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How was the morality of slavery tolerable? What was in the mind of slave holders?

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by Tennessee_Mountainman, Feb 9, 2017.

  1. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree Captain

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    There were in fact people who said just that. Judge Taney stated that in the Dred Scott decision.

    - Alan
     
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  3. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree Captain

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    The historian Jacqueline Jones has suggested that it was, to use your term, more "practical" to enslave Africans, and the idea of it being moral to enslave Africans (and the immoral to enslave Europeans) followed.

    But this explanation is not satisfactory, at least not to me. Men like Thomas Jefferson admitted that slavery was immoral, even as he believed that Europeans were superior to Africans.

    I think it is also true that, especially in the Age of Enlightenment and Revolution; and in the face of the United States' sanctification of the notions of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; the idea of enslaving others came to not be "right." And so rationalizations that would make the institution "right" or "just" or "moral" became imperative for slaveholders.

    - Alan
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2017
  4. Hunter

    Hunter Sergeant

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    My mother-in-law always said every bad thing was caused by drugs or alcohol.
     
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  5. Rob9641

    Rob9641 Captain Civil War Photo Contest
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    I was talking about the thread, not history. I don't think Thomas Jefferson posted on this thread.
     
  6. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree Captain

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    ForeverFree:

    The historian Jacqueline Jones has suggested that it was, to use your term, more "practical" to enslave Africans, and the idea of it being moral to enslave Africans (and the immoral to enslave Europeans) followed.

    But this explanation is not satisfactory, at least not to me. Men like Thomas Jefferson admitted that slavery was immoral, even as he believed that Europeans were superior to Africans.

    I think it is also true that, especially in the Age of Enlightenment and Revolution; and in the face of the United States' sanctification of the notions of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; the idea of enslaving others came to not be "right." And so rationalizations that would make the institution "right" or "just" or "moral" became imperative for slaveholders.​

    EDIT: This need to make slavery into something that was "right" and "just" and "moral" was not merely a matter of feeling good about one's self, or about his or her standing before God.

    As one historian put it, in the United States the debate over slavery became politicized. The discord over slavery was not merely abstract, intellectual, or moral in nature. Public policy concerning, for example, the expansion of slavery, the ability to keep slave property in a free state, and the recovery of runaway slaves in free states, included discussions of the "righteousness" of the institution. So there was in fact a practical need for pro-slavery people to have a "valid" case, morally, intellectually, and otherwise, to present in the public sphere.

    - Alan
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2017
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  7. Rusty Ford

    Rusty Ford Private

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    Hello Mountainman,

    I don't pretend to know what was "on the minds" of people 150, 250 year ago. But this is a forum, and we all have our opinions.

    There are many writings by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others, on the wrongs of slavery, and the fretting over how to end it. Many of them knew it was evil (probably, if you could read their souls, the vast majority of them knew it). Jefferson wrote of how he knew of no way to end it, but that it would have to end, and he had an inclination that the day of reckoning would come and it might take catastrophic events to settle the issue. He was right. However, in the quest to think about what they thought and did, if you place yourself in their shoes in their time - most of them inherited their plantations, as slavery was introduced to their ancestors long before - you have to try to not think about the present. They had their plantations and land and their slaves. They were wealthy (and many were in debt, land-poor), and it was the way of life they had been born into. How do you put an end to such a lifestyle? There was talk of manumission and then somehow transporting the slaves to Africa, and they even talked about funding a process of acclimating them and setting up some type of nation for them in Africa. I have read about meetings and discussions on this topic. Sadly, that did not amount to any real planning. Events of the time and the shear complexity and cost of such an undertaking put the idea to rest.

    Cheap labor was always first and foremost in the thought process of slavery in most places where it was practiced (95% of African slaves that came to our hemisphere did not come to the colonies/America). Secondary, in my humble opinion, though more repulsive, was/is the feeling among people that they are superior to other people. That is part of human nature. As for slavery, it had/has been around as long as mankind itself, and long before there was ever an American south. The Arabs, I believe, were the first ones to ever travel to Africa and bring out slaves. That is not to make an excuse for slavery in America (there is none), but we do need some perspective if we're going to try and figure out the mindset of those who came before us.

    Many of them did really believe the slave population was better off here than what their lives must have been like in Africa. It is hard for us in present-day to look back at history and try to think what the people of that time thought, and why they did such things. Many thought introducing a race of people to Christianity, even in slavery, was a good cause.

    At any rate, I refuse to condemn an area and people of modern-day America for our nation's history of participating in the institution of slavery. I also refuse to condemn our founders for the same. I was not there. I have no idea what it was like 150-250 years ago. Had I been born on a plantation in 1820 in South Carolina, I probably would have been in favor of slavery. Had I been born a farmer's son in Ohio or son of a wagon maker in Vermont, I probably would have had a different view about it.

