The Connection between American-style Slavery and American-style Freedom Many of Americas top defenders of freedom and liberty were slave owners. The ownership of human beings went entirely against everything the puritans believed in and were trying to build in this new land but, they still marched forward, disregarding the irony. The truth of the matter was that without slavery this nation would have never prospered. The connection between American-style slavery and American-style freedom is eerily ironic and it is so stingingly sad that human beings had to be enslaved in order to obtain the freedom desired from Great Britain. Slavery lasted in American history for 246 years and it lasted so long because without it the colonies would have never made it. In search of a new land separate from the other nations where freedom would be allowed, they came without the weapons, tools or ships to make their journey a success. They had to have help from other countries and tobacco, sugar, rice and coffee, harvested predominately by slaves, were their biggest tickets.
The establishment of slavery was important to the economy of the new land. Throughout American history stories have been recorded detailing the voyages many took in search of freedom and the voyages many took that began and ended in slavery. One of the first slave narratives written, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavas Vasa, the African, told the horrifying story of a young slave’s journey. This narrative told of his journey from the time of his capture to the time of his independence. Bought and sold many times throughout his journey, the most horrifying captivity was on the slave ship. The journey on the slave trade route between Europe, America and Africa was terrifyingly brutal. The settlers sought freedom from Great Britain and along the way ended up denying the rights for freedom to many who bore a different skin color. As Eric Foner stated in, Give me Liberty!, Fifth Seagull Edition, The eighteenth century was a time of “the simultaneous expansion of freedom and slavery” (133). The desire for freedom was something that all slaves had in common. Some were fortunate enough to have slave owners that would eventually grant their freedom but, most did not. During the eighteenth century many blacks put their lives in danger, runaway slaves, with the sole purpose of seeking freedom from slavery. Many rebellions, were also started throughout this time in history, rebellions against slavery and rebellions against Britain. These rebellious times eventually lead to the formal declaration of independence from Britain.
As stated in Give Me Liberty!, Fifth Seagull Edition, In February 1776, the Massachusetts political leader Joseph Hawley read Common Sense and remarked, “Every sentiment has sunk into my well prepared heart.” The hearts of Hawley and thousands of other Americans had been prepared for Paine’s arguments by the entended conflict over Britain’s right to tax the colonies, the outbreak of war in 1775, and the growing conviction that Britain was a corrupt society where liberty was diminishing. The intensification of fighting in the winter of 1775-1776, when Americans unsuccessfully invaded Canada while the British burned Falmouth (now Portland), Maine, and bombarded Norfolk, Virginia, gave added weight to the movement for independence. In the spring of 1776, scores of American communities adopted resolutions calling for a separation from Britain. Only six months elapsed between the appearance of Common Sense and the decision by the Second Continental Congress to sever the colonies’ ties with Great Britain (199). The Americans would still have a long road ahead of them, their declaration of independence was not all that was needed, they had to fight and win their independence from Britain. Their battle for independence was finally gained in September 1783 with the Treaty of Paris which gained the recognition of American independence. The fights would now begin for individual freedoms in the Americas for women and slaves and many battles for these independences were fought with the very ones who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence 41 of them were slave holders. Of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional convention about 25 of them were slaveholders. Thomas Jefferson was the third US president, the author of the Declaration of Independence and was a leader in the development of the United States. Thomas Jefferson owned over 600 slaves throughout the course of his life. Jefferson had four quarter farms and a retreat home, tobacco was a very labor-intensive choice of crop that required a large force of laborers to be profitable. Jefferson acquired most of his slaves through inheritance and self-reproducing slavery, actually purchasing less than twenty slaves himself. He knew that slavery was the primary reason for success in the south and throughout his lifetime and at his death only freed seven slaves. James Madison was another former president that owned slaves. He had grown up in a family that owned slaves and throughout his lifetime owned over 100 slaves, never freeing any of them. Yet, as stated in mytimes.com, “insisted that enslaved Africans were entitled to a right to liberty and proposed that Congress purchase all slaves in the United States and set them free” (mytimes.com). How ironic is it that the very ones who were so instrumental in declaring this country with the idea that all men are created equal, were slaveholders?
In Southhampton County, Virginia, in August 1831, a slave rebellion began led by Nat Turner, a black American slave. Turner and several of his fellow slaves began by murdering their master and his family with axes. They then gathered weapons, swords and guns and set out on a killing spree through the countryside, going from house to house killing everyone and releasing slaves, some of which joined them on their killing spree. According to Nat Turner, while playing with some friends at the age of three or four he was overheard by his mom telling the other children something. Something, confirmed by his mom, that had happened before he was born. This led the older people to believe that he was a prophet because God had shown him things that happened before he was born. Nat Turner’s parents thought that he was “intended for some great purpose” which they thought because of marks he had on his head and breast. (Confessions of Nat Turner 7) Turner believed that the daytime darkening of the sky, during a solar eclipse, was a sign from God to start planning for his rebellion. The deadliest slave rebellion in history was what many had feared would happen if men of any color were held in slavery.
Abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison spent their lives trying to right the wrongs of slavery unlike the southern slave-holders who justified the “peculiar institution.” Garrison was an American journalist, who started his own newspaper, The Liberator, which fought to abolish slavery. While one’s like Garrison fought to abolish slavery, the southern slave-holders saw the need to hold a tighter grip on the one’s they enslaved. The need for the “peculiar institution” was because of the increased demand for cotton. The south became the largest slave society. In doing this assignment, I learned that the very things this country was founded on, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” were begrudged from men and women of color. In the founding fathers’ eyes, black men and women were not equal, they did not have the same rights as the white man. (UShistory.org) While seeking freedom from Great Britain the unalienable rights of mankind were not honored. The founding fathers became the oppressors who lost sight of what was right and at all cost used human beings to make their dreams a reality.
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