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The Caged Bird Sings of Freedom Essay

2. What actions did the U.S. government take to support slavery? Do these actions support Zinn’s assertion on p. 139 that “Such a government would never accept an end to slavery by rebellion”? Why would the white elite want to determine when and how slavery would end?

The U.S. government supported slavery by refusing to enforce the law that prohibited the shipping of new slaves into the nation, passing new laws that burdened slaves, and repeatedly making decisions in Supreme Court cases that did not bode well for the fettered men and women, among other actions. One such law that further bound the slaves was The Fugitive Slave Act: “The Fugitive Slave Act passed in 1850 was a concession to the southern states in return for the admission of the Mexican war territories (California, especially) into the Union as non-slave states. The Act made it easy for slaveowners to recapture ex-slaves or simply to pick up blacks they claimed had run away” (Zinn, A People’s History of the United States). This clearly portrays the government’s concern with national unity and power over slave emancipation.

These actions also support Zinn’s assertion that “Such a government would never accept an end to slavery by rebellion” as the government needed to appease the South in order to keep the Union intact and since slavery formed the economic foundation of the South, they would not allow the slaves freedom as a result of rebellion. Only one slave rebellion ever brought an end to slavery in the Americas, and that was the Haitian Revolution. Slave rebellion in North America typically did little to end slavery, as can be seen with the revolt led by Nat Turner. Furthermore, the white elite wanted to determine when and how slavery would end in order to control the outcome in such a way that it was profitable or served to their self-interest. 6. How were the following used as methods of controlling not only the slave population but poor whites as well: force, segregation, and religion? The use of force, segregation, and religion were used to control the slave and poor white population in various ways. In terms of force, the wealthy or elites would turn the slaves against the poor whites, using the poor as buffers for slave hatred; “The need for slave control led to an ingenious device, paying poor whites-themselves so troublesome for two hundred years of southern history-to be overseers of black labor and therefore buffers for black hatred”(133).

They also were tracked by hounds that would mutilate and, in some cases, kill runaway slaves. It is clear, then, that the elites tried to instill fear into slaves in order to keep them compliant. As for segregation, the slaves were kept apart from whites in order to keep them from encouraging slave rebellion. Furthermore, religion was used as a means of forcing the slaves to submit to the whites. They preached white superiority and brought about this air of submission. 8. How can you account for Harriet Tubman’s success? Does Zinn give you enough information to answer this question? If yes, what is the data he provides? If not, what information do you need (what questions do you still need answers to) in order to answer this question with any degree of satisfaction? A) She had no fear. B) She was a fanatic. C) She was lucky. D) She had lots of help. E) She wore a disguise. F) She was smart enough to get out and not return. G) She carried a revolver. While Harriet Tubman could be argued as fearless, it is more likely that her success rests neither on her fearlessness nor any of the other arguments listed above, but on her smart strategies, not including her disguises or her revolver. Zinn, himself, does not provide enough information to determine the true reason for her success and to answer this question with any degree of satisfaction, one would find it necessary to obtain the information as to how she carried out these forays.

What routes she took, what time she travelled, and with how many passengers she moved would be good questions to start with. 10. Why might Frederick Douglass have been “the most famous black man of his time?” Fredrick Douglass might have been “the most famous black man of his time” for he was an important black leader, writing and speaking about the horrors of slavery. His own autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, brought the wretchedness of slavery into light and awareness to the white population. He wrote: “Why am I a slave? Why are some people slaves, and others masters? Was there ever a time when this was not so? How did the relation commence? Once, however, engaged in the inquiry, I was not very long in finding out the true solution of the matter. It was not color, but crime, not God, but man, that afforded the true explanation of the existence of slavery; nor was I long in finding out another important truth, viz: what man can make, man can unmake…I distinctly remember being, even then, most strongly impressed with the idea of being a free man some day.

This cheering assurance was an inborn dream of my human nature-a constant menace to slavery-and one which all the powers of slavery were unable to silence or extinguish”(134). 14. How did the racism of white abolitionists reveal itself? How could a white person be both an abolitionist and a racist? Why would a racist be an abolitionist? (Was the institution of slavery undermining the free labor philosophy that allowed the northern elite to justify economic inequality of the factory system?) Racism of the white abolitionists revealed itself as the whites had different views on what the role of the black abolitionist truly was. The black abolitionists desired recognition and the opportunity to speak with their own voice; however, some white abolitionists did not truly believe blacks as equals, others had different, economic reasons for being an abolitionist, and others still did not want the blacks to play the roles that they wished in the fight for freedom.

A white individual could be both a racist and an abolitionist for racism was deeply ingrained as a hidden institutionalized system, thereby, making it difficult to eradicate racism from a young age. Furthermore, a racist might be an abolitionist for reasons that would prove beneficial to them. A racist is one who judges others unfairly based on race and poor information; this does not mean that he or she could not perceive slavery to be wrong. Lincoln, for example, wanted the blacks freed but, as Zinn stated, “could not see blacks as equals”. 18. Lincoln was able to speak to both sides of the slavery debate. Why did he feel compelled to speak to both sides, given his personal solution to the problem of slavery in America? Although Lincoln personally believed that slaves should be freed and sent to Africa, he spoke both sides of the debate in order to win his election. He felt compelled to do so in order to keep the Union intact; His first priority, then, was not equality but unity; He wrote, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery.

If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that” (143). 30. In 1883, the Supreme Court declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional. What was the majority argument? What was Justice Harlan’s dissenting argument? The majority argument that arose when the Supreme Court declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional was that the Fourteenth Amendment was aimed at the states and not the individual. Justice Harlan’s response was that the Thirteenth Amendment that prohibited slavery applied to individuals and that discrimination was a part of slavery, one could not be without the other. He also stated that the Fourteenth Amendment’s first clause asserted that any individual born on the nation’s soil was considered a citizen and was, thereby, entitled to certain rights and privileges that comes with the citizenship.

A stated by Zinn, “Harlan was fighting a force greater than logic or justice; the mood of the Court reflected a new coalition of northern industrialists and southern businessmen-planters. The culmination of this mood came in the decision of 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson, when the Court ruled that a railroad could segregate black and white if the segregated facilities were equal: ‘The object of the amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.’ ‘Harlan again dissented: “Our Constitution is color-blind…”’ (151).

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