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The Institution Of Slavery Essay, Research Paper

The institution of Slavery The issue of slavery has

been touched upon often in the course of history. The

institution of slavery was addressed by French intellectuals

during the Enlightenment. Later, during the French

Revolution, the National Assembly issued the Declaration of

the Rights of Man, which declared the equality of all men.

Issues were raised concerning the application of this

statement to the French colonies in the West Indies, which

used slaves to work the land. As they had different interests

in mind, the philosophes, slave owners, and political leaders

took opposing views on the interpretation of universal

equality. Many of the philosophes, the leaders of the

Enlightenment, were against slavery. They held that all

people had a natural dignity that should be recognized.

Voltaire, an 18th century philosophe, pointed out that

hundreds of thousands of slaves were sacrificing their lives

just so the Europeans could quell their new taste for sugar,

tea and cocoa. A similar view was taken by Rousseau, who

stated that he could not bear to watch his fellow human

beings be changed to beasts for the service of others.

Religion entered into the equation when Diderot, author of

the Encyclopedia, brought up the fact that the Christian

religion was fundamentally opposed to Black slavery but

employed it anyway in order to work the plantations that

financed their countries. All in all, those influenced by the

ideals of the Enlightenment, equality, liberty, the right to

dignity, tended to oppose the idea of slavery. Differing from

the philosophes, the political leaders and property owners

tended to see slavery as an element that supported the

economy. These people believed that if slavery and the slave

trade were to be abolished, the French would lose their

colonies, commerce would collapse and as a result the

merchant marine, agriculture and the arts would decline.

Their worries were somewhat merited; by 1792 French

ships were delivering up to 38,000 slaves and this trade

brought in 200 million livres a year. These people had

economic incentives to support slavery, however others

were simply ignorant. One man, Raynal, said that white

people were incapable of working in the hot sun and blacks

were much better suited to toil and labor in the intense heat.

Having a similar view to Raynal, one property owner stated

that tearing the blacks from the only homes they knew was

actually humane. Though they had to work without pay, this

man said slave traders were doing the blacks a favor by

placing them in the French colonies where they could live

without fear for tomorrow. All of these people felt that the

Declaration of the Rights of Man did not pertain to black

people or their descendants. All people were not ignorant,

however. There was even a group of people who held

surprisingly modern views on slavery; views some people

haven’t even accepted today. In his Reflections on Black

People, Olympe de Gouges wondered why blacks were

enslaved. He said that the color of people’s skin suggests

only a slight difference. The beauty of nature lies in the fact

that all is varied. Another man, Jacques Necker, told people

that one day they would realize the error of their ways and

notice that all people have the same capacity to think and

suffer. The slavery issue was a topic of debate among the

people of France. The views of the people, based on

enlightenment, the welfare of the country or plain ignorance

were tossed around for several more years until the issue

was finally resolved. In the end the philosophes, with their

liberated ideas, won out and slavery was abolished.

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Plantation Slavery Essay Research Paper The institution

Plantation Slavery Essay, Research Paper

The institution of slavery was a dark time in our country?s past history. The many family members who have been affected by this brutal institution will never forget the scar it marked on our past. Due to the institution of slavery, many people today still feel bitterness because of the harshness these people had to endure and the atrocious way they were treated by their masters. Two conflicting sides on whether or not to keep the institution of slavery was forever prominent since slavery started in the colonies. Due to these two conflicting sides and the many disagreements, it seemed a Civil War was inevitable.

To begin with slavery in America stems well back to when the New World was first discovered and was led by the country to start the African Slave Trade – Portugal. The African Slave Trade was first exploited for sugar plantations in the Caribbean, and eventually reached the southern coasts of America. The Portuguese showed the English how to raise sugar and introduced them to slavery on a large scale and for a time dominated the exportation and marketing of the crop. The African natives were of all ages and sexes. Women usually worked in the homes cooking and cleaning, while men were sent out into the plantations to farm. Young girls would usually help in the house also and young boys would help in the farm by bailing hay and loading wagons with crops. They were shipped from Africa by the Europeans, which quickly became known as “The Triangular Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade”. This was an organized route where Europeans would travel to Africa bringing manufactured goods, capture Africans and take them to the Caribbean, and then take the crops and goods and bring them back to Europe. Planters were able to appropriate about 80 percent of their slave?s labor for their own profit a rate exploitation that probably never been reached anywhere else, and because of these great profits slavery was able to continue. This was the beginning of the slave trade on a mass scale, which built the foundation of our country on unsteady terms.

