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John C. Calhoun, George Fitzhugh, Frederick Douglass, and William Craft

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Throughout the years before the Civil War, people from the North and South argued about the institution of slavery. Blacks wanted to be recognized as humans and wanted to have the rights that were given to the whites. Others saw slavery as a way of life and thought that slaves were content under the conditions forced upon them. John C. Calhoun and George Fitzhugh make strong, intellectual arguments defending slavery, but Fredrick Douglass and William Craft provide a compelling challenge to these pro-slavery arguments.

In Calhoun’s essay, “A Defense of Slavery,” written in 1837, he states that slavery is the way of life for people, and if it is abolished, society will be destroyed. Calhoun thinks that slaves are happier and better off because of whites and the system of slavery. He says, “there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other.” Therefore, Calhoun believes that slavery should be left alone. Calhoun points out that there’s no conflict between labor and capital because of the institution of slavery. He believes that a stable society is based on this system, and should continue asserting the “existing relations between” whites and blacks.

George Fitzhugh, who wrote “Cannibals All! Or Slaves Without Masters” in 1857, agrees with Calhoun’s pro-slavery views, and goes on to say that white slaves, or indentured servants, suffered worse conditions than black slaves. Fitzhugh demonstrates his belief by showing the differences in lifestyles between white indentured servants and black slaves. When white slaves are done with their work for their masters, they are free, but they have to go home and take care of their families and households. A white slave’s employer is truly free, and uses the slaves hard work for his own profit. Fitzhugh believes that the black slave is also free. When their labor is done, they are provided with food, raiment, house, fuel, and everything else them or their families needed. When black slaves are done with their work, the work for the master begins. White slavery is more profitable, yet they still are not cared for by their employers. Fitzhugh believes that slave holders of black slaves work hard for their slaves to be taken care of, and slaves should be appreciative.

Fredrick Douglass gives a first-hand description of the abomination of slavery in “Fredrick Douglass’ Description of Life on the Plantation (1845).” He tells us that if a slave ran away, or committed a misdemeanor, he would be whipped, beaten and sold as an example or warning to the slaves remaining. The slaves got small allowances for their hard work. They were given monthly allowances of pork or fish and cornmeal, a pair of trousers, a shirt, a jacket, stockings and a pair of shoes. All of this “could not have cost more than seven dollars.” Children who didn’t work in the field were given only two rough shirts per year. Some children, of both sexes, would be seen naked at all seasons of the year. Many would get sick and die under these conditions. None of the slaves were given beds. Everyone, old and young, male and female, married and single “shared a common bed,- the cold, damp floor.” Some overseers of the farms were cruel and profane, and took pleasure in whipping slaves. Some were less cruel, but still whipped their slaves. Douglass describes the slaves wild songs and music as a testimony against the institution of slavery, and a prayer for God to free them. After hearing these songs, he truly felt the pain of the dehumanizing character of slavery. When Douglass went to the North and heard that whites thought the songs showed how happy and content the blacks were, Douglass was astonished. People in the North were wrong; slavery was seen by Douglass as an animalistic, cruel institution that should have never been legal.

William Craft, author of “Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom,” was a popular abolitionist who escaped the inhumanities of slavery. Craft lived under the institution of slavery and gives a perspective of the cruelty and brutality of the practice.

Slave holders would break up families, and sell husband and wife to different people at different times. Slaves were haunted with the fear theat their new born baby would be taken away and sold. There was nothing a slave could do to avoid the pain of losing a love or family member.

William Craft sites a few arguments against slavery right out of the bible. “God made fo one blood all nations of men,” so all men should be treated equally and fairly. Craft believes that “God is just, and will not let the oppressor of the weak and the spoiler of the virtuous escape unpunished here and hereafter.” God knows that America is not “the land of the free and the home of the brave” by seeing the treatment and enslavement of blacks. Craft sites the 23rd chapter fo Deuteronomy, 15th and 16th verses, which says, “thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee.” If slave-holders are good Christians, they would realize they are acting against God’s will by keeping slaves in bondage.

Another argument Craft brought up is that slave-holders do not follow the laws of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The Declaration of Independence was written by white slave-holders and land owners; the men who wrote it don’t even follow it. Under the laws in the Georgia Constitution, a slave can be killed by accident in giving moderate correction. This pretty much implies that whites could get away with murder. Craft contradicts Fitzhugh’s idea that blacks are free, and whites must work for nothing, by saying that black slaves had to give up all their hard earning to tyrants. They couldn’t have any property or money. Blacks could never be United States citizens or have any rights that whites have to respect. In other words, rape, robbery and murder were not crimes if committed by a white person on a black person. The Declaration of Independence should have said all white men are created equal. Craft believes that the United States should be ashamed of the way they dehumanized blacks.

Many people in the South believed that it was a cruel thing to turn blacks loose without a master to take care of them, but Craft makes the point that several slaves who were emancipated got along well. Craft also points out that there are good and bad people of all colors, so slavery is based on racism and the white’s feelings of superiority over blacks. Craft made a lot of strong arguments against slavery, while still leaving out a lot of the cruelties that took place during his enslavement. He made a clear, logical argument against the pro-slavery propaganda.

The well-known pro-slavery advocates, John C. Calhoun and George Fitzhugh, make important arguments for the institution of slavery. Fredrick Douglass and William Craft, who both have first-hand experience of enslavement, describe the horrible life they endured and their fears of escaping. These anti-slavery narratives contradict the two pro-slavery documents and provide a vision of how ignorant white people were during this time, and how cruel blacks were treated.

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