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Working for long hours, starving, and being tortured to death had been reasons why people who once had hope led to broken spirits: “Slavery not only inhibited family formation but made stable, secure family life difficult if not impossible” (How Slavery Affected African American Families, 1). Slaves had been bought and sold for many years making it hard to keep a family as a whole. The effects of slavery on African American families were immense, from mothers and fathers having their children taken away, to brothers and sisters being separated.
The history of slavery focused in the year of 1619 when the first slaves arrived at Jamestown, Virginia: “In 1619, a Dutch ship, the White Lion, captured 20 enslaved Africans in a battle with a Spanish ship” (History of Slavery in America, 1). Damages from the battle caused the ship to land itself at Jamestown, Virginia where the enslaved Africans had been traded to the Colonials for food and supplies. The enslaved Africans became indentured servants for the Colonials: “Indentured servants are laborers who are under contract with their master to serve for a period of time” (History of Slavery in America, 1). Slaves and indentured servants were very similar, but indentured servants had a light at the end of the tunnel. The masters of indentured servants provided them with food, shelter, and transportation across the seas. As slavery continued to become more known, many fought against it. Abolitionists did whatever they could to put an end to slavery and even inspired others to become abolitionists as well. A known abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, helped about 6,000 people escape from slavery (History of Slavery in America, 5). She made this possible by using an underground railroad called the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad. “The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes for slaves to escape to the free-states in the north” (History of Slavery in America, 5). The history of slavery not only included these specific events, but also included a huge controversy over it.
The controversy over slavery was whether slavery should be allowed in the new territories or not. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 tried to prevent this controversy, but had a hard time with succeeding permanently: “It established lands west of the Mississippi and below latitude 36º30′ as slave and north of the line—except Missouri—as free” (The Rallying Cry of Secession, 1). The controversy between the North and South grew stronger until it was said that, “As long as there were an equal number of slave-holding states in the South as non-holding states in the North, the two regions had even representation in the Senate and neither could dictate to the other” (The Rallying Cry of Secession, 1). With this being said, it made it very difficult for the amount of slave-holding states and non-slave holding states to stay even whenever a new territory requested for statehood. Peaceful attempts at a resolution to solve the problem of destroying the balance between slave and free slave states began when the Compromise of 1850 came into effect (Compromise of 1850, 1). The Compromise of 1850 included a set of bills that dealt with problems connected to slavery. “The bills provided for slavery to be decided by popular sovereignty in the admission of new states, prohibited the slave trade in the District of Columbia, settled a Texas boundary dispute, and established a stricter fugitive slave act” (Compromise of 1850, 1). The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 meant that, “Northerners in free states were obligated, regardless of their feelings towards slavery, to turn escaped slaves who made it North back over to their Southern masters” (The Rallying Cry of Secession, 2). The controversy over slavery grew and more people began to find reasons that would make slavery justifiable.
In the years of slavery, about four million slaves only in the South made up a third of its population. Southerners had their reasons for creating strong arguments against those who believed that slavery should be ended. The Southerners defended slavery by using the economy, religion, legality, and even war. Southerners believed that if they freed all slaves from slavery, it would lead to revolts and mass destruction in the economy. The slavery system kept the cotton production going, but Southerners argued that if they freed slaves, “cotton could not be tended to and harvested and would ultimately result in the fall of the Southern economy” (Pro-Slavery Ideology in the South, 2-3). Southerners also believed that by keeping slaves as their own, it would provide them with help and that being a slave would only do better for them. “Slave owners would protect and assist their slaves when they were ill and in need, unlike non-slaves who were fired and left with no aid” (Pro-Slavery Ideology in the South, 2). This argument shows that they believed slaves could not handle their own lives and instead received more benefit in the slave system. The defenders of slavery used religion as a reason because they claimed that African American lives would be fulfilled with Christianity. John C. Calhoun, a known defender of slavery, argues that slavery was, “indispensable to the peace of both [whites and blacks]” (Pro-Slavery Ideology in the South, 4). The Southerners made slavery justifiable through the use of legality: “All blacks were seen as property, and the Constitution protected property rights of the people, which includes slave owners” (Pro-Slavery Ideology in the South, 6). They took the Constitution very seriously, and since Southerners considered slaves as property and the Constitution protects property rights, it made it a good reason for them to defend slavery. In view of the fact that the Constitution also did not mention anything about slavery at the time Southerners used legal arguments to justify slavery. For their defense, Southerners also used the Declaration of Independence to justify their reasonings for slavery: “The idea of equality in the Declaration of Independence had different intentions and how the term ‘liberty’ changed its meaning throughout the years to fit their defense” (Pro-Slavery Ideology in the South, 6). Slave owners would make use of women slaves by using them as nurses, cooks, and maids around and inside their homes. Since women slaves had the capability of doing so, slave owners made more profit off of them. Having women slaves also made it easier for having families within the slave system, and by having families, “many of [slave owners] reasoned that having families made it much less likely that a man or woman would run away, thus depriving the owner of valuable property” (How Slavery Affected African American Families, 2). Another reason given to make slavery justifiable was during the time of the Civil War when slaves fought alongside the Union Army. “During the Civil War, roughly 180,000 black men served in the Union Army, and another 29,000 served in the Navy” (Historical Context, 4). Legitimate reasons had been created just to prevent slavery from ending, but slavery should have never been defended.