Slavery also had a profound impact on the drafts of two of our most famous documents in history. the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States. In writing the draft for the Articles, the delegates had trouble figuring out how they wanted their states to be represented. Larger states favored representation according to population, but no census existed, and smaller states just wanted to be treated as equals. To raise money, Congress would have to print it or requisition specific amounts of money from the states. Northern states wanted slaves to be counted in computing the ratios because it would add to the population and the southern states wanted to apportion revenues on the basis of each state?s free population. The Articles were finally ratified on March 1, 1781 and contained a firm commitment to state sovereignty, but it was given no power over Western claims and requisitions were based on each state?s free population. The Constitution on the other hand was given a provision that free and slave states were able to agree on. The three-fifths Compromise was developed in order to apportion both representation and direct taxes. This was important because it was able to apportion money for the slave states, with being able to count some of their slaves towards it. three out of every five. It was something both the south and the north were able to agree on, but all it did was postpone the war a few more years.

Religion did not play a huge factor in the institution of plantation slavery. Slave owners worried that baptized slaves would declare their freedom, after learning the ways of Jesus Christ and the Lord. The owners forbade clergyman to converse their slaves to Christianity because of this reason. They thought the slaves would listen to the Christian stories and it would give them the idea to escape from their chains and shackles. Even though many slaves ignored what some missionaries taught, they embraced evangelical Christianity and transformed it into an independent African American faith. Some slaveowners encourages this and built them ?praise houses? and permitted them to have religious meetings. The slaves would pray, preach, sing and at their meetings they would rehearse a faith that was at variance with the faith of their slaveholder. Religion was a way for the slaves to bond together, and pray together and it gave them hope that one day they may

This horrible war can also be contributed to all of the new technology springing up throughout the country. It all started by an alarming increase in a need for cotton, which triggered the building of a barrier between the Northern and Southern territories of our growing nation. New machinery was changing the textile industry in New England and Britain. These mills needed more and more cotton, creating a new demand in the south. For this trade with Europe, after 1812, raw cotton accounted for one-third all cotton exports of the United States. By 1830, it increased to half. Cotton quickly became a big moneymaking cash crop for the South and North economy alike. But the demand also revived the need for slaves. The plantations had to be worked, and blacks were a cheap, efficient way to get the cotton picked. To make their jobs easier, Eli Whitney took advantage of the new idea, and invented the cotton gin (short for engine). It rapidly cleaned the seeds from the short, sticky fibers of upland cotton, the variety that grew all over the South. In addition to this, the transportation of this crop became extremely important since so much was being produced. Steamboats were starting to be used, and they could be seen transporting thousands of bales of cotton up and down the Mississippi River. Steamboats were important because they were able to go against the strong current and were able to ship to the north. Canals and railroads was also a major contributor to transporting cotton. Canals connected major bodies of water together for transportation. Railroads were not around until a few years before the war, but they were an important contributor – transporting became faster and cheaper, again, which increased the number for more slaves. With the train, transportation became transcontinental which became vital during the war. Due to all of these important technological contributions the demand for slavery grew leading up to the bloody Civil War.

There were many attempts at treaties trying to resolve slavery before leading up to this great war. The Northwest Ordinance was the beginning for all of these treaties. It protected civil liberties, made provision for public education, and prohibited slavery within the region, and it allowed southern states to count three-fifths of their slaves toward representation. Congress hoped that with this treaty it would help slow down the expansion of slavery in the northern areas, and despite the antislavery clause all southern delegates voted for it. Again facing conflict over new states being slave, Congress passed another treaty, The Missouri Compromise of 1820. It states that if the North would admit Missouri as a slave state, then the South would agree to outlaw slavery in territories above thirty – six degrees north latitude. This line opened Arkansas territory to slavery and closed slavery to the remainder of the Louisiana Territory. land that would develop into around nine states. Following the Mexican War, many other new treaties sprang – the Wilmot Proviso and the Missouri Compromise of 1850. Both of these treaties were cures to the never-ending clash over whether slavery should be allowed into the new territories of the South, such as Texas and California. The Wilmot promised everyone that under no circumstance will any land from Mexico afford slavery, and this treaty ended the debate for fifteen years. The Kansas. Nebraska Act was brought into Congress under basis for popular sovereignty. It was brought to see if Nebraska was brought into the nation as a free state, then could Kansas be brought in as a slave state. This scared many people because it seemed to them the institution of slavery was spreading like fire, and it seemed nobody knew how to bring this deeply entrenched institution to an end. After this bill, the United Sates had become the world?s largest slaveholding society, and this bill allowed it to expand even further.

