How History Was Used to Justify Slavery

Updated on October 4, 2017
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

I firmly believe that if you are clever enough, you can justify anything you do. Trust me when I say that slavery advocates pulled deep to defend and uphold the institution. They used the Bible, "science", and even history to justify their stance on slavery. Here are their arguments and how they used the past to uphold their beliefs.

Disclaimer: This is from a paper I wrote in college. It is a look into how slavery was justified through its supporters. In no way do I condone the institution. This is a historical look at it and how the side for slavery argued their stance. Slavery is wrong. It is an evil that has been around since nearly the dawn of time and has changed faces many times over the course of history.

Slavery Was Part of the Great Nations

Thomas Read Rootes Cobb wrote in 1858 in his "An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America" pamphlet that "the most enlightened have, at some period within their existence, adopted it as a system; and no organized government has been so barbarous as not to introduce it amongst its customs." He was one voice who firmly believed that slavery was part of a great civilization. Great nations had used the institution of slavery. We look back on those nations and admire them.

The logic was there for them. If the great civilizations we admired used slavery to achieve that success, how could that institution be wrong?

Slavery Was Historical

After all, Rome had slaves, and it has been admired by all as a great civilization that was emulated even in the formation of the young country. The fact that America had slavery was not seen as a black mark against the rising nation. It was just one of many throughout history and the great ones at that. Having slaves was an accepted part of a civilization.

As societies organized from wandering bands of people into groups of people creating cities and cultures, the need for cheap labor increased. Products were needed which meant labor was required. If it could be obtained "costing no more than the minimum of food and lodging," money was saved, which in turn helped to strengthen and grow the civilization. Slavery was a perfect source of that as labor only cost a little extra for those who owned them, and they were easy to obtain.

History showed how successful slavery could be.

Increase in War

As civilizations grew, so did their conflicts. Not getting along is nothing new. Mankind has fought each other since they first had more than one person in the same place.

Wars were common between groups of people which resulted in losers being taken in as slaves and forced to work for the winning side. There were few choices the victors had. They could be freed only to need to be conquered again. They could be killed which worked, but using them as a labor source made economical sense.

It was a brutal fact from history that was used by the slavery supporters as they dug into the history annals to show that slaves have been deemed lawful articles of commerce by the customs and laws of every nation; that the traffic in them is as old and universally prevalent as that is any other commodity; that the law of captivity, originating in necessity, and founded in mercy, justice, and right, gradually it brought itself into the texture of government and society, and imposed its authority favorably upon communities, that it became a paramount principle of national law.

History seemed to be full of evidence and justification for the use of slavery in society.

Dangers of Justification

If one just looked at historical precedent, there was no glaring issue with slavery. It made sense, but what they didn't take into account as they searched for justifications was how different slavery had become compared to nations of the past. America hadn't conquered a nation. They hadn't faced any situation like that. They, along with other European nations, invaded a land and removed its people to work in lands far away. Slavery had taken on a new dimension that little of history could support successfully.


Cobb, Thomas Read Rootes. "An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America."

Fitzhugh, George. Cannibals All!, or Slaves Without Masters. 1857.

"History of Slavery." History World.


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    • clivewilliams profile image

      Clive Williams 

      2 years ago from Jamaica

      Any human who would enslave another being has lost contact with the spirit of Elohim and hence seeks to fill the emptiness with assets of the physical world. Whether it be people or things man made.


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