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Obliteration Of The Peculiar Institution: An In Depth Investigation Into Whether The People Or The Government Ultimately Destroyed Slavery

3514 words - 15 pages

There is no question that the existence of slavery created a paradox ever since America declared its independence from Britain. Many say the American Revolution did not finish until after the slaves were freed. The question of who freed the slaves is debatable. Historians disagree on whether it was the government or the common people--full scale war or full-scale rebellion that led to the end of slavery in the United States.1 Ultimately, it was the government who freed the slaves, but "liberation from the top would go only so far as the interests of the dominant groups permitted."2 At the time government tended to appease the South. Therefore, at countless key points during the ...view middle of the document...

On the master's side, the whites could not educate the slaves. In a court of law, slaves could not testify against their masters. This gave masters and overseers an abundant amount of power over the slaves. Owners essentially could kill slaves in punishment, but the slaves faced the death penalty for even striking an owner.6 The butt end of the rifle hit when the slave codes declared that anybody with a trace of black ancestry, or was suspected of black ancestry, would legally be considered black. Regardless of the Slave Codes (which were not well-enforced), Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman present that "over all, four in five cotton pickers engaged in one or more disorderly acts... As a group, a slightly higher percentage of women than men committed seven or more disorderly acts [over the period of a year]."7 There were two forms of disorderly conduct: Sambo, and insurrection. 8 Sambo was the lesser, more passive of the resistances. This could range from acting dumb and being lazy to passive forms of rebellion. Religion was a form of slave resistance as well. In churches, priests spoke "a language defiant enough to hold the high-spirited among their flock."9 Slaves often reiterated the sermons priests gave, and dreamt of a day they would be saved and go to Canaan (freedom in the North).10 "Christian images, and biblical injunctions, were central to Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, 11 John Brown, and others who planned or engaged in open resistance to slavery."12 On a day-to-day ritual, "slaves [were] generally expected to sing as well as work." In front of their white masters, they sang. Songs sent as a powerful message as religion. Slave songs' seemingly shallow lyrics took on a deeper meaning of representing of their freedom.13 An abolitionist who visited a slave farm would hear the reverberating of wailing notes. Frederick Douglass recounted that "those songs... deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds. If any one wishes to be impressed with a sense of the soul-killing power of slavery, let him, ... in silence, thoughtfully analyze the sounds that shall pass through the chambers of his soul, and if he is not thus not impressed, it will only be because 'there is no flesh in his obdurate [hard] heart.'"14 Among the more open and effective actions against slavery by both free blacks and slaves were the rebellions (or attempted rebellions). They occurred within rapid succession of each other. The first was organized by Gabriel Prosser in 1800. Unfortunately, his rebellion was betrayed by fellow blacks out of fear, as was that of Denmark Vesey in 1822. However, the successful rebellions shook the southerners in fear. A group of slaves in New Orleans in 1811 raided many plantations, killing every master in them, but recruiting their slaves. Like most rebellions it was suppressed. Another rebellion headed by Nat Turner happened nine years after Vesey's planned...

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