In conclusion since the beginning of our country?s time it had been built on corruption and on unsteady ground. The institutions of slavery made are country this way. From the beginning it should have been known are country was deemed to fall because of the great dispute everyone felt over slavery. It was inevitable that this war was going to happen, and it seemed nobody knew how to slow it down or stop it. Despite the booming economy and the incredible rate at which our country was growing everything seemed to be going along excellent, but deep down America was wrong from the start.

Slave Resistance, Freedom s Story, TeacherServe, National Humanities Center

James H. Sweet
Professor, Department of History
University of Wisconsin–Madison
National Humanities Center Fellow
©National Humanities Center

Slave resistance began in British North America almost as soon as the first slaves arrived in the Chesapeake in the early seventeenth century. As one scholar has put it, “slaves ‘naturally’ resisted their enslavement because slavery was fundamentally unnatural .” 1 Forms varied, but the common denominator in all acts of resistance was an attempt to claim some measure of freedom against an institution that defined people fundamentally as property. Perhaps the most common forms of resistance were those that took place in the work environment. After all, slavery was ultimately about coerced labor, and the enslaved struggled daily to define the terms of their work. Over the years, customary rights emerged in most fields of production. These customs dictated work routines, distribution of rations, general rules of comportment, and so on. If slave masters increased workloads, provided meager rations, or punished too severely, slaves registered their displeasure by slowing work, feigning illness, breaking tools, or sabotaging production. These everyday forms of resistance vexed slave masters, but there was little they could do to stop them without risking more widespread breaks in production. In this way, the enslaved often negotiated the basic terms of their daily routines. Of course, masters also stood to benefit from these negotiations, as contented slaves worked harder, increasing output and efficiency.

Another common form of slave resistance was theft. Slaves pilfered fruits, vegetables, livestock, tobacco, liquor, and money from their masters. The theft of foodstuffs was especially common and was justified on several grounds. First, slave rations were often woefully inadequate in providing the nutrition and calories necessary to support the daily exertions of plantation labor. Hungry slaves reasoned that the master’s abundance should be shared with those who produced it. Second, slaves recognized the inherent contradiction of the master’s “theft” accusations. How could slaves, who were themselves the master’s property, “steal” anything that the master owned? After all, the master’s ownership claims over the slave meant that he owned everything that the slave “owned.” When a slave staked claim to a master’s chicken, he merely transferred it to his stomach, or as Frederick Douglass put it, the slave was simply “taking [the master’s] meat out of one tub and putting it in another.” 2

In addition to everyday forms of resistance, slaves sometimes staked more direct and overt claims to freedom. The most common form of overt resistance was flight. As early as 1640, slaves in Maryland and Virginia absconded from their enslavement, a trend that would grow into the thousands, and, eventually, tens of thousands by the time of the Civil War. During the early years of slavery, runaways tended to consist mostly of African-born males. Since African-born men were in the numerical majority through much of the eighteenth century, this should not surprise us. For the most part, these men did not speak English and were unfamiliar with the geographic terrain of North America. Their attempts to escape slavery, despite these handicaps, are a testament to the rejection of their servile condition. If caught, runaways faced certain punishment—whipping, branding, and even the severing of the Achilles tendon. Those lucky enough to evade detection sought sanctuary in a variety of safe havens—Native American communities, marshy lowlands like the Great Dismal Swamp along the Virginia/North Carolina coastal border, and, eventually, Canada and the free states of the American North. By the nineteenth century, the North was a particularly attractive destination for acculturated, American-born slaves. Networks of free blacks and sympathetic whites often helped ferry slaves to freedom via the so-called Underground Railroad, a chain of safe houses that stretched from the American South to free states in the North. Men continued to be predominant among runaways, although women, and even entire families were increasingly likely to test their chances in the flight for freedom. As the Civil War unfolded, many slaves abandoned their masters’ plantations, sometimes joining the Union army in what many perceived to be a war to end slavery forever.

