Propaganda refers to the form of communication that is meant to influence the feelings and attitudes of individual to believe or support a certain viewpoint. The aim of the propagandist is to ensure that an individual backs his or her position by simply presenting one side of the story.
Studies show that propaganda statements might be either true or false. Since the major objective is to change the minds of many people as possible, propaganda statements are often repeated and are distributed through a number of media in order to reach many individuals (Cunningham 78).
In some instances, propaganda information present facts selectively in order to support a particular synthesis and in other cases, it makes use of loaded messages to incite people’s emotions instead of encouraging individuals to judge information rationally.
Propaganda is used to influence people’s political, spiritual, and business-related views. Throughout the US history, it has been used effectively to support particular positions. During slavery, advocates of slavery system used it to justify their position while Douglass employed it to influence people’s minds against slavery. This paper looks at various aspects of propaganda, including its techniques, as well the way pro-slavery advocates and opponents, including Douglass, employed it.
Classification of Propaganda
In the modern society, propaganda is a term that no one would want to be associated with because of its wrong usage in Germany. In reality, propaganda is a neutral term that can be utilized in educating people to change their views towards a better future.
In fact, propaganda messages could be employed effectively to encourage individuals to participate in community programs, engage in health improving practices, take part in important events, such as census and elections, and encourage citizens to support the law enforcing agencies as far as reporting of crimes is concerned.
During slavery in the United States, advocates, such as James Henry Hammond, John Calhoun, and William Joseph Harper, utilized propaganda to justify the existence of the two classes in society since they argued that it would spur economic development.
Hammond drafted a speech, commonly referred to as Mudsill Speech of 1858, which was purely a propaganda statement encouraging individuals to be contented with the existing production system. To pro-slavery advocates, the change of the production system would destabilize society, as it would cause conflicts between the upper and the lower classes. This would be a great threat to democracy, the economy, the government, and the society in general.
The campaigners of slavery further observed that the lower class had always existed in history, as it served a major purpose of cushioning the ruling class. Hammond used the term mudsill in his speech to claim that the lower class was a foundation of society, as it engaged in nation building through provision of labor (Tindall and Shi 56). In his view, this would encourage the whites to move civilization forward and any attempt to bring radical changes would impede socio-economic and political development.
The views of pro-slavery advocates were not factual, but instead they were propaganda statements that aimed at justifying the existing mode of production at the time. Hammond encouraged slaves to continue offering free labor, as they were the important people in the production system. However, the reality was that slaves were never incorporated into the economic system and the few who participated in economic matters were incorporated as underdogs.
Slavery advocates insisted that the system eliminated barriers placed upon individuals that prevented them from enjoying their rights as American citizens. Hammond cautioned other rich individuals in the country who supported the rights of slaves that it was dangerous to involve the landless in political matters, such as voting and presenting their candidature during elections (Finkelman 27).
Involving slaves in political processes would lead to the tyranny of the multitude hence the best option was to enslave them, as they would not have the chance of changing the status quo. In the views of slavery supporters, the system was effective since it protected the interests of masters, slaves, and the entire society.
Democracy suggests that each individual should be allowed to enjoy his or her rights in society, including the right to take part in economic and political matters without interference. Therefore, slavery campaigners advanced a theory that was defective implying that their claims were simply propaganda statements aimed at subjugating and discriminating against slaves who were mostly blacks.
Douglass’s narrative presents some of the problems that slavery brought to the blacks in the south. Even though his ideas are mainly considered as propaganda, he presents information that would help slaves to realize their potentials in society. First, he criticizes slavery by observing that it has a damaging effect to the slaveholders, as well as the slaves.
The slavery system encourages a dishonest and reckless behavior among slaveholders to an extent that it damages their honored status. Based on this, he recommended that slavery was unnatural to all parties involved. For instance, slave owners were engaged in adultery and rape, which was a great threat to the wellbeing of slaves and their families. Douglass uses Sophia Auld as an example of an individual who had high moral standards, but slaveholding converted her to a demon.
Therefore, the view of Douglass on slavery is that it was an invalid system of production, which had affected the moral wellbeing of slave owners (Douglass 112). This implies that he was trying to convince slave owners to abandon the system, as it was affecting them as well. In trying to persuade slaveholders to abandon slavery, Douglass reinterpreted Christianity, terming the true religion as the Christianity of Christ while the kind of religion that slave owners practiced as the Christianity of the land.
Slave owners had immoral behavior and violent actions that were inconsistent with the provisions of Christianity (Tindall and Shi 93). Through this, he was trying to convince slaveholders to quit slavery and adopt a more acceptable system of production that would suit the tenets of Christianity.
The Objective of Propaganda
The main goal of any propaganda statement is to shape public opinion and change people’s views as regards to a particular subject or topic. During slavery in the United States, the views of southern plantation owners played a major role in advancing slavery in the country in the sense that many farmers believed abandoning it would be equivalent to giving blacks an undue advantage in the economy.
Additionally, many slave owners were convinced that giving the landless the right to vote would be detrimental to democracy. Several techniques of propaganda exist, but slavery supporters chose to employ two of these methods, one of them being half-truth and the other is deception.
Douglass supported the claims that slavery was degrading the culture of blacks. He noted that slave owners ensured the landless remained ignorant, as this would facilitate the maintenance of the status quo. However, he suggested that acquisition of knowledge is a step towards abandonment and resistance of slavery. Unlike pro-slavery advocates, Douglass used different techniques of propaganda, including operant conditioning and testimonials.
Cunningham, Stanley. The Idea of Propaganda: A Reconstruction. Westport: Praeger, 2002. Print.
Douglass, Fredrick. The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass. New York: Cricket House Books, 2012. Print.
Finkelman, Paul. Slavery & the Law. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Print.
Tindall, George, and Shi, David. America: A Narrative History. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2013. Print.