The Atlantic

The 1850s Response to the Racism of 2017

How the writers of The Atlantic responded to defenses of slavery in the 19th century.
Source: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Last night, Tucker Carlson took on the subject of slavery on his Fox News show. Slavery is evil, he noted. However, slavery permeated the ancient world, he said, as reflected in the on-screen graphics.

On Twitter, recent University of Toronto English Ph.D. graduate Anthony Oliveira noted, “Here's Tucker Carlson right now on Fox making the *exact* pro-slavery case (bad but status-quo and well-precedented) made 160 years ago.”

It sounds like a particular variety of Twitter gallows humor, not meant to be taken quite seriously. But it is not a joke.

This precise series of ostensible mitigating factors around the institution of American slavery were, in fact, advanced by pro-slavery forces through the 19th century. And it got me wondering: Given that The Atlantic was founded as an abolitionist magazine before the Civil War, might there be an article or two that might address Carlson’s warmed-over proto-Confederate arguments?

And indeed, there are.

Take Carlson’s bullet point, “Until 150 years ago, slavery was rule.”

Well, yes. Slavery was legal in some American states. But how did this happen, especially when other countries began abolishing slavery early in the 19 century? In our second issue, Edmund Quincy put his pen to” And he doesn’t mess around. Slavers had power because they went on bloody conquests to open up new territory for slavery.

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