The most spectacular, and perhaps best-known, forms of resistance were organized, armed rebellions. Between 1691 and 1865, at least nine slave revolts erupted in what would eventually become the United States. The most prominent of these occurred in New York City (1712), Stono, South Carolina (1739), New Orleans (1811), and Southampton, Virginia (Nat Turner’s 1831 rebellion). Numerous other conspiracies were thwarted before they could be fully realized, including Gabriel Prosser’s (Richmond, VA, 1800) and Denmark Vesey’s (Charleston, SC, 1822). Slaves commandeered weapons, burned and looted properties, and even killed their masters and other whites, but whites were quick to exact a brutal revenge. In the bloodiest American revolt, Nat Turner and several hundred comrades killed sixty whites. Over 100 enslaved were killed, either in the combat or as retribution for the uprising. Another thirteen slaves were hanged, along with three free blacks. If the measure of a revolt’s success was the overthrow of slavery, then none of these revolts succeeded. Ultimately, the only rebellion that succeeded in overthrowing slavery in the Americas was the Haitian Revolution. Slave rebellions in colonial America and the United States never achieved such widespread success; however, the importance of rebellion cannot be overstated. The constant specter of physical violence reminded whites that slavery would never go unchallenged; the possibility of “another Haiti” loomed large, especially in the nineteenth-century American South.

Guiding Student Discussion

An excellent starting point for any discussion of slave resistance is a simple definition. For students (and many scholars), the term “slave resistance” often conjures notions of enslaved peoples on the barricades, taking up arms against their masters in rebellious acts of violence. In the contemporary imagination, it is comforting to think that the enslaved frequently exacted some measure of revenge against the unspeakable horrors that they suffered. Award-winning historical novels highlight the Nat Turner rebellion and the Haitian Revolution. 3 Similarly, Hollywood celebrates the victories of the Amistad Africans and Toussaint L’Ouverture in Haiti. 4 Students will likely begin to define resistance by these historical markers, but they should be pushed beyond slave revolts. To be sure, organized physical violence was one aspect of resistance, and these episodes deserve an important place in the curriculum. Remind them, however, that organized, armed violence was a relatively rare occurrence during the 350-year history of slavery in the United States. Why were armed rebellions so infrequent?

Slave masters monopolized armed power, severely restricting slaves’ access to weapons. Slave masters also closely monitored their slaves’ activities, limiting their movement and freedom of association. Under these circumstances, organization and planning were next to impossible. On those rare occasions when the enslaved escaped their masters’ purview, they faced yet other mechanisms of white control—militias, local patrols, and vigilantes. Rebels who avoided the net of surveillance and enacted their conspiracies were always dealt with in brutal fashion. Public hangings and decapitation were common punishments. Other rebels were gibbeted alive, burned alive, or broken on the wheel. In all of these instances, punishment was meant to demonstrate the totalizing effects of white supremacy, terrorizing those who remained enslaved. Remarkably, some slaves still embarked on what they must have known were suicide missions. Were the men and women who confronted their masters with violence so desperate that they preferred death to living in slavery? Or, did they really believe that they could be the exception and overthrow white supremacy? These are important questions to consider.

These questions also begin to point students toward the psychology of enslavement, an important and often neglected aspect of the institution and responses to it. Psychologically, how did the majority of slaves interpret the institution? (And for that matter, how did whites?) If hardened firebrands like Nat Turner represented one response, then the broken, submissive “Sambo” probably represented another. Slavery impacted negatively on all slaves, but it did not impact all of them equally. The enslaved possessed the range of weaknesses and frailties common to all people. To deny that some suffered deep psychological wounds would be to deny their very humanity, reinforcing the master’s belief that slaves were little affected by the institution’s daily violence. In fact, the vast majority of enslaved probably fell between the two psychological extremes of “Nat” and “Sambo,” coping with the horrors and indignities of slavery as best they could, building lives within the corrosive confines of the institution. For this majority of slaves, resistance took a variety of forms.

