Essay: Slavery in America

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[. . .] The sellers were required to disclose any known defects (as well as defects they were not aware of at the time of the sale), and they were bound "by explicit contractual language" (Wahl, 5).

This illustration from www.infographics.com

(Google images) shows a group of slaves being offered to buyers. The laws in two particular states regarding the sale of slaves stand out as unique in this milieu. In South Carolina the pro-buyer policy presumed that "any slave sold at full price was sound" (Wahl, 5). In Louisiana if a purchased slave turned out to be diseased or who committed a crime, the buyer could "generate a lawsuit" (Wahl, 5).

What was the southern argument for slavery?

Defenders of slavery argued that if slavery ended, it would have a "profound and killing economic impact in the South" because the planters and land owners had counted on the use of slave labor for years (U.S. History). The cotton economy would collapse, the slave owners argued, and without the human labor provided by slaves, not only would cotton dry up in the fields, the tobacco crop would dry up and rice "…would cease to be profitable." It was all about the economy, not about values or morals; moreover, if the slaves were freed, there would be widespread "unemployment and chaos," "uprisings, bloodshed, and anarchy" (U.S. History),

In 1860, there were 2080 slave farms growing cotton in the antebellum south; 28% of the farms had between 16 and 50 slaves; 43% of the slaves lived on the farm (Field, 2001). 66% of the cotton farms had fewer than 15 slaves (

The American Economic Review

. Photo courtesy History Matters (Google Images).

Many slaves committed suicide

In the peer-reviewed publication The Journal of American History, author Terri L. Synder explains that self-destruction in the context of slavery has been "overlooked" because there is no way of knowing exactly how many slaves took their own lives. However historians and scholars have ample evidence of this act among slaves, and given that slaves were subjected to "…kidnapping, forced migration, rape, brutality, starvation, natal alienation and family separation," it is little wonder there was motivation for "suicidal responses to their captors and owners" (Snyder, 2010, p. 42).

There were religious reasons for slaves to commit suicide, Snyder explains, and moreover suicide by slaves might well have signaled "…cultural continuity with ethnic African attitudes about choosing death rather than dishonor" (43). Suicide might also have been seen as "an entirely reasonable -- if not outright revolutionary -- response to enslavement," Snyder continues. Abolitionists heard accounts of slaves committing suicide and it gave additional fuel to the fire of abolitionists. The evidence that Snyder digs up (from legal sources, legislative petitions, corners' reports, and "breach-of-warranty lawsuits") clearly shows there were many suicides by slaves from the seventeenth century through the period of the Civil War (Snyder, 44).

Data from the Journals of the House of Burgesses for example records that 68 slave suicides were recorded between 1727 and 1776 (Snyder, 45). Frederick Douglass is quoted as having urged slaves not to "abandon" themselves to suicide, "…as have many thousands of American slaves" (Snyder, 45). The fugitive slave Charles Ball told the story of African-born Paul, who argued "…for the propriety of destroying a life which was doomed to continual distress" (Snyder, 45). Paul eventually hanged himself in a forest, Snyder continues, and she quotes Ball saying "self-destruction was much more frequent among the slaves in the cotton region than is generally supposed… [and he did not] marvel that the slaves who are driven to the south often destroy themselves" (Snyder, 46).

It is certainly not hard to imagine that a slave would consider taking his own life given the unconscionable cruelty they endured. This picture portrays what happened to many slaves when they were punished; they were strung up by their feet and whipped till they bled. Photo by Garrett Morgan History 120 (Google Images).

Slaves certainly had the right to be depressed and think of suicide. Snyder writes that death by suicide was probably "preferable to life under slavery," because at least death brought the possibility of transmigrating and returning home to Africa. Hence, Snyder writes that many slaves prepared for death in a "ritualistic" fashion, using certain materials they believed would "aid their journey" (Snyder, 54).

Conclusion

The men and women and children in slavery had many tens of thousands of friends that were advocating for their freedom albeit most of the abolitionist organizations were in the North. Marissa D. King and Heather A. Haveman write that the churches were "especially supportive" of getting rid of slavery due to their "emphasis on morality" (King, et al., 2008, p. 492). Perhaps the abolitionists do not get enough credit or attention in the literature on slavery, but according to King, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, advocates for reform of this inhumane, un-Christian institution "proliferated in the U.S." (King, 492).

Between the years 1790 to 1840 the antislavery movement spread from Maine to North Carolina, and from Massachusetts to Ohio, as petitions, protests, and publications were used by the reformers, King continues (493). It was a social movement like no other social movement in American history, because of course, slavery was a dark institution that shocks the senses even now, over 200 years later.

This paper has covered the transport of slaves from Africa to Colonial America, which is a topic that books have been written about and is hard to cover in just a few pages, but worthy of a great deal of attention given the unbelievable cruelty involved. The paper related to the very beginning of the slave period in America, and it addressed the sale of slaves and why some slaves decided to take their own lives rather than continue to accept the horrifying abuse that they were obliged to endure. The paper also related briefly to how important the cotton industry was to the South, and the rather pithy excuses offered by the South as to what would happen if slavery were abolished. Slavery ended, and though some level of discrimination still exists in America, society has come a long way towards justice and equality

Works Cited

Boddy-Evans, Alistair. 2008. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. About.com African History.

Retrieved November 27, 2012, from http://africanhistory.about.com.

Field, Elizabeth B. 2001. The Relative Efficiency of Slavery Revisited: A Translog

Production Function Approach. The American Economic Review. 78 543-550.

King, Marissa D., and Haveman, Heather A. 2008. Antislavery in America: The Press, the Pulpit, and the Rise of Antislavery Societies. Administrative Science Quarterly. 53 492-528.

National Geographic. 2004. The Underground Railroad / Timeline. Retrieved November 27,

2012, from http://education.nationalgeographic.com.

Petterson, Kristina. 2004. The Middle Passage from Africa to America. UNESCO ASPnet

Projects. Retrieved November 27, 2012, from https://sites.google.com.

Synder, Terri L. 2010. Suicide, Slavery, and Memory in North America. The Journal of American History. 97 39-63.

U.S.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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