Posted: July 5th, 2021
The 19th century was characterized by a heated debate between proslavery and abolitionists of slavery. Proponents and authors of slavery had different perspectives and opinions from the antislavery authors. These opinions revolved around their view on the ‘slaves,’ justification of slavery, and criticisms. The debate resulted in a conflict of interest in the political arena as many legislations were developed and appealed. This was due to the lack of a consensus on whether to allow or abolish slavery in America. Below is a detailed analysis of the pro and antislavery ideas showing the perspective each side had concerning slavery and the treatment of slaves.
Proslavery authors supported the act of slavery and expressed their opinions and perspectives as to why slavery was justified. Proslavery authors viewed slaves as the inferior race compared to the white race with lesser intellect and little skills. The authors have a consensus on the fact that slaves are the inferior race, and being in slavery is a form of privilege compared to other slaves in the world. The authors justify slavery as a form of rescue to slaves in the South from other extreme cruelty in the world. For instance, Fitzhugh argues that “That his slavery here relieves him from a far more cruel slavery in Africa, or from idolatry and cannibalism, and every brutal vice and crime that can disgrace humanity.” This shows that slaves in the South are treated better and should not feel dehumanized as being a slave alleviates the potential and worse experience they could experience in Africa or the West Indies (Fitzhugh). Hammond concurs with this argument as he argues, “our slaves are hired for life and well compensated; there is no starvation, no begging, no want of employment among our people, and not too much employment either.” These authors believe that enslaving the African Americans is justifiable as they are alleviating and relieving them worse pain they would experience in the outside world (Hammond).
Secondly, the proslavery authors believe these ‘slaves’ were created to ‘own’ that condition and position. Hammond argues that God created them, slaves when he writes, “the condition in which God first created them, by being made our slaves.” Moreover, he adds that God created two different classes, namely the bourgeoisie (the white race) and the proletariat, who happens to be slaves to be servitude and become subjects of their masters (Hammond). The aspect of relieving the ‘slaves’ form much worse forms of slavery in the world, preventing them from being a burden in the society, and implementing the position they were created for are the common reasons proslavery authors feel slavery is justifiable and not dehumanizing.
Proslavery authors believe that slaves belong in the class of the impoverished and landless people (lower class) and subject to their masters. These slaves were required to perform the drudgery and menial works for their masters as they needed and had little intellect and skills. This class was not part of the high social class that led progress in society as well as refinement and civilization (Hammond). In this low class, slaves were supposed to be utterly submissive to their masters, and as Fitzhugh argued, slaves were big grown babies requiring the governance of a parent or guardian (masters).
The proslavery documents contain many mocking and derisive stereotypes of African Americans. They are portrayed as improvident people with less intellect and little or no skills required performing only drudgery works. Moreover, they are distinguished from the white race by arguing that they cannot initiate or lead sufficient progress, lead civilizations, and symbolize refinement (Hammond). They are described as small big grown babies requiring the governance of a parent or guardian (masters) (Fitzhugh). Finally, there is a disease exclusively experienced among African Americans. Dr. Cartwright argues that drapetomania is the disease among Negroes that causes them to run away. All these stereotypes are mocking and derisive (Cartwright).
The abolitionist authors, on the other hand, feel slavery should be abolished because; every man has the right to live freely and enjoy similar privileges. The authors show the inalienability of human rights despite differences in color. The Declaration of the Sentiments shows that “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, LIBERTY.” This shows that slavery is going contrary to the standards written on the Temple of Freedom (Garrison). Every man, whether white or African American, has the right to freedom and freedom from any slavery or servitude. Moreover, all men must enjoy all and any privileges attached to the freedom of liberty. Therefore, the action of enslaving African Americans is against the law and a great sin.
Secondly, they argue slavery is a crime against humanity, morality, God, and the constitution. The abolitionist authors have a consistent reference to God and Christianity, showing that slavery is against God’s believes, is a form of insult and misery. They believe it is an inhumane action as masters take their lives and those of their families (Walker). As seen above, the Declaration of the Sentiments indicates that enslaving any person is against not only the law but also a great sin before God that requires repentance and immediate abolition (Garrison). Douglass also argues that slavery is not divine, and God did not create it. Therefore, strongly negating the proslavery authors’ arguments that African Americans were created to be slaves (Douglass). These authors criticize American society by likening it to the story of Egyptians and Israelites. Walker describes the whites in America as an “unjust, jealous, unmerciful, avaricious, and bloodthirsty set of beings, always seeking after power and authority.” This shows the contempt he has concerning American society (Walker). He further indicates that it is in the USA that African Americans were treated ruthlessly and degraded the most.
The antislavery authors view African Americans as intelligent and hardworking people with equal status in the society as the white race. This is seen when Walker shows that the composition of the human body is similar for the colored and white people; thus, no difference (Walker). Garrison argues that African Americans can manage wealth, have similar intelligence, and more opportunities should be opened to them to explore (Garrison). Finally, Walker adds that they are knowledgeable as they worked as tutors to their masters’ children. Besides, great works and publications have originated from African Americans. Thus, slaves are not fools, nor are they improvident; they are intelligent and capable of leading change and progress.
Proslavery and antislavery authors had a different perspective of slaves and their ideas, especially on issues concerning morality, universal rights, and the fact that all human beings despite what race were equal. Proslavery authors believed slaves were created by God to work for them, and this act was a form of relief and rescue from a much worse world. These slaves are seen as improvident and only created for drudgery work. On the other hand, antislavery authors argue that slavery should be abolished as it is against the law and a sin before God. They describe Africa Americans as intellectuals with equal capacity as the white race.
Cartwright, Dr. “Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race.” De Bow’s Review: Southern and Western States (1967).
Douglass, Frederick. “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of. 5 July 1852. 20 November 2019.
Fitzhugh, George. “The Universal Law of Slavery.” The Black American, A Documentary History (1970).
Garrison, William Lloyd. The American Anti-Slavery Society: DECLARATION OF SENTIMENTS OF THE AMERICAN ANTI-SLAVERY CONVENTION. 1852. 20 November 2019.
Hammond, James Henry. The ‘Mudsill’ Theory. 1858. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h3439t.html)>.
Walker, David. David Walker’s Appeal. 1995. 20 November 2019.
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