If organized physical violence was not the solution for most slaves, then how did the majority find ways to address their condition? If they have not already done so, students will usually recognize that running away was the most common way of overtly rejecting slavery. By the nineteenth century, running away to the North offered the virtue of a tenuous freedom; however, failed runaways also met with serious reprisals. Most did not try to escape. For those who remained enslaved, resistance took on more familiar everyday forms. When discussing everyday forms of resistance, challenge students to think about whether strategies like work slowdowns, breaking tools, or even petty theft were actually “resistance.” Here, it is important to distinguish between those acts that were aimed at ending one’s enslavement—running away, rebellion, etc.—versus those that were intended to improve one’s daily condition inside the institution. Ask students: When the enslaved slowed their work or broke tools, were they resisting the overall institution of slavery or just the work of slavery? Can these be distinguished? Remind students that slave masters sometimes begrudgingly tolerated these everyday forms of resistance and even responded positively to slave workplace demands. Why? These negotiated compromises provided slaves with incentives to work, ultimately bolstering the institution. For slave masters, acknowledging these small pin pricks of resistance were a small price to pay in order to secure the survival of the overall institution.

Some students likely will not buy the argument that everyday forms of resistance reinforced the institution. Encourage them to unravel exactly why they think this. The best students will recognize that even the smallest acts of resistance pushed the boundaries of freedom, slowly eroding the institution. Smile at them and then turn to an even more obvious example. What about theft? Of course, stealing from the master MUST have been resistance. But what if a starving slave’s stolen food provided the sustenance that allowed him to work another day? Didn’t this actually reinforce the institution? Even some of the enslaved seemed to acknowledge that this was the case. As Frederick Douglass noted, stealing was simply “taking meat out of one tub and putting it in another.” When slaves rationalized theft in these terms, weren’t they adopting the master’s definition of them as property? Or were they cleverly manipulating the contradictions inherent to the institution?

Finally, as one last consideration of everyday forms of resistance, you might ask your students whether cultural forms like the speaking of African languages, the formation of families, or the practice of religion constituted resistance to slavery. Embedded in each of these were the potential for overt forms of resistance. For instance, those speaking African languages might plan conspiracies or revolts in those languages, thereby hiding their intentions from whites. The formation of families defied notions of property, sometimes making it difficult for masters to sell husbands, wives, and children, who vehemently protested separation from their loved ones. And religion could be used to justify liberation from the “sorcery” or “sin” of enslavement. Some slave masters recognized the potential dangers in these cultural expressions and attempted to curb their practices. Others viewed African and African-American cultural practices as vital ways of appeasing slaves so they would be more efficient workers. Did the master have to prohibit a particular cultural form in order for its practice to be considered resistant? Or were all cultural expressions a form of resistance? Certainly there is an argument to be made that any assertion of humanity in an institution that defined one as non-human was an expression of resistance. At the same time, slaves were ultimately human beings and expressed themselves naturally as such, even within the confines of slavery. To suggest that slaves were always on the barricades, consciously resisting at every turn, risks reinforcing the master’s assertions that slaves were less than human.

Students probably will end up disagreeing about the precise definition of slave resistance. Considerations of whether certain behaviors were resistant or not will continuously run into conceptual dead ends. Ultimately, students will turn to the instructor to place some closure on these debates. In concluding this discussion there are two key points that must be emphasized: 1) the distinction between forms of resistance that rejected the institution of slavery (rebellion, running away) and forms of resistance that took place within the institution (everyday forms); and 2) the recognition that the very definition of slavery (“property”) meant that almost any action or behavior on the parts of slaves could potentially be interpreted as resistance.

As a group, slaves constantly pushed their masters and overseers to grant them greater freedoms. This was only natural. When masters refused, slaves punctuated everyday forms of resistance with more overt expressions like running away or rebellion. The threat of flight or violence always hung over the institution, despite the infrequency of such acts. Ultimately, the moral bankruptcy of slavery meant that even the smallest, most mundane acts could be considered resistant, but the enslaved did not live in a constantly reactionary state, awaiting their white masters before determining their next resistant move. The vast majority coped, endured, and lived their lives, avoiding the slings and arrows of white power as best they could.

