Defending Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Old South


BOOK: Defending Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Old South,  by Paul Finkelmen

After you summarize the book, in one paragraph you must identify at least two themes/points made by the author which you plan to discuss/analyze. Again, after you summarize the book, in one single paragraph you must specifically identify your two points for analysis. Thank you!


Defending Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Old South

The book defending slavery: proslavery thought in the old South written by Paul Finkelman is one of the many historical books written with a basic aim of showing how the southerners who are known for their strong stand in support of slavery in the 19th century. The author of the book tries to show his readers how the southerners feel and think about slavery. The book begins with quotes from Thomas Jefferson notes on the state of Virginia and ends with Josiah Nott’s instinct of races. It is worth noting that the author tries to question the legitimacy of the slavery in the early period of life, especially in amerce where the slave trade was at its peaks, particularly to the southerners who had large tracks of land where all slaves were forced to work. The author of the book brings forward some theories and ideologies concerning slavery that could have prompted the southerners to practice slave trade which was basically divided from races.  Despite the attempts by several religious leaders as well as other world leaders, slavery was still practiced in most parts of America and the black community suffered the most. Great leaders and personalities such as John C, Calhoun tries to slam slavery in the author’s work by stating that slavery is indispensable for the peace and happiness of both the whites and the blacks. The author goes on to say that, despite most of the leaders from the southern part of America supporting slavery, their counterparts from the north were against the idea of slavery and wildly campaigned against slavery.  This assignment will seek to identify two themes that are widely discussed in the book that relates to issues of Africans slavery in America in the antebellum.

Despite touching on various topics, the Author of the book Defending Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Old South widely focused on two major themes that are rampant in the book. A theme in literature is used to describe a central point or a central topic that an author of a book that intends to drive home.  The theme of religion and the theme of slavery are discussed in details throughout the book as the author attempts to elaborate reasons as to why the southerners supported slavery.

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Religion is one of the important topics in the topic as the author tries to show the biblical point of view regarding slavery.  According to the author, religion is a cultural system of behaviors and practices, world views and sacred scriptures that help to relate humanly to an order of existence. Despite the existence of different religion in the world, they all seem to hold similar beliefs (Finkelman, 2003). However, America is known to have the highest percentage of Christians in the world, and thus, it is correct to say that it most of the people in the country follow the teachings of the Bible to lead a righteous life as well as live in the ways of the Bible.

Having been raised in religious traditions that were heavily relying on the Bible for moral and social support, the author draws strong convictions as well as the basis for his arguments. To the surprise of many, the Bible is so rich concerning pro-slavery views, and Reverend Holmes quotes the Bible to question the role played by the Southern masters towards their slaves. According to the Bible in the book of job, masters should play the role of friend, protectors, guides and teachers to their slaves.  According to the reverend, masters who are ready to play such roles should expect to get rewards when they go to heaven since the good Lord promises to reward all those who are good to their servants. However, the masters of the southern region of the United States did exactly the opposite of the biblical teachings despite being strong Christians and followers of the bible. To them, slaves have no place in their homes and should only be treated as properties or machines rather than human beings.  As a result, most of the slaves in the southern region suffered a lot in the hands of their masters where some were subjected to hard labor without pay as other were subjected to physical torture.  This showed the human animal that lives in most human beings by letting them suffer under their very watch. As a matter of fact, slaves were not seen as people.

On the other hand, there are those who use other Bible verses that describe slaves as properties to justify their actions. DeBow argues that it is beyond the human ability to show what the Bible talks about regarding slavery. According to him, we cannot show that the Bible teaches clearly and conclusively that holding slaves are right and if so, it is hard to tell when it is wrong. In the book of Genesis, the Bible states that Abraham the chosen servant of God had his owned servants who had the responsibilities of helping him to perform his daily chores. According to most leaders in the southern region who supported slavery, these slaves lived in a similar, if not worse to the slaves in the antebellum era where Abraham considered them as his own properties which could be bought or sold as any property that is owned by a human being. Moreover, most of them feel that God did not teach his owned Servant that it was immoral to use and buy slaves for his benefit and thus, masking slaves work for them is not beyond Christian teachings. It is worth noting that both most individuals in both the new and Old Testament had slaves and they treated them in any way better they felt like since they existed rules and regulations that stipulated how slaves and servants could be treated (Finkelman, 2003). As a result, most slave and servant owners felt that they have the mandate to treat their servants and slaves the way they wanted since there was no law that stipulated the nature of the relationship between a slave and a master.


Slavery in America started in the 16th century when the first African slaves were brought to the north of America. Slavery can be described as a condition of being a slave where one individual is wholly owned by another taking all their rights and freedom with them and thus, making them seem like their personal properties. Due to the presence of large tracks of land in the northern part of the United States, most southern masters felt the need of owning slaves who assisted in the production of lucrative crops such as tobacco.

To succeed in their quests of enslaving the blacks in the northern societies, leaders used all kinds of theories to show that the black man was less of a man and inferior to the white. According to Thomas Cobb, a leader of the northern society who played a paramount part in setting up the confederate constitution, the black people are less healthy, less productive, and less moral and tend to become criminals. Thus, Thomas had a strong feeling that the only way to control the blacks and to protect the white lives of the black people is by enslaving them to ensure that they have no authority to do what they feel like. Moreover, he went on to say that the southern climate was favorable to the health of the black community, but the fact remains that the black community is less addicted to crime, and are healthier and lived longer in a state of slavery than a state of freedom (Finkelman, 2003). Such strong feelings towards slavery jeopardized any chances of the black community getting their freedoms from the White especially in the northern part of America.

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On the same note, it is worth noting the contributions of Senator James Henry Hammond, who stated that in every society there must exist a class of people who are destined to perform menial duties. According to Senator James, Such a class only requires a low order of intellect and little skills, and they are good to go. Moreover, he believed to have other social classes in society; there must exist a lower class of people who are destined to work and serve people in other higher classes. The lower class of people constitutes of the very mud-sill of society while the higher class of individuals constitutes of intelligent and skilled people who have the responsibility of bringing progress, civilization and refinement in the society.

However, it is correct to say that racial segregation formed the basis of slavery in the early days. Most, if not all the slaves were Africans or people of skin color irrespective of their status in the society. Interestingly, the white colonial masters could not hold their fellow whites as slaves despite belonging to the lower class of people. Most of the whites believed that Africans were inferior that the whites and thus, they were not supposed to belong to the same class despite the constitution stipulating that all men are equal.

In conclusion, it is correct to say that the author of the book Defending Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Old South has successfully brought out the two themes clearly in his work. The book was written in an error when slavery was the order of the day in America.  However, irrespective of the reasons and justifications brought forward by these leaders to justify their actions; it is correct to say that they acted against morality (Finkelman, 2003). Moreover, it is quite clear that the myths and the beliefs among the whites that’s the black person are less of a man as well as inferior to the white and cannot work on his own is wrong. Slavery led to unwanted consequences such as death, diseases as well as an increase in hatred against the two races leading to conflicts from time to time.

Works Cited

Finkelman, P. (2003). Defending slavery: proslavery thought in the old South; a brief history                   with documents. . Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Related: History of America between 1800 and 1860