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Twelve Years A Slave

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After reading a copy of Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years A Slave, I was overwhelmed with his experience. He was born a free man in New York in 1808. In 1841 he was tricked, captured, and sold into slavery in Washington, D.C. Throughout his book, Solomon goes into details describing his life as a slave, which validates our critique of slavery. As abolitionists, it is our duty to do something about slavery. Although, as abolitionists, we have a history of disagreements among us, it time to put stop to our arguments and start fighting for something we all believe in – to abolish slavery. While the growing cotton economy has made slavery more attractive than ever before to most southern people, slavery has to be abolished based on these reasons: first, because slaves are treated inhumanly; second, because it makes southern white society savage and cruel, and third, it turns southern whites into greedy and lazy people.

One of the main reasons that slavery should be abolished is because masters treat their slaves inhumanly. Masters disregard the idea of family among slaves. Although they encourage slave marriage, they do so out of selfish reasons. Slaves who have families are likely to have kids, who will become property of the master after birth, and at the same time they are least likely to run away. In addition, the actual law does not provide any protection or recognition of slave marriage or family, which discourages the formation of family among slaves . Just like the law, masters do not take families into consideration and are reluctant to break slave families by sale. For example when Eliza was sold, she begged her new master to purchase her daughter as well. However, Freeman would not sell Emily, because “there were piles of money to be made of her when she was a few years older” . In addition, the marriage of a slave woman didn’t protect her against sexual abuse by her master or his friends. In fact, female slaves were often raped by their masters, which explains growing population of mulatto’s .

Making it impossible for slaves to for a family, is not the only way that masters mistreated their slaves. Slaves were treated as animals or a piece of property. Epps looked at all colored man, “not at human being, but as a chatter personal, as mere live property, no better, except in value, than his mule or dot” . Angelina Grimke talks about daily abuse that slaves had to face. They were called names such as, fools, liars, sluts, husseys, good-for-nothing creatures and many more. She adds that “every natural and social feeling and affection are violated with indifference [by masters]; slaves are treated as through they did not possess them” .

Garrison, who is one of the nation’s most famous abolitionists, also feels that slaves are treated inhumanly and he contrasts his situation in jail to the situation of the slaves. He feels that the only similarity among slaves and prisoners is that they are “confined to the narrow limits” of property, slaves to plantation and him to a prison-yard. In regards to everything else, he argues that t a life of a prisoner is much better than of a slave. He said that his food is better “I get a pound of bread and a pound of mean with supply of pure water” , he can lie down, walk, sit as he pleases, he can talk to his friends, if it were to rain he has protection, if he were to get sick he can get medical attention, and he has “privilege of a trial by jury to satisfy the demands of justice” . Slaves on the other hand aren’t as lucky; they rarely get meals and only get a “peck of corn” ; they have to get up by the sun rise otherwise they will be whipped; if they get sick, they still must work just as much as when they are healthy; medical attention is rarely provided; they do not have any friends; and the law doesn’t help them. Garrison also argued that colonization was a fraud, designed to promote racial purity of the North, whereas it was doing absolutely nothing to end slavery in the South.

To some people in the South, slaves equaled to money and that was the only way that those people looked at slaves. One of the slave pen owners Freemen made sure that his “animals” looked ready for sale. He required his slaves to wash and shave, then he “furnished [slaves] with a new suit” in order to look presentable. Before sale many customers who came to see Freeman’s “new lot”, wanted to examine their slaves before they would purchase them. Customers, with the help of Freeman, examined their slaves “precisely as a jockey examines a horse before purchase. Sometimes a man or woman was taken back to the small house, stripped, and inspected more minutely” .

After sale some slaves were luckier than others because a kind master would purchase them. Solomon described William Ford as a model master and that slaves were fortunate to come to his possession. However, even kind masters exploit and mistreat slaves in order to make profits. For example Ford changed Solomon’s name to Platt. Slaves ate and lived separate from the masters, as Solomon described, “we were sent around into the kitchen, while Master Ford dined in the house” . Furthermore, slaves had to work and perform every single chore their master would demand.

