When we look at the historical context of slavery, the debate for and against slavery grabs our attention instantly. The issue of slavery has remained at heart of American History with the heated debate over its legitimacy and illegitimacy preoccupying the minds of intellectuals, historians, politicians and landlord class. Having analyzed the debate over this issue, it seems that the arguments against slavery outweigh those in favor. The testimony of slaves and their experiences contradict the claims of pro-slavery segment in the society.
George Fitzhugh, a defender of slavery in his work “Sociology for the South, or, the failure of free society” makes a powerful attack on the philosophical notions of a free society. Being a staunch critic of Adam Smith, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and the whole liberal tradition, he defends the prevalence of slavery that should not be limited only to blacks but whites as well. He contends that slavery is ideally “a form, and the very best form of slavery.” According to him, the slavery eases the troubles of poor and downtrodden lot as the landlord and privileged one has to take their burden.
“When the day’s labor is ended, he is free, but is overburdened with the cares of family and household, which makes his freedom an empty and delusive mockery…The Negro slave is free, too, when the labors of the day are over, and free in mind as well as body; for the master provides food, raiment, house, fuel and everything else necessary to the physical well-being of himself and his family.”
In Cannibals All, further drew on the arguments of his former book. According to him, the aim of this book was to reveal that “the unrestricted exploitation of so-called free society is more oppressive to the laborer than domestic slavery."
He maintains that the notions of free society have pulled the rug from under the poor slaves. He cites the good condition and happiness of the Negro slaves in the south and terms them the freest and happiest people on earth. Being slaves, they are given laborious tasks to perform and this is the reason why the children, aged, and weaker ones have all necessities and comforts of life provided to them by their masters. These slaves enjoy liberty and freedom which automatically keeps the oppression of any kind at bay. The women are not expected to work harder, as in free market, plus slavery saves them from being oppressed and tormented by their husbands.
The male and female slaves alike do not have to work more than nine hours a day as opposed to the free laborer. The life of slaves is pretty balanced and comfortable while on the other hand “the free laborer must work or starve. He is more a slave than the Negro because he works longer and harder for less allowance than the slave, and has no holiday, because the cares of his life with him begin when its labors end. He has no liberty, and not a single right.” (Fitzhugh, 24)
He rejects altogether the formation of society based on free labor and capitalism. According, at the time when both and the North and South are engaged in the White Slave Trade, whoever succeeds will earn more respect than the other supposedly. It is important to note that by White slave Trade he implied the drudgery of the free society. In this case, the White slaves are not even protected well or governed properly. They are exploited beyond measure.
He criticizes the idea “that the profits made from employing free labor are greater than those from slave labor.” In fact, the profit made from free labor comes from taking away from the labor of the free market slave. On the other hand, the profits gleaned from the slave are relatively less because the master allows the slave to have a larger share of his labor as compared to the employers of the free labor.(Buell, 63)
It can be argued that the Census held in 1860 paved the way for the Civil War embedded in the social and economic structure of the society. A kind of rupture between North and South began to grow while the increased productivity of cotton in rural south made it a single crop region. As a result, the surge in the demand of slavery was seen mainly due to its low cost of labor. The data indicates that the large fraction of the population got centralized and the abolition of slavery would certainly lead to an increase in the costs of cotton and quit drastically a decrease in the profits of south. For mainly two reasons, the South kept alive the very idea of slavery. Firstly, slaves were a profitable use of capital excluding other uses.
At that time, a slave holder could maintain huge chunks of wealth and receive high rates of returns as opposed to the other uses of capital. Moreover, the institutionalized slavery was most likely to remain a lucrative trade in the future as well. The earning of a slave would have been estimated to be 50% greater in 1890. (Kelly, 55) Quite unsurprisingly, the resistance to the abolition of slavery was natural. With this census, the Southern wealth was amassed through the help of slaves as they were legally considered a property.
The abolition of slavery in the wake of Civil War, the South had to undergo enormous financial losses and those of assets.There were many staunch opponents of slavery as well and Richard Hildreth was one of them. He strongly rejected the presence of slavery in America because slavery was synonymous with over-work, exploitation, starvation and death. He presented a completely different perspective of slavery in America and particularly in South. To support his argument, he cites the death and deteriorating conditions of the slaves. In other words, slavery was a legal form of despotism and injustice.
He argues that “hundreds (of slaves) actually starved to death and those which are alive are a mere anatomy of skin and bones, with hardly substance enough to cast a shadow searching with feeble steps and woeful countenance” (Richard, 62)
According to him, slaves were treated in no less than inhuman terms. They were often executed, extorted and pursued with guns and dogs. Since the crop production was at its peak in South the slaves were treated severely so as to retain the momentum of the profit. With the increase in crop production, the physical comforts of the slaves came to an end. According to the author, the degree of hostility and warfare in which the slavery grew, it is natural that it becomes more flagrant and offending to the humanity.
