Exploring the Impact of 19th-Century American Slavery Debates on Society Essay

Assignment Question

The debate take place during the 1850s. Before the Civil War, before Emancipation Proclamation and after Jefferson has been dead for more than 35 years. Your character does not have to be an actual historical figure. You can be, for example, journalist, politician, teacher, a domestic servant or a sharecropper. Just make sure that you ground your analysis in academic sources and you demonstrate you have done all the required work by integrating it into your debate positions. Stay in character for your responses means if you say you are a certain name than each response should have this person’s name or that of the person your are corresponding with in each response is part of the debating. Also no modern day history facts should be used…in this debate Lincoln is still alive…meaning discussing the Emancipation Proclamation is not appropriate but the rumor of it can be discussed…remember the Emancipation Proclamation was a gradual emancipation document because it only freed slaves in the Confederate states but allowed Union states to still continue slavery.



The 1850s were a pivotal period in American history, characterized by intense debates over the institution of slavery. This essay aims to provide insights into this crucial historical moment by presenting a dialogue among different characters from that era. These characters include a journalist, a politician, a teacher, a domestic servant, and a sharecropper, each representing a unique perspective on the slavery debate. The dialogue will be based on academic sources and historical accuracy, avoiding any modern-day references.


Journalist: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Samuel Adams, and I write for the “Northern Star” newspaper. I must say, the slavery question has been a hot topic in our region. In recent years, the debate has intensified, particularly with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

Politician: Ah, Mr. Adams, indeed, the Fugitive Slave Act was a contentious issue. It required citizens in free states to assist in the capture of escaped slaves. It further deepened the divide between North and South. But let us not forget, the Compromise of 1850 attempted to preserve the Union, even though it allowed for the expansion of slavery in some territories.

Journalist: You make a valid point, sir. The Compromise may have postponed the crisis, but it did not resolve the fundamental issue. I believe that the expansion of slavery into new territories only prolongs the inevitable confrontation.


Teacher: Greetings, everyone. I am Sarah Johnson, an educator from a small town in Ohio. The discussions surrounding slavery have greatly influenced my teaching. It’s important for our students to understand the moral implications of this institution. I often emphasize the works of abolitionist writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Domestic Servant: Indeed, Ms. Johnson, the power of literature cannot be underestimated. I am Mary Jackson, a domestic servant working for a family in Georgia. I’ve heard rumors about a novel called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” written by Mrs. Stowe. It seems to have caused quite a stir, even down here.

Teacher: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is a powerful anti-slavery novel that has resonated with many in the North. It’s essential for our students to read such works and develop a critical understanding of the issue.


Politician: Good evening, folks. I’m Robert Anderson, a Southern politician. I must defend the institution of slavery, which has been the cornerstone of our economy for generations. It’s essential for the prosperity of our region. We cannot simply abolish it without considering the economic consequences.

Sharecropper: Mr. Anderson, I appreciate your perspective, but I’m James Turner, a sharecropper in Mississippi. Slavery may have brought prosperity to some, but for people like me, it has meant a life of toil and hardship. We work the land, but we barely reap its rewards.

Politician: Mr. Turner, I understand your concerns, but we must consider the broader economic implications. The cotton industry, which relies on slave labor, drives our economy.


Sharecropper: Mr. Anderson, I understand the economic aspects, but surely there must be a way to find a more equitable system. The debates in Congress may not directly affect me, but they have a profound impact on the future of our nation and, indirectly, on my family’s future.

Journalist: Mr. Turner, your perspective highlights the complexity of this issue. The debates in Congress, the writings of abolitionists, and the economic interests of the South all intersect in this turbulent period. It’s clear that the question of slavery will continue to shape our nation’s destiny.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and Its Impact

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, a key legislative development in the 1850s, exacerbated the tensions between the North and the South. This Act mandated the return of escaped slaves to their owners, even in free states, and imposed harsh penalties on those who aided escaped slaves. To the South, it represented a legal safeguard for their “property,” but to the North, it was a deeply unpopular law that highlighted the moral dilemma of slavery.

The Compromise of 1850 and Its Attempt to Preserve the Union

The Compromise of 1850, a package of five separate bills, was aimed at resolving the ongoing debate over the status of slavery in newly acquired territories from the Mexican-American War. It sought to maintain a balance between free and slave states and was intended to preserve the fragile Union. However, its provisions, such as the Fugitive Slave Act, were deeply divisive.

