Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
While the written word was used for political reasons, economic argument, scientific and religious debate on the slavery topic, it was the work of novels, both fiction and non-fiction works, that stayed within the view of Americans over a hundred and fifty years after the outbreak of the Civil War. Through the work of literary masterpieces, the argument of slavery exploded across the nation with the ripple effects still being felt.
It all began with the stories told straight from the escaped slaves’ mouths. It was one thing to hear of the benefits or evils of slavery from politicians and preachers, but it was when it came from those who lived it that it came alive and more than just another debate topic for sides to get heated over. Josiah Henson published his autobiography in 1881. Though written after the war ended, his story is known as the inspiration to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel where she used him as her ‘Uncle Tom.’ In his narrative, he explains in the first few pages of one of his earliest memories of
…the appearance one day of my father with his head bloody and his back lacerated. He was beside himself with mingled rage and suffering. The overseer had brutally assaulted my mother, when my father sprang upon him like a tiger. In a moment the overseer was down, and, mastered by rage, my father would have killed him but for the entreaties of my mother, and the overseer’s own promise that nothing should ever be said of the matter. The promise was kept—like most promises of the cowardly and debased—as long as the danger lasted.
…The authorities were soon in pursuit of my father. The penalty was one hundred lashes on the bare back, and to have the right ear nailed to the whipping-post, and then severed from the body. For a time my father kept out of the way, hiding in the woods, and at night venturing into some cabin in search of food.
…The day for the execution of the penalty was appointed. The negroes from the neighbouring plantations were summoned to witness the scene. A powerful blacksmith named Hewes laid on the stripes. Fifty were given, during which the cries of my father might be heard a mile, and then a paused ensued. True, he had struck a white man, but as valuable property he must not be damaged.
Henson opened up with the reality of family life. It was not how white free men lived. Slaves could not defend their loved ones without paying a heavy price. Even the most valuable of slaves had to pay the price though they were treated less harshly than if they were a common slave without the assets needed by the owner. His opening emotionally revealed the truth of family life for a slave.
A Texan. The Yankee Slave-Dealer. Nashville, Archive.org, 1860, http://archive.org/details/yankeeslavedeal00abolrich.
“Arguments and Justifications.” The Abolition Project. http://abolition.e2bn.org/slavery_112.html
Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: the first two centuries of slavery in North America. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1998.
Brown, William Wells. Clotelle, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/241/241-h/241-h.htm.
Buckingham, Goodsell. “The Bible Vindicated from the Charge of Sustaining Slavery.” Columbus: The Temperance Advocate Office, 1837. http://antislavery.eserver.org/religious/biblevindicatedrevisedfinal/.
Cobb, Thomas Read Rootes. “An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America.” Archive.org.
Davis, Jefferson. “Speech of Mr. Davis, of Mississippi, on the Subject of Slavery in the Territories,” Archive.org, 1850.
Douglass, Frederick. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, (Boston: Anti-Slave Office, 1848), 2-3.
Elliott, E.N., ed. “Cotton is King.” Archive.org. http://archive.org/details/cottoniskingandp28148gut.
Exodus 22: 21-24. King James Bible. BibleGateway.org,
Fitzhugh, George. Cannibals All!, or Slaves Without Masters. 1857. http://archive.org/details/cannibalsallorsl35481gut.
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Hunt, James. On the Negro’s Place in Nature. London: Trubner, 1863.
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Lewis, Evan. “Address to Christians of All Denominations on the Inconsistency of Admitting Slave-Holders to Communion and Church Membership”. Antislavery Literature, 1831, http://antislavery.eserver.org/religious/addresstochristians/addresstochristians.html.
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Webster, Daniel. Speech Before the Senate of the United States, 1848. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi/bin/query/r?ammem/rbaapc:@field(DOCID+@lit(rbaapc3310 0div3))
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