Slavery in the 19th century Essay

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Slavery was quite a thorny topic in the 19th century threatening to divide the American society into two. The American Revolution did not help heal the deep rifts and resentment a part of the American society had for the minority black population. The declaration for independence had not brought this resentment to an end either and it would become a big issue in the civil war that was pitting the dominant slave states in the south against the rapidly industrializing states in the north. Questions have always arisen in regard to the issue of slavery and prejudice and why it is the blacks that were mainly targeted for slavery.

What is the connection between slavery and racism? Most contemporary historians contend with the fact that slavery preceded racism, this would be the main reason as to why the geographic dispersion of slavery paints an interesting but horrendous picture; only the Indians and blacks were enslaved in the United States and mostly the world over. The history of white enslavement is uncommon no matter how down trodden such a white could be. Right from the onset, the landing of the first blacks in Virginia U. S.

for example were referred to as Negroes or slaves. This was in accordance to a wide held assumption across America that every black person was a slave. None of the white compatriots were referred using the same undertone . Some historians tend to generalise by claiming that slavery had always existed. This may be true though but in the New Age, it took quite a different angle and mostly targeted the coloured people. It is the apologists that try to claim that it has always been in existence rather than focus on unearthing its relationship with prejudice.

It is no coincidence that almost the whole population of blacks in America and a better proportion of the natives were slaves. It is important to look at the history of slavery in America to understand the connection between slavery and prejudice . The demand for slaves arose as a result of the many menial tasks that arose especially in the south. The tasks in the plantations were rather harsh and not many amongst the whites were willing to perform them. The natives were considered weak and inappropriate for the hard work and the blacks formed a good source, as they would provide free labour.

In the 19th century the demand for exports increased and the planters needed a more secure source of labour rather in addition to the indentured servants . The work in the plantations was seen as a reserve of the black population and with time the white population began to appreciate it as a matter of fact. It is this misrepresentation of reality in the peoples mind that came to reinforce the notion that blacks could only be slaves and labourers. In the early seventeenth century, the white servants worked in the same farms as the black salves, alongside each other.

The Bacons rebellion changed that and there came an urgent need to segregate the people along racial lines especially in Virginia. This segregation created hierarchies in the society with the blacks being the lowest and whites high in the supremacy order. With such a belief in place, almost every white began having a notion that his or her race was superior to that of the black with the black seeing themselves inferior. The political regimes also in place played a great role in emphasizing this contradiction.

The black populace had no civil or political rights; these were exclusive to the whites. The position one had in life was determined by the skin colour. The whites solidarity was driven more by the fear of rebellion from the black population, this segregation led to the creation of identities based on race, further still, slavery was seen as a preserve of the blacks. Every black was seen as a slave. Even in the onset of abolitionism, blacks were still considered primitive thanks to long held perceptions that had been drummed into the whites generations after generations .

Most modern historians claim that the prejudices held against the black and the native population in America were reinforced by slavery. Slavery hence begot racism. Far fetched though, it would seem prudent to say that the factors that led to slavery led also to racism. Slavery was necessitated by the expanding economies across Europe and in America, creating a need for a cheap source of informal labour. Millions were captured from their abode in Africa and taken abroad creating a class of labourers and slaves.

It became accepted then that the blacks place was in the plantations as slaves. It reinforced the notion that they were inferior people and could take any form of mistreatment. It is true to say hence that slavery preceded prejudice and racism. The prejudice that took shape in the 18th and 19th centuries was as a result of a hammered notion into the mind of the whites that the blacks were less civilised. Slavery enhanced this prejudice and racism took shape out of this.


Parish, Peter J. , Slavery: History and Historians. (New York: Harper & Row, 1989); 37Smith, John David. Slavery, Race, and American History: Historical Conflict, Trends, and Method, 1866-1953. (Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1999), 49 Smith, Mark M. Debating Slavery: Economy and Society in the Antebellum American South. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 34. Blackburn, Robin. The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800. (London: Verso, 1997) 22. Blackburn, Robin. The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848. (London: Verso, 1988), 46. Davis, David Brion. Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution. (New York: Oxford, 1975), 19.

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