Slavery In America: From Necessary To Evil

1158 words - 5 pages

As African slaves began arriving in the Chesapeake region in the early seventeenth century, they were treated, in many respects, akin to white indentured servants shipped in from England. For instance, a black could, under the right conditions sue for his or her freedom, or if the slave converted to Christianity he or she could obtain their freedom. Towards the latter half of the seventeenth century however, planters began to systematically strip slaves of their minimal rights. Until the mid-nineteenth century, slaves across the south were treated like beasts of burden, thus traded, sold, and ranked not among beings, but among things, as an article of property. Throughout the colonial period slavery continued to expand across the south, yet northerners, especially New Englanders, never adopted slavery like to their southern neighbors. As migration to the colonies increased and differences arose between the colonies and a Parliament an ocean away, the issue of slavery accompanied the rising thoughts of liberty and equality in the New World. As colonialists, and eventually Americans, attempted to define liberty and equality in an evolving state, slavery polarized the society along lines of race and status.
The issue of slavery lay coiled up under the table during the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention. By the 1780’s, slavery was dying in the north, and every state from Pennsylvania north acknowledged that slavery was fundamentally inconsistent with the Revolutionary ideology that “all men are created equal. ” In the Deep South, freedom for slaves was unthinkable, yet thousands had defected to fight with the British during the war. Nonetheless, as Americans were encouraged to create their manifest destiny and the Union considered adding new states, slavery continued to divide the country along lines of race and status. By the nineteenth century, abolishing slavery was beginning to acquire real force as a basic principle, as some Northern states began gradual emancipation.
Abolitionism blossomed in the United States in the 1830’s, as theologians and reformers attempted to transform the American social fabric. An important source of antislavery sentiment derived from the Puritan and Quaker religions that dominated much of the political and social aspects of the daily life of northerners. The anti-slavery sentiment was not, however, confined to whites in the northern states. A mulatto abolitionist and social reformer, Frederick Douglass, lectured during the 1840’s and 1850’s to draw attention to the plight of slaves and the immediate need for emancipation. During a "Fourth of July Oration" in 1852, Douglass incisively showed a commitment to individual rights for blacks. In the speech, Douglass praised America's accomplishments in becoming a sovereign nation, yet he believed it to be an injustice that not all humans living in this “great nation” received its blessings. For Douglass and most slaves in the antebellum era, the Fourth...

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