As I said in my last article, few decisions have been as controversial as the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade. As such I could not cover everything in one article. Last time I discussed the courts and politicians, but the new ruling has also set off the Internet warriors who have spewed their hatred towards anyone who might disagree with them.
The problem with abortion is that it is a moral issue. We argue plenty over things like economic issues, but those we can compromise on. We tend to reserve hate for moral issues, where we can see no compromise. What is interesting about this particular debate is that there is a second moral issue occurring at the same time, that of mass shootings and gun control. The interesting part is that both sides are making their arguments for or against abortion and gun control by using abortion and gun control as evidence of their superior position. Historically speaking, this concept is not new. During the 19th Century the biggest moral issue was slavery, yet slaveholders justified their practice by attacking the moral practices of northern industrialists.
Since the announcement of the change in abortion laws, assigned talking points seem to come from both sides. When the left attacks the right over abortion, one of their talking points is to ask if the right is so concerned about babies, then why do they not pass gun control laws to protect children. Yet, at the same time, the right makes just the opposite argument when discussing gun control. They ask if the left is so concerned about protecting lives, then why do they support killing the unborn. Both sides try to hold the moral high ground on one issue by showing moral superiority on the other.
In the past, a similar argument started in 1794 with the invention of the cotton gin. With this new technology, cotton and the slaves who grew it became a vital part of the American economy. Suddenly, slave owners could no longer afford to look at slavery as the “necessary evil” that it was called during colonial times. Beginning in the 19th century, slavery became a positive good, according to the South.
The new reliance on cotton was not the only change. The growth of a new anti-slavery element known as abolition also grew. An anti-slavery element in the U.S. had always been present, but many people saw slavery as harmful to Whites. This new abolitionist movement saw slavery as morally wrong for both Whites and Blacks and called for its immediate eradication. Slaveholders now had to dig in their heels and show why slavery benefited everyone, including the slaves.
Slavery presented a difficult moral stance for slaveholders, but they found ways to support it. They argued that the Bible supported it, the ancient Greeks and Romans condoned it, and science proved that Blacks were inferior. However, a favorite talking point for slaveowners was basically people in glass houses should not throw stones. Instead of having to defend slavery, slaveholders instead attacked northern industrialists and the treatment of their workers. With the birth of industrialization, the condition of a growing urban population severely declined, leaving many to live in absolute squalor. It was easier for slaveholders to tell northerners to mind their own business, solve their own problems, and leave slavery alone. Many even went as far as saying slaves were better off than northern workers. Slaves received food and shelter their entire lives, no matter how they worked. Could northern bosses claim the same about their workers?
A similar argument today has come from the pro-abortion side. An Internet post shows a graphic showing all the children who are in foster care in each state with text that suggests if anti-abortion supporters care so much about kids, why do they stop caring once they are born. While this is a strong argument, I am sometimes asked by students if some slaves had it better than some northern workers. I always give the same answer. In some rare cases, that may be true, but how many of those northern workers would switch places with a slave and give up their freedom? As for today, while the foster care argument holds some validity, how many of those kids do you think wish their mothers had made a different choice.
Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. To receive daily historical posts, follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.