Terrible Transformation When the Original European Colonists Thesis

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¶ … Terrible Transformation

When the original European colonists arrived in North America, they established a system of indentured servitude to facilitate their economic needs being met. This system was driven by religious identity rather than by racial classification, with the result that persons who were non-Christian could be made servants whether their skin tone was white or black. Workers in the system were required to serve out the terms of their contractual obligations and convert to Christianity, and they could thereby redeem their freedom -- again, without respect to skin color. This meant that in the early colonies servants of African descent had the same legal standing as other servants. Whites and blacks in the system of forced servitude were, as Johnson and Smith (1999) argue, "oppressed equally" (p.40). However, in the mid-to-late 17th century, this indentured servitude system underwent a "terrible transformation" whereby it resulted a system of institutionalized racial slavery in which whites enslaved blacks. This brief essay explains the broad outlines of how this happened and what the end result was for the legal standing of persons of African descent in North America.

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As the early colonial economic system developed, landowner's exploitation of workers led to deepened oppression in order to survive the harsh conditions of establishing a new society in a new world. In some cases, workers would reach the ends of their contract s only to find that they were not given the promised release. Worker revolts began to occur, and landowners found that by separating white workers from black workers they could fracture any alliances and maintain control over the workforce (p. 40). This led to the discovery that workers could be identified by skin color more readily than they could by religious identity. Racial classifications were thereby established, and slavery was codified into law based around these classifications. Blacks were stripped of any pretense to contractual standing, and dehumanized. They were made permanent slaves, and their children were incorporated into a generational system of enforced slavery (Johnson and Smith, 1999, p. 49).

TOPIC: Thesis on Terrible Transformation When the Original European Colonists Assignment

As the servitude system changed from one which, could in its best applications, resemble an intense apprenticeship to one which was characterized by brutal exploitation of labor with no end in sight for the working class, a slave trade was established to supply new workers -- at great profit and little risk for the European powers (Kelly and Lewis, 2005, p. 67). The Christian missionary zeal transformed from an ideological position whereby servants were brought into the religion through the work experience, to one in which the slave-owners were made responsible for their slaves, for whom they owed an accounting to their God just as they did with the rest of their property. Racial identification therefore replaced religious identification as the justification for slavery and the colonies institutionalized slavery as a means of achieving economic progress.

By the mid-18th century, blacks in the colonies were treated as property, having lost their legal standing through the codification of their enslavement. The competition for economic riches among the European powers in the colonies had led to the conditions in which the exploitation of non-Christian and non-white persons was seen as a moral right. Slave traders supplied blacks stolen from the African continent, and landowners purchased slaves to meet their economic needs. Legislatures gave the stamp of legal approval, and religious ideology offered support and justification.

Slave Resistance

When African slaves were brought to the North American colonies and forced into labor, they were placed under extreme duress, risking their lives and physical health if they showed any signs of disobedience. However, the slaves did develop forms of resistance to their oppression. Specifically, they would feign illness, break tools, perform work slowdowns, and the like, in order to escape the harsh conditions of their forced labor without outright rebellion or refusal (Horton and Horton, 2005, p. 120). Because their own cultural heritage stressed self-discipline and control, as well as an emphasis on community identification, slave workers often operated in ways that were subtle and subversive, designed to resist the slave lifestyle in ways that promoted pride within their own communities. For example, Slaves would sing field songs to give the appearance of work regulation and contentment to their overseers, but their actual purpose was to communicate lessons to the group, slow down the work process, inspire their fellow members, and so on (p. 121).

Slaves would also work to create differences between owners and overseers, thereby distrust that they could exploit to their advantage. If a particular overseer was seen as unfair, they would resist more actively, in order to increase the difficulty that the overseer had with the owner, thereby potentially getting that overseer fired. They would cooperate with those overseers who were more willing to buck the owner's wishes, or who were viewed as more fair (pp. 125-127).

Finally, Rodriguez (2006) points out that in some cases including, for example, John Brown's raid, slaves took up arms and revolted against their masters. Their subtle resistance would change to outright rebellion in those cases where the opportunity presented itself and their treatment was no longer bearable. In this sense, their resistance can be viewed as opportunistic and self-interested. They found themselves in an oppressive economic and political system, and they operated with the resources at their disposal in league with their fellow slaves to achieve whatever freedom of economic and political movement they could with that extreme system.

Slavery and the Revolution

During the American Revolution, the question of slavery became a pronounced difficulty that would plague the unity of the nation for much of its early history (Davis, 1999). Due to the development of cultural and economic influences in the North during the latter colonial period, the Northern states were not dependent on slavery. Greater urbanization and industrial development had resulted in an economy which was not run on slave labor. Religious and political developments had resulted in an increasing view that slavery was not justifiable morally. The Abolitionist movement brought about the deconstruction of the slavery system in many Northern states, as appeals to the equality of men under a Christian god began to gain favor, albeit facilitated by the fact that economic progress was not driven by the need for a continuance of slavery.

In the South, however, the agrarian lifestyle and the economic system had resulted in a socio-political system that both depended on and romanticized slavery. The agricultural products which were grown in the South required heavy supplies of cheap labor. The ideological justification of slavery supported the slavery system by claiming that slaves were better off than they had been on their native continent, with its own appeal to Christianity as a means of supporting that argument. This led to a split between North and South.

As the nation was formed, the political debates which carried forth the arguments for how to form the nation were impacted by these distinct views (MacLeod, 1975). The Northern states wanted to push for equal right for all men, but also wanted to protect their own political and economic advantages over the South. The South wanted to protect their way of life without ceding power through decreased political representation. Therefore, when the constitution was formed, one of the central questions which was raised was how would slaves be counted, and how would slavery be handled in the nation. The Southern states wanted to count the slaves for census purposes, thereby increasing their representation in the Congress. The north, after having argued that slavery should not be allowed, wanted to disallow such counting. The three-fifths compromise -- whereby slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person -- was accepted as a settlement. In this way, both sides' hypocrisy was reveled. The North wanted to respect the rights of all men, but was perfectly willing to allow the Southern states to keep their institution if they would commit to the union. The Southern states wanted to maintain their right to treat people as cattle, but wanted to get full credit representative credit for those same persons in the legislature. This system and the resulting compromise showed the splits between ideology and economic and political necessity that was at the bottom of the slavery issue, and revealed the different tracks that the regions would take as they moved forward with their plans to create the new union.

Slave culture

Because slaves had been brought to the North American continent from different regions of Africa, and separated into groups with the purpose of destroying their bonds and thereby decreasing the likelihood that they could successfully revolt, the development of a culture among the enslaved peoples was slow and difficult. Natural affinities between the slaves were, of course, immediate, as they suffered the same kinds of abuse and attempted to survive their harsh condition by working together. However, deeper ties to community, such as those afforded through familial interactions were harder to come by. Slaves would be sequestered from their families and sold off by… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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