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Notes: Give Me Liberty! An American History: Chapter 11

Eric Foner: Book Outline Notes for Give Me Liberty! An American History Second Edition

Eric Foner: Book Outline Notes for Give Me Liberty! An American History Second Edition


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Chapter 11: The Peculiar Institution

Focus Questions

  1. How did slavery shape social and economiv relations in the Old South?
  2. What were the material and legal conditions in which slaves lived and worked?
  3. What were the foundations of the culture the slaves themselves forged?
  4. What were the major forms of resistance to slavery?


  1. Idea of the “self-made” men rose more dramatically
  2. Frederick Douglass was a black man who went on to become the most influential AF American of the 19th century and the nation’s preeminent advocate of racial equality
  1. He was very active advocate for liberty of blacks

The Old South

  1. Intro
  1. Mason Dixon Line separated slavery and freedom (btwn Maryland and Pennsylvania)
  2. There were over 4 million slaves right before the Civil War
  3. 1860 = 1/3 of the nation’s crops were grown west of the Mississippi

Cotton is King

  1. It replaced sugar as the world’s major crop produced by slave labor
  2. The South was the largest and most powerful slave society the modern world had ever known. “White gold”
  3. 3/4 of World’s cotton came from Southern United States
  4. 1860 = The economic investment of slaves exceeded the value of the nation’s factories, railroads, and banks combined.

The Second Middle Passage

  1. Slaves trade was a viable business. Many states relied on the slave trade

Slavery and the Nation

  1. Slavery was ended in the North, but unaffected in the South. Fugitive Slave Clause as well
  2. Northern merchants and manufacturers participated in the slave economy and shared in it’s profits (northern bankers financed cotton plantations, etc...)

The Southern Economy

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  1. Slavery limited the growth of industry and technological progress in the South
  1. They didn’t experience the urban growth like the rest of the country did

The only city in the Cotton Kingdom of significant size was New Orleans South produced less than 10% of the nation’s manufactured goods Plain Fold of the Old South

  1. They worked the land using family labor rather than slaves or hired workers
  2. Raised livestock, frew food for their families, and enjoyed a comfortable standard of living
  3. Some poorer whites resented power and privileges of great planters. Class issues started to arise

The Planter Class

  1. 1850 = Majority of slaveholding families owned <6 slaves
  2. They held the majority of slaves, controlled the most fertile land, had highest incomes, and dominated state and local offices, and led both political parties
  3. They supervised their plantations very carefully

The Paternalist Ethos

  1. Idea where gentlemen took personal responsibility for the physical and moral well-being of their dependents.
  2. Known as Paternalism: It justified the masters being mean and beating their slaves

The Code of Honor

  1. Although dueling was illegal, many prominent southerners had duals
  2. Henry Clay and John Randolph had a dual; they missed each other

The Proslavery Argument

  1. The North surpassed the South in many intellectual goals (more newspapers, colleges, public education, literary journals, etc...)
  2. Said that Slavery was a “necessary evil” -
  3. Racism was one pillar of the proslavery ideology
  4. Also found things to back it up in the Bible (slaves in the Bible, other places had slaves to do well, so why can’t they?
  5. Said that the growth of the white class depended on the doomed life of unskilled labor in another class

Slavery and Liberty

  1. White southerners claimed that they were fighting for the “same spirit of freedom and independence” that motivated the previous generation
  2. Proslavery writers began to question the ideals of liberty, equality, and democracy so widely shared elsewhere in the nation.
  1. Said the Dec of Ind “all created equal” was stupid

Argued that inequality and hence the submission of inferior to superior: was a “fundamental law” of human existence Slavery and Civilization

  1. George Fitzhugh wrote about universal liberty, and that Negroes were the freest and happiest people in the world...
  1. This guy’s arguments don’t make sense, he’s saying that poorer white southerners would be better off as slaves

1830 = Newspapers in South dedicated themselves to spreading slavery Life Under Slavery

  1. Slaves and the Law
  1. The “peculiar institution”, to slaves, meant BAD NEWS. They had very few rights
  2. Over 90% were illiterate, but some did learn how to read/write
  3. Famous Missouri Slave Case = The “crime” of Celia was that she killed her master while resisting a sexual assault in self-defense. She was put to death (after she had the baby)

Conditions of Slave Life

  1. Some laws were enacted to prevent mistreatment of slaves, and their material living conditions improved
  2. Slaves had better diets, lower rates of infant mortality, and longer life expectancies than in the West Indies and Brazil.
  3. Improving living conditions were meant to improve slavery, not to undermine it
  4. However, despite the better living conditions, they were FAR LESS free than slaves around the world

Free Blacks in the Old South

  1. Nearly half a million blacks were free in the South (majority was in the South)
  2. Whites defined the black’s freedom as their distance from slavery, and the distinction btwn free and slave was not that great
  3. Free blacks were considered a potential danger to the current slave system
  4. William Johnson acquired enough money to purchase a plantation with 15 slaves (he still had a hard time getting there: couldn’t testify if debtors didn’t pay)

The Upper and Lower South

  1. Very few free blacks lived in the Lower South
  2. The Upper South was where the large majority of southern free blacks lived, and they generally worked for wages as farm laborers
  3. 1860 = Half the pop of Maryland blacks were free

Slave Labor

  1. Slavery was a system of labor from “sunup to sundown”
  2. Large plantations were diversified communities with all kinds of work was done
  1. They cut food for steamboat fuel, worked in iron and coal mines, manned the docks in southern seaports, and laid railroad tracks

