Perspectives on Slavery
Americans in the late 17th and early 18th century had different perspectives of slavery depending on their interests and how it affected their freedom and growth. The country gradually became divided between the antislavery states in the North and the Pro-slavery states in the South. Some of the people who pushed for the abolition of slavery by highlighting the injustice it entailed included John Brown in his final speech in 1861, the work of an anonymous painter in 1891, Charles Sumner in the letter he wrote in 1856. On the other hand, Muscogee Herald and John C. Calhoun wrote in support of slavery because they felt that it was a necessary evil and that they were entitled to the control they had over the slaves. Abolitionists condemned slavery because it violated the principle of equality, while the pro-slavery writers defended slavery and campaigned for its expansion into the new states because they considered African Americans to be merely human beings and they wanted to maintain the status quo.
Abolitionist writers considered slavery to be an inhumane institution that went against the values of equality on which the country was founded and basic human nature. John Brown was an abolitionist who led raids into Kansas and Missouri, which were aimed at freeing enslaved African Americans. In 1859, he was convicted of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, among other charges and sentenced to death. In his final speech, he said, “Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by the wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit, so let it be done” (Document 29). Brown felt that it was his moral imperative to take action to free the slaves. The quote highlights the desire that Brown as an abolitionist, had to ensure equality among the people in spite of their race. An anonymous painter in 1810 made a pictorial representation of this sentiment titled Virginian Luxuries. The painting depicts a white man beating a helpless black slave and another being intimate with a slave woman (Document 4). Similarly, Charles Sumner spoke against South Carolina’s senator, who was pro-slavery in his letter. In it, he describes slavery as a mistress who “though polluted in the sight if the world, is chaste in his sight.” Sumner found slavery to be an unjust institution whose expansion was only pursued to “fortify in the National Government the desperate chances of a waning oligarch” (Document 24). Eric Foner notes that “by the 1830s, “equality” had become an American obsession” (371). The perspective of the abolitionist grew stronger and more widespread among the people and contributed to the Civil War.