Slavery and Freedom: What, according to Morgan, is the central paradox of American history?
A paradox is a declaration that seems as if it disagrees with itself and yet it might be factual.
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In the article, Edmund S. Morgan argues that from the 17th to 19th century America witnessed the rise of liberty and equality as slavery increased. The fact that the above conflicting developments occurred simultaneously for such a period is what Morgan refers to as the central paradox of American history (Morgan 6).
A hypocrite is an individual who behaves in disagreement with his or her affirmed ideas or feelings.
Morgan argues that the American founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington were hypocrites (Morgan 6). He argues that these founders were the champions of freedom and liberty in America. According to Morgan, these leaders are hypocrites because despite their fight for justice and equality they were all slaveholders.
The article asserts that throughout his entire adulthood Thomas Jefferson hated debt. These feelings made him have a passionate aversion to debt. He felt so because he believed that debt limited individual’s freedom of action. Similarly, he believed that debt undermined the capacity of a nation to exist as a republic.
Jefferson believed that the landless laborers posed a threat to the nation because they were not independent. Jefferson believed that a citizen could only be independent if he or she owned land. According to him, landless laborers were subject to changes in the market prices, and if their work was at risk they had no land to turn to for income. Because landless laborers were not independent, Jefferson believed that landless laborers could be easily be used as tools to overturn the liberties of a nation.
Jefferson believed that the landless laborers posed a risk to the republic influenced his concerns about emancipation. Jefferson contemplated emancipating his slaves because he believed that free men with no land were going to be a threat to national security. He postulated that free, idle, and hungry individuals were going to steal from the rich.
Hakluyt believed that the world was supposed to be ruled by the Englishmen. He believed that if Englishmen ruled over the world, they would be able to extend the effects of free governance to the less fortunate individuals in the new world. His visions were not only limited to improving the living conditions of the English poor but also aimed at improving the living conditions of the natives of the lands the Englishmen would settle.
Hakluyt’s vision enabled the Englishmen to go and settle in the new world. Before the Englishmen settled in the new world, England was faced with enormous social problems. As such, the population had increased significantly has the resources to support them reduced. Because of this, the English poor used to wander aimlessly searching for jobs. During the 16th century, these individuals were sent to the new world to work as laborers. Given the fact that England’s job opportunities could not satisfy the increase in population and labor force, Hakluyt’s vision addressed the problem of the idle poor in England.
In the 1670s, social problems increased in Virginia. Legal and economic pressures were tightened to keep more men in service. Despite these, the population of freemen rose. As their number increased, the government of the time felt threatened. The government was so determined to reduce the civil influence of freemen that they limited voting to landholders and householders. Virginia was an unstable place because almost all the freemen and without land were harmed. Since they were harmed, they could gang up against the landholders leading to a civil war.
Freemen revolted against the landed elite during Bacon’s Rebellion because Governor William Berkeley imposed undeserved duty, failed to improve their economic conditions, and failed to protect them from being attacked by the natives. Freemen rebelled against the landed elite because they were connected and were involved in the running of the government blamed for the unjust mistreatment of the freemen.
After Bacon’s Rebellion, the colonial authorities acknowledged that the increasing number of white freemen was a threat to the landed elite (Morgan 22). To reduce the risk caused by the number of increased freemen, slavery replaced servitude. Coordination of slave labor created order in Virginia. African born slaves would cause less trouble compared to white freemen. As such, Africans could not claim equal rights compared to the white freemen and provided a cheap source of labor (Tindall & David 78).
In the article, Professor Morgan asserts that for a very long time the landowners tried in vain to deny equal rights and civil liberties to the white freemen. With the increased number of black slaves, freemen became less intimidating. In the subsequent years, colonial authorities came up with a strict slave code and that limited slaves from exercising their civil liberties as the whites (Gates 67). As times passed, white freemen were able to vote and become slaveholders.
Gates, Henry Louis. Life upon these shores: looking at African American history, 1513 2008. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Print.
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Morgan, Edmund. “Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox,” The Journal of The American Paradox,” The Journal of American History 1.59 (1972): 5-29. Print.
Tindall, George Brown, and David E. Shi. America: a narrative history. 9th ed. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.