Southern cities = thousands were employed as unskilled laborers and skilled artisans Gang Labor and Task Labor

  1. Large majority of slaves (75% of women, 90% of men)
  2. Gang labor was the harshest in the south
  3. Task Labor: with few whites willing to venture into the malaria-infested swamps, they were assigned daily tasks and allowed to set their own pace of work.
  1. And once they finished the task, they could do whatever they wanted really

Slavery in the Cities

  1. Different regions could be “worse” or “better” than others.
  1. Rice fields were pretty hard working conditions but more independence (task system)

Most city slaves were servants, cooks, and other domestic laborers

  1. They did work for someone and the wages went to the owner

Maintaining Order

  1. Many slaveowners at the bottom whipped their slaves
  2. An infraction of the rules, no matter how small, could get a slave whipped
  3. Another method was to create incentives that rewarded good work with time off or even money payments

Slave culture

  1. Intro
  1. Slaves never abandoned their desire for freedom
  2. Slave culture drew on the African heritage: was evident in their music and dances, style of religious worship, and the use of herbs by slave healers to combat disease

The Slave Family

  1. Center of the slave community was the family
  2. The law did not recognize slavery marriages, though
  3. Most slaves lived in two-parent families

The Threat of Sale

  1. Was the most powerful disciplinary weapon slaveholders possessed
  2. About 1/3 of the marriages in Virginia were being broken up by selling
  3. Slave traders gave little attention to preserving family ties

Gender Role among slaves

  1. Slave men and women experienced the equality of powerlessness
  2. In free time, slave men would chop wood, hunt, and fish, while women would sew, wash, and take care of the children
  3. Family was central to slaves: it was how they passed slavery culture and survival strategies down to the next generation

Slave Religion

  1. Christianity offered slaves hope for liberation from bondage in the face of hardship
  2. Although slaves could not meet without a white person present, they did have black preachers
  3. Christianity offered another means of social control (to masters)

The Gospel of Freedom

  1. Slaves transformed the Christianity they had embraced, turning it to their own purposes. A blend of African traditions and Christian belief was practiced in secret nighttime gatherings on plantations
  2. Slaves identified themselves as a chosen people, whom God would, in the fullness of time, deliver from bondage. They like the story of Jonah

The Desire for Liberty

  1. Slave stories exemplified this: some of their folklore was the Brer Rabbit stories: glorified the weak hare who outwitted stronger foes like the bear and the fox, rather than challenging them directly
  1. The world of most rural slaves was bounded by their local communities and kin

Resistance to Slavery

  1. Intro
  1. Slave revolts in the United States were much smaller and far less frequent than areas like Brazil and the West Indies
  2. Resistance to slavery took many forms in the Old South, from individual acts of defiance to occasional uprisings

Forms of Resistance

  1. Most widespread expression of hostility to slavery was “day-to-day resistance” or “silent sabotage” - doing poor work, breaking tools abusing animals, etc...
  2. Theft of food and pretending to be ill were some ways
  3. Far less often but did occur: Arson, poisoning, and armed assaults against whites

Fugitive Slaves

  1. Slaves had little or no knowledge about the geography, apart from understanding that following the north star led to freedom. No one knows how many made it to the North or Canada
  1. Best estimate is around 1,000 per year.

Some hoped to lose themselves in the large cities of free blacks Underground Railroad - loose organization of sympathetic abolitionists who hid fugitives in their homes and sent them on to the next “station” The Amistad

  1. A ship transporting them from one port in Cuba to another, eventually going back to Africa
  2. The Amistad had no legal bearing on slaves within the United States

Slave Revolts

  1. The Four largest conspiracies in AM history occurred w/in the space of 31 yrs
  1. First one: organized by Virginia slave Gabriel in 1800: uprising on sugar plantations upriver from New Orleans
  2. 1822: Denmark Vesey (slave carpenter) - purchased his freedom after winning a local lottery
  1. Stepped off the city’s sidewalks to allow whites to pass and took a leading role in the local AF Methodist Church
  2. He quoted the Dec of Ind and led it, but the plot was discovered before anything could’s disputed about how and why this info was found out

Nat Turner’s Rebellion

  1. Best known of all slave rebels = Nat Turner (slave preacher and religious mystic in Southampton, Virginia, who God chose to lead a black uprising
  2. Unfortunately, he was ill on the day it was supposed to happen; they still killed some sixty whites
  3. It was the last large-scale rebellion in southern history
  1. B/c he started with only a handful of followers, he faced a far less chance of discovery or betrayal than Gabriel or Vesey

What did good ‘ol Nat do to the South?? Many slaves were whipped or executed

  1. Instead of moving towards emancipation, however, the Virginia legislature decided to fasten even more tightly the chains of bondage

1831 Marked a turning point for the Old South. British launched a program for abolishing slavery throughout the BR empire, underscoring the south’s growing isolation from the rest of the world North declared slavery as contrary to Christianity and to basic AM values.

Review Questions

  1. Given that by 1860, the economic investment represented by the slave population exceeded the value of the nation’s factories, railroads, and banks combined, explain how important slavery was to the national economy and the emergence of the United States as a great power
  2. Describe slave culture , explaining the similarities and differences among various regions.
  3. Why did many white southerners support slavery even when they did not actually own any slaves?
  4. What meaning of freedom were most important to the slaves?
  5. What forms of slave resistance were practiced in the AM South?

As Training or Practice, put your perceived answers to the questions above: the Focus Questions and the Review Questions


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