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Historically, slave labor has been demonized and praised in equal measure. Those that were against it suggested the moral argument stating that all human beings were equal and should be treated equitably. However, the defenders of slave labor argued that the slavery was beneficial and necessary for continued economic growth. Further, they claimed that if slaves were freed, it would lead to a societal crisis characterized by vast unemployment and crime (Independence Hall Association).
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George Fitzhugh, an American social theorist, considered that the slavery was a positive thing, which produced more good than harm. In his book, he equates slaves to children who are the real beneficiaries of the system. Justifying slavery in the South in the 1800s, he comes to the conclusion that slaves were treated with respect and dwelt amongst their masters without much distinction. According to him, some of the benefits of slave labor included the doubling of agricultural yields, increased economic growth coupled with reduced unemployment and low crime rates. Fitzhugh describes the Southern property owners as merciful and kind individuals who treated their slaves in a human manner. In his view, no slave working in the South had reason to complain about because they had commendable standards of living and were rarely overworked Fitzhugh)?
However, it is quite clear that Fitzhugh’s argument is not valid. In my opinion, his positive outlook on slavery is flawed in many ways. To begin with, he approaches the issue from a racial point of view. To his mind, people of the African communities are an inferior race that should be under the command of the white men. In my view, considering that the Africans are inferior is a huge misconception. All human beings are equal and should be treated with dignity.
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Daniel Hundley depicts the Southern white farmers as very hard working and hardy individuals. He is quoted as saying, “…you will invariably see the negroes and their masters ploughing side by side in the fields…” (Cobbs, Blum and Gjerde). Therefore, in his opinion a Negro should not be raised to a position equal to that of his master because it was enough that the White Yeoman farmer treated his slaves respectfully. In such a way the author unanimously agrees with Fitzhugh that slaves should be relegated to the sidelines of their masters as long as they were not mistreated.
Samuel Cartright, on the other hand, had a very interesting perspective on the slave labor. He came to the drapetomania disorder theory, which he used to justify the need to keep Negrros in a state of constant work. He stated that this disorder, which caused a slave to have a desire to escape servitude, could only be equated to a madness. In his view, slaves had no justification to flee their masters, especially if they were taken care of and well provided for. Cartright derived his arguments from the Scripture, which, according to him, gave the White men an authority to rule over Negros. To his mind, God himself had given White masters the power over their slaves and it was the duty of the slave masters to provide the necessities of life in exchange for free labor. He describes Negros as “submissive knee-benders” who should never be put at a position equal to that of a white man but to whom protection is owed (Cartright). Cartright’s approach greatly resembles that of Fitzhugh in seeing the slave masters as merciful liberators to whom slaves owed a submission.
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To conclude, the approach taken by the three theorists is substantially flawed, because it fails to acknowledge the rights that are inherent to all human beings by virtue of their humanity. Cartright’s view that the slavery is a creation of Scripture cannot be substantiated by written sources or otherwise. Moreover, their general perspective goes against freedom of movement and protection from slave trade, which human rights activists advocate for.
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