History of Slavery
The history of slavery mainly deals with different systems of slavery from an historical point of view whereby, a human being is considered to be a legal property of another person and can therefore be traded as well as working according to the owners demands. One of the basic elements of slavery is its hereditary nature implying that children born of a slave mother also become slaves without question. The different perspectives regarding the history of slavery as presented by different scholars will be examined.
Majority of the American scholars have attempted to seek explanations surrounding the absence of interracial hostility in Latin America and Brazil. The main scholars who have attempted to present the contrasts include a United States Historian known as Frank Tannenbaum and the popularly known Brazilian sociologist, Gilberto Freyre. These two scholars hold overlapping opinions regarding different aspects of the history of slavery. According to Freyre, the main point of interest about the history of slavery is Brazil is concerning the relationships between salves and their masters and the easy-going nature. Though slaves were unfairly treated and subjected to some disabilities, they played an important role in the inner lives of their masters.
According to Stanley Elkins, there are four main formal categories that were used to define the American salves status. These were marriage and family, servitude, property and other civil rights and finally police and disciplinary authority over the slave. A salve retained his or her status for an entire lifetime and transmitted it to his offspring through inheritance. The other point to note is that the relationship between slaves was entirely different from the relationship that was accorded to a wife and a husband. The difference comes about in that, the relationship between salves could be dissolved at any given time and when either party desired to do so. This accounts for the sexual relationships that were common between the female sales and their Portuguese masters.
According to Tannenbaum, the legal institution was responsible for minimizing the abuses and unfair treatment of slaves in Latin America. There was embedment of slavery in Latin America in ethical, legal, religious and moral matrixes whose role was to maintain and preserve the integrity of an individual slave. The scholar further argues that the Latin American laws regarded slaves as human beings who did not deserve unfair and brutal treatment. Hence, the laws of Latin America effectively preserved the slaves human identity. According to the laws several rights were given to Latin American salves and some of them were the right to own property, the right to freely marry, the right to buy freedom and finally the right to look for another master is the present one was very severe.
The United States slaves on the other hand were not given any of the mentioned rights. These slaves were left without any legal protection against harms done to them by their masters. According to the Tannenbaum, there was no legal institution or body of laws in the United States to humanize and regulate the status of slaves. Hence, slaves were hated, secluded and denies in the United States. They were brutally treated and not viewed as humane.
Contrary to Tannenbaums views, Freyre argues that religion was the key institution that minimized abuse of slaves in Latin America. Christianity emerged following civilization characterized by a change in peoples beliefs and way of life. According to Christianity, all men were equal regardless of whether they were slaves or masters. This concept is what enabled Latin Americans to treat slaves as human beings with souls. Slaves who worked at Christian-based plantations were also at a great advantage since they received favored and were accorded more freedom and rights. With time majority of the Latin Americans and slaved adopted a form of religion that promoted equality and treated all human beings with respect. Eventually, there was an increased population of free Negroes and the end result was abolition of slavery and slave trade.
According to Elkins economic forces determined the various slavery institutions in America. In America, slaves were considered as a property of the master. Hence, the masters had the authority to do whatever they wanted to do with their slaves. For economic reason, slave trade became common whereby salves were bought and sold at a given amount of money. Slaves were bound by specific economic arrangements that gave their masters the freedom to trade the slaves properties, products of the slaves labor, time and even the slaves life. There are some situations where the rights and freedom accorded to masters took the form of capital. Hence, slaves were viewed sources of capital accumulation, good capital, and commodities that can be bought or sold at any given time according to their masters wishes and desires.
Human lives, reproductions as well as production were changed into commodities as a result of slavery. The key role of slavery was to maximize profits and economical gain. For total service, the extent of salve trading varies depending on the degree of technological advancement and institutional tools. It is evident that slave labor largely contributed to industrial, growth, development and capitalism. Metropolis that relied on capitalism greatly relied on slavery and slave trade. Slavery and slave trade in the United States was the key contributors to the emergence of plantation institution. In North America, slavery was viewed as a form of industrial system but this was not the case with Latin Americans, who viewed slaves as human beings who do not deserve unjust, unfair and brutal treatment. Commercialization of slaves in the Latin America was illegalized by traditions, the monarchy and the Church institution.
Mintz criticizes Frayre and Tannenbaums argument regarding the fact that institutions played a great role in minimizing brutality and the unfair treatment of slaves. He gives an example of Cuba where though there were institutional restrictions concerning slavery, slavery in Cuba led to dehumanization of slaves in a similar manner to North America and Jamaica. Moreover, Mintz argues that the economical transformation experienced in Latin America could have contributed to emergence of radical changes regarding the status of slaves. The other argument that is subject to criticisms is the claim that non-catholic new world countries lacked a working slavery tradition. Both Elkins and Tannenbaum claim that North America lacked a form of culture that governed the institution of slavery. Mintz counters this argument by postulating that an English legal institution as well as background evidence portraying slavery in North America and West Indies.
Mintz examines the argument made by Elkins concerning the reason why North Americans experienced a bitter and unyielding struggle in the abolition of slave trade. Mintz notes the fact that Elkins does not evaluate the reasons behind the British abolitionists position, which was neither entirely conciliatory nor uniform. Elkins also fails to mention a key geographical and political consideration in the course of his explanation. By considering the slavery cases in North and Latin America, it is clear that the meaning of slavery differed in various societies at specific periods of time. Elkins fails to deeply examine slavery in Brazil and the extent to which it led to dehumanization.
One criticism posed by Harriss is concerning the neutrality of Portuguese regarding color differences during slavery. Harriss argues that the Portuguese are the ones responsible for bloodshed that was witnessed as a result of engagements between the Negroes in Africa and the Whites. Moreover, the same Portuguese fully supported the colonialists and the institution of white supremacy. Despite the fact that Portuguese residing in Portugal are rather neutral when it comes to issues relating to differences in color, this data can not be generalized. The case can only be applied to a few Portuguese who hold the belief that the key cause of discrimination is prejudice, while the actual link is quite the contrary. Once the Portuguese move to Africa, they witness how white men are taking advantage of the black men in legal, economic and social aspects and within a short time period, they adopt the trend and behave like the white men. Harriss therefore holds the view that it is irrelevant to allege that there is no color and racial discrimination among the Portuguese.
Harriss also argues against Tannenbaums view that there was a difference between race relations in the United States and Latin America. Harris postulates that the difference does not lie in the race relations but rather in the institution of slavery. He argues that the Western Hemisphere has three forms of slave systems which were the Portuguese and Spanish system, the French system and finally the British, Dutch, American and Danish system. Harris thinks that rather than explaining whey there was differed treatment between the free Negro and free Mulatto, Tannenbaum and Elkins only attempt to explain why the situation of slaves in English colonies was far worse than that experienced by Latin American slaves.
Harris Criticizes the explanation of why there was better treatment of laves in Latin America compared to North America claiming that this is wasting time. This is due to the fact that there is no reliable and solid evidence to prove that slaves were actually accorded better treatment in one location than the other place. Though there were several travelers who claimed that Portuguese in Latin America were much happier, there have been opposing views regarding this matter. Harris further argues that virtually all distinctions proposed by Tannenbaum regarding the Latin and Anglo-American slavery had already been brought as subjects of debate involving the Anglo-American planters and abolitionists as early as the 18th century.
In conclusion it is evident that despite the various views presented by Elkins and Tannenbaum regarding the contrast between slavery in Latin America and North America, these views are under criticisms and opposition from scholars such as Mintz and Harriss.
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