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US Slavery

US Slavery
When slavery was first practiced in the
Americas during the early colonial period, it was purely for economic use.

The use of slaves in sugar, tabbaco, and cotton plantations brought a great
deal of profit and thus slavery was implemented into the whole system where
there was harsh agriculture. These regions were located within the equator,
where the climate was warm and apt for agriculture. However, as time past
industrialization started influenzing the non-agricultural regions of Americas.

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Hence, two distinct types of economies emerged as well as the consequent
friction between the two. Those who remained dependent on agriculture needed
slavery as an economic factor; but those who were industrialized did not,
thus they had no reason not to oppose slavery as a moral issue. (In the
United States there was contrast between North being industrialized and
South being based on agriculture). Those who politically opposed slave-owners
or slavery-adherents found it practical to use slavery as an excuse to
reproach (besmirch) them, not because they felt anything incorrect about
slavery itself. (Political leaders favored slaveowners inorder to obtain
support such as in Peru, Venezuela, etc). Nonetheless, religion cannot
be accounted as reasons for opposition because both sides pursued religion
as their justification; even those who supported slavery used Christianity
to defend slavery such as the Southern slaveholders in the US. Therefore,
opposition to slavery originated from those who regarded it as morally
and religiously wrong but was further supported by those who took advantage
of it for political (machiavellian) reasons.

The abolition of slavery in the Americas
occured upon fits and starts. Slavery was an institution entrenched both
in economic life and in the social fabric of essentially hierarchical societies.

The commodities produced by slave labor, particularly sugar, cotton, and
coffee, were crucial to the exopanding network of transatlantic trade.(1)
In Brazil and Cuba slaveholding was also widespread in the cities and in
some food-producing regions. Thus while the ideological transformations
accompanying the growth of capitalism in Great Britain set the stage for
a general critique of chattel slavery and championing of “free labor”,
it took more than a changing intellectual climate to dislodge the institution.(2)
Abolitionism took on its greatest force when it coincided with economic
change and domestic social upheaval, and particularly when it became an
element in the defining of new nations or new colonial relationships. (3)
Similarly also in the United Sates, according
to thorough study of antebellum Southern industry, the Southern lag in
this category of development resulted from any inherent economic disadvantages
– not shortage of capital, nor low rates of return, nor nonadaptability
of slave labor – but from the choices of Southerners to invest more of
their money in agriculture and slaves than in manufacturing.(4) Their attitude
was: “We want no manufactures; we desire no trading, no mechanical or manufacturing
classes.”(5) The free labor image of North and South did not, of course,
go unchallenged during the 1850’s. It was during this period that the activity
of the pro-slavery theorists reached its peak, and in fact the Republican
defense of the northern social order and their glorification of free labor
were in part a response to the attacks of these same writers, especially
George Fitzhugh. The pro-slavery writers insistsed that in free society
labor and capital were in constant antagonism, and that as a result the
laborer was insecure and helpless.(6) They denied that any real social
mobility or harmony of interests existed in the North. In his famous “mud-sill”
speech, South Carolina’s Senator James Hammond declared that in all social
systems “there must be a class to do the mean duties, to perform the drudgeries
of life,” and Fitzhugh divided northern society into four classes: the
rich, the highly skilled professionals, the poor thieves, and the “poor
hardworking people, who support everybody, and starve themselves.”(7) For
this last class there was no hope of advancement – not one in a hundred,
as South Carolina’s Chancellor Harper said, could hope to improve his condition.(8)
For all practical purposes, according to pro-slavery writers, slavery existed
in the North as well as in the South. As Hammond put it, “Your whole class
of manual laborers and operatives, as you call them, are slaves.”(9) Thus,
slavery was too profitable in the economies of agriculture, including the
Southern United States, that it could not have been opposed without a significant
social or economic change.

The rising tide of nationalism caused
some Latin Americans to question dreary racial concepts. To accept the
European doctrines, they finally realized, would condemn Latin America
perpetually to a secondary position.(10) The nationalists concluded that
the doctrines were simply another means devised by the Europeans to humiliate
and subjugate Latin America. In due course, the Latin Americans rejected
the foriegn racist doctrines, and in doing so they took a major step toward
freeing themselves from Europeans cultural domination. At that time attitudes
toward the Latin Americans of African descent also underwent change.(11)
As the first step, it was necessary to end slavery. The Spanish-speaking
republics abolished it between 1821 and 1854.

The Haitian Revolution between 1791 and
1804 firghtened slaveholders throughout the Americas and had an important
direct effect on the course of the Spanish American wars of independence.(12)
After being thwarted in his initial revolutionary efforts, the “Liberator”
Simon Bolivar went in 1815 to Jamaica and then to Haiti to seek assistance.

