Slavery: The Double-Edged Sword

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Slavery: The Double-Edged Sword

To be black is to be naturally inferior; this was the mindset of the American South in the beginning of the 19th century. African Americans were confined to slavery with no means to change their situation or to escape the abuse that often accompanied their position. Slaves endured all forms of physical and mental punishment whose sole purpose was to keep them inferior to their white suppressors. Slaves were maintained through ignorance; they had their self-identity stolen from them and were kept illiterate to prevent them from questioning what power kept them oppressed and to prevent them from spreading word of the brutalities they faced. To be a slave meant to live a doomed life. Negros were not the only ones who were ruined by the institution of slavery, though. Frederick Douglass, an African American social reformer, leader of the abolitionist movement, and former slave, believed that the unnatural means of slavery had harmful effects on everyone within the institution of slavery. Although slaves faced physical, mental, and psychological abuse, slave owners were also degraded and ruined by the institution of slavery, because it distressed slaveholding families, caused warped forms of Christianity with unjust morals to arise, and reduced civil people to fiends through irresponsibility. Through his Narrative and his speeches, Douglass reasoned that if everyone within the institution of slavery was tarnished by it, then it must be unnatural, and therefore a threat to society as a whole that must be removed.

Slavery not only ruined the lives of those who were oppressed by it, but also the lives of the oppressors, because slavery was capable of ruining the family life of slave owners. Douglass obs...

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...slavery can no longer be hidden from the rest of the world, because political ideas possess no boundaries. Douglass concludes with a poem entitled "The Triumph of Freedom," to stress that freedom is unavoidable. By showing the detrimental effects of slaveholding on Thomas and Sophia Auld, Mr. Covey, and others, as well as proving that slavery is a practice that degrades the founding qualities of America, Douglass proves that slavery is unnatural and evil, and should be outlawed not only for the greater good of all society, but because it the great sin and shame of America .


Douglass, Frederick, and David W. Blight. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave: with related documents. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003.

Eifler, Mark. “Early American History.” Class lecture, University of Portland, Portland, OR, March, 2014.
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