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Slavery Fought Through the Written Word

Slavery was a hot topic long before the Civil War broke out. Individuals from both sides voiced their opinions through laws, political speeches, and even the written word. Through pamphlets, articles, and even novels pro slavery believers and abolitionists alike stated their passionate views and got the attention of the world as well as that of politicians and soldiers who would use those words to support the war and everything afterwards. From the middle antebellum period through the beginning of the Civil War, the written word was used by both sides as a justification for slavery as well a weapon against it through the means of political writings and social pamphlets as well as full size novels from politicians, ministers, and eyewitnesses behind the pen.

Most people are not aware of the extent of pro slavery material published during the years prior to the Civil War as well as during the bloody conflict. The reason is mainly due to the fact that the war was lost by the South, which meant that slavery was a thing of the past in the United States. The anti-slavery stance won out and became the most common literature studied. Pro-slavery material was pushed aside and only glanced at when needed. Overall, it was ignored. Yet there was a large amount of literature used to promote the idea of slavery and the justification for its existence and continued use of the peculiar institution. The reality is that both sides were passionate in their defense of an institution now seen as anathema. The written word helped to change the view of race into “investing pigment—both black and white—with far great weight in defining status than heretofore.” Proponents of each side found the power of the pen to be immense as they churned out material to support their side and convince the rest of the country of the true rightness of it.

Slavery was an institution that was not an original concept in the New World. Slavery had been around since the beginning of written history and had been an accepted practice throughout the world and all societies. The concept of the abolition of slavery was a rather new one that had sprung up and spread across the European continent and the Americas. This historical precedent aided those who supported slavery. They turned their eyes to history and science to justify their beliefs. In their minds, both had ample examples for them to use and emulate.

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Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: the first two centuries of slavery in North America. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1998.
Brown, William Wells. Clotelle, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/241/241-h/241-h.htm.
Buckingham, Goodsell. “The Bible Vindicated from the Charge of Sustaining Slavery.” Columbus: The Temperance Advocate Office, 1837. http://antislavery.eserver.org/religious/biblevindicatedrevisedfinal/.
Cobb, Thomas Read Rootes. “An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America.” Archive.org.
Davis, Jefferson. “Speech of Mr. Davis, of Mississippi, on the Subject of Slavery in the Territories,” Archive.org, 1850.
Douglass, Frederick. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, (Boston: Anti-Slave Office, 1848), 2-3.
Elliott, E.N., ed. “Cotton is King.” Archive.org. http://archive.org/details/cottoniskingandp28148gut.
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Fitzhugh, George. Cannibals All!, or Slaves Without Masters. 1857. http://archive.org/details/cannibalsallorsl35481gut.
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Hunt, James. On the Negro’s Place in Nature. London: Trubner, 1863.
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Lewis, Evan. “Address to Christians of All Denominations on the Inconsistency of Admitting Slave-Holders to Communion and Church Membership”. Antislavery Literature, 1831, http://antislavery.eserver.org/religious/addresstochristians/addresstochristians.html.
Liberty Party Platform. 1844. http://dig.lib.niu.edu/teachers/politics-platform-d.html.
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