During these past few weeks, as bright white snow has taken over New England, Honors History 10 has studied another period during which the color white dominated-- the US's early 19th century. As cotton became a large industry, slavery became economically entrenched and the white population dominated the blacks, forcing them to submit to slavery.
At the start of the 19th century, slavery looked like it was on its way out. But with the invention of the cotton gin, there became a desperate need for people to work the rapidly expanding cotton plantations—slaves were the answer. When Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, cotton plants became economically profitable to grow. Down south cotton grew easily, so as the crop grew in export revenue, the number of slaves working southern plantations also expanded. Between 1790 and 1800, cotton became 7% of the nation’s total export revenue with a slave population of about 690,000. As cotton’s export revenue grew to be 22% in 1820, the slave population expanded in turn to 1,191,000. Slavery became economically established by the early 19th century because cotton became a large part of the industry, and slaves were necessary to run cotton plantations.
|Frederick Douglas's on whites on the 4th.|
The system of slavery that became economically entrenched in the US’s early 19th century affected human dignity in the sense that it degraded African members of society by singling them out as slaves. Anti- Slave activist and American author, Fredrick Douglas responded to white American’s hypocritical celebration of freedom on the 4th of July. Upon asking what the 4th meant to an American slave, Douglas stated that it, “reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” White Americans treated blacks as so much lesser than them that they were able to declare freedom for all members of society, while completely overlooking the massive African slave population that lacked freedom. Many African Americans, like Douglas, felt so offended by the discrimination that they faced because of race based slavery that they spoke out about it.
|Douglas's response to the whites' hypocritical 4th celebration.|
In this system of race based slavery, African Americans had many of their rights ignored, and their right to freedom taken away completely. As mentioned above, Frederick Douglas argued against the hypocritical white American declaration stating all men free. According to Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Founder’s Declaration, any slave who escapes, “shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.” Slaves were bound to their owners for life—they lacked the right to escape and live freely. Already without freedom, slaves had even more dignity take from them by being counted not as a whole person, but 3/5 of the person in deciding state population. Race based slavery discriminates against a particular race, and ignores the needs, rights, and characteristics of that race.
For more on 19th century US's race based slavery, check out the this article about the life of Abdul Rahman, an African prince who was captured and enslaved in the US.