When slavery was brought over into North America in the early 17th century, white men sought the permanent ownership of kidnapped Africans to be used as cheap manual labor. As time went on, slavery became legalized in the states which authorized permanent ownership over human beings for life- chattel slavery. North Americans quickly depended on slavery as cheap labor, hence no longer seeking work from indentured servants.
The realization of the success that slavery could bring into the industry is what made many seek the labor of captured Africans, which in result made many gain a corrupted soul. As Frederick Douglass once argued in My Bondage and My Freedom, Slavery was an institution that not only victimized the slaves but also managed to prey upon former slave owners, and non-slave holding whites.
The most obvious and well-known form of victimization is the mere ownership of another human being and the extensive cruelty and hours enforced onto them in exchange for nothing. Frederick Douglass believed there was a deeper form of this, which he categorized as stripping them of their humanity. “The reader will pardon so much about the place of my birth, on the score that it is always a fact of some importance to know where a man is born, if, indeed, it be important to know anything about him” (Douglass 22).
Slaves were separated at birth from their family, and the whereabouts of their birthplace or time were never to be determined. The reasoning for keeping family a secret was to keep them in submission to their master. The further knowledge of cultural background allowed them to obtain personhood, something that stood in the way of keeping the idealism of slaves to merely view themselves as objects.
The separation of a mother and child was used for the sole purpose of it being a “successful method of [obliteration] from the mind and heart of the slave, all just ideas of the sacredness of the family, as an institution” (Douglass 24). One of the most fundamental things in identification is a person’s history and possession of knowledge of their family tree- an opportunity removed by slave owners leading to the continuous victimization of slaves.
As Frederick Douglass continues to suffer as a slave, he becomes a spectator in the gradual change of character that his slave owner goes through. Slave owners failed to realize the damage they inadvertently had inflicted upon themselves by upholding the idea of a slavery institution and its austere laws. The corruptive power that they possess slowly deteriorated any goodness the person might have owned at one point. The detrimental effect becomes obvious as Douglass states that everyone becomes a victim to the slave system: “… there is no relation more unfavorable to the development of honorable character, than that sustained by the slaveholder to the slave” (Douglass 52).
One of the main illustrations depicted by Douglass is when he was sent to the home of Thomas Auld and Sophia Auld in Baltimore, Maryland. The lady of the house, Sophia Auld, had a naturally kind heart. She thought him how to read and slowly a bond was formed, that is until her husband clarified the social status that they upheld in comparison to him and the risks they ran if a slave learned how to read. Douglass grew to understand that he was beginning to witness first hand the dehumanization process that victimized his masters and that “This treatment is a part of the system, rather than a part of the man” (Douglass 54).
The effects of slavery gradually continued and affected the indentured servants. When slavery became a vital source for the development of cash crops, the demand for other workers plummeted. Once the realization of a more profitable and lasting source of labor was discovered, the economy shifted into the investment of slaves. Indentured servants were a group of poor Europeans that sought out a form of labor in order to pay off debt. Edmund White’s “Letter to Joseph Morton (1687)” expresses his ideas on why owning African slaves was a better investment for the country’s growth: “ … let [your] negroes be taught…they are capable of learning anything [and] I find when they are kindly used …they are the truest servants” (Henretta 34).
Economic opportunity for the rest of the non-slave owners was little to none, no one could compete with unpaid labor. Money was constantly concentrating itself into the hands of the wealthy people, a classic example of the “rich getting richer at the expense of everyone else” (Pettengill 03-7-2012). For the rest who did not own slaves, they were greatly affected by the immoral economic advantages that the rich held by continuing the practice of cash crops. The community was forced to accept the brutality in which one had to participate if they wished for an even playing field.
The inhumane treatment that a slave had to undergo remains unspeakable. From the cargo ships that transported them to the years of imprisonment, Frederick Douglass experienced the trauma first hand but also witnessed the country shift into a darker state. The rich developed a sinister behavior- money is the root of all evil after all. Economic opportunities quickly plummeted for the rest of the country and soon there weren’t many options. The brutality of chattel slavery affected everybody who at the time had to compete with the quickly growing dependency on such a heinous institution, that victimized everybody in the 17th and 18th centuries.
- Douglass, F. and Smith, J. (2003). My bondage and my freedom. New York: Penguin Books.
- Henretta, J. (2014). Sources for America’s History, vol. 1. to 1877. 8th ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s, p.34.
- Pettengill, Ryan. “HIST-1301-Pettengill-Victimization Non-Slave Owners”. Youtube, commentary by Ryan Pettengill, 07 Mar. 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1pj3jPHphQ