Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery

Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery

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The North is popularly considered the catalyst of the abolitionist movement in antebellum America and is often glorified in its struggle against slavery; however, a lesser-known installment of the Northern involvement during this era is one of its complicity in the development of a “science” of race that helped to rationalize and justify slavery and racism throughout America. The economic livelihood of the North was dependent on the fruits of slave labor and thus the North, albeit with some reluctance, inherently conceded to tolerate slavery and moreover embarked on a quest to sustain and legitimize the institution through scientific research. Racism began to progress significantly following the American Revolution after which Thomas Jefferson himself penned Notes on the State of Virginia, a document in which he voiced his philosophy on black inferiority, suggesting that not even the laws of nature could alter it. Subsequent to Jefferson’s notes, breakthroughs in phrenological and ethnological study became fundamental in bolstering and substantiating the apologue of racial inadequacy directed at blacks. Throughout history, slavery was indiscriminate of race and the prospect acquiring freedom not impossible; America, both North and South, became an exception to the perennial system virtually guaranteeing perpetual helotry for not only current slaves but also their progeny.
The North acquiesced to slavery for the purpose of reaping the benefits of economic stability and growth by way of the free labor it provided; such capitulation on the issue was contrary to the political stance of Northerners at the time, but there was no denying their reliance on the pecuniary advantage it created.
From seed to cloth, Northern merchants, sh...


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...d that black people were simply afflicted with a form of leprosy of which caused blackening of skin as well as swelling to the lips and nose. Rush also believed the leprosy dulled sensitivity and created a higher threashhold for pain, a trait slaveowners used to legitimize beatings. (183)
The studies by Morton, Rush, Agassiz, and Nott helped support and justify racial segregation via rational science making it readily accepted by white Northerners as matter of fact rather than a possible act of moral turpitude. Through the development of racial science the Northerners were able to legitimize their involvement with the institution of slavery in order to ensure their own stability and way of life.





Works Cited

Farrow, Anne, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank. Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery. New York: Ballantine, 2006. Print.

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