Slavery is a taboo dysphemism that can evoke and embody sensationalism of white man’s oppression of the Negro. However, slavery was not always seen this way, there was a time when the stigma of slavery was not tied to despotism and apartheid. Slavery was once an intrinsic part of everyday life in the South, especially during the antebellum period, yet it was during this time that the Founding Fathers started to question slavery. Records of slavery can be found dating as far back as the early 1700s B. C. E. in the Mesopotamian code of Hammurabi.
The code of Hammurabi is one of the earliest written records of slavery and gives us an idea of the intrinsic nature of slavery to early settlers, “ If any one take a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates, he shall be put to death. ” In the code of Hammurabi we can see one of the dominant issues that arises from slavery is the handling of slave run-aways, “If any one find runaway male or female slaves…. ” Slaves since the inception of slavery have for the most part fought the institution of slavery.
Slavery in Virginia was no different in the sense that it produced run-aways; this caused the enacting of slavery laws. The Virginia Slavery Codes of 1660-1705 doubled the allotted time of servitude for runaways that were caught. Slavery is also a dominant theme throughout the history of the Bible. One of the accounts shares how a young man named Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers. Another report involves a nation of people being enslaved, “Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children” it is known as the Exodus which in Hebrew means ‘ exit’.
The Exodus was about the institution of slavery for Pharaoh had enslaved the Hebrews and as enslaved servants they shadow the theme of runaway, albeit at the hands of the God of the Bible. Two of the most dominate empires in history found slavery to be an intrinsic part of their culture, in classical Athens the major police force was comprised of ‘Scythian archers’. Greeks had Greek slaves and there are those that say “between 450 and 320 BC about 80,000-100,000 slaves of all kinds were active in Attica at any time (out of a population of perhaps a quarter million).
The Greeks and the Romans both had a ‘genuine slave society’ the Romans may have had nearly “2,000,000 slaves in Italy at the close of the Republic conform to a slave: free ratio of roughly 1: 3” and it seems that the majority of these slaves were captives in war. The Greco-Roman societies did not question slavery and their rudimentary ethos and socio-cultural dispositions are echoed by the words of Aristotle who “… defends the justice of the institution on the grounds of a diversity of race, dividing mankind into the free and those who are slaves by nature i. . all barbarians, in the Greek sense of the word. ”
Presumably, the ideals of Aristotle are directly correlated to the dominating view of Stoicism; which in context can more aptly delineate his own defense of Slavery. Yet his own view is paradoxical for the Greeks had in essence enslaved their own; for they had Greek slaves. The Greeks came to a point in their own history where they questioned their ideologies of enslavement; this foreshadows the same paradoxical dilemma that the South would eventually face in the antebellum period.
In 1754 Quaker John Woolman would play a crucial role in “Condemn slavery in humanitarian and religious terms. Within a few years, radicals in both the North and the South recognized that the institution was inconsistent with their ideals of freedom. ” It is with the premise that historian William W. Freehling intimates and delineates the dualistic paradox between slavery and liberty in The Founding Fathers, Conditional Antislavery, and the Nonradicalism of the American Revolution.
Freehling says, The Founding Fathers partially lived up to their revolutionary imperative: They barred the African slave trade from American ports; they banned slavery from the midwestern territories; they dissolved the institution in northern states; and they diluted slavery in the Border South. ” The American Revolution was the spark that fueled the ensuing debate of slavery. Slavery, the once unquestionable institution, found itself being questioned, and even changing. That change didn’t happen overnight there was still a schism of views for the Revolutionary leaders of Georgia and South Carolina didn’t believe slavery was a problem.
George Fitzhugh’s book Canniballs All! Or, Slaves Without Masters encapsulates the dominant view in Virginia during the antebellum era in 1857 by saying, “The negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and, in some sense, the freest people in the world. ” In contrast you had places were the “Founding Fathers called slavery a deplorable problem, an evil necessary only until the conditions for abolition could be secured. ” Albeit slavery was considered a ‘deplorable problem’ it would take time, leadership, and a man named Lincoln, to see its dissipation.
Abraham Lincoln has been personified as the main advocate to propagate freedom for slaves. Lincoln was not viewed as the night in shining armor that was going to change slavery the dominate view was quit the contrary; “Negroes noted that in this first of Lincoln’s state papers he repeated that he had no intention of interfering with slavery. ” Yet it has been intimated that Lincoln was “Possibly influenced by abolitionist views of William Henry Johnson, a self-educated free negro who had attached himself to the regiment, these New York volunteers took the position that no human being in their camp could be branded as a slave.
One of the pivotal aspects of Lincoln’s character that was imperative in ability to lay the foundation for abolition was his patience: “I May Advance Slowly,” said Lincoln “but I don’t walk backward. ” It was that approach that allowed Lincoln to stave off the Border States from joining up with the South and their disposition. Freehling supports the idea that the Antislavery movement was conditional. Conditional or not one thing is sure that for the first time in thousands of years the view of slavery being intrinsic was changing.