¶ … Slave, Not Born a Slave
The Making of Slavery
The sense of proprietorship of slave traders, owners, and other propagators of chattel slavery that was prevalent in the United States until the middle of the 19th century would be absurdly laughable -- were it not steeped in a legacy of perversion, of anguish, of tragedy and of perniciousness. The notion that one had the right to actually own another, the latter of whose sole existence would be to serve the former in any way, shape or method which the "owner" deemed appropriate, has been disproved as largely imaginary, and not something based on any sense of right or morality (no matter how such a historically ambiguous term was defined) numerous times, both during the tenure of slavery in the United States and well afterwards. A casual examination of the wording of the Declaration of Independence confirms this fact (McAulifee, 2010, p. 78), although it should be noted that at the time of the composition of this document African and West Indian slaves were largely regarded to be 3/5ths of a man for the purposes of taxation and representation. However, those distinctions of mankind have largely faded with the passing of chattel slavery in this country, wherein the conception that someone could be "born" solely for the purpose of being a slave is highly inaccurate, and can be demonstrated in a number of ways -- not the least of which is by the fact that when the African rulers who sold a number of slaves to European slave traders in the 15th and 16th centuries (Baraka, 1991, p.21), those people were already free. It was only the dogged insolence of the European and American slave traders and owners that persisted in making those of African and West Indian descent chattel slaves in this country, as a body of literature and historical sources readily proves (and has, in fact, already proven).
Some of the most powerful examples of this fact may be gleaned from literature, particularly when such literature is founded upon a historical basis which combines a non-fictional approach with a narrative in which slaves are depicted as humans -- which was widely unpopular in the United States in certain regions for the first century both before and after its founding. In fact, it may be asserted that slave narratives, which illustrated the actual person and character of someone who was repeatedly dehumanized to be made into another's property, were one of the contributing factors that led to the eventual abolition of slavery in the U.S. (Bland, 2001, p. 11). Of the first-hand chronicles of slavery that may possibly have had such an ameliorating effect upon slaves, and a decidedly debilitating effect upon the institution of slavery, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave is certainly one of the most eminent, for a number of factors. The first of which was owed to the eloquence of Douglass' writing -- which in and of itself may be used as a defense of the notions that one is not born a slave, but is rather made into one -- while other factors contributing to the efficacy of this manuscript lies in its brutal rendering of the perverse behavior of slave owners and traders, as well as its depictions of the actual human being that each and every slave undoubtedly was.
Therefore, when one is attempting to demonstrate that slaves were made into human property, and were not born that way, it becomes necessary to truly define and outline the logic behind this argument, as well as that behind any proofs that may be issued to support it. To do so, one could choose...
To this end, Douglass's narrative proves quite beneficial, as the following quotation (1845) demonstrates his humanity and intellect -- which happened to be confined to a variety of slave owners since he was deemed to be their "property."
Very soon after I went to live with Mr. And Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further… I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty -- to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man (p.28-29).
This quotation readily demonstrates Douglass' intellectual prowess, which is as adept as any human beings'. It displays his inclination towards scholastic pursuits, the learning of writing, as well as his ability to produce didactic lessons from everyday occurrences (which are characterized in this quotation by Mr. Auld's forbidding of his wife to teach Douglass to read, which was a fairly common dictum for slave owners to say to their slaves. It is in this latter aspect that this quotation actually proves that slaves were simply made into a life of servitude and not born that way. Douglass's understanding of the white man's "power" to enslave the black man implies that there is a source to this power, which may be overcome so that the white man loses this ability to enslave the black man. Douglass exemplifies this fact by dedicating his thought process and life to pursuing his own freedom after this revelation. If he were truly born to be a slave, he would not attempt such an undertaking.
In fact, it may be argued that there are quite a number of factors and anecdotes within this narrative that allude to the fact that slaves were not born to be in bondage, and had simply been made to be that way due to unfortunate circumstances (which of course, could largely be attributed to either themselves or their ancestors having been sold into slavery in parts of Africa or the West Indies) (Baraka, 1991, p. 23). If the preceding quotation has indicated that Douglass possessed the powers of reasoning and intellectual capacity that would behoove any freed man, the following quotation (1845) alludes to a sense of virility instilled within him despite the best efforts of numerous slave owners to break his will, make him docile, and to keep him both physically and mentally within their bondage.
…he left Covey and myself to fight our own battle out. We were at it for nearly two hours. Covey at length let me go, puffing and blowing at a great rate, saying that if I had not resisted, he would not have whipped me half so much. The truth was, that he had not whipped me at all. I considered him as getting entirely the worst end of the bargain; for he had drawn no blood from me, but I had from him (p. 62).
This quotation underscores the intense physical resistance which Douglass rallied against his slave master, Covey, largely due to the fact that the former was tired of being physically abused by the latter. Such physical resistance, of course, is fairly convincing evidence that slaves are not born. Douglass, of course, was a slave who was born into such a lot -- yet he exerted such strong physical resistance (for "nearly two hours") that Covey had to "let" him "go." In doing so, Douglass demonstrated the fact that he was refusing to accept his position as a slave and that he would fight and utilize all of his willpower to not be abused the way that slaves so typically and wantonly were. If Douglass had chosen to accept his fate and not beat his slave master in a physical altercation, he would have acquiesced to the cruel hand which life had dealt him. But he did not acquiesce, which indicates that he was not simply born to be a slave despite the fact that he was a slave when he was born.
What is of immense interest in the preceding passage in Douglass' narrative is that his slave owner actually called for another slave to help him during his confrontation with Douglass. That slave, a man by the name of Hughes, promptly came running to aid his master, which the following quotation illustrates, "Hughes came, and, while Covey held me, attempted to tie my right hand. While he was in the act of doing so, I watched my chance, and gave him a heavy kick close under the ribs" (Douglass, 1845, p. 62). In this particular quotation, Hughes, another slave, is attempting to exercise a degree of complicity in his master's atrocious acts of violence committed against Douglass. Yet Hughes was actually only doing so because as a slave, he had been ordained to heed his master's command lest he face the violent wrath of his master, as…
Obviously, Burch beat Northup on his bare behind which certainly must have welted the skin. With this description, it is easy to see the brutal severity of such treatment which was often used not only as a form of punishment but also as a form of intimidation and as a warning not to attempt to escape. For Northup, this experience truly changed his outlook on living as a slave,
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