Essay on two perspectives on slavery


Slavery was an institution that began before the formation of the United States and was an unfortunate part of the early history of the nation. The Constitution included the paradoxical combination of a Bill of Rights as well as provisions that allowed slaves to be calculated as three-fifths of a free person for purposes of taxation and representation. African natives were captured from their native lands and sold as part of a three-way trade triangle, along with sugar and molasses, that comprised one of the ugliest phases in American history. Even though they were in the land of liberty, slaves were denied the basic dignities that went along with human rights. Finally, in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln emancipated all of the slaves throughout the United States and the Confederacy, what had been a major blight on the American reputation was finally made clean.


Frederick Douglass had a slavery experience that was typical of many. He had been born into life as a slave and did not know his birthday (Douglass 1). Indeed, Douglass’ master would not tell him his birthday as part of controlling Douglass’ access to his own identity. Without this sense of control, Douglass would be more likely to accept life as a slave. When he was very young, he was separated from his mother, a step that was common during the slavery era. The lack of family relationships made it easier for slave owners to keep authority over their slaves, because they did not have the emotional power that comes from those relationships. If slaves saw family members being beaten or mistreated, there was a greater likelihood that there would be unrest. By severing all family relationships, the owners ensured a greater degree of order.
Millie Evans also worked as a slave for white people (Evans 1). Many people of European descent considered themselves to be superior to members of other ethnic groups. Even among those who considered slavery to be wrong, there were many who saw other ethnic groups as inferior. There was considerable variety among slave owners with regard to the treatment they gave their slaves. While many slave owners were brutal and cruel, there were others who were humane and gave their slaves kind treatment, even if they did not accord them their freedom. Evans appears to have been stuck working for the cruel variety. The food that she and her fellow slaves ate was disgusting, but it was all they were given. It did not have adequate nutrition to give the slaves the energy they needed for a healthy way of life, or even to complete their hard labor and maintain consistent health.
Obviously, there were no slaves who were given the choice of going into service of their masters. While there was some trickery involved in getting natives out of Africa, that usually involved bribing tribal leaders in exchange for leaving the leaders to live free in their indigenous land, for the slaves who were hauled to America, crammed below decks like so many sardines, later generations of slaves had no exposure to any other way of life. They were born as slaves, and the penalties for escape made that option extremely difficult to consider. Also, life as a slave made escape seem like a far-off dream. Because of the intellectual and emotional effects of life as a slave, many of them lacked the confidence to attempt and escape, and their clothing and dialect would have given them away on the road. It took immense courage to create the Underground Railroad, which was a path to liberty for many. The cumulative effect of severed family relationships as well as a lifetime of cruel treatment and deprivation of dignity created a class of people who felt anger but also lacked the confidence to rebel, as the decades of transition after Emancipation showed.


There were similarities in the slavery experience of both Douglass and Evans. Both of them were born into a situation that is difficult for many of us to imagine in the twenty-first century. Instead of being born into loving families and maturing into adulthood, slaves like Douglass and Evans were born as the property of others. They were denied the chance to bond with their siblings and parents, in many cases. They were assigned to perform tasks of different degrees of difficulty and subjected to punishment that could be unspeakably cruel when the overseers on the plantation felt it necessary. The slaves had no control over their lives. This absolutely contradicts with the ideals of liberty and personal freedom that had motivated so many Europeans to leave the Old World behind and seek a new start in America. The contradictions in terms of morality and political philosophy gave the young country a split down its middle that promised regional conflict, which was delivered during the Civil War. The vestiges of racial discrimination that continue to persist in American society show that the impulse to mistreat others on the basis of physical and ethnic differences shows that, as a species, we still have a long way to go.

Works Cited

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of The Life Of Frederick Douglass. Cheswold: Prestwick House Literary Touchstone Press, 2004. Print.
Evans, Milie. Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States. http://www. gutenberg. org/files/13700/13700-h/13700-h. htm. Web.