Is America a country built on the idea of “Freedom” or the of reality slavery (or both)?
America’s history with slavery and her quest for freedom remains as controversial as it has ever been. Today, we are faced with varying controversial debates, ranging from the affirmative action to financial demands and racial quotas. Somehow, all these issues have a common origin in that our founding father failed to abolish slavery even as the nation sought to be liberated (Wood 83). Ever since the United States of American was founded, the nation has always been confronted with intense debates as regards the issue of slavery, mainly because it brings forth questions about our dedication to human equality and liberty, and these are the central tenets of freedom.
Upon its founding, the United States had about five million slaves. Majority of these slaves were to be found in the five southernmost states, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the population (Spalding, n.d.). It is also interesting to note hat leading American Founders like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson also owned slaves. Others, however, did not own slaves. For example, Benjamin Franklin views slavery as “an atrocious debasement of human nature” (Thomas 481), and “a source of serious evil” (Thomas 481). In1774, he helped to create the Pennsylvania Society, alongside Benjamin Rush. This was a movement whose sole goal was to promote activities geared towards bringing slavery to an end.
The idea of “Freedom” and the reality of slavery were both instrumental in the building of the United States of America. In his speech titled, “House Divided” that he delivered on 16th June, 1858, in Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln acknowledged that both slavery and freedom were crucial elements of the establishment and stability of America. He was however, quick to also concede that as long as the government embraced both of these concepts, it would also remain divided and accordingly, would be faced with the risk of failure. As such, Lincoln predicted that the government would either have to pursue freedom or embrace slavery, but not both. Thus was evident in the debate that pitted Lincoln against Senator Stephen Douglas, who was the mastermind of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that Lincoln opposed (Spalding, n.d.). This Act sought to permit slavery in Missouri, against the Missouri Compromise, because Douglas had real estate interests in the region and he stood to benefit from the admittance of slavery in the region. However, Lincoln was opposed to the move, seeing as he was a staunch anti-slavery advocate.
George Washington’s ideals about the Revolution as a General of the Continental army and even as the President, depict a statesman coming to terms with the inhumanity and reality of slavery amid the construction of what was widely regarded as a free nation. Again, this is a clear depiction that even as the United States pursued freedom slavery was never far away from this dream.
In 1775, the Continental army consisted of both free blacks and slaves. Their being enlisted into the army, following a proposal presented to Congress by Alexander Hamilton, was meant to “give them their freedom with their muskets” (Brown and Morgan 13), in Georgia and South Carolina a policy that Washington was in support of. In the 18th century, slavery was instrumental for the growth of America. The emergence of the cotton gin in 1793, for example, was instrumental in expanding slavery. At the time, cotton was by far the most crucial cash crop. Various textile factories were being built, and they required constant supply of cotton. Accordingly, there also had to be constant supply of labor especially in the Deep South where conditions were ideal for the cultivation of cotton.
However, the white farmers here were not willing to grow cotton themselves. As a result, slavery expanded greatly in the region. The development of cotton farming and the growth of the textile industry were largely seen as playing a key role in the expansion of the American economy, and the empire as well. Therefore, the inclusion of slavery as a means of achieving this expansion and liberty, are instrumental in America’s history.
As the growth of cotton expanded, so did slavery, which was also proving to be a very profitable venture for those who engaged in it. By the 1820s, slavery was already deeply rooted in the Southern Society. On the other hand, it was also more racist and brutal than it had ever been (Hart 488). The White Southerners however were of the opinion that if at all they were to establish an Empire of Liberty, then slavery was necessary. So, in a way, the Civil War was largely about slavery, but also it was about the purist for liberty.
By 1860, two very distinct nations were evident in America: the North and the South. Both represented two unique cultures, parties, ideologies, and societies. In addition, the tow distinct nations also symbolized the two divergent views held by the Americans. In the South, we had the Democrats, whose were mainly conservative and were intent on preserving white supremacy and the right to slave ownership. Democrats were usually slaveholders. Alternately, the North was comprised of the Republicans. These were against to the extension of slavery. They thus advocated for free labor, freedom for people, and free land.
With such divergent ideological and political differences, war was inevitable. Abraham Lincoln declared this Civil War as the Great Revolution whose sole goal was to quell the dominant spirit of slavery. On the other hand, the Southerner white supremacists were of the view that the Black Republican Party that was instrumental in the development of The Great Revolution was, by and large, a revolutionary party. In his inaugural address, President Lincoln tried to appease the South by intimating that he had no aim of interfering with slavery either directly or indirectly in those States that it was still being practiced. On this, Lincoln indicated that the constitution did not also him to do so, seeing as those in favor of slavery and those opposed to it were all friends, and not enemies. This is yet another indication of the crucial role that slavery played in bringing about the realization of liberty in the United States. Again, it also depicts how these two issues are intertwined.
In sum, America as a nation has been built on the principles of reality slavery and freedom. While the southern white supremacists saw slavery as instrumental in the growth of the textile industries and other forms of commerce, their northern counterparts were opposed to slavery, and instead advocated for freedom of men, free labor, and free land. This culminated in the American Civil War of the 1860s. In his inaugural speech, President Lincoln acknowledged that there were varying ideals on the issue of slavery and that was not a basis for enmity between the North and South. The fight against slavery brought about freedom to those who were oppressed by it. The fact that slavery was also central to the ideals of both the Democrats and the Republicans is yet another indication that the ideals held by the two political parties revolved around slavery.
Brown, Christopher and Philip D. Morgan. Arming Slaves: From Classical Times to the Modern
Age. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008. Print.
Hart, Albert. American History Told by Contemporaries: Building of the Republic …, Volume 2.
2002. New York: The Minerva Group, Inc.
PBS. “Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech”. n.d. Web. 25 July 2015.
Spalding, Mathew. How to Understand Slavery and the American Founding. August 26. 2002.
Web. 25 July 2015. <http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2002/08/how-to
Thomas, Hugh. The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870. New York:
Simon and Schuster, 2013. Print.
Wood, Gordon. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. Penguin Books, 2005. Print.