Slavery in a Free World
The Americans have always established their governance based on ideals. In essence, the high standards set by the founding fathers are critical in creating governments that have respect for citizens. It is living up to these ideals that makes the nation a better example to the rest of the world. The forefathers established the rule of law which continues to guide the nation by respecting diversity, equality, and unity among its citizens. As a result, the country revolves around the core values of equality, self-governance, individualism, unity, and diversity. In short, our forefathers recognized that all individuals in the United States deserve respect, freedom and equality. The way the US government operated became the sole responsibility of the citizens. They actively participated in its formation and ideas to govern them. However, the American systems systematically deprived the blacks of their rights and privileges in certain ways.
The Core Values
On the declaration of independence, America had gained the reputation of having freedom and diversity. The freedoms were tied to ethnic and religious affiliations, which the privileged inhabitants of the land respected. In particular, North America had more influence from the cultures of the indigenous and African inhabitants. The US exhibited more freedom than was experienced in Europe at the time. Although the values of liberty for all founded the nation, there remained the unresolved issue of the people of color. Consequently, their freedom would define America in the 19th century. The black Americans did not enjoy the privileges that their white counterparts had in the community. This made the whites to dictate the extent of their liberty. At the declaration of independence, Thomas Jefferson attacked the fact that the king of England had allowed slave trade but did not condemn slavery itself (Hakim 108). Jefferson also attacked the fact that the king had enlisted the services of blacks after giving them false hopes of being granted freedom after the war. It was incumbent upon the new government to extend the privileges to the slaves, which did not happen. At independence, therefore, the South still allowed slavery and no decree outlawed it.
The Negro Situation
The African Americans were unrecognized as citizens in the 19th century. Many laws and decrees denied them the liberty enjoyed by their white counterparts. Although the blacks in the Northern states enjoyed more freedoms than their counterparts in the South, they did not have full constitutional rights. Therefore, they could not be regarded as free citizens. Several edits and decrees existed to show the inherent differences between blacks and whites, which made the former undeserving of citizenship rights in the US (Chroniclingamerica n.pag.). In North Carolina, for instance, the law prohibited the teaching of slaves because such an undertaking would result in exciting them to become more dissatisfied. This was done in the fear that it would eventually lead to the insurrection that would hurt the citizens of North Carolina. To the drafters of the law, the blacks were not worthy of citizenship in the states that they resided. Equally, their interests were unimportant. Any person that attempted to enlighten the slaves on how to write, read or use figures would suffer an incarceration or a fine of not less than 100 dollars (Hakim 108). The law was to ensure that there remained a disparity between the citizens of North Carolina. Besides, the blacks were not enjoy any of the values enshrined in the Constitution as established by the founding fathers.
To further create a wedge between the whites and the blacks, different perceptions were advanced showing that blacks had yet to evolve into total humans like the whites. Dr. Samuel Cartwright theorized about certain diseases affecting the black slaves, which made them run away from their slave masters. In this light, moving away from punishments meted on the slaves was described as a deficiency of the mind. It was referred to as acquiring madness. Cartwright theorized that the blacks were unable to function anatomically in situations where they were without demanding work (Chroniclingamerica n.pag.). Therefore, they had to be continually engaged to stimulate their blood circulation and respiration. Undoubtedly, this was another way of legitimizing slave labor and showing that the blacks were undeserving of any privileges as American citizens.
The systematic alienation of the people of color cannot be traced to a single point in time after the declaration of independence. However, there was a concerted effort to portray them as undeserving of any civil liberties. In 1854, George Fitzhugh wrote to show that slavery and slaveholding were beneficial to Negroes since these liberated them from pauperism. Otherwise, free blacks would undoubtedly commit crimes due to poverty as witnessed in the North through their numerous convictions (Fitzhugh 254). Having the blacks under the watch of the white slaveholders would also prevent them from infidelity, insurrection and checking their population. Fitzhugh was also of the view that the welfare of the blacks was better catered for by their white owners. The situation was different in the North where the drive for profits disregarded any welfare for the poor in the society. From Fitzhugh’s point of view, the civil liberties enjoyed by the whites were of no consequence to the blacks as long as they were contented.
