The legal practice of slavery in the United States of America ended on December 6th, 1865 with the passage of the 13th amendment to the Constitution. In the wake of the terrible carnage of the American Civil War, people have tried to make sense over what the hundreds of thousands of lives were lost for. The battle of the Union versus the Confederacy was the product of decades of strife and stress over many factors, one of which was the legality of slavery in America. When considering the legal history of slavery the United States, it is essential to consider how a nation nominally founded on certain inalienable rights could simultaneously treat other human beings as property. Using historian David Brian Davis' work, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World, as a starting point, this paper aims to investigate this apparent hypocrisy. Utilizing a combination of historian Edmund Morgan's thesis on the development of American republicanism, the perspective from historian Don E. Fehrenbacher and framework of historian William Wiececk, I will consider first the American revolution and its relationship with slavery. I will then focus on slavery and the American constitution, particularly the three specific references to the practice.
[...] Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World. Oxford University Press: has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidels powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. He has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce determining to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.” Davis, David. [...]
[...] While both interpretations have a basis in logic, the dichotomy of interpretations highlights the constitution's legal, and moral, ambiguity in terms of the slave trade, but certainly seems to point towards a long term phasing out of many aspects of 18th century slavery. The last mention of slavery is what Fehrenbacher argues is the only, “unambiguously pro slavery provision of the Constitution.” He goes on to argue that because the clause was a limitation on state power, rather than a direct regulation on congressional power, the clause passed through the convention process with out much controversy. [...]
[...] The fourth movement was pro-slavery, and is speculated to be the largest group in America in the antebellum period. As Wiecek explains, many thought that, “slavery might be regrettable, but it was necessary; in any event it existed, and its abolition was unthinkable; blacks, slave or free, were an anomaly in the American social order, and slavery or some comparable form of degradation was their only conceivable lot.” This intellectually and morally lazy stance makes perfect sense in the face of a strong lobbying effort from the south. [...]
[...] Abraham Lincoln famously said in his second inaugural address, “American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war.” This sentiment seems awfully deterministic, and drives blame towards heaven, when America truly had herself to blame. Bibliography: Davis, David. Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World. [...]
[...] Jefferson paralleled the oppression the British enslavement of Africans and the British tyranny over colonists, and wrote, “that King George waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating the most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivated & carrying them into slavery into another hemisphere.” This passage, although cut from the final draft due to the objections of southern delegations, shows the opinions of one of the most important early founding fathers. [...]
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