For purposes of this discussion, it is the intent of this author to assess the plight of African Americans at a time when they were merely slaves, captives taken forcibly by rich white American merchants to a new and strange land called America. Right from the very beginning, slavery was a controversial issue. It was fraught with the constant reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. This was evidenced in the literature as well as movements such as the abolitionists, and one most notably John Brown, who has been portrayed as a kind of maniacal character, who would stop at nothing to see this God given mandate carried out.
Similarly, books such as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe did much to fuel the controversy that was slavery in the United States. Of course we now know that slavery as it was understood in the 19th century lasted up until the officiation of the Emancipation Proclamation, or slaves, or now newly pronounced African Americans were given their freedom, and their struggle assumes a new direction in attempting to gain equality for themselves. This is a struggle which continues today, and is not much less controversial.
Nevertheless, for historical purposes, I should like to further attempt to dissect events as they existed at that time. Slavery was a practice which was much favored by the South. In the North, Americans were more industrial oriented, and had little use for slaves. They could afford to be more moralistic about the issue. However, when it came to the plight of land owners and Americans who lived in the Southern part of a very young country, that was America, they were highly preoccupied with their agrarian lifestyle.
It is a fact that even George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson had slaves as did many of the forefathers of the new country. It is also true that many of these individuals had children with their Black slaves, and although it is similarly a matter of historical record that they did free their slaves, if not while they were alive, in their Last Will and Testament. What this means is that slavery was an issue of economics to the South, and a moral dilemma for those Americans who lived in the North. By the mid-1850’s the spirit of accommodation had all but vanished.
Northern interest in Emancipation pushed by abolitionists, eroded relations between families North and South. William Lloyd Garrison’s liberator was the extremist voice of abolitionism, calling for immediate emancipation of the slaves by extralegal means if necessary. Although are not representative of majority abolitionists opinion, this voice roused the deep seated fear of slave insurrection among Southerners, who pointed to the actions of Denmark Vesey, Mat Turner, and finally John Brown, as examples of what could become a horror as great as Haigi’s blood bath.
As the Northern anti-slave movement changed its tactics from direct political action – for example, a tax on slavery in the state legislature – to general moral condemnation of all Southerners, Southern attitudes began to set. In the early 1830’s the South had claimed the largest number of anti-slavery societies; by the mid-1850’s all such societies were north of Mason Dixon Line. From an uneasey mood over slavery, Southerners evolved a “positive good” philosophy and argued that slave owners provided shelter, food, care, and regulation for a race unable to compete in the modern world without proper training. (Boatner, p. )
As previously indicated H. B. Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” was a novel which incited and struck a cord with the moral fabric of Americans certainly throughout the North, and indeed many throughout the South as well. To a large extent, this is what the Civil War which culminated was all about. What was Abraham Lincoln’s role in this? Mr. Lincoln is sometimes claimed as an example of a ready made ruler. But no case would be less in point, for, besides that he was a man of such fair mindedness as is always the raw material of wisdom, he had in his possession a training precisely the opposite of that to which a partisan is subjected.
His experience as a lawyer compelled him not only to see that there is a principle underlying every phenomenon in human affairs, but that there are always two side to every question, both of which must be fully understood in order to understand either and that is of greater advantage to an advocate to appreciate the strength than the weakness of his antagonist’s position. Lincoln is more remarkable than the unerring tact with which, in his debate with Mr.
Douglas, he went to the straight to the reason of the question; nor have we had a more striking lesson in political tactics that the fact, that, opposed to a man exceptionally adroit when using political prejudice and bigotry to his purpose. No doubt slavery was the most delicate and embarrassing with which Mr. Lincoln was called upon to deal, and it was one which no man in is position, whatever his belief, could evade; for, though he may withstand the clamor of partisans, he must sooner or later yield to the persistent importunacy of circumstances, which thrust the problem upon him at every turn and in every shape.
It has been brought against us an accusation aboard and repeated here by people who measure their country rather by what is thought of it than by what it is, that our war has not been distinctly and avowedly for the extension of slavery, but a war rather for the preservation of our national power and greatness, and with the emancipation of the Negro has been forced upon us by circumstances and accepted as a necessity. (Lowell, p. 19) After the conclusion of the Civil War and the emancipation of the Negroes, Blacks were essentially on their own.
In fact, many chose to stay on the plantation, while others braved racism, prejudice and all the other disadvantages that go with being a Black man who has just received his freedom. Many found greater prospects in the North, and industrial areas. In fact, many Blacks in the 1800’s actually amounted to great social prominence, both in the South and in the North, but in my view, it was really the African American religious experience which was quintessential in their salvation. Slaves found a solidarity in religion.
It did allow them a chance to feel their spirits, and “religion was source of solace” for many slaves. One writer said “slaves put all their emotions into religious services… ” (Bennett, p. 88) In was the church that remained in the spotlight as the struggle for freedom not only a dream for the African American, but also a very realistic hope during the post Civil War period. The church served as a political bastion, and such notable African Americans as Booker T. Washington, and W. E. B.
DuBois both wanted to see the Negro enjoy a better position in America, albeit their beliefs about how this should be accomplished appear to be different. Washington believed that the Negro should have separate but equal facilities, and that they had to establish themselves through industrial training to become farm property owners. DuBois felt: “Education and work are the levers to uplift a people. Work alone will not do it unless inspired by the right ideals and guided by intelligence. Education must not simply teach work-it must teach life.
The talented leaders of the Negro race must be made leaders of thought and missionaries of culture among their people… the Negro race, like all other races, is going be saved by exceptional men. ” (Logan, p. 85) W. E. B. DuBois had strong feelings about the Negro and in fact he was a man who was far ahead of his time. He himself was particularly ambitious and indeed quite successful. Following in his steps was one young Martin Luther King, who had come out of the Black ministry to lead his people to great civil rights successes by the 1960’s.
King was a pacifist, and believed in change through peaceful means. The story of the African American continues to this day. Certainly many strides have been made, but indeed racism still prevails. Not only amongst whites vs. Blacks, but also people of other skin color, races, political affiliations, etc. It is my personal opinion that until we all realize that we are of one spiritual community, that we will never fully realize a total coming together.