The Role of an Individual Opposed to Slavery

You have been divided into two groups.  For this homework, one group will assume the role of an individual opposed to slavery, while the other, YOUR GROUP will argue in support. It is important to understand that this debate does not ask for your opinion on this controversial issue. In today’s world, there is no justifiable reason to hold another in bondage. Instead, it asks that you determine how an individual, at that time in history, might have answered this question. The following is a statement from the social theorist George Fitzhugh.  Each of you should post a statement in support, or in opposition to Fitzhugh’s argument. Try not to make assumptions.  Instead, assume the historical role of someone who lived in the United States in the period prior to the Civil War.  Not all Northerners opposed slavery, and not all Southerners favoured it.  You could be a plantation owner, a slave trader, or a Southern politician.  Conversely, you can be an abolitionist, a Northern politician, or even a slave.  Be creative. In response to arguments against slavery, George Fitzhugh insisted that “Domestic slavery in the Southern States has produced the same results in elevating the character of the master that it did in Greece and Rome. He is lofty and independent in his sentiments, generous, affectionate, brave and eloquent; he is superior to the Northerner, in everything but the arts of thrift. But the chief and far most important inquiry are, how does slavery affect the condition of the slave? One of the wildest sets of Communists in France proposes not only to hold all property in common but to divide the profits not according to each man’s input and labour but according to each man’s wants. Now, this is precisely the system of domestic slavery with us. We provide for each slave, in old age, and in infancy, in sickness and in health, not according to his labour, but according to his wants. The master’s wants are most costly and refined, and he, therefore, gets a larger share of the profits. A Southern farm is the beau ideal of Communism; it is a joint concern, in which the slave consumes more than the master, of the coarse products, and is far happier because although the concern may fail, he is always sure of support; he is only transferred to another master to participate in the profits of another concern; he marries when he pleases because he knows he will have to work no more with a family than without one, and whether he live or die, that family will be taken care of; he exhibits all the pride of ownership, despises a partner in a smaller concern, “a poor man’s negro,” boasts of “our crops, horses, fields and cattle;” and is as happy as a human being can be. And why should he not? – he enjoys as much of the fruits of the farm as he is capable of doing, and the wealthiest can do no more. Great wealth brings many additional cares, but few additional enjoyments. Our stomachs do not increase in capacity with our fortunes. We want no more clothing to keep us warm. We may create new wants, but we cannot create new pleasures. The intellectual enjoyments which wealth affords are probably balanced by the new cares it brings along with it.”

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