Slavery undoubtedly was a problem in society and always will be. But what exactly did slavery do to the American society? We started this unit talking about slavery and how it gradually became entrenched in society, both economically and politically. The first essential question I will focus on is "How did slavery become economically entrenched in American society by the early 19th century?". To start off, we read parts of The Founder's Constitution that mentioned slavery. The clauses from different articles basically stated what slaves can and cannot do, and what to do if they break any rules. A quote that stands out from the Constitution is from Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3. "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." This is saying that if a slave leaves the state they are working in, even if they go to a state that prohibits slavery, they arenot freed, but will be returned to their owner. This really shows how strict things got if a slave dared to escape their assigned state. We also read an article titled "Cotton is King: Slavery is Entrenched in American Society". In the article I learned that people thought that slavery was declining. Slaves were revolting and escaping, people were beginning to get new revolutionary ideas to free their slaves and it seemed like slavery was about to be gone. Also, Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin really had an impact on slavery. The article says "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”. This quote explains how just a simple invention that made it easier to get seeds out of cotton increased the number of slaves. We also used an interactive map to help us get a better understanding on the dramatic growth of cotton production from 1790 to 1860, and also the spread of slavery across the northern and southern US during that 70 year period. By 1860, the South grew a startling amount of 2.28 billion pounds of cotton, up from about 1.5 million pounds in just 70 years. Also, the total slave population of the United States was estimated to be approximately 3,954,000. There were about 690,000 slaves in 1790. The maps below show how different the maps look in 1790 and 1860. Both maps are representing number of slaves.
The maps also show how in 1790, most slaves were located in the Chesapeake and Carolina areas, and in 1860 the slave population was more spread out across the south. This is another way slavery was entrenched in society. It certainly sped up cotton production, which was obviously the major crop in these times. Northerners and southerners both depended on slaves for cotton.
Morality of Slavery
In the next lesson on slavery, we focused on the morality of slavery. The two major parts and essential questions are "How does a system of slavery based on race affect human dignity?" and "What human characteristics does such a system tend to ignore?". To start off, we were put into groups and assigned a pro or anti slavery activist. We did this to find out what they were saying about the Antebellum Period (the period before the Civil War). All the primary source documents we looked up are here. As one can tell, these people had different reactions to the Antebellum Period and different ways of approaching things. My group's activist was Frederick Douglass. In a speech the day after the fourth of July, he called Americans hypocrites for celebrating freedom and liberty for all when they are the nation that abuses slaves like no other. Douglass made the most sense to me and I agreed with his speech. A photo of him with important concepts from his speech is on the right. John Brown, a militant abolitionist, claimed that he was willing to murder for the sake of abolition movement. His goal was to cease weapons from the arsenal and give them to slaves to use against owners. He wanted them to start a revolt. Most people agreed with his cause, just not his violent ways of standing up against slavery. Another advocate, George Fitzhugh, a Virginian lawyer, was pro slavery. He believed that all labor should be enslaved. Fitzhugh also said that free people had more worries and responsibilities than slaves. Slaves were in a 'better position' because they were being taken care of and didn't have to worry about money, clothes, food, or finding a job. What's wrong with his theory is that most slaves were very mistreated, not treated better than free people, and he ignores the idea of them having relationships or a family. We then read an article comparing slavery in Futa Jallon, Africa to slavery in Natchez, Mississippi. This article taught me a lot, like how in Futa Jallon only non-muslims could be enslaved and the sale of Muslims was strictly prohibited. Also, children born of a free father and an enslaved mother were free and could reach the highest echelon of political power. The slaves could hold property and worked in their fields and gardens two days a week to feed themselves. Natchez, MS was a different story. All slaves "lacked full control over their lives". Slaveholders tried to dehumanize them, and the slaves that chopped out old plants completed between four and seven miles of cotton rows each day. After that, we watched Prince Among Slaves, a PBS
docu-drama that depicts the
true story of Abdul Rahman. My classmates talked about the film on TodaysMeet.com and the transcript of that can be found here. Rahman was the son of the king of Futa Jallon. He was given command of two thousand men to fight their enemies. He ended up getting ambushed and captured by another African group on his way home from the battle. After being forced to walk 100 miles to the coast, he was sold to white slave traders for rum, guns, and gun powder. He had to go on a cramped and dirty slave ship to go to Natchez, Mississippi. He tells his slaveowner Thomas Foster that he was a prince at home and nobody believes him, and he earns the nickname Prince. Prince ran away, but realized he couldn't get his old life back. He returns back to Natchez and Foster does not punish him. Prince ends up making his plantation one of the best producing plantations, due to his knowledge on cotton. Politicians ended up freeing Prince due to newspaper articles being printed about him that were written by Marshalk. Prince wanted to raise enough money to buy his wife and children's freedom. People start to realize he is not Moorish and withdraw their support. This partly answers the essential question, it proves everything was based on race. He ended up leaving America without his children and finally arrives back in Africa on March 18, 1829. He died at the age of 67. This film and all of our resources proved to us that race affected everything, and slaves were not really treated like the human beings that they were.