    One thing is clear - slavery was a very divisive issue. It was widely accepted and legal here before we were a country, and 80 plus years after we became a country. But, over that time, people started a movement to denounce it, with a goal of ending it. You could say its days were numbered, thank God. I liken it to - and I'm only using an example here - the issue of abortion in America today. It is a very divisive issue. Like slavery was, it is accepted, and protected by the law and the courts. There are, however, many people - like the abolitionists - who are trying to end it. Think about this: Will people on a forum 100 years from now be wondering what was "on the minds" of Americans who allowed 50 million or more unborn human beings to be killed?
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2017
  8. Tennessee_Mountainman

    Tennessee_Mountainman Sergeant

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    Here is a great video I encourage all of you to watch. I believe this video helps sums this topic up with a few factors added in:
     
  9. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    George Washington came to see slavery as evil, and he regretted his participation in the institution. As a result, he stopped selling and buying slaves and provided for the freedom of his slaves in his will. An excellent book that traces Washington's evolution on this issue and analyzes his will is Henry Wiencek's An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America.
     
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  10. Rusty Ford

    Rusty Ford Private

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    That is a good question, BillO. Some possible reasons here, in my opinion. Much of the Indian population was still "untamed", if you will. In other words, if you wanted Indians for slaves in large numbers, you would have to conquer them.

    As far as African slaves, traders were going there and trading for large numbers of people who had already been captured and enslaved by the chiefs, stronger tribes, etc. There was little resistance from those captives. And there is another factor. It is well documented by many people throughout the history of the African slave trade that the Africans were better suited for work in the warm climate of the places where vast labor was needed for plantations and agriculture of money crops - the Caribbean region, South America, the American south, etc. And, there is even documentation that slaves from certain parts of Africa were more suited than those from certain other areas.
     
  11. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    The problem with enslaving Native Americans was they knew the land better than the colonists and it was easy for them to escape. They would also be able to find refuge among their people.

    Africans, coming from another continent, not only didn't know the land but they also had no one to help them.
     
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  12. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree Captain

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    As one artist put it, "What you call the disease, I call the remedy/What you're calling the cause, I call the cure."

    - alan
     
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  13. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree Captain

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    Many of your thoughts are well said and reasoned.

    I would just note that the idea of slavery being "accepted" widely is not entirely true. In fact, many of the Founding Fathers saw it as a Necessary Evil, which they thought was on the road to self-destruction. An abolition movement in the US started in earnest during the Revolutionary War: Pennsylvania passed a law for gradual abolition in 1870, even before the Articles of Confederation were ratified. Slavey in Massachusetts ended with the adjudication of the case of Commonwealth v. Nathaniel Jennison. That case, in 1783, ruled that for Massachusetts "the idea of slavery is inconsistent with our own conduct and Constitution."

    I know I sound like a broken record on this, but it is important to get this right. There was a real, bona fide abolition movement in the US in the Revolutionary War and Early Republic eras, but I rarely see it recognized. This movement led to the gradual abolition of slavery in the North, such that they became the free states. It helps explain how Northwest Ordinance states were deemed to be free of slavery.

    Instead of saying this...

    Slavery was widely accepted and legal here before we were a country, and 80 plus years after we became a country. But, over that time, people started a movement to denounce it, with a goal of ending it. You could say its days were numbered, thank God.​

    ...I would say this:

    Slavery was widely accepted and legal before we were a country. During the Revolutionary War and the Early Republic, a bona fide abolition movement swept through, but was limited to, states above the Mason-Dixon Line. This movement saw slavery being ended immediately or gradually in the North, aided and abetted by the NW Ordinance, which outlawed slavery in northern territories. Perhaps the most important outcome of this movement was the creation of so-called free states; those states would become one of the antagonists in the free state/slave state conflict.

    Slavery was widely seen as a necessary evil in both the North and the South through the Early Republic era. There were many (gradual) abolitionists in the South at the time. Many people thought that the institution would simply perish over time, thanks in some part to the Constitutional provision that the international slave trade could end in 1808.

    However the cotton gin and the takeover of land in the Old Southwest from indigenous people created a sudden, intense, and unforeseen need for labor. Slave labor filled that need. Meanwhile, rationalizations that slavery for Africans (i.e., race based slavery), far from being a necessary evil, was a positive good for master and slave alike, developed and became popular throughout the South among the slaveholder class and others.

    Slavery was legal, but only as a result of the disfranchisement of the slaves. Slavery was not the result of a democratic process that included people of African descent and Europeans; it was the result of a despotic (this is the word Thomas Jefferson used) political process that elevated whites and subjugated blacks. Eventually, the free labor society of the North, and the dislike of slavery by enslaved people in the South, contributed to cicumstances which, among many many many others, led to the destruction of slavery via the Civil War.​

    I'm not sure what you mean by this. The notion that slavery's days were numbered, at least in 1860, is debatable. The Civil War did in fact end the institution, but this was not foreseen (by most people) at the outset of the war.

