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The Relationship Betwen Masters & Slaves Till 1861 Essay, Research Paper

It is possible to say that the period between the end of the Revolution and the beginning of the Civil War was the most important in terms of the development of the so called ” Peculiar Institution ” of slavery. In order to define the changing master – slave relationship, one must look at the historical background to Southern slavery. The defining characteristics or outside influences provide the key to an understanding of the master – slave relationship during this period. __Slavery seemed a very mutable institution which changed constantly to adapt to the different situation. The main contention of this essay is that, what started off as an essentially economic institution in order to help boost production of staple crops like, cotton, sugar, and tobacco, developed into the definitive characteristic of the emerging Ante – Bellum South. As the Civil War seemed inevitable in 1861 one of the key questions was whether the South would be able to protect it’s ” Peculiar Institution.” __Although slavery began in 1619, it was essentially confined _ ð73 _Što the Eastern seaboard states throughout the Seventeenth, and most of the eighteenth century. It wasn’t until after the Revolution that slavery really became the major source of Southern labour. Due to the continuing geographical expansion in the South the mainstay of the economy became the growing of staple crops like, sugar, tobacco and, later cotton. Along with certain technological inventions made it seem more likely that the Southern economy was going to be based on slave labour. As Boles argues in _Black Southerners_ ” before 1800 technological breakthroughs at both ends of the South made possible the remarkably rapid rise of a slave-staple crop society in the deep South.” _1_ __At the end of the Revolutionary period in 1790 there were 657,527 slaves, and by 1810 there were 1,163,854 _2_ This massive expansion meant that the key to success was in controlling these slaves, and making the most of of a profitable form of labour. This is one of the key elements to the development of the master slave relationship, a good planter was a man who ultimately had the most efficient and profitable plantation or small holding, in order to have this there had to be a certain degree of good slave management. There were many books written by Southerners on the effective management of slaves, this to some extent must have influenced the inter-relationship of master and slave. __One of the first points of the relationship was that of the slaves as property. They were afforded the same status of any other property, and slaveholders saw it as their right and duty to rule over ” their people “. A conservative constitution also made it possible for the masters to have total control over their property. This was the main argument that Southerners used in defence of slavery, that it was essentially their right to govern their property how they saw fit. __One very important point to make about the nature of the master slave relationship is it’s heterogeneity, each situation was slightly different, much of the nature of these relationships depended upon the personal actions of the master. it is very difficult to generalise about such a disparate number of states and masters. A common mistake is to accept the image of the large plantation of the Deep South with hundreds of slaves, this sort of plantation was definitely in the minority. The realities of slave life were very different. The majority of slaves, three quarters in fact, lived on plantations with less than 50 slaves, and the median amount of slaves on a plantation or farm was 23._3_ __With this smaller number in mind it is easier to see how a relationship was forged between master and slave. On many of the smaller plantations the master would work alongside the slaves with his direct authority over them first hand, as opposed to the larger plantations where quite often the owner was absent or not involved with the day to day running, handing over authority to a white overseer. __As slavery became a more widely used labour force so the terms and conditions they worked under changed. A hierarchy of power was set up in order to maintain an organised workforce that would bring in the highest profit. Slaves were roughly divided into either field hands or domestic servants. A domestic servant was looked upon as far better than a field hand as they were _ ð73 _Štrusted, loyal slaves, who because of this trust were allowed a relative amount of privileges and seemed to have a better standard of living. The slave masters soon caught on to the fact that in dividing the slaves into distinct groups and awarding greater privileges to some, and not others was an effective means of control. __After the initial period of development of the slave system, it becomes easier to see which direction the master – slave relationship was going. The phrase that many historians use for the relationship between slave and their masters is paternalism. This is the suggestion that some slaves were allowed a certain familial relationship with the owner of the land they worked on, and that through this paternalism slavery flourished. One can see that there was quite a concerted effort on behalf of Southern whites to foster this image of the comfortable, paternal relationship of master and slave during the mid nineteenth century. Much of this paternalistic philosophy was adopted in order to help the image of the slave South in the eyes of the rest of the states who, by the time that slavery was fully functional as a mass labour force, had stopped slavery on the grounds of it’s dubious morality. __The key to the relationship was though the dominance of the master over his slaves, even if this paternal relationship did exist there was still the ultimate threat of the whip, for those slaves who were rebellious or troublesome. For those recalcitrant slaves who were beyond the control of the master, there was also the threat of being sold down the river to _ ð73 _ŠMississippi, or another of the deep South states where conditions were much harsher. Paternalism was essentially though another way of the master maintaining control over his property. As Genovese points out in his essay _Paternalism and Slave Culture_ ” Southern paternalism like every other paternalism, had little to do with Ole Massa’s ostensible benevolence, kindness and good cheer. It grew out of the necessity to discipline and morally justify a system of exploitation. ” As the