Moreover, the system was structured in such a way that enlightening the blacks on the need of asking for their privileges was balked at and punished (Withoutsanctuary n.pag.). The abolitionist that went out of their way to help end slavery in the land got incarcerated or executed. A good example is John Brown who met such a fate for his activities in helping Negroes move to free areas. For blacks to overcome slavery, they had to dismantle the traditional structures that were put in place to ensure their path to freedom was unrealizable. Even after the civil war of 1866 and the emancipation laws that followed the 14th amendment, the blacks did not enjoy full civil rights until the enactment of the civil right laws in 1964. Liberty was supposed to ensure the legal recognition of blacks as equal citizens enjoying the same privileges and rights as the whites. However, states adopted the Jim Crow laws to infringe on the right (Withoutsanctuary n.pag.). The freedmen briefly enjoyed the black suffrage as guaranteed by the passage of the 14th and 15th amendments before it encountered many challenges (Chroniclingamerica n.pag.). Even when allowed to vote, the electorate had to undergo discriminative practices like literacy tests that ensured minimal black participation. The privileges and rights enjoyed by American citizens eluded the Negro population in the 19th century.
The Chinese situation
As early as 1838, Chinese immigrants had started settling in the San Francisco area but the vast majority of them emigrated in 1850 at the peak of the California Gold rush. The Chinese came to America to look for better opportunities and were troubled by the economic prospects back home. Initially, their goal was to make as much money as they could and return to their country as wealthy individuals and as such were no different from other immigrants in their expectations. Living together in the same neighborhoods maintained their bonds and preserved culture but the Americans looked down on them. In the same way that they regarded blacks as inferior, the Americans equally viewed Chinese as culturally inferior and too different to assimilate into the American culture. The Chinese stayed in overcrowded places, lived on meager income and never assimilated to the American culture in the 19th century. Their lack of interaction with the Americans beyond the needs of their jobs made them subjects to stereotypes and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 further excluded them from the mainstream affairs (Chroniclingamerica n.pag.).
Women in the United States of America did not enjoy the rights and privileges accorded to the white men in society. College education was a preserve for men in the society and women became excluded in the national matters. The federal government excluded women in citizen rights leaving the individual states to decree what rights and privileges they could earn (Murray 133). Other than in New Jersey, voting was exclusively the preserve of white men in society. Ownership of property was strictly the man’s preserve unless a special marriage settlement document existed. Until its adoption in the constitution after the turn of the century, women suffrage remained a bitterly disputed phenomenon. Just like black suffrage, opposition towards expanding the democratic space to involve women remained a bitterly contested issue especially from the 1840’s. In the 19th century, women rights as enshrined in the constitution remained minimal
The core values of self-governance, inclusivism, individualism and liberty were adopted by the founding fathers of America. These values should have guaranteed all citizens to enjoy the rights and privileges brought about by the dawn of a new republic. However, a section of the society remained alienated. In this regard, it is evident that the Americans did not live up to the ideals established by the founding fathers by systematically and discriminatorily harboring divisions and spreading suffering to the people of color.
Fitzhugh, George. Sociology for the South; Or, the Failure of Free Society. New York: B. Franklin, 1965. Print.
Hakim, Joy. A North Carolina Law Forbidding the Teaching of Slaves to Read and Write (1831), as reprinted in A History of the U.S.: Sourcebook and Index, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 108.
"Which Color Is to Be Tabooed Next?" Historic American Newspapers - Chronicling America (The Library of Congress). chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2016.
Without Sanctuary. Dir. James Allen. withoutsanctuary.org, 2005. Film.
Murray, Judith. On the Equality of the Sexes. Massachusetts Magazine, Vol. 2 (March 1790), pp.132-35.