According to Foner (2018), the Compromise of 1850 temporarily eased tensions but failed to provide a lasting solution. The Act’s provisions, particularly the Fugitive Slave Act, were deeply unpopular in the North and led to increased resistance against the enforcement of the law. This resistance, in turn, exacerbated the sectional conflict between the North and the South.

The Power of Literature: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” published in 1852, played a significant role in shaping public opinion about slavery. The novel depicted the harsh realities of slave life and the brutality of slaveholders, striking a powerful chord with Northern readers. Stowe’s work became a bestseller and ignited passionate discussions about the morality of slavery.

As Sarah Johnson, the teacher, emphasized, literature had the power to move hearts and minds. According to Stowe (1852), she wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” with the intention of awakening the moral conscience of her readers and fueling the abolitionist movement. The novel achieved this goal by shedding light on the inhumanity of slavery and inspiring many to take a stand against it.

The Economic Argument for Slavery

Robert Anderson, the Southern politician, made a case for the economic importance of slavery to the South. The Southern economy was heavily dependent on the cultivation of cash crops, particularly cotton, which required a large labor force. Slavery provided that labor force and was seen as essential for maintaining the region’s prosperity.

This economic argument was supported by the economic interests of Southern plantation owners and slaveholders. The profitability of the cotton industry, driven by slave labor, contributed significantly to the wealth of the South (Oakes, 2014). The economic viability of slavery was a key factor that fueled the South’s determination to defend the institution.

The Sharecropper’s Perspective

James Turner, the sharecropper, provided a contrasting perspective. Sharecroppers were often poor farmers who did not own land and had to work on land owned by others, usually former plantation owners. While not enslaved in the same way as chattel slaves, sharecroppers faced significant hardships and economic challenges.

Turner’s viewpoint highlights the fact that the benefits of slavery were not distributed evenly throughout Southern society. Many poor white farmers and sharecroppers struggled to make a living and saw little of the economic prosperity associated with slavery. Their labor was exploited by landowners, further emphasizing the complexity of the Southern economy.


The 1850s were a time of intense debate and division over the institution of slavery in the United States. As we have seen through the voices of our characters, this issue touched every facet of society, from politicians and journalists to teachers, domestic servants, and sharecroppers. The debates over the Fugitive Slave Act, the Compromise of 1850, and the impact of literature like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” underscore the complexity of this era.

While some defended slavery for economic reasons, others saw it as a moral evil that needed to be abolished. The legacy of these debates would ultimately lead to the Civil War and the eventual end of slavery in the United States.


Foner, Eric. (2018). The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. W.W. Norton & Company.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. (1852). Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Oxford University Press.

Oakes, James. (2014). Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861–1865. W.W. Norton & Company.

McPherson, James M. (2018). Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford University Press.


Q1: What was the significance of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850?

A1: The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was a pivotal piece of legislation that mandated the return of escaped slaves to their owners, even in free states. It heightened tensions between the North and the South and was a catalyst for anti-slavery sentiment in the North.

Q2: How did the Compromise of 1850 attempt to address the issue of slavery in the United States?

A2: The Compromise of 1850 was a package of bills aimed at resolving the debate over the status of slavery in newly acquired territories. It sought to balance the interests of free and slave states, with provisions like the Fugitive Slave Act, but ultimately failed to provide a lasting solution to the slavery issue.

Q3: What impact did Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” have on the public’s perception of slavery?

A3: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe was a groundbreaking novel that depicted the harsh realities of slavery. It had a profound impact on shaping public opinion and fueling the abolitionist movement by highlighting the moral evils of slavery.

Q4: Why did some Southern politicians argue for the economic importance of slavery?

A4: Some Southern politicians, like Robert Anderson in the debate, argued that slavery was essential for the economic prosperity of the South. They believed that the cotton industry, heavily reliant on slave labor, drove the region’s economy and justified the institution of slavery.

Q5: What were the challenges faced by sharecroppers in the South during the 1850s?

A5: Sharecroppers, like James Turner in the debate, often faced economic hardships. They were typically poor farmers who did not own land and had to work on land owned by others. While not enslaved like chattel slaves, they often struggled to make a living and were vulnerable to exploitation by landowners.