Other slaves, who weren’t as fortunate to stay with Ford, and would get masters like Tibeats. Unlike Ford, who allowed his slaves to have Bible’s, Tibeats was “ignorant, withal, and of a revengeful disposition” . The conditions that slaves lived in were appalling. “Their cabin was constructed of logs, without floor of window” , their pillow was a stick of wood, and during rain or cold weather many of slaves got sick. If slaves were to get sick, masters did not really care. In fact, slaves were still expected to perform well at work, and if they didn’t meet their quota they were bitten or whipped. When Solomon got sick, his master Epps did not call a doctor until he was told that Solomon might die.

The fact that slaves had to live in poor conditions and that they were treated like animals wasn’t the most frightening part of slavery. The most frightening part of slavery is how they were whipped until they could hardly walk. Some of the slaves were beaten to death. When Solomon was kidnapped, he was whipped on several occasions while trying to prove his freedom. “I was seized by both men. My feet were fastened to the floor. With the paddle, Burch commenced beating me. Blow after blow was inflicted upon my naked body” . They only stopped beating him, when he stopped insisting that he was a free man. Sarah Grimke, who was a daughter of justice on the South Carolina Supreme Court, described how a mulatto woman was beaten to near death, because she tried to run away. It was done in such “inhumane severity, as to lacerate her back in the most shocking manner; a finger could not be laid between the cuts.

The second reason why slavery should be abolished is because it makes whites in the South cruel and savage. In fact, people in the North and other people against slavery, feel that slavery twisted the entire social structure of the South. While dueling tradition are dying out everywhere, in the South it is thriving. Most violence by whites in the South, is intensified by feelings of personal pride “that reflects the inescapable presence of slaves” . Gouging out eyes became “a specialty of sorts among southern whites. On one occasion a South Carolina judge entered his court to find a juror, and two witnesses all missing one eye” . In fact, the South had a murder rate ten times higher than in the North. Solomon also described people in the South as barbaric. “Every man carries his knife, and when two fall out, they set to work hacking and thrusting at each other, more like savages than civilized and enlightened beings” . Sarah Grimke, also saw barbaric behavior by whites throughout years of slavery. One time, she found that a runaway slave had been shot, his head was separated from his body, and “was put upon the public highway on a high pole, as a terror to deter slaves from running away” .

As abolitionist, we feel that cruelty is inescapable among whites in the South throughout long years of slavery. One of the ways that cruelty is created among white people in the South is caused by husband’s infidelities. Solomon felt that mistress Epps was not that evil, and that “she was possessed of the devil [through] jealousy” . Throughout Twelve Years a Slave, we saw mistress Epps lose her humanity. Knowing that her husband was cheating on her with Patsey made her a cold-blooded woman. When Patsey was being whipped and was screaming for mercy, mistress Epps just stood “on the piazza among her children, gazing on the scene with an air of heatless satisfaction” . We feel that unless slavery is abolished we will see more and more people lose their hearts and become evil.

Cruelty that was created during slavery, made many Southern whites disrespect people of color, which explains why some free blacks were tricked into slavery. A perfect example was Solomon Northup, who was a free man since the day he was born. However, as he was looking to make money, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. The only way that blacks could prove their freedom was through papers, which were stolen from Solomon. There was no police or any other authority that he could turn to in order to get help. Sadly, Solomon was not the only one who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Robert was also born a free man, who came to the South to get work. Since he didn’t have free papers, he was seized at Fredericksburg, “placed in confinement, and beaten until he had learned, as [Solomon had to], the necessity and the policy of silence” . Unfortunately, there were many other people like Solomon and Robert, who were tricked into slavery.

