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Essay: Examining the Pros and Cons of Slavery in America’s 1800s History

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Blane Heflin History 1301.701

Assessing Slavery

The issue of slavery played a decisive part in history of the United States in the 1800s for many reasons. There were many pros and cons that came with slavery along with lots of controversy. Slavery was a huge part of America in the 1800s since it was so productive for the economy, but it was a two-way tunnel. The Southerners saw slavery as a pay check while on the other side of the pendulum the Northerners saw it as abuse and not necessary. There are many questions that arise with the topic of slavery such as how the Southerners defended slavery, all the way to what problems did slaves face once they were freed.

First of all, the Southerners came up with a few different arguments that they used to defend slavery. The first argument and probably the most compelling that the Southerners made was “Defenders of slavery argued that the sudden end to the slave economy would have had a profound and killing economic impact in the South where reliance on slave labor was the foundation of their economy” (U.S. History 1). This argument that the Southerners came up with was extremely true. If there were a sudden end to slavery the South’s economy would crash. They would lose their means of harvesting their crops, which was basically their main source of income. The Southerners added evidence to their argument by saying “The cotton economy would collapse. The tobacco crop would dry in the fields. Rice would cease being profitable” (U.S. History 1). This was also very important evidence to their argument since it was factual. If slavery were abolished then they would not be able to harvest their crops fast enough or cheap enough, which would make their industry non-profitable. This would put many people in debt. The Southerners also said “If all the slaves are freed, there would be widespread unemployment and chaos. This would lead to uprisings, bloodshed, and anarchy” (U.S. History 1). This was definitely a compelling argument that the Southerners made, even though it might have been a bit farfetched. These are a few of the many arguments that the Southerners made to defend their way of life, which was slavery. They were desperate and came up with anything possible that would stick and help make a difference to preserve slavery and not send the South into a widespread chaos.

During slavery, the slaves found many different ways to commonly offer resistance to their masters. “They did this by doing things such as starting a rebellion, they could run away, or they could do what was called day-to-day resistance which was small acts of rebellion (Vox 1). The slaves commonly offered resistance to their masters by doing things such as breaking tools, setting fire to buildings, faking illness, playing dumb, and even working slow (Vox 1). It is said that all slaves did at least one of these forms of sabotage to try and get away from the extremely harsh working conditions for a little bit of time (Vox 1). Another way that slaves offered resistance to their masters was running away. There were many slaves that ran away but most of them did not stay gone too long. “They usually ran away for a short period of time in hopes of escaping a harsh punishment that had been threatened, to escape a heavy workload, or just to escape the drudgery of everyday life under slavery” (Vox 1). This was a common way of slaves offering resistance to their masters because it was easy for them to do. Although it was not usually successful, it sounded like a good idea to the slaves at the time, which made it a popular means of resistance. The most common forms of resistance that the slaves offered was usually done individually. It was easier for them to act out alone rather than as a big group such as a rebellion. There were instances where slave rebellions took place but they were very hard for the slaves to plan, and extremely risky. This is why it was much more common for day-to-day resistance to take place.

During the Civil War, African Americans in the North were free and slaves in the South were still in captivity. During the Civil War the African Americans in the North fought in the Union army. There were a little over 179,000 African American men in over 160 units, as well as more serving in the Navy and other support positions (HISTORYNET 1). However, it was a different story in the South with the Confederate army. “In the Confederacy, African Americans were still slaves and they served mostly in labor positions. By 1865, the South allowed slaves to enlist but very few actually did” (HISTORYNET 1). During the Civil War the slaves basically continued doing what they had been doing since only a few actually enlisted. “Most of the slaves went with their masters if they were in the war and were their servants. If their master were to be killed in battle the slave was responsible of taking their belongings back to the family” (HISTORYNET 1). In my eyes, I see the slaves as an asset to the Southern war effort since they were still put in laboring positions. I think that the slaves helped keep the economy up and running in the South during the Civil War. Although I do see them as an asset to the Confederacy, I do believe that they could have been used much more than they were. They did not allow very many slaves to fight in the Civil War. For example, “On January 2, 1864, the Confederate major general Patrick Cleburne proposed arming slaves. Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, ordered that the proposal be suppressed” (HISTORYNET 1). In the South during the Civil War there were some people that did want slaves to fight and contribute to the war. But, they were never really used to fight in the war and were definitely never armed. This was definitely a waste of manpower for the Confederacy. Overall, I personally believe that the slaves served as an asset to the Southern War effort since they were still put in labor positions. Even though the Southerners did not use the slaves to fight, they still used them in important positions to keep the economy running smoothly.

Once the slaves were freed, they faced many problems that they did not see coming. “The slaves could not read or write, they had very little job opportunities, the only thing they knew how to do was farm, and lastly they did not have a house, money, or clothes” (Jackson 1). Freedom was extremely hard on the slaves at first because when they first got out of slavery they had nothing. They had to try and find a job to make money just to eat or try to find a place to live. One of the very few jobs that the slaves were able to obtain was sharecropping. The slaves would live on the plantation owners land and farm the land and give the owner a big portion of the crop (Jackson 1). Even if the slave got this job it was very rare that they made a big enough harvest to make much money for themself (Jackson 1). Since the living conditions of the freed slaves were so bad, congress came up with the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was created as part of the Reconstruction Act (Jackson 1). “This was a Federal agency designed to provide food, clothes, and shelter for freed slaves and whites in need” (Jackson 1). This is one of the acts that congress came up with in hopes of the freed slaves getting the basic rights of the American Citizen (Jackson 1). Although it sounded good in theory, the Freedman’s Bureau ran out of funds in 1872. In return, Congress was pressured by white southerners to shut the bureau, making it unsuccessful since it did not get to fully carry out its programs (History 1).

Overall, these are a few questions that are frequently asked when it comes to analyzing slavery and looking further into it. Slavery played a huge role in history and had an impact that will last forever. These questions are big key points of slavery and how it affected the United States so much.

Works Cited

"African Americans In The Civil War | HistoryNet." HistoryNet. Web. 03 May 2016.

History.com Staff. "Freedmen’s Bureau." History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2010. Web. 03 May 2016.

Jackson, Bill. "Economic and Social Problems of Freedmen." Economic and Social Problems of Freedmen. Web. 03 May 2016.

"The Southern Argument for Slavery." Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association. Web. 02 May 2016.

Vox, Lisa. "3 Major Ways Slaves Showed Resistance to Slavery." About.com Education. Web. 02 May 2016.

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