The emergence of the United States as an independent nation, towards the end of the 18th century, was an epochal happening in contemporary history. It led to the creation of the world’s wealthiest and mightiest power, and the subsequent development of a rich and vibrant society that influenced humankind in numerous ways. The future of the United States was, however the furthest thing on the minds of the people who inhabited the North American continent in the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Aggressive European settlers, black slaves and the original inhabitants of the country, descendents of people who had come from Serbia thousands of years ago and known as Native Americans or American Indians, peopled the land. The European settlers, mainly from Britain, were adventurers, people willing to take huge risks and endure enormous physical hardship to build a future for their families and children. The black people lived and worked as slaves in farms and workshops.
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Captured from villages and farms in Africa by white slave traders, thousands of Africans, mostly from the Sudan, came to North America in shackles, and aboard slave ships, in the 17th and 18th centuries. White farmers and settlers purchased the captive Africans from these traders and used them as slaves, on farms and plantations, mostly in horrific conditions. The children of slaves grew up in bondage and lived lives of legal slavery, Thus at the turn of the 18th century, hundreds of thousands of black Americans worked as slaves in America.
While black slaves lived everywhere, their populations were concentrated in the agricultural economy of the south, where the requirement for human labor necessitated their presence in large numbers. The Native Americans, termed also as Indians, were the original inhabitants of the land. A nomadic and innocent people, they belonged to different tribes and roamed all over the continent on horseback, living on game and agriculture.
The Native American people, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, were in a state of perplexity, disorder and dismay, confronted, as they were, by whites who were not just strongly armed, intelligent, organized, avaricious and cruel, but also wished to devour their lands and drive them away from their habitat. The nineteenth century is an epochal period in American history, characterized by continuous interaction and confrontation between the white European settlers, the black slaves and brown Native Americans.
The period ended with the total domination of the white man, the eclipse of the proud Native American and the beginning of black emancipation. This essay attempts to analyse the events of the period 1800 to 1877 and examine the premise that the fiery and independent spirit of the Native Americans, quite distinct from the submissive and relatively docile attitude of the black slaves, increased their threat perception in the eyes of the whites and led to their near complete decimation in the United States. 2. The End of Slavery Slavery in the United States began with the arrival of twenty Africans in a Dutch slave ship in 1619 in West Virginia.
The sale of these Africans as indentured servants preceded the capture, transportation and enslavement of thousands of black people to work in the newly developed farmlands of North America. An enormous number of men and women came from Africa in inhuman conditions to fill the growing demand of labor in the American colonies. Figures of the people captured and sold into slavery range from one to many millions. While their actual number is a matter of controversy, the wide scale adoption of slavery in the US remains one of the worst and most horrific acts of humanity.
Hundreds of accounts narrate the appalling conditions in which the slaves came and later lived in the American colonies The slaves were transported across the ocean in especially fitted ships. They were kept lying on narrow ledges, chained, but were brought above deck in good weather. Overcrowding, minimal and monotonous diet (two meals per day and a pint of water), poor hygiene, epidemics, and lack of physical activity decimated, on each and every 1-2 months long trip, a whopping one seventh to one fourth of the "cargo" and one sixth to one half of the crew.
(Vaknin, 2005) The African slaves came from agricultural tribal economies and while physically very strong, were also very good with their hands and for work in the fields. A gradual realization of their enormous economic worth in agricultural production and other labor-intensive work led to the institutionalization of slavery, the legalization of “chattel slaves” and the creation of hereditary servitude; where children of slaves were born as property of white masters.
The availability of this huge unpaid work force resulted in enormous increase in agricultural production, the building of American infrastructure and the emergence of the USA as the wealthiest country in the world. Slaves became prized commodities and thought of as “black gold”. The slave trade also led to spurts in the economies of slave trading nations like Holland. Amsterdam became the trading capital of the slave trade, much like it is the center of the flower business today, acting as an auction centre and helping to manage the slave trade, with up to 10,000 slaving vessels frequenting the port. (Schuma, 1987).
The institutionalisation of slavery led to huge increases in the numbers of slaves. A population of slightly less than one million slaves in 1800 increased four fold to four million by 1860. (Slavery in Colonial America, 2006). As such, even though import of fresh slaves was stopped by the end of the 18th century, prolific growth continued to increase their numbers. Even though their percentage of the total population fell from nearly 20 to 14 they remained a sizeable segment of American society. In fact, the relative percentage of slaves in the southern states varied from 20 to as much as 60 percent in certain areas.
