial Reasons

Many people think that the Southerners believed that people with darker skin were a lesser race or not even people at all. Unfortunately, this view was held by some, but not all, of the people in the South. But this view was held by the Northerners as well. They believed that the slaves should be free, but that did not mean that they thought they should have the same rights as whites. Interracial marriages were illegal in most of the Northern states. Abraham Lincoln and others believed that after the slaves were freed they should be sent to colonies in Africa. Lincoln said, "Free them, and make them politically and socially, our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not."1 And, "[I]t does not follow that social and political equality between whites and blacks, must be incorporated, because slavery must not."2 So while some in the South did view blacks as a lesser race, the same view was held by many in the North.

Slave Market in Atlanta, Georgia

Slavery in the Bible

One of the main reasons that the abolitionists claimed that slavery was wrong was because it is forbidden by the Bible. However, this is not true. While we do not have the space for a deep exegesis, I will give an overview of the reasons. In the Old Testament there were two different types of slavery which God commanded. If an Israelite sold himself into slavery, he must be let go after serving for seven years unless he wished to stay longer. However, if the Israelites captured prisoners when attacking a foreign nation, they were slaves forever. Many great Biblical figures were slaveholders, and in the New Testament God commanded masters to be just to their servants and servants to obey their masters. Never does the Bible forbid slavery or condemn slaveholders.

The Bible and Southern Slavery

When we compare Southern Slavery to the Bible we see several problems. First, the slavery was based partially on race. There were examples of white slaves and black masters, but that was not the norm. Second, the slaves were obtained in an unrighteous manner. The Slave Trade was clearly wrong, but as we have discussed before, it was illegal at the time of the war. Third, Christian slaves were not freed after seven years. While it is not expressly commanded in the Bible, we can assume that if a slave became a Jew, they would be freed after seven years like the normal Hebrew slaves. However, this was not practiced in the South. These are the major problems that I see with Southern Slavery.

The correct way to remedy these was not to abolish slavery. When this was done it caused bitterness against the former slaves by their former owners. The Bible commanded perpetual slavery for the pagans so that they could be transformed into productive members of society by becoming Christians. That process was not complete, therefore many of the descendants of the Civil War era slaves are slaves today to the government through welfare and other entitlement programs. They have continued to act like pagans in some ways, which results in a high murder rate in inner cities and a high illegitimate birth rate.

1. Political Speeches and Debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas edt. Alonzo T. Jones. Source. p. 9
2. The Writings of Abraham Lincoln: 1858-1862. (New York: The Lamb Publishing Company, 1906) Source. p. 16


caleb-rodriguez said...

Here is an issue I have not yet solved, which may have an impact on how we view Southern slavery.

I is evident to me that if man-stealing is forbidden according to Exo. 21:16, the resulting slavery is also forbidden. The stolen person has no guilt of debt or crime, and neither volunteered submission nor received a civil sentence from a judge. Therefore, it would apparently follow that the victim should be speedily returned to his original freedom and the buyer(if the victim was sold) should be somehow compensated.

The difficulty lies in the fact that if the illegitimate sale occurs far from the location of the theft, and the victim speaks a language obscure from that of the buyer, the buyer would have extreme difficulty in confirming the legitimacy of the victim's slavery. (The thief would most certainly lie about the means of his acquisition.)

At some point, though, the slave would learn the language of the slaveholder, and then the truth would be known, though the slaveholder could not be sure of the truthfulness of the claim unless the victim sued and his claim was confirmed by witnesses. If witnesses are not available, then I would guess the case would be left to the slaveholder's discretion.

All these issues were involved in many cases of Southern slavery. I would be interested in hearing your opinion of this matter.

--Caleb Rodriguez

Joshua Horn said...

That is the most difficult issue regarding Southern Slavery. One of the main problems is that they were not even kidnapped in Egypt by Americans. A tribe would go around defeating others in war, and then would sell the men to the Americans. There was no where in Africa to send them back to because their family and nation had been conquered.

In America many times the slaves would remain pagans, so the right thing to do was not to just free them. They probably should have been treated like slaves captured in war until they truly converted to Christianity, at which point they should have been freed. But since that resulted in the slaveholder loosing money, unfortunately it was rarely done.

Post a Comment