Fredrick Douglass was a son of a slave who addressed the nation on Fourth of July, 1852, stating that this day is nothing but mockery brought upon the slaves.
“What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. ‘to him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; …your shouts of liberty and equality…”
Fredrick Douglass portrayed the injustice Americans have shown during a national holiday where Americans celebrate their freedom gained from the English. He speaks, stating that this national holiday is nothing but ridicule to the black population. America became what it had detested. It is said to be the most free and covetous nation, yet what they project and celebrate on the fourth of July compared to what they actually do too blacks, makes them the worst nation in the world. This is some sort of hypocrisy to the blacks! America is celebrating the freedom that they gained and the societies they have established through political positions. Slaves however, are in this type of society where the patriotic citizens announce themselves as a democratic nation to the world and is throwing a façade. What sort of democratic nation forces colored men to work under poor conditions? What type of democratic nation bans colored men to have a say in political matters? Are they not human like the whites? Fredrick Douglass clearly states his position that Americans celebrate victory from the English, while slaves who live in America are still struggling to see the light from Americans.
“Liberation from the top would go only so far as the interests of the dominant groups permitted. […] Thus, while the ending of slavery led to a reconstruction of national politics and economics, it was not a radical reconstruction, but a safe one- in fact, a profitable one.”
Nat Turner’s rebellion was one of the largest slave insurrections to occur in which at least sixty white southerners were killed. This uprising threw southerners into a frenzy, as it was sudden and for the first time in Southampton, Virginia, whites, including women and children were at the mercy of the vengeful slaves. The militia was immediately dispatched, the rebellion quickly came to an end and those believed to be involved were hanged. The fear of slave uprisings soon turned to anger as white mobs attacked all blacks and any kind of freedom slaves had were taken away with the tightening of security and imposition of new restrictions.
These rebellions couldn’t go far because of the lack of participants, weapons and organization. The only way a rebellion could be successful was if the government aided the slaves, which essentially meant the government would be in control. Anytime slaves were allowed any kind of rights, it was because of those in power. Decisions were made based upon whether it would be lead to a profitable outcome for those at the top, instead of whether it was the right thing to do. Zinn mentions this rebellion because it further reinforces the point that revolting against slavery would always fail as long as the government was not behind it. The only way the government would support the abolition of slavery and rights for blacks was if they had something to gain from it and if an insurrection occurred in which they had no control over, they made sure to shut it down with excessive force, like they did with Turner’s rebellion.
Henry MacNeal Turner was a former slave who escaped from a Southern plantation as a young adult, teaching himself to read and write. In 1868, Turner spoke with the Georgia House of Representatives.
“The great question, sir is this: Am I a man? If I am such, I claim the rights of a man…Why, sir though we are not white, we have accomplished much. We have pioneered civilization here; we have built up your country; … And what do we ask of you in return? Do we ask you for compensation for the sweat our fathers bore for you- for the tears you have caused, and the hearts you have broken, and the lives you have curtailed, and the blood you have spilled? Do we ask retaliation? We ask it not. We are willing to let the dead past bury its dead; but we ask you now for our RIGHTS…” pg 201
Merely two years after the legislation of the 13th Amendment, Turner is trying to advocate for social, political, and economic passive rebellion through the unity of the newly freed slaves. He is demanding for the rights that the blacks have been promised. He is willing to leave the cruel actions of the “Anglo-Saxon race” in the past, certainly not willing to forget them, rather move on into a more productive world for the black race. Turner, as a former slave, is not submitting into the actions of the government, he is fighting for the civil rights that were promised to the newly emancipated slaves. Rebuttal toward the Emancipation was viewed in two separate ways. Black activist Booker T. Washington believed that the blacks should not agitate for social change, they should allow education to guide them toward more trade related jobs and equality will soon ensue after. Whereas W.E.B. Du Bois believed that pushing for equality and civil rights of blacks will be more successful. Turner’s main point is to show that without the blacks America would not be same, therefore they should receive the same liberties as a white man. Although most slaves tried not to succumb to slavery, when they were granted equality, freedom did not exist.
“The instances where poor whites helped slaves were not frequent, but sufficient to show the need for setting one group against the other.”
