Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Slavery in the 19th Century

   In the 19th century, Slavery was a hot topic. This has been one for quite sometimes. But different question are brought up about it every time we look at this age. How did slavery become entrenched in the American economy by the 19th century? How did the system of slavery based on race affect human dignity? What human characteristics did such a system tend to ignore? These are just a few question we ask. 
    By the 19th century, cotton became a major export of the united states and the south that was kick started by the invention of the cotton gin. Eli Whitney, the inventor, helped the slaves become a major commodity. As it is described here, "Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin gave slavery a new lease on life. Between 1792, when Whitney invented the cotton gin, and 1794, the price of slaves doubled. By 1825, field hands, who had brought $500 apiece in 1794, were worth $1,500. As the price of slaves grew, so, too, did their numbers. During the first decade of the nineteenth century, the number of slaves in the United States rose by 33 percent; during the following decade, the slave population grew another 29 percent.(1)"  This growth in cotton correlated directly with the growth of cotton production. In the beginning roughly 35 million pounds were produced and accounted for about 7% percent of the nations revenues. This number gradually and majorly skyrocketed. By the 1840's cotton production had reached 834 million pounds. And the numbers didn't stop there. Finally, 1860 came around with about 2.28 billion pounds of cotton. These numbers and growth of revenue correlated to the spread of slavery in the united states. As more cotton needed to be picked, more slaves were transported in and by mid century, about 3,204,000 slaves were held in the south. Most of the higher concentrations of slaves were held in the lower Mississippi basin and Gulf Coast states.   
     Since the North also relied on the revenue of the South and United States, even as they were opposed to slavery, they depended on it for a large portion of their well being. Cotton brought in clothing, trad-able goods and money. So that was a controversial topic in the government as well. The Northerners believed that it was brutal and horrible but the Southerners pointed out that it paid the bills and kept America out of debt.     
      Where the line of human dignity has come in question, we, as Americans, have never been able to stand when that line was crossed. Except in the manner of slavery. The system of slavery took the human dignity and lowered it a few levels. The slaves were treated like property and that can be seen in the Constitution. The founders of the Constitution put different laws in place to help keep slaves in their proper place. Such as Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3 says, "No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.(2)" Here, the Founding Fathers are explaining If a slave escapes from the state in which they are in servitude, they are not free of their owner, and they must be sent back to whoever they escaped from. This treats slaves like property and degrades them to a low standard. Which also lowers the line of human dignity.   
     Where the subject of slavery is concerned, many people have had objections because of the morality and brutality of it. This system tends to ignore vital human characteristics and needs for life. Such as the needs for compassion and family. The slaves would often be torn apart form family and friends. While being shown very little compassion. As we have heard before, "Enslaved persons stationed in the household were under the constant watchful eye of the slaveholder and his family, which limited their autonomy and made less time available to them to manage their own personal affairs. For enslaved women, it also meant the ever-present possibility of sexual assault by the slaveholder. Those who worked in the fields faced daunting labor.(3)" This kind of constant degradation made slave life in the united states a living nightmare. But it was only this way in America. Slavery in other places was not such a burden. In Futa Jallon, a colony in Africa, slavery was described as, "By the third generation, the status of a slave was similar to that of a freed person, and children born of a free father and an enslaved mother were free and could reach the highest echelon of political power. Some captives were blacksmiths, potters, weavers, and soldiers but most worked in agriculture and lived in villages in the countryside where they had little contact with their owners. Placed under the direction of one of their own, they grew rice, corn, grain, yam, peanuts, millet, and cassava. They worked in their fields and gardens two days a week to feed themselves, and could hold property. Part of the crops they produced for their owners was sold to the Europeans.(3)" Here, slavery does not mean a complete alienation form society and human dignity. It simply means a lower rank and more work. America is one of the only places that took slavery to such an extreme and made it such a huge question of morality.       
     In American history, and the 19th century, slavery degraded the human dignity to a low stand point by treating slaves like property. The North and South, although each had different opinions on the subject, heavily depended on the imports and exports that slavery provided. And such a system ignored the characteristics of a good life such as love and compassion. These three contributing factors lead us, now, to cringe at the history of slavery. 

 1- http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/cotton-gin-patent/#documents and http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/era.cfm?eraID=6&smtID=2 - http://www.edline.net/files/_AeGiT_/4eed1cce371caa3c3745a49013852ec4/Unit_4_Activity_4_Cotton_Gin_Reading.pdf2- http://www.edline.net/files/_AeGg2_/1d5157b4b5d488223745a49013852ec4/Slavery_in_The_Founders_Constitution.pdf3- http://princeamongslaves.org/module/comparing.html?page=2 

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