Friday, September 13, 2013

Defending the 'Peculiar Institution'

We struggled in class the other day to address the idea that an individual could own slaves, and still profess to be Christian.  Slavery was often called a 'peculiar institution', meaning that it was difficult to defend slavery on a moral basis, but yet it still persisted as an economic necessity.

What are some of the arguments presented in the reading that defend slavery?  Which ones hold water?

Remember that we need to put ourselves in a 19th century mindset...instead of immediately dismissing all the arguments as moot, consider why they were presented and defended at the time.


  1. There were many arguments presenting in the reading and I am surprised to say that more held water than I would have imagined. The arguments presented that stand out to me the most are as follows:
    -The slaves, even in their bondage, have a higher quality of life than if they weren't. They're clothed, fed, and sheltered. In the "Blessings of the Slave" they talk about how poverty and wretchedness would take over the slaves once they were freed. This holds a moderate amount of water, however, they are obviously beated, raped, and tortured. But is it a price to pay for these necessities?
    -When slave women have sex and children before/outside of marriage, they are not degraded in society like white women are. So it is justifiable rape because they have the privileged of not being shunned AND providing a service to their master. This stuck out to me because of how twisted it is; I find it hard to believe even that masters believed that outside the courtroom.
    -The most noteworthy, and water-holding point, is that without the free labor, the South's economy would fail. I'm not sure if this is true because they mentioned that it would be cheaper to pay them to do it and not provide common necessities. That would be at the expense though of strikes for higher wages.

  2. Yeah, there are a lot of opinions that defended and even supported slavery, some of the ideas even shocked me because I have never think about them or I just "dismissing all the arguments as moot".

    1. William Harper's Apology:
    This speech showed strong opinions that explained why slavery was important to people and why slavery should be kept. His opinions can be shown by the following points:
    (a) Slavery is actually a gift that benefits everybody even slaves themselves;
    (b) Slaveholders actually give slaves a safe environment so they can be kept from dangers;
    (c) Although slaves work a lot, as a kind of punishment, it is acceptable and it is not degrading.
    (d) Slaves don't have to learn knowledge because they have lower level of culture and learning seems useless to them.
    (e) Although Slaves cannot get marry, it protect slave women from being an outcast of the society.
    (f) Without slaves, the plantation will get hurt and it will cause a negative effect on producing cotton, staples and the living condition of the society will turn worse, especially for poor people.

    2. The "Blessings" of the Slave:
    Solon Robinson highlighted how slavery was not that bad and disagreed with the abolitionists by listing the contradictions between the society and slavery and saying how kind that slaveholders were. This article held water. The following points show his opinions.
    (a) People used to free slaves, but soon they (slaves) got into wretchedness.
    (b) Slaves live better when they are under control of their masters because it ensures that slaves will have supports of food, clothing, etc.
    (c) People abuse slaves, but they also abuse their children and wives and their properties.
    (d) Slaves work a lot but not like that much and slaves actually have better conditions than some people who cannot find a job.
    (e) Slaveholders actually expect that their slaves can be happy and they are also doing it. Slavery provides an example of a kindness society.
    (f) Slaves have better support of their living conditions, they shouldn't be complaining.

    3. Slaves Don't Strike:
    This conversation described why slavery should be defended in the respect of labor. Although white labors are cheaper, slaves can work longer and as quick as they can so they can grantee the smallest lost. Slaves make the whole society's economy running under a more steady condition than white labors.

    It is true that slavery is hard to be defended through moral aspect, but it really push the economy and make it better, however, in some of the opinions above, slavery is described as kind as well because slaveholders are actually very kind and good (in their opinions). The reason why they defended slavery at that time is because they considered slavery as a positive effect of the economy and sometimes even provided examples of what a kindness society should be. All of the opinions describe the advantages of slavery and also highlighted the negative effect of abolish slavery by proving that there are contradictions between slave society and non-slave society.

  3. In William Harpers Apology, he gives many arguments to the defense of slavery. One of the first arguments he makes is that without them the very existence of the white man would be questioned. He believes that if it wasn't for the slaves then the white man would not be able to profit as much as he does from all of the plantation work. Another reason was that the masters offer protection to the slaves. He gives an example that there have been more children and adults murdered then slaves.

