SLAVERY HIS335 CIVIL WAR MICHAEL J PERRY Excelsior College The institution of slavery, the two authors James M. McPherson and Stanley M. Elkins agree on many of the same points of view. The institution of slavery was hard on the slaves themselves often making them live under hard conditions that would not allow for a good life to be lead.

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These two authors discuss the harsh realities of being a slave, such conditions as unhealthy living conditions, forced labor in the cotton, tobacco, and hemp fields from sun up till sometimes when there was a full moon into the middle of the night with only a short 5 or 10 minute lunch break at noon to eat a few pieces of cold bacon. Families were often spilt up by being sold and religion was something that the master didn’t think that a beast would understand.

They agree that in the North with the industrial revolution and the rapid growth there wasn’t much need for slavery but in the South the institution of slavery was seen by the people there as needed. McPherson states on page 41 of Ordeal By Fire that the institution of slavery undermined the work ethic among Southern whites. When most kinds of manual labor are associated with bondage work becomes servile rather than honorable. He further talks about how slaves were forced to do the work and kind of just go through the motions of conducting work without really doing it making them ineffective at their jobs.

While Elkins discuss how the institution of slavery was effective with America was being a capitalist economy and the slaves being the major force behind this thriving economy. The major differences between the Latin and North American slave system was that in Latin America they had a open system, where the slave had rights and could purchase their freedom and then go on to live a normal free life, were as in America we had a closed system were the slaves, their children and their children’s children would be born into slavery owned by the same master until they were sold or died.

This gave slaves in America nothing to work towards. The church couldn’t turn a blind eye to the topic of slavery for long and according to Elkins in 1698 assured the king of Spain that there cannot be any doubt as to the necessity of those slaves for the support of the kingdom of the Indies and that with regard to the point of conscience, the trade may continue. In Latin America slaves were allowed to go to church and in fact the church made it their right, the church believed in extending its moral authority over all men even slave to the point that they brought slave unions under their control.

Slaves in Latin America enjoyed and were allowed to have many of the same religious right that we all have today in our own country. Slaves heading to Brazil would be baptized before leaving for that country and once there be meet by a friar to check conscience, faith, and religion of the new arrivals. As we look into the church, slavery and our own country this is a different matter. The slave in the United States weren’t given the same rights as slave in Latin America as a matter of fact they had no rights because they were property.

In fact many slave masters did want their slaves to hear the word but it had to be in the original and purest form with the overseers present and many states passed laws that would not allow blacks to have service before the rising sun or after the setting sun of the same. In other states blacks could only go to white churches but many didn’t have the accommodations or want them there with the white congregation.

The rural Southern churches couldn’t condemn slavery because to do so would mean that the good Southern white men in their congregations were evil sinning men. This way of thinking wouldn’t continue and for a few churches there would be a split between the Southern way of thinking and the Northern way of thinking, these churches were the Methodists in 1844, the Baptists in 1845 and the Presbyterians in 1861 because of the issue of slavery. Both authors discuss how the slave master had total control over their slaves.

Chattel bondage gave the master great power over his slaves to buy or sell, to punish without sanctions of the courts, to separate families, to exploit sexually, even to kill with little fear of being held legally responsible. The law didn’t see slaves in the same way that it did free men. In fact slaves had few rights under the law; they could not marry nor own property. As Elkins talked about in regards to religion to be up to the master whether or not his slaves could hear the word out of the good book.

The only thing a slave had control of in their lives was his work. It has been seen where because a slave was forced into doing the work took little or no pride in the work or how fast it got done, so the slaves appeared to be lazing because they felt no purpose or lack of motivation to do a good hard job because they would see little of the profits from the work. The masters attitudes had become internalized as a part of their selves: those attitudes and standards now dominated all others that they had.

The slave would look to the master in a good father type role and be respectful and loyal to him. With Americans devotion to limited government and laissez faire capitalism it directly leads to brutal treatment of slaves. While on one hand some slave owners understood that success was measured by how much cotton would be picked and sold since this was the main staple crop of the day and if their slaves were hurt it would hurt their success, so some treated their slaves well.

Most however did not, with the laws allowing the owners to do with the slaves what they wanted there were few rights the slaves had including protection or any Civil Rights. In many situations if a master treated his slaves poorly the public opium of him would be in question, but anytime you allow a man to have total control over something that they have little or no respect for mistreatment will eventually take place. Elkins discusses how in many circumstances the slave owners would take matters into their own hands to punish their slaves.

Elkins has a example of a South Carolina law of 1740 which provided that, “In case any person shall willfully cut out the tongue, put out the eye, castrate, or cruelly scald, burn, or deprive any slave of any limb or member, or shall inflict any other cruel punishment, other than the whipping, or beating with a horse whip, cow skin, switch, or small stick, or by putting irons on, or confining or imprisoning such slave, every such person shall, for every such offense, forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds current money.

The catch all to this was that Southern law wouldn’t allow slaves to testify in court except against another slave, so this law really couldn’t be enforced. On the other hand in Ordeal By Fire McPherson page 38 Masters and overseers could not rule by the whip alone. Dead maimed, brutalized, or runaway slaves could grow little if any cotton. Persuasion, inducement, rewards for good work, and concession were necessary in this as in other relationships between employer and employees.

It’s my opinion that Stanley Elkins more accurately describes antebellum American slavery in his book Slavery; he goes further back and discusses the ordeal and the shock and detachment of the slaves from the beginning of their capture, through their day to day ordeals of being property in America and not being able to be free. REFERENCE; McPherson, James M, & Hogue, James K, (2009) Ordeal By Fire, The Civil War and Reconstruction, (4th Edition), New York, McGraw Hill Companies Inc. Stanley M. Elkins (1976) SLAVERY (3rd Edition), The University of Chicago Press, Ltd. , London


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