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Slavery in United States: Definition, Life of Slaves and Why It Was Immoral

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I am here to discuss the major contributors to the abolishment of slavery. Definition of slavery varies from time t time which may include:

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  • a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another; a bond servant.
  • a person entirely under the domination of some influence or person
  • the practice or system of owning slaves.

Although what is slavery really? Slavery is a system that includes forced labor in which people are held against their will. Slaves don’t have the freedom to make decisions about their work because they are bought and sold like property. Working conditions are generally very poor for slaves and, in many cases, they are physically abused if they do not follow their owners’ directions. Slaves can be men, women, and even young children. Before the United States won the Revolutionary War and was officially recognized as an independent nation in 1783, Africans were forced to come to America to work as slaves.

Let’s take a common example of slavery in the united states. Slavery was part of American society through the end of the Civil War. Slaves could be found throughout the country, but there were many more slaves in the South. Southern plantation owners and farmers relied heavily on slaves for labor and believed that they needed slaves to keep their economy strong. Crops, such as tobacco and cotton, were an important part of the Southern economy.

However, they were also difficult to grow because of the number of people needed for planting and harvesting. The economy in the North relied much more on manufacturing and industry. Over time, slavery was eliminated in the North, which was made possible, in part, by the region’s minimal reliance on slave labor.

However this is not a warranted answer to how slavery was obliterated. Slavery in America and other countries was ended like so; Abolitionists were both whites and African Americans who fought to end slavery. Even though they had the same goal, they did not all use the same methods. Some abolitionists, such as John Brown, believed that slavery could only be ended by force. Brown said that slavery was a violent system and that violence was needed to eliminate it.

Frederick Douglass, a former slave, used his excellent speech and writing abilities to speak out against slavery. William Lloyd Garrison started an important weekly anti-slavery newspaper and founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. Harriet Tubman, also a former slave, helped other slaves using the Underground Railroad, which was a secret network that helped slaves escape to the Northern states.

Regardless of the approach to ending slavery, being an abolitionist could be very dangerous, and they were often attacked by pro-slavery activists. With the nation torn apart by the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. While it did not end slavery, it did pronounce that, unless the Southern states that seceded from the United States returned to the Union, slaves in those states would be set free. It also said that African-American soldiers could join the Union army and fight in the war.

For some abolitionists, this proclamation was not good enough. It seemed more like war strategy than a genuine effort to end slavery. However, President Lincoln could not end slavery on his own. The only thing that could officially end slavery was an amendment to the Constitution. Congress, not President Lincoln, had to pass the amendment, and then at least three-fourths of the states had to agree to it. Congress passed the 13th Amendment on January 31, 1865, by a vote of 119 to 56.

The amendment called for an end to slavery in the United States, but it still had to go to the states for approval; 27 states had to agree to make the amendment official for it to go into effect. The next day, Illinois ratified, or agreed to, the amendment, but it would take nearly a year to receive the three-fourths majority needed to change the Constitution. It finally happened on December 6, 1865. Georgia became the 27th state to ratify the 13th Amendment, and slavery was officially abolished. Almost one million African American slaves were freed when the amendment took effect twelve days later.

Nonetheless to fully understand why slavery was abolished we must comprehend why it was immoral. allow me to tell you why slavery was “not so bad,” but very, very bad. First, African people were snatched from their families, their villages, their communities, their tribes, their continent, their freedom. African people were made to walk hundreds of miles in chains. They were often beaten, poorly fed and abused in many ways. Women and girls were routinely raped. The whole continent was ravaged and still suffers to this day. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Second, African people were placed in “slave dungeons” for weeks and sometimes months until the slave ships came. They were often underfed, terribly beaten, raped and stuffed together so tightly they could hardly move. African people were packed in the holds of ships with little space to even move. They performed bodily functions where they lay and then lived in it. They were oftentimes beaten, raped and abused mentally, physically and emotionally. Many died from disease and broken spirits. Some were so terribly impacted that they jumped overboard and drowned when brought to the deck of the ships. Millions died during the Middle Passage from Africa to the Americas. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Third, African people were broken like wild animals. They were stripped of every element of their identity. Their names were taken. Their languages were taken. Their religions were taken. Their histories were taken. They were forbidden to have family. They had no rights to own anything. They were considered property. Their personalities were permanently altered. Their freedom was taken. They became chattel sold from “slave blocks.” This crushing of identity impacts us to this day. I call it the psychology of the oppressed. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Fourth, African Americans were worked from “kin to can’t;” that is from “can see” in the morning to “can’t see” at night. There was no pay for their long, hard labor. Many were poorly fed. Most felt the lash of the whip. All felt the lash of the tongue. Many were repeatedly raped. Their children and other loved ones were sold at will. Some mothers killed their baby girls so they would not have to endure the ravages of slavery. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Fifth, African Americans had no right to defend themselves no matter what was done and how wrong it was. By law, they could not even testify against their abusers. As U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Toney said in the 1857 Dred Scott case, “A Black man has no rights a white man is bound to respect.” This became the law of the land and its legacy bedevils us to this day. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Sixth, African Americans were perceived and treated as sub human. The only way enslavers could square this terrible treatment with their Christian beliefs was to see us as less than human. Therefore, they could proudly place such beautiful words in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution with impunity: i.e. — “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

To them, African Americans were not human so these beautiful words did not apply. Even the U.S. Constitution designated us as three-fifths of a person. That’s why white terrorists, in and out of uniforms, can kill us without punishment. The legacy of being less human lingers with us today. Black lives are worth much less than white lives. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Seventh, it required great violence to implement and maintain the worst form of human slavery known to humankind. It required unbridled violence by enslavers, slave catchers, local, state, federal governments and the entire society. Maintaining the institution of slavery created a very violent society that infests us to this day. That’s why the United States has far more violence than any country in the world. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Eighth, even after slavery formally ended, we still had Jim Crow. These same imbedded attitudes generated state-sanctioned terrorism for nearly another 100 years. The Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist groups hanged, mutilated, maimed and murdered without any punishment. It was state sanctioned terrorism, because the “state” did not do anything to prevent it.