President Alessandre Petion of Haiti insisted on a commitment to emancipation
as a condition for support, and Bolivar made such a commitment. Opposition
to slavery became an element in a new Spanish American ideal of citizenship,
expanding the possibility of recruiting among slaves and other opposed
to the power of slaveholders.(13) Material and strategic support from Petion
gave Bolivar’s cause new life, but many of the leaders of the independent
movement continued to temporize when faced with the choice between forthright
abolitionism and the mobilization of slaves abd free people of color on
the one hand, and the continued protection of property rights as a means
for obtaining or retaining elite support on the other. (14) It was thus
not surprising that antislavery commitments were ratified by some of the
early republican congresses, such as that of the Republic of Gran Colombia
at Cucuta in 1821, but encumbered with conditions and timetables that stalled
the actual process of emancipation. The republicans in Peru were even more
cautious, putting property rights and social stability first and not declaring
emancipation, even as they sought to recruit among slaves and free people
of color.(15)
Furthermore, it is important to note that
the crucial demographic difference between North and South in the United
States resulted from slavery itself. Ninety-five percent of the country’s
balck people lived in the slave states, where blacks constituted one-third
of the population in contrast to their 1 percent of the Northern population.(16)
The implication of this for the economy and social structure of the two
section, not to mention their ideologies and politics, are obvious and
require little elaboration here. However there is a brief point worth emphasizing:
many historians have maintained that Northerners were as committed
to the white supremacy as Southerners. This may have been true, but the
scale concern with this matter in the South was so much greater as to constitute
a different order of magnitude and to contribute more than any factor to
the difference between North and South.(17) And of course slavery was more
than an institution of racial control. Its centrality to many aspects of
life focused Southern politics almost exclusively on defense of the institution.(18)
Thus, the South could not afford to oppose slavery, an institution being
such a great part of themselves.

The inhumanity of the “peculiar institution”
gradually caused antislavery societies to sprout forth in the United States.

The first stirrings of the abolistionist sentiment occured at the time
of the Revolution, especially among Quakers.(19) Because of the wide-spread
loathing of blacks, some of the earliest abolistionist efforts focused
on transporting the blacks bodily back to Africa. The American Colonization
Society was founded for this purpose in 1817, and in 1822 the Republic
of Liberia was established for former slaves.(20) In the 1830’s the abolitionist
movement took on new energy and momentum, mounting to the proportions of
a crusade. American abolitonists took heart in 1833 when their British
counterparts unchained the slaves in the West Indies.(21) Most important,
the religious spirit of the Second Great Awakening now inflamed the hearts
of many abolitionists against the sin of slavery. However, antislavery
sentiment was not unknown in the South, and in the 1820s antislavery societies
were more numerous south of Mason and Dixon’s line than north of it.(22)
But after about 1830 the voice of white southern abolitionism was silenced.

In the last grasp of southern questiuoning of slavery, the Virginia legislature
debated and eventually defeated various emancipation proposals in 1831-1832.(23)
That debate marked a turning point. Thereafter all the slave states tightened
their slave codes and moved to prohibit emancipation of any kind, voluntary
or compensated. Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831 sent a wave of hysteria
sweeping over the snowy cotton fields, and planters in growing numbers
slept with pistols by their pillows.(24) Pro-slavery whites responded by
launching a massive defense of slavery as a positive good. In doing so,
they forgot their own section’s previous doubts about the morality of the”peculiar institution”. Slavery, they claimed, was supported by the authority
of the Bible and the wisdom of Aristotle.(25) It was good for the Africans,
who were lifted from the barbarism of the jungle and clothed with the blessing
of Christian civilization. Slavemasters did indeed encourage blacks contained
such passages as: (26)
Q: Who
gave you a master and a mistress?
A: God
gave them to me.

Q: Who
says that you must obey them?
A: God
says that I must.

On many plantations, especially those in
the Old South of Virginia and Maryland, this argument had a certain plausibility.

Southern whites were quick to contrast the “happy” lot of their “servants”
with that of the overworked northern wage slaves, including sweated women
and stunted children.(27) Thus, ironically, both the North and the South
supported their cause on slavery with religion. This also happened elsewhere
in the Americas such as Venezuela and Puerto Rico, where slavery was similarly
crucial to the economy.

The difference between who supported slavery
and who did not does not come from differences in ideology or religion
as shown above. What counts more, as usual, are the political and economic
aspect of the issue. Whereever harsh agriculture was needed such as in
Southern United States or in Venezuela or Peru, slavery was supported as
a necessity. Some people who opposed slavery were people who opposed it
becuase it would generate political benefits, even though they did not
care about the slavery issue at all. There was no answer to who was right
and who was wrong, especially since religion (Christianity) was used by
both sides to justify their stands. Although the issue of emancipation
was brought up by those who morally opposed it (such as the Quakers in
the United States), but was carried on by those who could afford to support
it in a political sense. It demonstrates how the world is run by Machiavellianism,
not ideology or religion.


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