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Expansion of Slavery as a Moral or Political Issue

If you study history long enough, you quickly discover that nothing is ever black and white. What might seem to be a simple issue is in fact quite complex. The same can be said about slavery when it came to the position of the North.

Slavery was both a moral question and a political one for the Northerners. Yet it was the political question that drove it to such decisive levels. From the colonial days, there was tension politically and economically between the North and the South. No matter what the subject matter was, it was perceived to be the North versus the South. Slavery was a big enough difference in the two cultures to become the flag for Southern rights.

As the awareness of the needs of society increased, politicians began to take notice. They could not help it as Americans led the effort to ‘devise innovative and humane solutions to problems of poverty, crime, illiteracy, and mental illness” and launch “campaigns to educate the deaf and the blind, rehabilitate criminals, extend equal rights to women, achieve world peace, and abolish slavery.” (1) Those championing these causes were loud in their opinions and pushed into the political circle to obtain their goals. Politicians saw this as a chance to push the anti-slavery issue and tip the power to the North.

The North proclaimed ‘solid’ arguments on the immoral and “economically inefficient” characteristics of slavery while realizing that admitting more slave states would give the southern politicians extra seats in Congress which meant more power to swing votes in favor of the South. (2) Slave states would gravitate to the South’s positions and would stand against the agenda of most politicians from the North. The North made it a moral question because it was a political question.

(1) Steven Mintz, Moralists and Modernizers: America’s Pre-Civil War Reformers, (John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 1995), xiii.
(2) Michael F. Holt, The Fate of Their Country: Politicians, Slavery Extension, and the Coming of the Civil War, (Hill and Wang, New York, 2004), 5.

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