The study of slave resistance gained its contemporary impetus from works published in the 1940s and 1950s. Herbert Aptheker’s path breaking American Negro Slave Revolts (1943) argued that the brutality of slavery provoked more than 200 rebellions and conspiracies in British North America and the United States. Aptheker, who never held a permanent academic position in the United States, was rejected by many as a radical communist. Though he may have exaggerated the number of uprisings, Aptheker’s work squarely challenged the prevailing sentiment in the American academic establishment that slaves responded to their inhumane treatment in a passive fashion. Widely criticized at the time of its publication, the work is now acknowledged as the platform upon which all other studies of slave resistance have been built.

The idea of slaves as submissive and content dated as far back as Ulrich B. Phillips’, American Negro Slavery (1918) but persisted well into the 1950s, culminating with Stanley Elkins’ Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (1959). In this work, Elkins concluded that the majority of American slaves adopted the “Sambo” personality—docile, submissive, child-like, loyal, and utterly dependent on their masters. Elkins did not argue that slaves were naturally this way; rather, he argued that the institution of slavery transformed their personalities in much the same way as occurred among prisoners in Nazi concentration camps.

By the late 1960s and 1970s, a number of scholars began assaulting the Sambo monolith. John Blassingame’s The Slave Community (1972) identified a range of personality types among slaves, noting that Sambo and Nat [Turner] were stereotypes so contrary to one another “that the legitimacy of each as a representation of typical slave behavior is limited.” 5 Other authors focused more directly on rebellion, including John Lofton, Insurrection in South Carolina: The Turbulent World of Denmark Vesey (1964), Eugene Genovese, From Rebellion to Revolution: Afro-American Slave Revolts in the Making of the New World (1968), and William Styron’s fictional account, The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), which provoked a strong critique from scholars who accused Styron of sanitizing slavery and portraying Turner as sexually depraved. These critiques can be found in John Henrik Clarke, ed. William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Scholars Respond (1968).

For a detailed history of runaway slaves, see John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger, Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation (2000). Also see the remarkable story of Shadrach Minkins, who ran away from slavery in Virginia, only to be captured in Boston in 1851 under the Fugitive Slave Law. Before his case could be heard, a group of black citizens invaded the court room and stole Minkins to freedom in Canada, where he helped establish a community for runaway slaves in Montreal. See Gary Collison, Shadrach Minkins: From Fugitive Slave to Citizen (1998).

Some of best work on slave resistance in recent years focuses on the African backgrounds of the enslaved. Through language, kinship, religion, and so on, Africans recreated aspects of their pasts in North America. Some of these forms were expressed as resistance—through “sorcery,” Islam, running away, and even suicide. For the best works on African forms of resistance in North America, see Sterling Stuckey, Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundations of Black America (1987), Michael A. Gomez, Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South (1998), and Walter C. Rucker, The River Flows On: Black Resistance, Culture and Identity Formation in Early America (2005).

Most scholars now accept that the enslaved “naturally” resisted slavery. That being the case, it is impossible to be exhaustive in describing the numerous approaches and contributions to studies of slave resistance. This overview only barely scratches the surface; students are encouraged to consult more specific works through the bibliographies of the works listed here, as well as through general bibliographies of slavery.

1 Franklin W. Knight, “Slavery,” in Colin A. Palmer, ed. Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (New York: Thompson/Gale, 2006), 2066.

2 Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (New York: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1855), 189–191.

3 William Styron, The Confessions of Nat Turner (New York: Random House, 1967), won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1968; Madison Smartt Bell, All Souls’ Rising (New York: Pantheon, 1995), was a National Book Award finalist in 1995.

4 Amistad (1997), Director: Steven Spielberg; Toussaint (forthcoming, 2011), Director: Danny Glover.

5 John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), 141.

James H. Sweet is associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He was a National Humanities Center Fellow in 2006–07. His book, Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770. was the recipient of the 2004 Wesley Logan Prize, awarded by the American Historical Association. Sweet is completing a book manuscript tentatively titled, “Today He Cures; Tomorrow He Kills”: Domingos Alvares and the Politics of Public Healing in the Atlantic World, 1700–1750 .

Address comments or questions to Professor Sweet through TeacherServe “Comments and Questions.”

