Perspectives and Irony in American Slavery: Essays

Perspectives and Irony in American Slavery: Essays

Perspectives and Irony in American Slavery: Essays

Perspectives and Irony in American Slavery: Essays

Excerpt

Few institutions have influenced American history as much as slavery. Chattel slavery, existing in North America from the mid‐ seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries, produced immense wealth for the planter class, poverty and economic stagnation for many non-slaveowning southerners, raw materials for the industrial revolution, extreme stress and conflict concerning the social, intellectual, and religious ideals of Americans, and untold hardships and anguish for millions of men, women, and children of African descent. Its abolition cost the lives of more than 600,000 Americans during a devastating civil war which was followed by an effort to expand the Constitution of the United States to include black Americans—an effort that had to be repeated a hundred years later. And yet vestiges of the peculiar institution remain.

Slavery existed for more than 200 years; it has been more than a century since the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified. For at least three centuries, slavery has generated discussion, heated debate, or active denunciation. The fact that scholars continue to debate slavery attests to its significance as a formidable institution in shaping America. It is part of the irony of slavery that historians studying the institution for almost a century have failed to provide all the answers; indeed, perhaps they have not yet asked all the right questions. Even more frustrating is the probability that they will not be able to do so.

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