In chapter 9 of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of The United States, Zinn analyzes, in details about the tough and troublesome living arrangements the slaves had to endure during the early 1800’s, the slave revolts that were started because of these living conditions, and how Abraham Lincoln was elected President, which led to the Civil War because the Southern States thought Lincoln was siding with the northern states about the slavery issue.
In this Chapter, Howard Zinn is comparing what happens with the smaller slave rebellions that happened earlier on to what Abraham Lincoln eventually did, except Lincoln having done it on a much, much larger scale. The slave system was such an in depth system that made an abundance of money for the country. Southern states relied heavily on cotton, which was picked by the slaves. Since the southern states did depend on slave labor so much, Abraham Lincoln knew that these would be key reasons as to why abolishing slavery would be incredibly hard.
Zinn talks about how the majority of slaves would either run away from their masters or physically revolt against their masters. Eventually, slave masters started to worry about slave revolts since they had started to become more popular in America. Zinn wrote… “Religion was used for control. A book consulted by many planters was the Cotton Plantation Record and Account Book, which gave these instructions to overseers: “You will find that an hour devoted every Sabbath morning to their moral and religious instruction would prove a great aid to you in bringing about a better state of things amongst the Negroes.
I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly. In my opinion, The Bible’s words have been twisted ever since it has been written and in the article “How The Bible Was Used To Justify Slavery”, it talks about how slave owners would have essentially used fear in the words of scripture on the slaves to scare them into not revolting against their masters (Blake). The main reason that these revolts never developed into anything serious is because the national government would not allow it.
Even the more educated African Americans tried to rebel against the practice of slavery but in more civil terms. David Walker, a free and educated African American wrote a pamphlet called Walker’s Appeal. This pamphlet was not one of the more civil anti-slavery documents of this time. The pamphlet focused on a kill or be killed attitude if slaves wanted to obtain their freedom from their masters. This pamphlet did not go over well with southern slave holders.
The state of Georgia offered money for the death of David Walker, who was later found to be dead. This was another form of fear that was used against slaves and another example of the national government, not allowing a revolution to take place. The national government’s stance was that slavery was not going to end, unless they agreed to it. Even Abraham Lincoln was not for the equality of African Americans, at least at first.
Lincoln is quoted as saying “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people, and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.
And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything. ” (Lincoln, 145-146). Lincoln was for the progress of the country, first and foremost.
Lincoln knew that slavery was a subject that could divide the nation and that slave labor was making the country money, so he could not just outright abolish it or let these revolutions of the slaves succeed. Zinn reiterates this fact when saying…“He opposed slavery, but could not see blacks as equals, so a constant theme in his approach was to free the slaves and to send them back to Africa” Lincoln was somewhat of a flip-flopper when it came to whom he was talking to about the subject to.
It was not until the Civil War started and the casualties were getting higher and higher that Lincoln decided to enact the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation obviously did not go over well with southerners, but Lincoln did it to preserve a win for the Union, but it also did not go over well with anti-slavery forces, because for good reason, they believed that everyone should have the right to be free. This led to the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment, which officially abolished slavery.
With all of this happening, resentment towards African Americans continued to grow and this time in the northern states. Poor northerners started looking at the war as liberation of African Americans that they had been dying for, so they started a riot against many African Americans. After all of this had happened, Lincoln was eventually assassinated, and Andrew Johnson became president and somewhat hurt the progress of African Americans. The government tried to give more rights and privileges to African Americans, but had a hard time keeping the situation under control. Black codes were started up, as well as the Ku Klux Klan.
The government wanted to keep the white elites happy, but this in turn would usually mean something not appealing for African Americans, which would make it into a vicious circle. Howard Zinn’s point of this whole chapter was that for anything to actually change, something monumental would have to happen, not a revolt, not slaves running away, but a full fledged war. Even with this actually happening, with the Civil War, it was not fully accepted till years later. The slave system was in place such an in depth labor system that made so much money that people could not fathom a world without slaves, even though most knew it was morally wrong.
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