    In the Blessings of a Slave, an argument presented in this was that if we let the hundred of thousands of slaves free they would fall into poverty right away. I believe that this would be true because after being in slavery for years and having no formal education, or any education for that matter, they would struggle to live in a real society because they wouldn't know how to manage everything and hold a stable household. Then he starts to praise the smaller plantations about their conditions. He says that he never saw a plantation where the slaves weren't well fed and well clothed. In Slaves Don't Strike he also talks about the point that if slaves were released into the real world they wouldn't be able to survive and they would be doomed.

    The cartoon is backing up the argument that slavery should still be instituted so the economy of the south can survive. Slaves pretty much make up the Souths whole economy with the cotton production. Without this production the South would plummet and be in a depression.

  4. After reading all four articles, my takeaway is that they do not defend slavery, rather try and justify it. I would like to imagine that deep down, the slave owners know that what they were doing was inhumane, but I know that is most likely not true. In reality, the slave owners were motivated by their economic needs. In, The “Blessings” of the Slave, one man talks about how by giving the slave what he wants, freedom, you are in fact, not helping them but instead giving them a life of poverty and wretchedness. The passage continues on to discuss how the slaves are better off under the control of their “masters,” because they are fed, housed, and clothed.

  5. After reading these articles, I have found that none of them have put forth reasonable arguments in defending slavery. It is understandable that many slaves owners did not see the inhumanity in their actions because they did not see slaves as humans. However, they WERE humans. And there are also two sides to every argument. For example, William Harper believed that knowledge was useless to slaves because of their lower level of culture. It can also be argued that keeping slaves uneducated was a method of sustaining slavery in that the slaves did not know enough to defend themselves.

  6. After reading the articles and observing the cartoon I have concluded that for the most part there is no defense against slavery. In the beginning of the first article they subjected it as a good necessity and that who knows if humankind would even be here without it. Another argument that was presented that did not defend slavery was that if the slaves were to become free they would all live in such bad poverty that at least where they were owned they got a minimum amount of food, clothing, and shelter. In "The Blessings of a Slave and Slaves don't strike and argument that was brought forth and thought to be justifiable was that many beat their wives and children so it was okay to beat slaves. Although many of the white men believed what they were doing was not harmful but rather helpful. There was not many accounts of defending slavery, even though it was so unjust.

  7. After reading these four different articles I noticed that none of them try to get rid of slavery they just try to defend it. I also think that the slave owners did not realize the harm they were causing to slaves. They almost did not see them as humans, more like animals on a farm. For example, in the story "William Harper's Apology," it says "When the war closed,our master told all the people, if they would stay and get in the crop, he would give them part of it. Most of them left;they said they knew him too well." This quote clearly shows how the slaves are used to be treated with unfairness. This quote also shows how the slaves know that there slave master is a lier and won't give them any of the crop. Again I don't think the white men who were slave owners though they were doing a bad thing. Back then, there were not that many people that were non black and defended slavery.

  8. In William Harmon's apology, he poses many defenses arguments about slavery itself. He says without slavery, the existence of white man would be in doubt. He says that white man wouldn't have been able to profit. Masters provide protection and more adults and children have been murdered than slaves.

    In the Blessing of a Slave, it says that if slaves were free they would fall into poverty right away. They are illiterate and not as smart, therefor they lack the necessities to survive/ make it in the real world. Then the author says all slaves were fed well and never saw anything but fair treatment. Which is a lie, but I do believe that they wouldn't be able to succeed because of their lack of education.

    The cartoon says that slavery has to continue in order for the economy of the south to continue holding up. Without slaves the economy would plummet because the majority of money comes from the plantations

  9. Some arguments that defended slavery was in the articles The "Blessings of Slave". The author stated that over the past years slave conditions have improved. He also said that he rarely saw where slaves where treated inhumane and not fed well. Only a drunken master where his white neighbors hated him as well as his slaves was a rare occasion. He also stated that abolitionist made the harsh conditions of slaves overrated by stating that alls;aves were treated the same and lived in bad conditions.