The whole scheme and framework of slavery lack the basic characteristic of humanity, this is to say, benevolence. The manipulation and exploitation of the slaves fully violates the notions of benevolence. Southern states allowed the slave holding to continue because they gleaned huge profits that directly came from the maximum production of the crop.
As a matter of fact, the slave holding states (Southern) were poorer than other free states (Northern) in terms of public wealth. The author highlights the fact that the slaves were unable to buy or trade anything because they mostly rendered helpless and resource less and often at the disposal of their masters’ orders. It goes without saying that slaves could not even claim the right to their very own labor.
On the contrary, the free man “is the proprietor of his own muscles and intellect; but as these commodities however valuable are not the subject of bargain and sale in the market, they are not usually reckoned as property.”(Richard, 112) If the tax valuation of the slave-holding states is compared with the free states, it is noted that the only kind of property that exists in the South is the land and buildings upon it. Southern states despite having a comparative advantage of the soil and climate are poorer because of the slave holding lot.
The labor, in the free market, is often motivated by the rewards their labor would earn them but in the case slave holding lot, the slaves are merely motivated to put in their labor through fear of punishment. If they do not work well, they will be whipped like a horse and treated like an animal.
With the presence of such notions, the prospects for the labor are extremely limited in fact they are non-existent, to say the least. In such a social and economic structure, poverty is celebrated instead of being averted.
The fifty years in chains: the life of an American Slave, by Charles Balls, narrates the story of a young slave who had to undergo the hardships of slavery in South. It is a direct testimony of a slave who shares his experiences with the free people of this country. He was a slave separated from his mother and describes his experiences. Born on a tobacco plantation in Calvert Maryland, though the exact date of birth remains unknown, but it is said to be around some time in 1781. Just when he reached four years of his age, his mothers and sibling were all sold to another plantation and he could never meet them again since then.
During his term of servitude in Maryland, he wedded a slave named Judah who toiled on the neighboring plantation. Nevertheless, their separation took place when he was bought by a slave holder from Georgia. Ball was bound with 51 other slaves in neck irons, handcuffs and chains and compelled to walk for over a moth from Maryland to Columbia, South Carolina with other 51 slaves.
Then, a cotton plantation owner bought him and he later worked for his owner’s youngest daughter. In the wake of his owner’s death in 1809, the most harsh and tragic time befell him. He was left at the mercy and disposal of owner’s sons only to be tormented both psychically and mentally and treated in a very cruel manner.
He finally became a fugitive slave escaping the drudgery of life. He then continued to live his life as a self-proclaimed freed man though in a very precarious manner. He ran away from the bonds of slavery during the span of a year in which he walked from Georgia to Maryland. In Maryland, he came back to his wife and children and acted on his wife’s advice to hire him out for wages.
After the marriage of his first wife, he married again two years later. His life as a self-proclaimed freed man did not last long as he was captured and resumed the life of slavery.
He narrates the overall heart-wrenching experience of his life as a slave “My mother then turned to him and cried, "Oh, master, do not take me from my child!" Without making any reply, he gave her two or three heavy blows on the shoulders with his raw-hide, snatched me from her arms, handed me to my master, and seizing her by one arm, dragged her back towards the place of sale. My master then quickened the pace of his horse; and as we advanced, the cries of my poor parent became more and more indistinct - at length they died away in the distance.”(Ball, 13)
In conclusion, it can be said that the anti-slavery stance is more cogent than those who condone it shamefully. The slavery only gave way to oppression, exploitation, and humiliation of human beings who were mistreated merely on the basis of their skin color. Slavery fulfilled the vicious and money-grubbing motives of the elite in South. The tendency to maximize profit at the cost of humanity, love, equality, and freedom is indeed a catastrophe in itself. In a free and modern society, the notions of slavery cannot constitute the formation of a just society. The abolition of slavery was a good riddance though America had to come a long way for that matter.
Kelly, Martin. "Top Five Causes of the Civil War". Leading up to Secession and the Civil War. Retrieved 1 March 2011.
Winthrop, Jordan, “Slavery and the American South” University Press of Mississippi, 224 pages, 2008
Fitzhugh, George, “Cannibals All” Apple wood Books, 2008
Fitzhugh, George, “Sociology for the South: The failure of free society” A. Morris, Princeton University Press. 2008
Ball, Charles, “Fifty Years in Chains” Dover Publications, 2003
Hildreth, Richard, “Despotism in America: an inquiry into the nature and results of the slave-holding system in the United States” Harvard University Press, 2008 186 pages
Buell, Tonya, “Slavery in America: A Primary Source history of the Intolerable Practice of Slavery” The Rosen Publishing, 2004