Slavery at the time of the Revolution was firmly established in the five southernmost states from Maryland to Georgia, and it was more than a trivial presence in most of the others. Slaves numbered about half a million in 1780, constituting a little more than one-sixth of the national population. In the South, two persons out of every five were slaves. (Fehrenbacher, 2002, p. 15) The struggle for liberation and emancipation of American slaves began after the declaration of independence in 1776 and started gaining momentum by the early 1800s.
The movement for liberation and emancipation was spearheaded by the northern states and opposed violently by the agricultural south. While it would be churlish to deny the enormous contribution of emancipators like Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the primary reason for this difference in attitude between the north and the south would appear to be economic and political rather than humanitarian. Southern economies depended much more on slave labor than the northern states and, ironical as it may appear, relationships between blacks and whites were much stronger in the south, than they were in the north.
Over the years, even as cases of ill treatment continued to happen, living conditions of blacks in the south improved steadily. Most slave-owners regarded themselves as custodians of their slaves. They properly fed the working adults, allowed them to grow vegetables in their own garden plots, provided them with clothing and housing. In wealthier and larger plantations, the slaves were cared for by qualified physicians. Slave life was richer than portrayed in literature and cinema. Slaves belonged to churches and were ordained as ministers and preachers. A few learned to read and write. Music was a favorite pastime.
Slaves were allowed to moonlight or work on their own free time. The Law, even in the Deep South, recognized slaves as both chattel and human beings. Slaves were held responsible for criminal acts they had committed, for instance, and enjoyed many human rights Case law and non-binding custom endowed them with additional privileges: the right to marry, own private property, have free time, enter contracts, and (if female or child) be consigned to lighter labor. (Vaknin, 2005) The struggle for the freedom of black slaves originated, strangely enough, from white Americans, mostly from the north.
The movement continued for decades until the confrontation between the south and the north over slavery ended in conflagration and violent civil war. People like William Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harriet Tubman mobilized public opinion and influenced union government policy to take up the black cause. The blacks, themselves, had very little contribution to make towards their own liberation and the few localized and small insurrections that did take place, like those led by Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner met with immediate and forceful suppression.
The civil war lasted for many years and led to the death of thousands of federal and unionist soldiers. Its end, in 1865, led to the abolition of slavery and the freedom of African slaves. While some blacks did fight with the federal soldiers in the civil war, this is possibly the only freedom struggle in the world where the oppressed, the denied and the ruled contributed very little towards their own liberation. Strange as it may appear, white northerners died in the thousands to secure American slaves their freedom.
Feelings of compassion and thoughts of equality and liberty undoubtedly led many noble-minded whites to take up the cause of the unfortunate slaves. The movement for abolition of slavery and its violent denouement is one of the most famous freedom movements of the world. It is thus perplexing to know that while white Americans from the north were striving ceaselessly for black freedom, they were also driving Native Americans from their ancestral lands, destroying their means of survival, cloistering them in small parcels of land and decimating their numbers. 3.
The Annihilation of the Native Americans The Native Americans, the current term for the original inhabitants of the Americas, are supposed to have migrated from Serbia thousands of years ago. The peoples, who belonged to several tribes, lived for thousands of years quite happily, growing their populations, living off game and rudimentary agriculture, before the Europeans set foot on North America. The early Europeans described these people in glowing terms. the Indians lived in common, "the most perfect and most worthy life of man," a mark of the "ancient golden age.
" This good Indian welcomed the European invaders and treated them courteously and generously. He was handsome in appearance, dignified in manner, and brave in combat, and in all he exhibited a primitivism that had great appeal to many Europeans. 4. (Prucha, 1984, p. 7) The coming of the Europeans led to the unfolding of one of the biggest tragedies of history and the practical annihilation of the whole race. The Europeans brought diseases with them that that killed natives by the thousands.
The most lethal of the pathogens introduced by the Europeans was smallpox, which sometimes incapacitated so many adults at once that deaths from hunger and starvation ran as high as deaths from disease; in several cases, entire tribes were rendered extinct. Other killers included measles, influenza, whooping cough, diphtheria, typhus, bubonic plague, cholera, and scarlet fever. Although syphilis was apparently native to parts of the Western hemisphere, it, too, was probably introduced into North America by Europeans. (Lewy, 2004)
Apart from bringing diseases, the settlers started encroaching into Native American Territory and over the years pushed the Indians from the East towards the Pacific Rim. The Native Americans were very different from the black slaves. They were used to vast open prairies and their tribal structure fostered independence. In the beginning, the whites used captured natives as slaves. This practice did not really succeed as the Native Americans could not bear the hardships of plantation and farm slavery like the blacks and died in large numbers.
In addition, as the standoffs between the whites and the Native Americans grew over the years, wars generally ended in massacres and flight rather than in captivity. By the end of the 18th century, the United States was forcefully pushing the Native Americans increasingly towards the west with a mixture of force, aggression and deceit. Exploitation of rivalries between different tribes furthered this cause and the same people who were very concerned about the abolition of slavery did not baulk at depriving the Native Americans from their livelihood.