master and slave relationship developed over time so did the ever expanding black community, the black slave population of the South was totally self sustaining, and as they lived together pretty much everywhere, a black culture developed in opposition to the dominant white one. Although slaves were answerable to whites for the majority of the time, they were allowed a limited time off and it is during this time that a culture of resistance began to develop. Many of the slaves held on to the African traditions and religions that had been passed on to them, as a means of identity that their master could not strip from them because they couldn’t understand it. __During the early boom of slavery immediately after the Revolution, there were far less slave revolts, although that isn’t to say that it didn’t happen, just that it was less common at the time. Revolts were not particularly common though at any one time in the history of slavery. The Nat Turner rebellion and the large scale rebellion in 1811 in Louisiana, were very much atypical. According to Blassingame’s _The Slave Community_, there were only: ” nine slave revolts in America between 1691 and 1865. “_5_ A much more common form of rebellion was for the slave _ ð73 _Što runaway, which they did in ever increasing numbers. __The general attitude to slavery was formed from an essentially racist point of view, although nonslaveholding whites had no vested interest in slavery, even they defended it up to a point, at least as the right to property if nothing else. The master slave relationship was run on the basic theory that it was perfectly normal for them to rule over black slaves as whites were racially superior to them. __This kind of racially motivated relationship began with the choice to have black slaves as the main labour system, and despite the libertarian rhetoric of the Revolutionary period, Southern planters were quick to adopt the institution of slavery, just as they were quick to defend it in the mid nineteenth century, as it came under attack from the Northern states. __The slave and master relationship was one of the most tense, and as the numbers of slaves and slaveholders grew so did the need for legal provisions to keep the black slaves under the control of their master. These slave codes essentially restricted all activity of the slaves in order to maintain their absolute obedience. Slaveholders governed the slaves by these codes that basically defined them as property and afforded the owner protection of that property, and the nonslaveholders protection from that property. The only crime committed when a white man raped a black slave was trespassing, unless of course it happened to be his slave , which seemingly was quite excusable as they were his. Although this was a right that a slaveholder had, and often used, the racist rationale that existed in the South frowned on miscegenation as they didn’t want to mix the two inherently incompatible races, as it would end white supremacy. The slave codes could easily be changed to suit the needs of the slaveholders, if slaves became difficult to control, and more likely to run away the slave patrols would pick them up, if the slaves complained about the bad treatment they suffered at the hands of their owners their evidence was not admissible in court and so they had no power against their master. During the later Ante-Bellum South slaves became more of a threat and so the records reflect this with severe punishment for rebellious slaves, and more fear of a slave insurrection. The Diary of Mary Boykin Chesnut in 1861 reflects the fears that white women had of their slaves. In the diary she writes how her ” dear old cousin Betsey, had been murdered by her Negroes ” in this passage as well as the fear generated over the black threat to the white population, she also defines the suspects as ” people she has pampered and spoiled and done everything for “_6_ This comment underlines the Southern attitude to slaves, the failiure to see that despite the fact that the slaves may be comparatively well treated what was needed was freedom. __The perception that Southerners had of their slaves is seen through the master slave relationship in the ways that they were stereotyped by their owners or by writers and politicians defending slavery. Blassingame argues in his _The Slave Community_ that there were two distinct and opposing stereotypes of the black slave. The first was the so called ” Sambo ” who was the model of docility, and obedience and was apparently loyal to his master. This ” Sambo ” figure strengthened the views of the _ ð73 _Špaternalistic Southern society, and emphasised the harmlessness of slavery. The second type of slave which Blassingame labelled ” Nat ” was the rebellious and recalcitrant slave who posed a threat to white society, this was the main argument against Emancipation, as these slaves were a threat to the States as a whole and were better left to the white slaveholders to deal with. __The question is to what degree did the masters themselves believe in the existence of such characters. It seems that often the relationship of the master and slave, was a battle of wills the Sambo character could quite often dupe the master into thinking he was servile and then go against him. One example is of a master trusting his ” loyal ” servant so much that he sent him off to look for a runaway slave, and so the slave himself ran away._7_ This sort of story was not totally unusual, indeed many of the black folk tales were of tricksters who managed to get the better of their masters. __By the beginning of the Civil War, and the impending question of Emancipation, the southern white masters had created their own image of blacks as helpless, lazy, stupid, and generally incapable of integrating into ” normal ” white society. This racist ethic that had prevailed at least since the end of the Revolution, and was to make integration for the freed slaves so much harder when it finally happened. The changing relationship of the master and slaves, I believe can be seen as a direct result of the pressures that slavery caused for the white Southerner morally, socially and _ ð73 _Šeconomically. The increasing defence of the institution of slavery, came as a result of the criticisms from the Northern states, and the determination of the South to maintain it’s ” Peculiar Institution.” The changing relationship goes from what was considered a legitimate economic necessity to the wish to preserve an essential, and defining characteristic of the Southern states.

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