The division of families, very minimal of rights given, and poor conditions that led to death. Slavery has always been unjust for obvious reasons. Treating other humans unfairly and with such cruelty should not have been justified. People viewed slaves as properties, this meant that slaves had been given a very small amount of rights and even some given no rights at all. “Colonial and state laws considered [slaves] property and commodities, not legal persons who could enter into contracts, and marriage was, and is very much a legal document” (How Slavery Affected African American Families, 1). Marriage is one right that every person is given, but slaves were not considered “legal persons.” This meant that African Americans could not marry legally in any colonies or states until slavery ended completely in 1865. Unless slaves had the ability to become freed African Americans in the Northern states, which ended slavery in 1830, but that could have been very difficult (How Slavery Affected African American Families, 1). Keeping a family all together as a slave made it almost impossible. There were many different ways a family could have been separated from one another. A historian, Michael Tadman, has estimated one third of enslaved children in Maryland and Virginia had been separated from their family in one of three possible ways: “Sale away from parents; sale with mother away from father; or sale of mother or father away from children” (How Slavery Affected African American Families, 2). In some cases, “Enslaved families were also divided for inheritance when an owner died, or because the owners’ adult children moved away to create new lives, taking some of the enslaved people with them” (How Slavery Affected African American Families, 2). Most families lived in nuclear families; they only consisted of the mother, father, and children, no other relative in sight.
Since these types of families consisted of very little family, it made it hard on those who had been separated because they only had each other. Fathers in near-nuclear families had a different owner from the rest of his family where he would have to walk a few miles to see his them: “A father might live several miles away on a distant plantation and walk, usually on Wednesday nights and Saturday evenings to see his family as his obligation to provide labor for an owner took precedence over his personal needs” (How Slavery Affected African American Families, 1). When a woman became pregnant, she had to work in the same type of harsh conditions and did not have a lighter amount of work: “Even during the last week before childbirth, pregnant women on average picked three-quarters or more of the amount normal for women” (Historical Context, 3). Slave infants had been treated poorly as well, they had a poor diet and lived in terrible conditions, but slave owners did not seem to care at all. Only half of slave infants lived to their first year of life. The ones who did live up to their first years of life had an unhealthy weight that averaged to about 5.5 pounds (Historical Context, 3). Trade had a lot to do with the suffering of slaves as well. While slaves were being transported on ships for trade, English and French merchants who controlled the trade provided them with very little resources leading them to death. Out of 12.5 slaves transported to America, only 10.7 million actually made it there (Historical Context, 1).
The lives of African American families had been made difficult due to separation caused by the traumatic effects of slavery. Not only were families suffering, individuals themselves had to live through the poor conditions that had led them to their death. Even infants had a very little chance of living through their first years of life. Morality was never taken into consideration because colonial and state laws did not consider slaves as people, they had only seen them as their own property. The people viewed slavery from an economic view, rather than a humanitarian point of view.
- “Compromise of 1850 (1850).” Our Documents. 25 March 2018. <https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=27>
- “Historical Context: Facts about the Slave Trade and Slavery.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. 14 February 2018 <https://www.gilderlehrman.org/content/historical-context-facts-about-slave-trade-and-slavery>
- “History of Slavery in America.” The Open Computing Facility. 25 March 2018. <https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~arihuang/academic/abg/slavery/history.html>
- “How Slavery Affected African American Families.” National Humanities Center. 6 February 2018. <https://www.nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/freedom/1609-1865/essays/aafamilies.htm>
- “Pro-Slavery Ideology in the South.” November 2015. CTL Sites. 25 March 2018.
- “The Rallying Cry of Secession.” Civil War Trust. 25 March 2018
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