• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

In what ways did slaves respond to their condition? What evidence is there for these? How did circumstances limit the range of responses?

Extracts from this document...


In what ways did slaves respond to their condition? What evidence is there for these? How did circumstances limit the range of responses? In order to answer this question I will divide this essay into three main parts. The first part will analyse the ways in which slaves responded to, and resisted slavery, as well as providing a bit of historiography to help with this analysis. The second part of my essay will assess the credibility and reliability of much of the evidence I will have discussed in part one. Finally the third section will analyse how circumstances may have limited the range of slave responses to their servitude. In such a broad and wide topic as slavery it will be impossible to include everything in this essay so I will attempt to concentrate on a select number of the most important arguments, in order to form the best debate on each of these. The original and accepted view among most historians and scholars deep into the first half of the twentieth century was that slaves had been generally happy with their condition and had rarely resisted, or even wished to resist slavery. Ulrich B. Phillips' 'American Negro Slavery' in 1918 perhaps best exemplifies the early twentieth century view of slavery, dominating its interpretation for around the next thirty years. Phillips depicted a plantation system in which slaves were generally contented with their lot and unlikely to resist. Those rare occasions in which resistance did occur were more likely the result of slaves having lazy or criminal characters rather than any legitimate complaint about their condition1. Twinned with these early views was the idea that slaves were in fact incapable of responding and resisting, thus showing their submission to slavery. Phillips described the Negro as suffering from inherited ineptitude, whereas James Schouler saw slaves as being "incapable of deep plots, sensuous, stupid, obedient to the whip, children in imagination."2 Other historians have presented a slightly different version of the slaves' inability to respond to slavery. ...read more.


the early slave writers who spoke of slaves as content, docile and submissive, partly perhaps because the majority of these early writers were whites with pre-conceived views on slavery and Negroes. There are a number of other key considerations to be made regarding evidence of slave responses. The first of these is that resistance posed by slaves, at the time of its occurrence, was very often exaggerated and distorted for political reasons. For example, in the presidential campaign year of 1800, the Federalists made use of the Gabriel Plot to claim that Prosser and the slaves had been influenced by Democratic ideas associated with the French and American Revolutions. Federalist newspapers published letters allegedly from South Carolina claiming of an impending rebellion there involving between 700 and 6000 Negroes. The Republican press branded the story as "wholly false" and Aptheker confirms there being no evidence whatsoever pointing to an uprising.12 Another example of the exaggeration and distortion of evidence for political reasons is during the election years of 1856 and 1860, where accounts of slave resistance were probably exaggerated to stir up anti-Republican hysteria and to forge Southern unity at a time where sectional problems were at a critical stage. For example in Texas there are far fetched accounts of the total destruction by incendiaries of town after town.13 As well as exaggeration and distortion of evidence, it was also a common practice of the South to censor news of slave resistance, especially rebellions and insurrection. For example in December 1808 the Virginia Council advised Governor John Tyler not to inform the legislature of a current slave conspiracy as conferring this situation would increase slave spirits of insurrection, not only in Virginia but elsewhere too.14 Newspaper reports on slave resistance were often incomplete or absent altogether for this very reason. Therefore this complicates the historian's job of finding evidence of slave resistance, as he or she will often have to refer to government archives, personal letters and diaries, journals, and court records in order to ascertain the whole story. ...read more.


There were numerous other tactics adopted by slaveholders to limit the range of slave responses. These include the refusal to teach slaves to read and write, out of the fear that it would boost any chances of resistance, for example running away, and poisoning masters. Frederick Douglass gives many examples of this in his 'Narrative of the Life of an American Slave'. He explains how Mr Auld forbade his wife to teach Douglass by saying, "if you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him...he would at once become unmanageable...discontented and unhappy"24. Another method of the slaveholders, also exemplified by Douglass in his narrative, was the tactic of softening up the slaves every now and then with rewards and pleasures. For example slaves were occasionally given, holidays, such as at Christmas, or monetary awards for good behaviour, and it was also made known of the possibility for slaves to purchase their freedom. Therefore as a result this all created hope among the slaves and may have convinced many not to resist. So overall, three main conclusions can be drawn. The first regards how slaves responded to their condition and forms two main possibilities. The early slave writers such as Ulrich Bon Phillips saw slaves as submissive, docile and incompetent, whereas later historians such as Herbert Aptheker saw them as responding in numerous ways, ranging from insurrection to day-to-day resistance. The second conclusion to draw is that when considering the question of slavery, there is a lot to bear in mind with regards to evidence. Exaggeration, distortion, censorship, and scantiness of evidence are all possibilities with any slave literature, and must be examined before assessing the reliability and credibility of the source. The final conclusion to make is that there were many circumstances that may have limited the range of responses, such as 'paternalism', the lack of collectiveness among the slaves, and the methods of the slaveholders. There are also many more that I was unable to include. The consequences of these circumstances all differ depending on your view from the first conclusion. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our University Degree Ancient History section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related University Degree Ancient History essays

  1. Marked by a teacher

    The Italian policies of Frederick Barbarossa

    4 star(s)

    Even earlier he had established imperial rule in Milan, during the time of Hadrian IV, with little opposition from the papacy5 but Milan found allies in the communes of Brescia and Piacenza. Milan was taken in 1162 and later destroyed which narrowed the anti-imperial coalition's prospect for success, while he

  2. Discussing the biblical historiography of images of the Jew in the ancinet world

    Grow in number; do not dwindle away. 29:7 Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the LORD for it. For as it prospers you will prosper" The message from Jeremiah exhorts the exiles to make themselves comfortable in their new homes as it was anticipated that they would be staying there for some time.

  1. Lycurgus, Fact or fiction

    Xenophon is one of the few historians who felt extremely strongly that Lycurgus was real and never admitted that there was little evidence to support his view.


    Ultiamtely Kurht argues, due to the constant external threat presented, for example, by the Edonmites, Ammonites and the Philistines a charismatic leader emerged or "saviour-Judge" whose function was to protect the tribes from all crisises. The monarchy emerged due to the national crisis created by Israel's defeat at the hands

  1. Bokassa Essay

    The people of the CAR were treated appallingly by Bokassa, who used violence to control and exploit them. There are endless horror stories about Bokassa or the "Butcher of Bangui" as he has become known. The emperors ex neighbour stated, "My brother was walking home past the place grounds.

  2. Drake Marshal and White Racism

    Here, Drake challenges the Degler-Gergen theory that Blacks have always occupied low-status social positions by providing examples of powerful black leaders. Some Egyptian dynasties with black pharaohs had some of the greatest outpourings of creativity and academic work concerning medicine and philosophy disproving the theory that Blacks are mentally inferior.

  1. Erasmus can be seen "as an agent of change." Explain why historians should see ...

    Chantries had the additional advantage of providing employment for underemployed priests, many of whom made extra pennies teaching the children of the laity how to read. A similar attachment to old forms of piety can be seen in the parish churches of the fifteenth century.

  2. By the middle decades of the 19th century, two historiansJules Michelet of France and ...

    The notion of individualism was born during the Renaissance, as people sought personal credit for their achievements, as opposed to the medieval ideal of all glory going to God. These intellectual and artistic developments first took place in the vibrant world of the Italian city-states; eventually the invention of the

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work