American Slavery Essay

2998 words - 12 pages

Enormous changes swept through nearly every facet of American society in the years between the American Revolution and the Civil War, and the institution of slavery was no exception to this rule. Prior to the Revolution, slavery existed in every American colony. The growing population of settlers was founded on and maintained by notions of inequality, in which indentured servants and slaves provided the necessary manpower for the development of a largely agricultural economy and the settlement of an ever-diminishing frontier. First- and second generation whites began to equate race and servitude as white indentured servitude waned and black slaves came to represent the primary source of forced labor in the Americas. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many whites and blacks negotiated the terms of slavery for the first time – new slaveholders sought to define the status of slaves and to create a viable workforce out of individuals unfamiliar with the language, land, or expectations of their keepers; new slaves, still intimately tied to their native languages and cultures, struggled to comprehend the new status forced on them in a strange land. As each group viewed the other as hostile strangers, dehumanization and brutality were commonly employed by new masters to conform African behavior to their expectations and needs. After the American Revolution, slavery underwent significant transformations in concert with larger changes sweeping the political, economic, and religious structure of the nation. The spirit of liberty in which the revolution was fought gave pause to whites who had begun to take the status of bondsmen for granted and elicited different responses in the North and South. Gradual emancipation in the North and a differentiation in regional economies served to make slavery an institution peculiar to the South for the first time. As natural increase and an end to the importation of African slaves stabilized the slave population, new generations of Creole slaves began to form a distinctive African-American culture. At the same time, most white slaveholders were now fourth- or fifth generation masters who lived and worked near their slaves and took a keen interest in their welfare and affairs. A new-felt paternalism both improved the physical treatment and condition of slaves and served to further restrict and dictate their lives. The rise of evangelicalism in the 1830s provided Southern whites with a justification for demanding obedience by focusing on individual piety and salvation in the hereafter; in the North, by contrast, that new religious fervor became an impetus for social reform and empowered some whites to try to rid the world of its many evils, including slavery. Slavery underwent significant changes as the country moved from the colonial to the antebellum era. The American slavery of 1760-1861 was shaped by the political, economic, and religious changes affecting the nation as a whole; the...

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