Fredrick Douglas Imagine yourself at the mercy of another human being. You are dependent upon this person for food and shelter. This person controls your life in every way possible. You are told when to wake up, what to do, how to do it and when to stop doing it. If you do not cooperate you will be beaten severely and possibly killed.
Imagine a society of people that live like this! How would human character be affected by this power? How would religion be influenced by this institution? How would family life be affected by these activities? I will attempt to answer these three questions in the following essay. Fredrick Douglas was born in Maryland, he does not know the date of his birth, as did most slaves. He never really had a chance to know his mother, only having seen her four or five times. Fredrick taught himself how to read and write despite it being against his slave-owners wishes. He could not let knowledge be known to anyone except for other slaves.
Fredrick saw his knowledge of words both as a blessing and a curse. In words of John Cotton, “Let all the world learn to give mortal men no greater power than they are content they shall use—for use it they will.” “Limitations of Government” (1655). This statement is proven true in the institution of slavery. White men were given supreme power over their black slaves and it corrupted their character. Otherwise noble men were forced to be torturous towards their slaves in order to keep them “in line”. As Douglas recalls an incident where a slave named Demby, was being whipped by a Mr.
Gore. After receiving his lashes, Demby proceeded to run into the river, not to escape but to relieve the pain. Mr. Gore gave Demby to the count of three to come out of the river. When Demby did not comply, he was shot dead.
It is my belief that no sane man would b compelled to shoot another without good reason. The institution of slavery gave these men a good reason. That is an extreme of slavery can cause. Most slave-owners were not so brutal, but they were not distant from the behavior. They had to become fairly evil to keep the slaves in line.
Brutality had to take the place of consent in slaves and without limitations man was bound to exercise the power. Slavery not only affected the male slave owners but the women also. Mrs. Auld wasn’t raised with slaves, “She has been in a good degree preserved from the blighting and dehumanizing effects of slavery.” (Page 46) When she first married into the family she began to teach Fredrick the ABC’s. Soon after, Mr.
Auld found out and put a stop to it. To his belief it was unsafe to teach slaves to read. Before long Mrs. Auld changed, “The fatal Poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work.” (Page 46) Religion teaches us to be kind to one another, perhaps to make us more humane. But Douglas found religion to have the opposite effect on slaveholders. They, “found religious sanction and support,” (page 65) for the cruelty they showed their slaves.
I could not believe that religion could or would support slavery. Didn’t they know God sees no color? This could only come from men who preached liberty and practiced slavery. The fear of losing slaves must have been so great a burden on their minds they would look for anything to justify their behavior. Slavery debased religion all across the south. This s what Douglas refers to as the “slaveholders religion” (page 118).
Douglas perceives a big difference between Christianity and the slaveholders’ religion, “to receive Christianity as good, pure and holy, is of necessity to reject the slaveholders religion as bad, corrupt and wicked.” (Page 118) Douglas refers to the church members as “cradle plunderers,” the ministers are “men-stealers” and the missionaries are “women-whippers.” (Page118) Religion came to rely upon the slaveholders for financially support, “The dealer gives his bloodstained gold to support the pulpit.” (Page 119) Douglas describes this companionship by stating, “Here we have religion and robbery allies of each other.” (Page 119) The goodness of God was interpreted in such a way by these churches as to give the slaveholders a sense that slaveholding is right. Perhaps, “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right,” as Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense” (1776). There was not much of a family life for the slaves. They were often separated from their families at birth. Douglas saw his mother only on a few occasions and for only a short period of time.
His mother died when he was seven. Douglas didn’t fell much compassion because he was never able to create a bond with his mother, “I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger.” (Page 21) This statement shows just how cruel society had to become in one of the most inhumane things that can be done. To deny a mother the right to care for her own child is equally inhumane. Slavery impact on the nation was not a good one. It both dehumanized the slave and the slave owner. The slave owners struggle to control the slave brought out an evil in them that cannot be brought out by any things.
The slaves’ struggle for freedom and the suppression by their masters broke their spirit, which is a large part of human character. America would not have grown to be so great in such a short time without slavery, because of the economic value of it. But, it would not have been such a violent society then or such a violent society now if slavery had never existed. History.