“The slaveholders … suspected that non-slaveholders would encourage slave disobedience and even rebellion, not so much out of sympathy for the blacks as out of hatred for the rich planters and resentment of their own poverty. White men sometimes were linked to slave insurrectionary plots, and each such incident rekindled fears.” – Genovese
There was a huge fear of fraternalism between poor whites and slaves which explains the “stern police measures against whites who fraternized with blacks.” There was clearly a gap between the rich white people and the poor white people. The poor white people would rather help the slaves, not because they liked them and felt bad for them, but because of their jealousy and hatred towards the rich white community. A report to the Governor of Virginia by Herbert Aptheker stated, “Three white persons are concerned in the plot; and they have arms and ammunition concealed under their houses, and were to give aid when the negroes should begin.” To return the helping hand, slaves would sometimes give food to the poor whites that helped them. Thus was the reason why slaves and Irish workers were segregated when the Brunswick Canal was built, although the excuse was that they feared the two groups would fight and quarrel with each other. In an attempt to control fraternalism and ease the fears of the plantation owners, the two groups were set against each other: poor whites were hired to be the overseers of slave work.
It seems as if the “free” slaves were treated as animals. Zinn gave the impression that slave owners were playing some kind of vicious game with the blacks. The slaves would get tortured then run away and scatter; whoever escaped had won, whoever didn’t had lost and was tortured or killed.
David Walker was a son of a slave, but was born free. He agreed that blacks must fight for their freedom. He wrote Walker’s Appeal that included problems with racism, equal rights, and the effects of slavery. He said: “…They have no more right to hold us in slavery than we have to hold them…Our sufferings will come to an end, in spite of all the Americans this side of eternity…”Every dog must have its day,” the American’s is coming to an end.”
Walker even agreed that they were being treated like animals, and he wanted this game to be over and started to fight for their own rights. It worked. The slave owners felt threatened by him and sent out a request to kill him. Sadly, the game was over for David Walker.
The slave’s freedom after the Civil War wasn’t easy. It was as if they were set free into a world full of hungry, vicious wolves.
“He [Lincoln] wrote to a friend: “I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down…but I bite my lips and keep quiet.””
“Two months later in Charleston, southern Illinois, Lincoln told his audience: I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races (applause); that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people…”
Political or economical there was a reason for President Lincoln to keep his mouth open or shut in front of the nation of the United States. Howard Zinn has a strong opinion in his depictions of history. He stresses the hardships the slaves had not only in the South but in the North as well. “The northern elite wanted economic expansion-free land, free labor, a free market, a high protective tariff for manufacturers…The slaves interest opposed all that.” The North was not right out racist in any form, they just had no interest in bettering the lives of the southern slaves. Their only interest was to improve their economic returns. These strong economic views did not have slaves freed.
After Lincoln was inaugurated as President the South threatened to secede. His first speech was directed toward the south stating: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so.” Lincoln was put into a position fighting over the southern states making him play both sides of the coin. If Lincoln truly believed in the abolishment of slavery he would have put his foot down even in front of the South. Zinn stresses that President Lincoln should not be seen as a hero, one who got rid of slavery but perhaps one who led the stoppage with the Emancipation Proclamation.
– “Liberal historians saw slavery as perhaps the Negro’s ‘necessary transition to civilizations.”‘
– “Economist or cliometricians have tried to assess slavery by estimating how much money was spent on slaves for food and medical care. But can this describe the reality of slavery as it was to a human being who lived inside it? Are the conditions of slavery as importent as the existence of slavery?”
Many historians over the years have stated that slavery not including the whipping and back breaking work, was not as horrible as they are thought to be. They attempted to prove that by providing evidence that it was either necessary or that slaves didn’t have it that bad. They show how slaveowners spent money on food, clothes, medical supplies for slaves, even how some built them dance halls and gave them holiday celebrations. But that does not remedy over the harsh treatment that was given to slaves over the other hundreds of years. The public hangings, whippings and other physical abuses can not be over looked. Howard Zinn includes a paragraph written by a former slave, John Little, which states “They say slaves are happy, because they laugh, and are merry. I myself and three or four others, have received two hundred lashes in a day, and had our feet in fetters; yet, at night, we would sing and dance, and make others laugh at the rattling of our chains….We did it to keep down trouble, and to keep our hearts from being completely broken.” Those who justify slavery and say it was a necessity would never have that opinion if they were the one enslaved.