In the antebellum South, slavery apologists argued that they were doing
exactly what the Bible authorized them to do. Here is a compiled
bibliography of pro-slavery books from that era that used Biblical or
Many who supported the enslavement of Africans likewise viewed them as inferior to White people.
An Anglican minister in Barbados claimed that "Negro's were Beasts, and had no more Souls than Beasts." Africans were considered intellectually and morally inferior to Whites; some declared that they were descended from apes.
Such horrific claims were used to justify the system of chattel slavery (the personal ownership of a slave) that enslaved millions of Africans. Many slaveholders convinced themselves that slaves, due to their supposedly inferior nature, were better off and better cared for in bondage than in freedom.
This racist ideology led directly to America's "original sin," the institution of slavery in the New World. The first group of African slaves-four men and women-arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. Planters quickly realized that enormous profits could be gained from importing enslaved laborers.
Africans could be made to work much longer and harder in the fields. Since they were so far from Africa, they could not easily escape and return home. In addition, African slaves came from a variety of nations and cultures and thus could not easily communicate with each other to organize resistance.
Most slaves came from West Africa, where some tribal leaders were willing to capture and sell other Africans for profit. Slaves became especially important to the economy of the South, where the climate and topography were more suitable for tobacco and cotton plantations.
By 1860, the United States was divided into "slave" and "free" states. That year, census takers counted 3,950,540 slaves in America.
While the Declaration of Independence claimed that "all men are created equal," the US Constitution determined that enslaved persons would be counted as "three-fifths of all other Persons" for purposes of government representation and taxation (Article I, Section II, Paragraph III).
The Constitution permitted importing slaves until 1808, with a tax of $10 per slave (Article I, Section IX, Clause I). And it required those living in free states to return escaped slaves to their owners (Article IV, Section II, Clause III).
Slavery was legal in America until 1865 and the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment (1868) guaranteed the same rights to all male citizens; the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) made it illegal to deprive any eligible citizen of the right to vote, regardless of color.
However, segregation in schools was not made illegal until Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Jim Crow laws enforcing racial segregation were overturned by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Studies show that racism persists in America:
People with "black-sounding names" had to send out 50 percent more job applications than people with "white-sounding names" to get a callback. A Black man is three times more likely to be searched at a traffic stop and six times more likely to go to jail than a White man. If a Black person kills a White person, he or she is twice as likely to receive the death sentence as a White person who kills a Black person. Blacks serve up to 20 percent more time in prison than White people for the same crimes. Blacks are 38 percent more likely to be sentenced to death than White people for the same crimes.
Slavery in the Old Testament
It is an unfortunate fact that slavery was an accepted part of life in the ancient world. No early society or literature questioned its existence or necessity.
People in Old Testament times became slaves in a variety of ways: they were born to enslaved parents (Genesis 17:23), purchased as slaves (Genesis 37:28), or sold themselves to pay a debt (Leviticus 25:39-55). Breaking into a home was punished by enslavement (Exodus 22:3), and prisoners of war were commonly enslaved (Joel 3:6). The children of Israel enslaved the Canaanites they conquered in the Promised Land (Judges 1:28).
Slaves in Israel were considered property to be bought and sold (Exodus 21:32). However, they were granted protection against murder, permanent injury, or undue physical labor (Exodus 21:20, 26; 23:12). Hebrew household slaves were included at religious meals (Exodus 12:44). Such privileges and protections were extremely rare in the ancient world.
But why did the Old Testament not condemn this practice?
In many ways, it did. There were several ways a Hebrew slave could be freed (a process called "manumission"). An individual could be purchased and set free (Exodus 21:8). A slave permanently injured by his master was to be set free (Exodus 21:26). Hebrews were to be held as slaves for no longer than six years (Deuteronomy 15:12). The Jubilee Year, which occurred every forty-nine years, was to free all Israelite slaves (Leviticus 25:50).
But still we ask: Why did the Old Testament sanction this practice at all? Its rules minimized this evil, protected slaves from physical harm, and provided for their eventual freedom. But the New Testament gives us God's complete word on the subject.
The following is from Jefferson Davis, leader of the Conferacy
It [slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God...it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation...it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts...Let the gentleman go to Revelation to learn the decree of God - let him go to the Bible...I said that slavery was sanctioned in the Bible, authorized, regulated, and recognized from Genesis to Revelation... Slavery existed then in the earliest ages, and among the chosen people of God; and in Revelation we are told that it shall exist till the end of time shall come. You find it in the Old and New Testaments - in the prophecies, psalms, and the epistles of Paul; you find it recognized, sanctioned everywhere."
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