White Slavery

Essay by TrailRunner19 April 2004

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White Slavery

Lawrence R. Tenzer has devoted a great deal of time and energy to studying what he believes is a sadly overlooked aspect of the slavery issue and its impact on the minds of Northerners and Southerners alike. This is the topic of white slavery. Tenzer argues that many contemporaries knew it existed and were deeply shocked. This helped to lead them to oppose the extension of slavery into the western territories and thus was a significant cause of the Civil War. Tenzer emphatically states that the possibility of white slavery is a definite contribution to tensions of civil war. White slavery resulted from the strict laws and social practices of the South. There was so little tolerance of racial mixing and such a desperate effort to protect slavery that the South strove to ensnare all people of even slightly dark blood in the institution. Anyone who had at least one eighth black blood in their veins was defined as a negro or a mulatto.

If the mother was a slave then the offspring was defined as a slave regardless of how little black blood they may have. Observers often noted seeing slaves with facial features and skin color that were indistinguishable from whites.

Tenzer assembled a great deal of evidence. He has the historical documentation to show that the eroding line between slave and free was much on the mind of the average person and contributed to the country's willingness to take up arms over an issue that had so far only risen to the level of a disagreement. He surveyed personal accounts, travel literature, published essays, census data, the activities of the illegal slave trade after 1808, and abolitionist newspapers and pamphlets to amass a mountain of proof that Northerners and Southerners (including Abraham Lincoln) discussed white...