For those who were branded as Negro Slaves, there was no real freedom during the period before the Civil War. There was no freedom for Negro Slaves in the southern states because a system was in place to force them into a life of servitude. The life of Solomon Northup exemplifies this truth. He was a free man living in New York when he was kidnapped and sold as a slave. However, when he was kidnapped and brought to the South, his former status as a freeman was never considered by his new slave master. The system in place was perpetuated by laws applicable to the southern states, and a philosophy that was exemplified in a speech delivered by James Henry Hammond.
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There was no real freedom for the Negro slaves living in the South in the three decades before the Civil War. A system was in a place that smothered any idea or suggestion that human beings were created equal in the sight of God. If there was an argument to the contrary, this was brought to a decisive end when Solomon Northup was kidnapped from his home in one of the northern states, and dragged into a life of slavery into one of the plantations in the south. Northup’s kidnapping demonstrated the belief system that dictated the values of the people in the southern states. Northup’s abduction proved beyond a reasonable doubt that slavery was based on race.
There were two primary reasons why Negro slaves in the southern states were never able to taste true freedom before the onset of the Civil War. First, the law of the land made it possible for slave owners to own Negro slaves and treat them as beasts of burden. Second, the whole region in the south was governed by a philosophy that persuaded them to believe that men and women of African descent were destined to serve white masters.
An overview of the Virginia Slave Code of 1705 provided an idea of how the law of the land stifled any hope of freedom. The law described the power of the slave owner over a Negro slave. The law described the severe limitations of Negro slaves, especially when it came to their mobility—the slave owners of Virginia where authorized by law to destroy or kill runaway slaves. The code specifically stated that those who chose to punish runaway slaves in a violent manner were not guilty of any crime (Virginia Slave Code of 1705 1).
The law also stated that Negro slaves were not allowed to wander off into nearby plantations, and they were forbidden to stay there for more than four hours without securing the permission of their master. If the slave owner did not give prior permission for the slave to visit other plantations or to interact socially with other slaves, then, the erring party was expected to suffer from the hands of an angry slave owner.
Negro slaves in southern states did not experience real freedom in the decades before the Civil War, because of a belief system that men and women of African descent were created to serve white masters. This belief system was dignified using “The Mudsill Theory” (Hammond 1). In the said theory, there was a race of men that were created to perform menial tasks. This theory stated that it is necessary to subjugate Negro slaves for the purpose of civilization and progress. The proponents of this theory asserted that it was impossible to accomplish great things without the assistance of slaves.
It is important to point out that Hammond’s speech on “The Mudsill Theory” was made in the year 1858 when northern states already made the slave trade illegal. In fact, Hammond mentioned this historical development in his speech. Nevertheless, Hammond ridiculed his audience, especially those who believed that Negro slaves must be set free. The law instructed people on how to deal with Negro slaves. However, the philosophy espoused by Hammond explained why Negro slaves in the southern states never had the chance to experience real freedom, even as America was moving towards a modern era.
The story of Solomon Northup’s abduction and return to a life of slavery was the undeniable evidence that Negro slaves in southern states were never able to experience real freedom a few decades before the Civil War. The United States was gearing towards modernity. However, the slave owners and white residents of the southern states were adamant as to the natural role and status of Negro slaves. They believed that men and women of African descent were deemed inferior to their slave owners. This idea was perpetuated by law and a philosophy that cannot see the value of Negro slaves outside the plantations because they were destined to perform menial tasks and back-breaking labor for their slave owners. The law of the land empowered them to treat Negro slaves as beasts of burden. Nevertheless, the philosophy that Hammond espoused made it clear that Negro slaves must suffer under perpetual bondage.
Hammond, James. Speech to the U.S. Senate. 1858. Virginia Slave Code of 1705. Web.