Armed with a cannon, these Kansas citizens are ready to fight pro-slavery raiders from Missouri. This photograph was taken in the 1850s, a decade that saw violence over the slavery issue grow all around the nation. A pro-slavery mob lynched the publisher of an antislavery newspaper in Alton, Illinois. A few Southern law officers were beaten when they tried to apprehend runaway slaves living in Northern towns.
By the year 1860, most white Americans were embarrassed by slavery. After the American Revolution and its promise that "all men are created equal," the states north of Maryland abolished slavery. But in the South, plantation owners depended on slaves. Growing cotton, sugar, rice, and other crops in the hot weather required the labor of many people, and relatively few whites lived there. The region's richest planters believed that without slaves their economy would be ruined. Because they could not explain how people could be slaves in a nation where all were supposed to be free, they simply called this bondage the Peculiar Institution. Northerners continued to chide Southerners, and this made them angry. Many of them felt trapped by slavery too. Their representatives in the U.S. Congress told the rest of the nation to accept the situation. While white men argued, black slaves suffered. They were paid nothing, fed little, given poor clothing, and denied an education. Their masters could beat them at any time, and they and their families could be sold. Long before the Civil War, slavery was a moral and political problem that would not go away.
Auctioning slaves was a specialty for some of the auctioneering professionals.
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