Term for slavery in the antebellum American South. Its origin is obscure.
The term is a fair summary of the South’s attitude on the issue.
- the term peculiar makes slavery a regional custom. This is an accurate reflection of the South’s position that slavery should be decided on a state by state basis.
- calling slavery an institution puts it on a par with social institutions such as marriage. The Southerners regarded slavery as one of the fundamental building blocks of their society. (This is one reason that even non slave-owning Southerners defended it).
- it does not mention the issue of slaves at all. The actual nature of the peculiar institution was almost irrelevant to the reasons the South fought for it; for them, the Civil War was about states’ rights rather than slavery.