Slavery in the United States: The Grave Term Paper

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Slavery in the United States:

The Grave Mistake

According to W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the most outstanding African-American scholar, critic and historian of the past century, the most "dramatic episode in American history was the sudden move to free four million black slaves in an effort to stop a great civil war, to end forty years of bitter controversy and to appease the moral sense" of Western civilization (1992, p. 3). What Du Bois is referring to in this passage from his groundbreaking work Black Reconstruction in America revolves around President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 which effectively freed all African-Americans from the bondage of slavery and which Lincoln hoped would somehow help to ease the on-going struggles in 1862 between the North and the South over slavery and state's rights. However, this did not happen, for the Civil War raged on until 1865 when the Confederacy finally gave up its cause and surrendered to the Union. The presence of Slavery in the United States dates back to the late 17th century and became completely indoctrinated in the Deep South by the middle years of the 18th century, a time when African-Americans lived under some of the most extreme conditions ever faced by human beings. In essence, the existence of slavery in America up to the Civil War is now seen as one of the greatest mistakes ever made, one which brought America and its people to the brink of utter destruction.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Slavery in the United States: The Grave Assignment

The best way to explain why slavery was such a grave mistake in the history of the United States is to begin with some of the opinions and viewpoints of Du Bois and William Ellery Channing (1780 to 1842), a fiery Unitarian minister from Boston and an ardent supporter of equal rights for all at a time when the anti-slavery movement in America known as abolition was in its infancy. First of all, Du Bois provides a few statistics based on the 1850 census which shows how prevalent slavery was in the Deep South. In this year, there were more than 3.6 million slaves and just before the outbreak of the Civil War, the number had reached more than 4.4 million. Percentage-wise, black slaves in the Deep South made up almost 15% of the entire population with 90% of these having been born in the United States (1992, p. 3).

With the exception of a few freed African-Americans who had been released from bondage or managed to buy their way out of a life as a slave, every slave was forced to live and work under very difficult and often dangerous conditions with very inadequate housing, clothing and food and were treated by their white slave masters as property, much like a herd of sheep. They also had no rights whatsoever; they could not own land or property of any kind and children were often permanently separated from their parents by being sold at a slave market. However, as pointed out, 90% of the slaves in the Deep South were naturally-born Americans, yet they had no rights as human beings. Thus, the institution of slavery in America created what Du Bois refers to as a double consciousness, meaning that slaves lived in a world outside of the realm of the white man, a world that "looked on in amused contempt and pity" while wealthy white slave owners lived in opulence and richness (Du Bois, the Souls of Black Folk, 2005, p. 3).

In the words of William Ellery Channing, slavery was one of the most heinous and immoral mistakes ever conceived by man and involved "the gravest questions about human nature and society" and obligated every American to "inquire into the foundation, nature and extent of human rights." Slavery also made it mandatory that all Americans, especially those in the Deep South with plantations overflowing with slaves, learn to understand "the distinctions between a person and thing, into the true relations of man to man, into the obligations... Of each member" of society to one another and above all, "into the true dignity and indestructible claims of a moral being" (Slavery, Internet, pgs. 12-13). Channing then offers his own plan on how the problem of slavery in the mid-1800's should be approached. First, human beings "cannot be justly held and used as property" and have certain "sacred rights, the gifts of God, inseparable from human nature of which slavery is the infraction." Channing also declares that slavery is evil and goes completely against the teachings of the Christian Bible. His overall proposal clearly indicates that "slavery is a great wrong" and must be eradicated by any means possible short of violent confrontation (Slavery, Internet, p. 15).

One of the most disastrous consequences of slavery in America was that it destroyed entire cultures, especially those located in Africa. As David Eltis relates, the vast majority of slaves in America circa the middle of the 19th century were of African descent and originated on or near the West Coast along the Atlantic Ocean (1999, p. 67). Between the 15th and 19th centuries, it has been estimated that more than 10,000,000 slaves of African descent were kidnapped and transported aboard huge sailing ships capable of holding thousands of slaves for the long and dangerous sea voyage across the Atlantic and into American ports of call like Boston, Philadelphia, New York City and Baltimore, Maryland. Of course, all of these African slaves brought with them "their religion and rhythmic song and some traces of art and tribal customs" (Du Bois, 1992, p. 4) from their homelands which as a result of the loss of a huge number of African men fell into economic and political ruin, all at the hands of the white slave traders from places like the United States, France, England and Spain.

By the middle of the 19th century in the Deep South, almost all of the slaves had lost what little they possessed to remind them of their homeland in far away Africa and had learned to speak English and to accept Christianity as their new faith contrasted with their ancient tribal customs. Thus, slavery in America played an enormously negative role by displacing millions of men, women and children from their African roots and heritage to "live in a totally alien world controlled by the white race, where blacks were second-class citizens and not much above the status of farm animals" (Kolchin, 2003, p. 57).

One area related to slavery in the United States which has recently come under much discussion is why the "men who wrote the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Constitution sought by every evasion to keep the recognition of slavery out of the basic form of the new government" in 1776 (Eltis, 1999, p. 149). As most students of history know all too well, the opening sentences of the Declaration of Independence specifically state that all men are created equal and have the God-given rights of liberty, freedom and the pursuit of happiness, but for some reason, the "Founding Fathers" like Washington, Jefferson and Adams failed to make clear that even slaves are free and equal in the eyes of God.

As Du Bois points out, the creators of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S.

Constitution "founded their hopes on the prohibition of the slave trade" which was rampant in America in the late 18th century. However, this prohibition did not materialize and evidently Washington and his fellow signers "had miscalculated and did not foresee the changing economic world" about them (1992, p. 4) nor understand how this change would influence the spread of the slave trade and bring about the flowering of the antebellum South with its institutionalized slavery in the days prior to the Civil War. As a result of the failure of the Declaration of Independence to stipulate that all men, including African-American slaves, were free and equal, it became "easy to say that these black men were not men in the sense that white men were and could never be, in the same sense, free." In the eyes of white Southern plantation owners in 1854, slavery "was a matter of both race and social condition, but the condition was limited and determined solely by race." After all, God had allowed the white man to "transplant the Negro to America to work on our plantations. The Negro is here and here forever. They are our property and ours forever" (Du Bois, 1992, p. 5).

One additional area of concern is that African-American slaves experienced perhaps the absolute worst and lowest living conditions that existed in the Deep South. For those who managed to escape from their bondage or found some way to pay for their freedom, living conditions were not that much better, especially in the major cities of the North like New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore where freed black slaves or escapees were paid abysmal wages for very long hours at work as manual laborers. As Du Bois tells us, the cost for the maintenance… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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