"The Dred Scott Decision"

July 23, 1859, page 479

An advertisement from
Harper's Weekly

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The advertisement of this pro-slavery pamphlet made a one-time appearance in Harper’s Weekly. Samuel A. Cartwright, the author of the appendix, was a racist physician whose medical specialty was listed somewhat ominously as "Negro diseases." He was also one of the few Southern Democrats to support Senator Stephen Douglas’s position on slavery in the Kansas territory. Douglas wanted slavery to be decided by the territorial residents themselves (popular sovereignty). Note that the advertised pamphlet is aimed particularly at Democratic clubs for use in the upcoming elections.

With the rise of abolitionism in the 1830s, the white Southern defense of slavery began to change from presenting the institution as a necessary evil to alleging that it was a positive good. The latter position was argued from various perspectives—religious, philosophical, sociological, and so forth. The pro-slavery defense became more strident and pervasive as sectional tensions over the slavery issue rose in the 1850s.

Among the arguments proffered for the defense of slavery were biological ones advanced by members of the Southern intelligentsia. Men like Cartwright and Josiah Nott, an ethnologist at the University of Alabama, contended that blacks were biologically inferior to whites. Their theories assumed a separate creation for blacks and whites, an idea which violated traditional Christian belief and thus compelled most white Southerners to look elsewhere for pro-slavery arguments. The biological thesis, therefore, remained the peculiar orthodoxy of the educated elite.


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