    - Alan
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2017
  14. ForeverFree

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    Could you share this documentation in another thread?

    Many enslavers said, quite often, that Africans were better suited for work in a warm climate. But I don't know if their mention of this in various document proves that the notion is correct. In a controlled experiment, would this work? I don't know that large groups of Europeans were ever put in plantations where their performance was compared with those of Africans, and conclusively judged to be worse. To be sure, dark skin represents a superior genetic adaptation to long exposure to sunlight; but it does not make one invulnerable to heat and humidity exposure by any stretch.

    I do recollect that slaves in the West Indies suffered horrible mortality rates. The approach of the European colonists was that if a slave died, he or she would be replaced by obtaining replacements in the international slave trade. I have heard it said that, Africans were not better suited for working in the warm climate; they were, to put it harshly, better suited because it was more acceptable for them to suffer and die.

    - Alan

    > Something of interest: The North is Too Cold for the Negro…
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2017
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  15. atlantis

    atlantis First Sergeant

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    The slave owners were wise an benevolent patriarchs and today many of their descendants are distinguished members of the African American community.
    We would have less racial discord if blacks/whites remembered there is a bond of blood tying us together.
     
  16. OpnCoronet

    OpnCoronet Major

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    I believe that this is correct. Although, it may be logically argued, that the African Slave trade that began in the 16th Century was mostly, based on practicality( i.e., proximity and economically lucrative) but over time, when human morality became an issue, then there was no clear answer, except various rationalizations po9inting to racial inferiority, which was trouble enough, but, as noted, when it became polticized as it did in Great Britain and the United States, it became increasingly intolerable.
     
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  17. OpnCoronet

    OpnCoronet Major

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    It is not an answer to your question of why you do not see the argument on this Thread(i.e., because it is an old argument, and not very effective, on this thread, because most of the poster have seen it too many times already over the years)?
     
  18. Rob9641

    Rob9641 Captain Civil War Photo Contest
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    OK
     
  19. ForeverFree

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    I don't disagree with any of that. I want to add this.

    As I mentioned earlier, your argument very much matches up with that of historian Jacqueline Jones, who points out that power, and the ability to exploit the powerless, helps explain why certain people were enslaved in the 17th-19th centuries, and some were not. And rationalizations for slavery followed that.

    The point I make to people is that, once those rationalizations took hold, they gained a life of their own. Slavery produced notions of race which persisted even when slavery was over. This is illustrated by the Jim Crow regime. Several Jim Crow practices - like separate water fountains - make no economic sense: wasn't one water fountain cheaper than two? Jim Crow wasn't just about money; it was designed to keep negroes in a certain status or caste.

    I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with saying this, but by the 1860s, slavery was not just about greed, it was about racial supremacy. The need for whites to maintain a superior position over blacks became an imperative in and of itself. This imperative for racial supremacy continued even after slavery was dead... long after slavery was dead.

    Bottom line, I don't think one can understand the behavior of 19th century slaveholders with regard to their slaves by just focusing on economic determinism, or greed. The OP asks, "What were some of the reasons that slave owners owned slaves despite the immorality of it?" One clear reason: 19th century slaveholders were racists who had the ingrained belief that people of African descent lacked the humanity and dignity which would have caused them to be treated like Europeans. I know that people find this uncomfortable, but that is what slaveholders said.

    We need to come to grips with the fact that economic determinism (theory suggesting that economic forces determine, shape, and define all political, social, cultural, intellectual, and technological aspects of a civilization), or greed, does not explain all the actions of slaveholders. Slavery created a race-based social system, whose goal was not just economic gain (greed), but also the social and political control of a particular group. Again, this system grew out of the rationalizations for slavery, but it became a separate, thriving force that lived on even when slavery was gone. We have to acknowledge this and reckon with it, to answer the question posed by this thread.

    - Alan
     
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  20. Rusty Ford

    Rusty Ford Private

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    Alan,

    I have read many times of people throughout history repeating that sentiment - that Africans were better suited for working in hot climates. The most memorable source is a book I like - The Slave Trade, a History of the Atlantic Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas - is a fascinating read.
     
  21. ForeverFree

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    You are correct that this sentiment was repeated many many many many times. But was it correct?

    The question is, if the same amount of coercive force that was mercilessly applied to Africans was also applied to Europeans, would those Europeans have been able to produce the same amount of output? We don't know, because millions of Europeans were not kidnapped and forced to work under the same conditions as Africans were.

    But I think the idea that Africans were better suited for the work was more a rationalization than a reasoned position. At the least, there is no scientific evidence (that I know of) which establishes that Europeans were not as capable of the work as Africans, assuming they were subjected to the same level of coercion.

    - Alan
     

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