Before the Civil War Stanton was a Democrat, opposed to slavery, but a firm defender of the constitutional rights of the slaveholders, and was a bitter opponent of Lincoln, whose party he then hated and distrusted.
He was lukewarm toward recognizing the independence of Texas, lest it should aid the increase of slave territory, and generally favoured the freedom of speech and press as regards the question of slavery; yet his various concessions and compromises resulted, as he himself declared, in the abolitionists denouncing him as a slaveholder, and the slaveholders as an abolitionist.
Feudal masters could not afford to act with the ruthless cruelty of slaveholders relying on government and civilization to back their claims to a complete sway over their human chattels.
Slaveholders were not footloose; they had all to lose if they should carry their blacks into Kansas and should nevertheless fail to make it a slave-state.
Thus the South had to establish slavery by other than actual slaveholders, unless Missouri should act for her to establish it.
He was bitterly denounced by slaveholders and also by such non-slaveholders as disapproved of all antislavery agitation, and in January 1827 he was assaulted and seriously injured by a slave-trader, Austin Woolfolk, whom he had severely criticized in his paper.
Indian family who had been slaveholders for generations, he had a keen love of sport and a genuine sympathy with country-folk, but he had at the same time something of the scorn for lower races to be found in the members of a dominant race.
The slaveholders in the United States favoured annexation of Texas, and pressed the claims due from Mexico to American citizens, partly perhaps with the aim of forcing war.
In 1834, in the Tennessee constitutional convention he endeavoured to limit the influence of the slaveholders by basing representation in the state legislature on the white population alone.
Though opposed to a monopoly of political power in the South by the great slaveholders, he deprecated anti-slavery agitation (even favouring denial of the right of petition on that subject) as threatening abolition or the dissolution of the Union, and went with his sectional leaders so far as to demand freedom of choice for the Territories, and protection for slavery where it existed - this even so late as 1860.
In the Senate Wade was from the first an uncompromising opponent of slavery, his bitter denunciations of that institution and of the slaveholders receiving added force from his rugged honesty and sincerity.