Black Rebellions, An Un Achievable Goal For Slaves In The South Essay, Research Paper
Black Rebellions, An Unachievable Goal for Slaves in the South
Full scale slave rebellions as those planned by Nat Turner, Denmark Vessey, and Gabriel Prosser were not common among the African American community in the United States in the nineteenth century. This was due to a lack of hope among the slaves in the South, slave patrols, the fact that less than five percent of the slaves could read, fear of brutality by white masters, and lack of equality for blacks in the legal system. The underlying theme for lack of black resistance was southern paternalism!
Many slaves had a lack of hope for freedom. Most slaves were located in the south where slavery was accepted. To reach freedom they needed to head north where blacks could live freely. Also most slaves were born into slavery and were raised to accept it. But the north was hundreds of miles away. So most slaves just accepted their lives, with little or no hope of every being freed or revolting. As Angelina Grimke explains “I have seen it! I have seen it! I know its horrors that can never be described. I was brought up under its wing. I witnessed for many years its demoralizing influences and its destructiveness to human happiness. I have never seen a happy slave. I have seen him dance in his chains, it’s true, but he wasn’t happy. There is a wide difference between happiness and mirth. Man cannot enjoy happiness while his manhood is destroyed. Slaves, however, may be and sometimes are mirthful. When hope is extinguished they say, “lets us eat and drink for tomorrow we die”(Document 13-8). This shows their lack of hope for freedom and shows why resistance was not realistic. The slaves had a destiny to be slaves, from the cradle to the grave. “The child born of a slave was destined to remain slave” (Out of Many pp.303).
The fact that most slaves were able to have families and feel a sense of community also lessoned resistance of slaves. “Masters encouraged marriage among believing made the men less rebellious “(Out of Many pp.306).
Whatever dreams that slaves had; most that they would never escape; this also greatly reduced African-American resistance in the south. White Southerners were determined to prevent Black resistances. They mostly used slave patrols to stop and prevent blacks from escaping. “Slave patrols were a common sight on southern roads. Any Black person without a pass from his or her master was captured and returned home to certain punishment”(Out of Many pp.308).
There were three very big revolts that occurred in the United States by Black resistance. One was Gabriel Posser, who was literate and a blacksmith. He rallied over one thousand blacks with hopes of assaulting Richmond, VA. However, he was hung at the last minute. His group’s slogan was “Death of Liberty” which put fear into white slave owners across the United States.
Another was Denmark Vassey, a free, literate, seaman. He wanted to steal weapons from the Charleston arsenal and try to free all the black house slaves in Charleston, who would then murder their owners. However, whites found out about the plan before it could commence and hung Denmark Vassey and thirty-four of his co-conspirators. This again instilled fear into the minds of whites. That their slaves could be so intelligent, this shocked him.
Nat Turner orchestrated the last of the three resistance attempts and the most successful. Nat was an African-American, literate, lay preacher. On August 20, 1831 he was able to kill his master. Nat then started moving plantation to plantation, trying to kill more white slave owners. In all, he and his followers had killed fifty-five whites. Eventually Nat Turner and his followers were all murdered but not without instilling fear into Southern white slave owners.
The greatest attribute that all three of these African-American men shared was that they were all literate. Less than five percent of African-Americans living in the United States could read at this time. Illiteracy made it very easy for slave owners to control their slaves. They passed laws that made it illegal for slaves to learn how to read. This was so that blacks would never get the same ideas as Turner, Prosser, and Vessey. Because if Southern slaves knew that black resistance existed they could get hope and inspiration to revolt themselves, which was something that whites feared the most.
Fear also kept southern blacks in the United States from revolting. Harsh beatings and in some occurrences, death, was the penalty for disobeying your master. “Most large slave owners believed that constant discipline and coercion were necessary to make slaves work hard. Slave owners used their slaves with great brutality. Owners who killed their slaves were occasionally brought to trail, but no legal action was taken in much more frequent cases of excessive punishment, general abuse, and rape”(Out of Many pp. 317) So, the fact that most-white slave owners could murder their slaves without being punished instilled a great fear into their hearts.
Southern Paternalism was kept slavery so strong. Paternalism was how slavery existed among whites with no or little resistance. “Paternalism is defined as a system and that slavery was for the benefit of the African Americans” (Kawaguchi 11/24/99). The slave owners actually believed that blacks could not survive without white people because blacks are child-liked creatures and that they could not take care of themselves. South Paternalism, when broken down is simply racism. As explained By William Henry Trescot, a farmer in the South Carolina in 1850, “Slavery informs all our models of life, all our habits of thought, lies at the basis of our social existence and of our political faith” (Out of Many pp. 317).
The United States Constitution also weakened black resistance because it allowed slavery. White slave owners could not be charged with any crimes if they were doing what their countries constitution allowed. Also, the fact that that they were born into slavery and raised by white racist, paternal views of religion. “They found justification for slavery in the bible and in the histories of Greece and Rome, both were slave owning societies” (Out of Many pp. 328) Lack of anti-slavery literature also kept resistance low because books such as ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ were outlawed in the Southern states. This book promoted anti-slavery, it was written by Harriot Beecher Stowe, who fought for humanitarian causes like the termination of slavery. She wrote, “The Negro mind had been more crushed and debased than the white. It is more true of this race than of every oppressed race, the world over. The slave is always a tyrant, if he can get a chance to be one.” (Documents 15-3)
Also, lack of equality in the legal system of slavery made it nearly impossible for African-Americans to revolt. Blacks could not own property, which could not own property, which gave them no power. Also blacks could not file lawsuits so they had little to no rights in the legal system. Another big part of white supremacy was that African-Americans could not own or purchase or posses firearms which put a damper in ever pulling off a truly successful revolt in the black community.
In conclusion, all of these factors kept black resistance to slavery suppressed. The three revolts were far and few between to make a difference to most if not all slave residing in the southern United States during the nineteenth century. The underlying theme that exists in all of these reasons for white supremacy and African-American compliance is southern paternalism. Slavery was looked at as morally acceptable among whites in the Southern United States and the United States Constitution allows slavery to exist and thrive as its social system and way of life. Illiteracy, white supremacy, mistreatment of blacks and lack of black education were all made possible because of southern paternalism.