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Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 5.0 History

Topic C. Conflict between Ideas and Institutions

Indicator 4. Analyze the institution of slavery and its influence on societies in the United States

Objective a. Describe pro-slavery and anti-slavery positions and explain how debates over slavery influenced politics and sectionalism


Debates over the institution of slavery dominated national politics in the first half of the 1800s. As the opening of new lands and the invention of the cotton gin increased the demand for slave labor in the southern half of the country, a growing number of Northerners began to oppose slavery and adopt the belief it should either be prevented from spreading to new territories or abolished everywhere.

Both religious conviction and the desire to extend ideals of the Revolution to all Americans motivated activists to oppose slavery. Initially, many antislavery advocates favored gradual abolition and even the colonization of African Americans in Africa. By the 1830s, however, abolitionists were calling for immediate and complete emancipation. Antislavery sentiment increased throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, but it should be noted that no more than a small percentage of Northerners ever supported abolitionism.

During the Revolutionary Era and in the earliest days of the republic many defenders of slavery argued that it was a necessary evil. But by the 1830s pro slavery forces were arguing that slavery was a positive good. Slavery advocates argued the institution was essential to both Southern and the national economy. They also maintained that enslaved African Americans were treated better than Northern white wage laborers, and that physical and mental inferiority made slavery the best condition for African Americans.

The debate over slavery divided North and the South with increasing intensity throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. As more and more Northerners, with little economic interest in slavery, came to either believe that slavery was wrong or simply resent the “Slave Power,” Southerners increasingly felt that not only their economic system but their social order and culture was under attack. The question of slavery consumed the attention of Congress for decades as lawmakers struggled to balance the interests of Northern businessmen and antislavery reformers with Southern slaveholders. Especially fierce battles erupted over the question of the extension of slavery into new western territories, and Congress worked hard to maintain equal representation between slave and free states. Ultimately, the question of slavery led the United States to civil war.

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