Greetings fellow abolitionist! I have the most exciting news! I have just finished reading a copy of Solomon Northup’s memoir entitled 12 Years a Slave. Although it was difficult to read, this book helps our cause to abolish slavery immensely. Northup describes in detail the gruesome treatment that he and the other slaves received. From derogatory names to the women being raped to brutal beatings with whips and being attacked by dogs there was no limit to what slavemasters would do to their slaves.
Aside from the violence, there were other underlying issues that were brought to light by 12 Years a Slave that support the views of the abolitionists. The greed of the south for their slaves led to a business kidnapping and smuggling free African Americans into slavery that Northup himself experienced. There was also the issue of whether blacks were American citizens and therefore protected under The Constitution. The most important issue brought up was the extreme difference in business between the North and the South.
Northup was the son of a free black man and was born and raised in Upstate New York. Solomon was approached by two men who wanted Solomon to play fiddle in their circus for them. Northup was interested and followed the men to Washington D.C. where he was drugged kidnapped and eventually sold into slavery by James H. Burch. “So we passed, hand-cuffed and in silence through the streets of Washington, throught the capital of a nation, whose theory of government, we were told, rests on the foundation of man’s inalienable right to life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (Northup’s 12 Years a Slave, pg 34)” The abolishment of slavery in the north and the demand for slaves in the south created a way for people to profit quickly.
By kidnapping free blacks from the north and selling them for 100% profit in the south these kidnappers and smugglers were able to get rich quickly. This in turn leaves the new booming city communities of the north a magnet for crime and put fear into the productive members of the free black society. This leads into the question of whether the free blacks are indeed American citizens protected by The Constitution. In the quote presented earlier, Northup shows us the irony between being led into slavery in the very capital of the country in which he lives as a free man whose foundation is set upon “man’s inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness(The Constitution). We as abolitionists believe that all men are created equal and should be treated as such. Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves himself, wrote this letter to the popular poet Lydia Sigourney of MA.
“I am not apt to despairing, yet I see not how we are to disengage ourself from that deplorable entanglement, we have the wolf by the ear and feel the danger of holding or getting loose…I shall not live to see it but those who come after us will be wiser than we are, for light is spreading and man improving. To that advancement I look, and to the dispensations of an all- wise and all-powerful providence to devise the means of effecting what is right (Boisterous Sea of Liberty pg 356). This shows that even Jefferson who was president of the United States knew it was the right thing to abolish slavery, but did not know how to go about the situation.
Politically it makes sense to abolish slavery completely as well. With the divide between the north and the south on slavery and business style, it made laws difficult to pass and also made it difficult to add states to the union because of the need for equality between the number of northern states and southern states. With the equality of free blacks and their American citizenship being established, if slavery was abolished then African American’s would be able to vote legally. This would help our political efforts as they would likely vote the same way. The northern manufacturing and industrial based economy did not benefit from slaves as there was plenty of labor from immigrants flooding into the large scale factory cities. In the rural south, economy was based off of cash crops.
Tobacco was the number one cash crop in the south until Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin which took over a majority of the cash crop land. The invention of the cotton gin led to a boom in slave trade once more to get the long, grueling hours, and back-breaking work done for little to no cost. Because of the rural land type and more opportunity for employment in the north, immigration was mostly centered around the big industrial cities. The south needed the slaves for labor because they had no other labor force.
However there was a problem with this type of labor force. “Daily witnessing of human suffering, dying without attention…it cannot otherwise be expected than that they should become brutified and reckless of human life…i ask for no paradise on high, with cares on earth oppressed, the only heaven for which i sigh, is rest, eternal rest.(Northup’s 12 Years a Slave pg 157-158).” These slaves were forced to work horrendous hours of relentless work in the fields, with little food or water and beaten brutally, regularly, and daily working 6 or 7 days a week to make their masters as rich as possible. There was absolutely zero motivation to work efficiently. “Ten years I toiled for that man without reward. Ten years of my incessant labor has contributed to increase the bulk of his possessions. (Northup’s 12 Years a Slave pg 125).” This is precisely why the southern’s economy did not thrive as the north’s did. Those working for wages and bonuses based on production had incentive to work and therefore the north’s economy benefitted.
As you can see Solomon Northup’s 12 Years a Slave supports the abolitionists views and gives very real examples of the effects of slavery. It makes me excited to think about what this book could do for our cause. Not only does 12 Years a Slave clearly depict the obvious physical and emotional abuse that the slaves faced on an everyday basis, but showed the political and economical problems with slavery and why it is not the solution to the labor crisis. This should get the public talking about the far reaching implications of slavery and force the government to make a decision on the topic that has been avoided for years. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing your views on the book.