Slavery in Colonial America

Slavery in Colonial America

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Slavery in Colonial America

The first arrivals of Africans in America were treated similarly to the indentured servants in Europe. Black servants were treated differently from the white servants and by 1740 the slavery system in colonial America was fully developed.

Slavery as it existed in America was a practice founded on the chattel principle. Slaves were treated as human chattel to be traded, sold, used, and ranked not among beings, but among things, as an article of property to the owner or possessor.

Because the American slave system was based on this principle of human chattlehood, slaves were confined in many ways that handicapped them from even being able to act or live as a human being. The very idea of human chattelhood gave the master unlimited control over his defenseless slave. Chattels are not permitted to get married, acquire or hold property. Chattels cannot have rights and hence the slave has no rights. Chattels can be bought and sold and so justifies the existence of the slave trade. Chattels do not have any claim to legal protection, therefore the slave has none and must tolerate the cruelties of slavery. Chattels are not to be educated or instructed in religion. And lastly, chattels do not possess the freedom of speech and of the press.

Race was a very important factor in American slavery. In other nations, slaves would be of the same race as their master. An ex-slave could re-enter society with their past forgotten and be accepted once again. On the other hand, American slavery was closely connected to racial differences that led to racial segregation and discrimination. Master and slave could physically be distinguished from one another, which ultimately distinguished one as human and the other as chattel.

Before the American Revolution, slavery existed in every one of the colonies. But by the last quarter of the 18th century, slavery was eventually abandoned in the North mainly because it was not as profitable as it was to the South (where it was becoming even more prevalent). Slavery was an extremely important element in America's economy because of the expanding tobacco and cotton plantations in the Southern states that were in need of more and more cheap labor. At one point America was a land of 113, 000 slaveholders controlling twenty million slaves.

By the 1760's many Americans were beginning to become dissatisfied with their mother nation and were waging a war of resistance against the British colonial government.

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The words of freedom of the rebelling colonists soon also became the same cry for the slaves' fight for their own freedom. Many of their literatures used the rhetoric of the times to appeal for the abolition of slavery. It was paradoxical for the patriots to be fighting for their freedom from Britain and at the same to be accepting slavery, that which strips the very freedom of a man.

In 1776 representatives from the rebellious thirteen colonies met in the Continental Congress and voted on ceasing slave trade but solely for the purpose of shutting down British trade. Shortly after, Thomas Jefferson wrote his first version of the Declaration of Independence in which he indicted King George for promoting slavery in America. The Declaration of Independence became renown as the document that celebrated human rights and personal freedom, and yet at the time when Jefferson wrote it, he himself owned over 200 slaves. Many Americans during this time period came to forget that they were of the same human species as their slaves. Freedom was an issue that pertained to humans, not human chattel.

Abolitionist movements slowly but surely became more widespread in their fight for the emancipation of slaves. With the conflict of the Missouri Compromise in 1820 (the issue of whether or not to accept a slave state into the United States of America), Congressional elections of that year were quite affected as terms such as "anti-slavery" and "pro-slavery" were substituting Federalist and Republican.

Slavery was a major pillar in America and it was not easy to simply erase something that existed in a significant portion of the nation's history. It took a war to bring slavery to an end. Slavery was officially abolished in America by President Lincoln's approval of the thirteenth amendment in 1865.

Works Cited

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Goodell, William. Slavery and Anti-Slavery. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1968.

Robinson, B.A. A brief history of the "peculiar institution:" Slavery in North America. 2000.
Religious Tolerance. 23 Feb. 2002

"Slavery in America." Simplcom. 1997. Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc. 23 Feb. 2002
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