Slavery in America: From Necessary to Evil

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As African slaves began arriving in the Chesapeake region in the early seventeenth century, they were treated, in many respects, akin to white indentured servants shipped in from England. For instance, a black could, under the right conditions sue for his or her freedom, or if the slave converted to Christianity he or she could obtain their freedom. Towards the latter half of the seventeenth century however, planters began to systematically strip slaves of their minimal rights. Until the mid-nineteenth century, slaves across the south were treated like beasts of burden, thus traded, sold, and ranked not among beings, but among things, as an article of property. Throughout the colonial period slavery continued to expand across the south, yet northerners, especially New Englanders, never adopted slavery like to their southern neighbors. As migration to the colonies increased and differences arose between the colonies and a Parliament an ocean away, the issue of slavery accompanied the rising thoughts of liberty and equality in the New World. As colonialists, and eventually Americans, attempted to define liberty and equality in an evolving state, slavery polarized the society along lines of race and status. The issue of slavery lay coiled up under the table during the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention. By the 1780’s, slavery was dying in the north, and every state from Pennsylvania north acknowledged that slavery was fundamentally inconsistent with the Revolutionary ideology that “all men are created equal. ” In the Deep South, freedom for slaves was unthinkable, yet thousands had defected to fight with the British during the war. Nonetheless, as Americans were encouraged to create their manifest destiny and the Uni... ... middle of paper ... ...d, by the framers of the Constitution. In the nineteenth century, territories were added to the Union and slavery was at the forefront in each instance, as proslavery states as well as antislavery states struggled to gain the upper hand in Congressional votes. With the invention of the cotton gin in 1797, the demand for slaves increased. Yet the conditions in slave camps did not improve, and white Southerners justified the institution of slavery in nearly every conceivable way. Nonetheless slavery evolved from a “necessary evil” in Jeffersonian Virginia to a “positive good” in the antebellum South. This evolution infused America with a culture that was not allowed to form naturally. Therefore, blacks were put at a severe social disadvantage from the start, and the subsequent social cleavages that came to define the twentieth century should have been no surprise.

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