To cite this essay:
Sweet, James H. “Slave Resistance.” Freedom’s Story, TeacherServe©. National Humanities Center. DATE YOU ACCESSED ESSAY. <http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/freedom/1609-1865/essays/slaveresist.htm>

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"There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it; but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is by Legislative authority; and this, as far as my suffrage will go, shall never be wanting.  When speaking to Robert Morris in 1786, George Washington realized the economic benefits of slavery outweighed anything else. Furthermore, Washington acknowledged there were contrasting views on slavery. Therefore, only an official government document could abolish it. Both the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence addressed the topic of slavery. The Constitution even rewarded slave states by giving them more representation. On the contrary, the Declaration of Independence implied the minimization of slavery. In Satanstoe, James Fenimore Cooper expressed his opinion on the subject. Finally, the video New York: A Documentary Film, directed by Ric Burns, takes a more objective look at history. The video takes into account the varying resources and sums up the probable events.

Satanstoe implies slavery was a hyperbole, a bad word for something good. The relationship between blacks and whites, masters and slaves was an amicable one. There were no class distinctions and blacks were free to do as they wish. This is best evident in chapter 2. Corny, the main character, is asked about tomorrow's events involving a celebration of blacks and children. He states, "I was not in the least offended at being thus associated with the negros. but I did not like being ranked with the children.  He continues to say, "it is just as well to give them (blacks) permission to be of the party, as half of them would otherwise go without asking it. 

"He who makes a faithful picture of only a single important scene in the events of a single life, is doing something toward painting the greatest historical piece of his day.

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The institution of Slavery The issue of slavery hasbeen touched upon often in the course of history. Theinstitution of slavery was addressed by French intellectualsduring the Enlightenment. Later, during the FrenchRevolution, the National Assembly issued the Declaration ofthe Rights of Man, which declared the equality of all men. Issues were raised concerning the application of thisstatement to the French colonies in the West Indies, whichused slaves to work the land. As they had different interestsin mind, the philosophes, slave owners, and political leaderstook opposing views on the interpretation of universalequality. Many of the philosophes, the leaders of theEnlightenment, were against slavery. They held that allpeople had a natural dignity that should be recognized. Voltaire, an 18th century philosophe, pointed out thathundreds of thousands of slaves were sacrificing their livesjust so the Europeans could quell their new taste for sugar, tea and cocoa. A similar view was taken by Rousseau, whostated that he could not bear to watch his fellow humanbeings be changed to beasts for the service of others. Religion entered into the equation when Diderot, author ofthe Encyclopedia, brought up the fact that the Christianreligion was fundamentally opposed to Black slavery butemployed it anyway in order to work the plantations thatfinanced their countries. All in all, those influenced by theideals of the Enlightenment, equality, liberty, the right todignity, tended to oppose the idea of slavery. Differing fromthe philosophes, the political leaders and property ownerstended to see slavery as an element that supported theeconomy.

These people believed that if slavery and the slavetrade were to be abolished, the French would lose theircolonies, commerce would collapse and as a result themerchant marine, agriculture and the arts would decline. Their worries were somewhat merited; by 1792 Frenchships were delivering up to 38,000 slaves and this tradebrought in 200 million livres a year. These people hadeconomic incentives to support slavery, however otherswere simply ignorant. One man, Raynal, said that whitepeople were incapable of working in the hot sun and blackswere much better suited to toil and labor in the intense heat. Having a similar view to Raynal, one property owner statedthat tearing the blacks from the only homes they knew wasactually humane. Though they had to work without pay, thisman said slave traders were doing the blacks a favor byplacing them in the French colonies where they could livewithout fear for tomorrow. All of these people felt that theDeclaration of the Rights of Man did not pertain to blackpeople or their descendants. All people were not ignorant, however. There was even a group of people who heldsurprisingly modern views on slavery; views some peoplehaven't even accepted today

In his Reflections on BlackPeople, Olympe de Gouges wondered why blacks wereenslaved. He said that the color of people's skin suggestsonly a slight difference. The beauty of nature lies in the factthat all is varied. Another man, Jacques Necker, told peoplethat one day they would realize the error of their ways andnotice that all people have the same capacity to think andsuffer. The slavery issue was a topic of debate among thepeople of France.

The views of the people, based onenlightenment, the welfare of the country or plain ignorancewere tossed around for several more years until the issuewas finally resolved. In the end the philosophes, with theirliberated ideas, won out and slavery was abolished.

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13 May 2014. Author: Criticism