Cruelty can also be seen with the law that did not protect slaves from anything, even murder. If a master wanted to kill his slave it wasn’t that hard to do, because he did not have to worry about witnesses. If a slave were to be killed “even in the presence of a hundred slaves, not one of them, by the laws of Louisiana, could have given evidence against [the master]” . From these examples, as abolitionists, we have to argue that by allowing slavery, it makes Southern whites cruel and savage. Unless we abolish slavery, we will soon see Southern states turn into an uncivilized and barbaric society.

The third reason that slavery should be abolished is because it turns Southern whites into greedy and lazy citizens. Greed can easily be seen from people who own slaves, because all they care about is making that slave work as much as possible, so he or she can produce more profit. However, greed can also be seen from people who do not own slaves. In 1850, only one-fourth of all white families in the South owned slaves and half of those owned fewer than five slaves . As abolitionists, we wonder if only 25 percent of people in the South own slaves, how come so many southerners, are willing to fight and argue in defense of something they do not use? The answer to this question is simple, it was due to greed, a feeling that many whites in the South possess. Those who do not own any slaves, hope to one day. Also, even poor whites accept and like the racist assumptions on which slavery was built, because that way, poor whites were above slaves .

Since the growing cotton economy made slavery more attractive than ever before, Garrison knew that all slaves could not be free overnight. He felt that “first people had to realized that slavery was sinful and its continued existence is intolerable” . As abolitionists, we feel that slaves are not necessary for cotton production, because 50 percent of farmers, who are in cotton business, do not own slaves. But due to the fact that southern whites were becoming more and more greedy, slavery population almost doubled between 1810-1830. Owning a slave, allows a planter to harvest fields of cotton more efficient; therefore, it provides more income. In 1850, the twelve wealthiest counties in the United States were all in the South , which shows that people’s number one priority, in the South, was wealth.

Another major change that occurred throughout slavery is the fact that whites in the South are becoming lazy. As abolitionists, we feel that pine-barrens people, is a proof that slavery degrades whites and makes them lazy. Also, due to the fact that children had slaves to boss around, shows that since the early age children are learning to put their responsibilities on someone else, instead of doing the job themselves. The son of master Epps, kept his sick or older slaves “to wait on the little Eppses” . Since the plantations never lacks responsibilities for slaves, it shows that if a slave were to finish his or her job early there is always something they can do in order to help the master or his family. The fact that slaves are starting to work around the house, away from agriculture, is a perfect example that people in the South are getting lazier with every day. The simplest task that a master could do himself, such as getting a cup of tea, or getting a newspaper, is put upon slaves. We feel that if that doesn’t change soon, the Southern society will become completely dependent upon slaves, which is unacceptable, because every human being in this world should be treated equal and with respect.

In conclusion, due to the fact that slaves are treated inhumanly and because slavery makes Southern white society savage, cruel, greedy and lazy, we feel that it should be abolished. By abolishing slavery, not only will it finally create justice among slaves who are supposed to be equal as it was stated in the Declaration of Independence; it was also put an end to the white Southern society who is growing to be barbaric and uncivilized. When the founding father of America came to this country, their goal was to make men equal. They were running away from a country that wanted to enslave people by their religion. Therefore, we cannot allow people treating African
Americans with disrespect.

Although there are a lot of arguments made by the people in the South that slaves are actually better off than free blacks in the North, it is important to remember, that “Northern factory workers do not live in fear of drivers walking among them with a whip” . Also, they do not have to be afraid of being separated from their family, of being afraid for their life, or worrying about what is going to happen if they get sick, and etc. The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created free and equal, and as American citizens it is our duty to follow the Declaration of the Independence.

After reading Twelve Years A Slave, I was sad to find out about how people struggle; however, at the same time I was excited because it would open up people’s eyes about the mistreatment of African-Americans. It provides examples of how slaves are treated on daily basis; it also shows how whites in the South are breaking the law, which fails to serve justice even if they are caught in the act. It also shows how people in the South are turning into a barbaric and uncivilized society. Therefore as abolitionists, we feel that unless slavery is abolished, the goal of this country to make all men free and equal has failed. So if our fight for freedom has failed, what is left of our country?

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