There was a significant difference between the perception of Native Americans and slaves in the eyes of the whites. Black slaves were economic assets; oppressed people, who however did not pose any economic and physical threat to the whites. Abolition of slavery and proposals for freedom of slaves were, perceived to be causes of economic difficulty for the southern states. However, the fact that very few slaves were involved in the freedom movement did not raise animosity against them, even in the southern states.
Thus, the sympathy levels for blacks remained high and the movement for their liberation continued with even pace. The perception about Native Americans was very different. The Native Americans were an independent people and the owners of land. They hated the settlers and considered them aggressors, and the whites too thought of them as opponents and dangerous enemies. The 18th century thus witnessed numerous wars between the natives and the white settlers. During the American war of independence, Native Americans fought mostly with the British in a bid to stall the expansionism of the United States.
It was only at the end that they realised that the equally treacherous British had ceded huge tracts of their land to the Americans. The beginning of the 19th century thus saw the Native Americans under enormous pressure from the United States, but still owners of huge tracts of land coveted by the whites. The US Congress, in 1830, passed the Indian Removal Bill, a law that forcibly evicted American Indians from their lands and pushed them further to the west. This strategy of dispossession resulted in numerous skirmishes, treaties, wars and the gradual forcible eviction of Native Americans from their lands.
All their proposals for peaceful co existence and willingness to adopt the farming methods of the white settlers came to nothing, and by the late nineteenth century, they could live only in specific tracts of lands known as reservations. This process of removal resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Native Americans from disease and hardship, even as they gave up their homes and lands and moved far away. One particular journey, known as the Trail of Tears led to the death of thousands of Cherokees. (The Trail of Tears, 2005) 4. Conclusion
The fate of the Native Americans at the hands of the government of the United States is unparalleled in historical annals. In most conquests, the victors rule over the defeated peoples, impose their laws and their religions on the conquered. The dispossession of the Indians is the only instance where the conquerors forced the defeated to leave their lands, restricted their freedoms, separated them from society and cooped them up in reservations, much alike concentration camps. Their systematic extermination and relocation is one of the most brutal acts in U. S. history.
Most Americans know this intuitively, but they'd rather not think about it-so instead they choose simply to feel sorry for the Indians living today. (Miller, 2000) This happened only a hundred and fifty years back at the hands of a democratically elected government of a country that supposedly values liberty, freedom and democracy. The liberation of blacks and the abolition of slavery in the USA occurred along with the practical decimation of the Native Americans, the deprivation of their rights and their banishment to distant reservations, at the hands of the same government.
The reasons for this unbalanced, ambivalent and practically schizophrenic behavior of the free American people and their democratically elected government are difficult, practically impossible to explain. The only possibly valid reason is the independent attitude of the Indian people, their love for freedom and their pride, which made it difficult for them to accept total subjugation. This, unlike the situation with the black slaves, increased their economic and military threat in the eyes of the American people and government and led to their genocide and practical annihilation. Bibliography
Coleman, M. C. (1985). Presbyterian Missionary Attitudes toward American Indians, 1837-1893. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi Fehrenbacher, D. E. (2002). The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government's Relations to Slavery (W. M. Mcafee, Ed. ). New York: Oxford University Press. Gutzman, K. C. (2002). The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government's Relations to Slavery. Journal of Southern History, 68(4), 957+. Retrieved November 24, 2006, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=5002502749 Holder, P.
(1974). The Hoe and the Horse on the Plains: A Study of Cultural Development among North American Indians. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. Lewy, G. (2004, September). Were American Indians the Victims of Genocide?. Commentary, 118, 55+. Miller, J. J. (2000, October 9). Buffaloed: Fighting the Truth about American Indians. National Review, 52,. Prucha, F. P. (1984). The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. Schama, Simon, (1987), “An Embarrassment of Riches”, First Vintage Books, Random House, New York
Slavery in Colonial America, (2006), A history of American slavery, Retrieved November 23, 2006 from en. wikipedia. org/wiki/History_of_slavery_in_the_United_States Trafzer, C. E. & Hyer, J. R. (Eds. ). (1999). Exterminate Them: Written Accounts of the Murder, Rape, and Slavery of Native Americans during the California Gold Rush, 1848-1868. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press. Trail of Tears,(2005), Historical Documents, Retrieved November 21, 2006 from www. americanindians. com Vaknin, S, (2005), Slavery in the USA, Buzle. com, Retrieved November 23, 2006 from www. buzzle. com/editorials/9-26-2005-77541. asp
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