That’s why even during the Civil Rights Movement murders took many years before even a modicum of justice was forged. Just look at the deaths of Medgar Evers, James Chaney, the four little girls murdered by the bombing of a Black Birmingham Church and so many others. That is why today Trayvon Martin could not walk the streets of his neighborhood, Jordan Davis could not play loud music in his car, Eric Garner was choked to death and Michael Brown was gunned down. Mr. Barkley this is very, very bad.

Here are some of the universal humanitarian rights; Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Article 3, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms. Yet again one could argue that slavery was justified by saying: Slavery is natural. People differ, and we must expect that those who are superior in a certain way—for example, in intelligence, morality, knowledge, technological prowess, or capacity for fighting—will make themselves the masters of those who are inferior in this regard.

Abraham Lincoln expressed this idea in one of his famous 1858 debates with Senator Stephen Douglas: “There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

Slavery has always existed. This reason exemplifies the logical fallacy argumentum ad antiquitatem (the argument to antiquity or tradition). Nevertheless, it often persuaded people, especially those of conservative bent. Even nonconservatives might give it weight on the quasi-Hayekian ground that although we do not understand why a social institution persists, its persistence may nonetheless be well grounded in a logic we have yet to understand.

Every society on earth has slavery. The unspoken corollary is that every society must have slavery. The pervasiveness of an institution seems to many people to constitute compelling proof of its necessity. Perhaps, as one variant maintains, every society has slavery because certain kinds of work are so difficult or degrading that no free person will do them, and therefore unless we have slaves to do these jobs, they will not get done. Someone, as the saying went in the Old South, has to be the mud sill, and free people will not tolerate serving in this capacity.

The slaves are not capable of taking care of themselves. This idea was popular in the United States in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries among people, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who regarded slavery as morally reprehensible yet continued to hold slaves and to obtain personal services from them and income from the products these “servants” (as they preferred to call them) were compelled to produce. It would be cruel to set free people who would then, at best, fall into destitution and suffering.

Without masters, the slaves will die off. This idea is the preceding one pushed to its extreme. Even after slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, many people continued to voice this idea. Northern journalists traveling in the South immediately after the war reported that, indeed, the blacks were in the process of becoming extinct because of their high death rate, low birth rate, and miserable economic condition. Sad but true, some observers declared, the freed people really were too incompetent, lazy, or immoral to behave in ways consistent with their own group survival. (See my 1977 book Competition and Coercion: Blacks in the American Economy, 1865–1914.)

Where the common people are free, they are even worse off than slaves. This argument became popular in the South in the decades before the War Between the States. Its leading exponent was the proslavery writer George Fitzhugh, whose book titles speak for themselves: Sociology for the South, or, the Failure of Free Society (1854) and Cannibals All!, or, Slaves Without Masters (1857). Fitzhugh seems to have taken many of his ideas from the reactionary, racist, Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle. The expression “wage slave” still echoes this antebellum outlook. True to his sociological theories, Fitzhugh wanted to extend slavery in the United States to working-class white people, for their own good!

Getting rid of slavery would occasion great bloodshed and other evils. In the United States many people assumed that the slaveholders would never permit the termination of the slave system without an all-out fight to preserve it. Sure enough, when the Confederacy and the Union went to war—set aside that the immediate issue was not the abolition of slavery, but the secession of eleven Southern states—great bloodshed and other evils did ensue.

These tragic events seemed, in many people’s minds, to validate the reason they had given for opposing abolition. (They evidently overlooked that, except in Haiti, slavery was abolished everywhere else in the Western Hemisphere without large-scale violence.)

Without slavery the former slaves would run amuck, stealing, raping, killing, and generally causing mayhem. Preservation of social order therefore rules out the abolition of slavery. Southerners lived in dread of slave uprisings. Northerners in the mid-nineteenth century found the situation in their own region already sufficiently intolerable, owing to the massive influx of drunken, brawling Irishmen into the country in the 1840s and 1850s. Throwing free blacks, whom the Irish generally disliked, into the mix would well-nigh guarantee social chaos.

Trying to get rid of slavery is foolishly utopian and impractical; only a fuzzy-headed dreamer would advance such a cockamamie proposal. Serious people cannot afford to waste their time considering such farfetched ideas.

A far better plan is to keep the slaves sufficiently well fed, clothed, housed, and occasionally entertained and to take their minds off their exploitation by encouraging them to focus on the better life that awaits them in the hereafter. We cannot expect fairness or justice in this life, but all of us, including the slaves, can aspire to a life of ease and joy in Paradise.

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At one time, countless people found one or more of the foregoing reasons adequate grounds on which to oppose the abolition of slavery. Yet in retrospect, these reasons seem shabby—more rationalizations than reasons.

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