History 17A – United States History (Spring 2007)
History 17A Exam 2
[Students and professors, please read.]
Drawing the Color Line
1. How do we know that indentured servants and slaves resisted their condition? What was the response of the ruling elite?
We know indentured servants and slaves resisted their condition based on the following: African slave traders reported Africans jumping into the ocean and drowning themselves rather than leave Africa, the Spanish governor of Hispaniola in 1503 complained that African slaves were teaching native Americans to disobey, the Spanish established a special police force for chasing run away slaves after slave revolts in the 1520s and 1530s in central America, in 1663 indentured whites conspired with black slaves to gain their freedom and newspaper notices of runaways subsequently warned whites against harboring fugitives, a Virginia statute in 1669 referred to the “obstinacy” of slaves and the 1680 Assembly referred to their secret meetings, a plot in Virginia was discovered in 1687 to kill whites and escape during their mass funeral, plantation and county records and newspaper ads in Virginia for runaways described the various acts of rebellious slaves of varying degrees (from voluntary return to insurrection), the first large-scale revolt in the colonies occurred in 1712 in New York, another plot was struck down in South Carolina in 1720, around the same time there were a number of fires in Boston and New Haven in which black slaves were suspect, a group of Africans tried to run away and settle in the mountains of Virginia in 1729, a wealthy Virginia slave owner wrote in fear of a servile war in 1736, a slave rebellion in Stono, South Carolina progressed so as to require bloody action from the militia in 1739, blacks and whites were accused of conspiring together to start the mysterious fires that broke out in New York in 1741, in Maryland women killed their masters and seven slaves were executed for murdering their master in 1742, there were found 1,138 ads for male runaways and 141 ads for female runaways between 1736 and 1801 as slaves risked death and mutilation to seek eachother out and/or escape slavery, and there were found 250 instances of slave revolt or conspiracy consisting of ten or more people.
The ruling elite, to keep the power and wealth where it was, responded by breaking the slaves into bondage psychologically and physically. Psychologically they taught discipline and reminded the slaves repeatedly of their inferior status. Physically they used hard labor, broke up their families, created disunity by separating them into house slaves and field slaves, made it illegal to escape or disobey and sanctioned severe physical punishment like whipping, burning, mutilation, the cutting off of ears for striking whites, and being hanged, quartered and exposed for certain serious crimes. The 1663 plot including whites and blacks ended in executions. Responses to revolts were brutal executions which included death by burning, hanging, being broken on the wheel, being hanged in chains in the town, being slowly burnt over a fire for hours, or being struck down by the militia. Other revolts discovered in the plotting stage were punished by being burned to death or hanged or being banished. The response to the fires in Boston and New Haven was to whip any slaves who gathered in groups of two or more. The response to the fires in New York, in which both blacks and whites were suspected, was the execution, burning alive and hanging of 35 souls. The ruling elite, in fear that the poor whites would join forces with black slaves in revolt, also gave poor whites more privileges so that they would be less inclined to feel exploited, privileges leading to a feeling of superiority over black slaves, so that they would feel less inclined to help black slaves.
4. Did slavery evolve or was it created?
This topic was brought up in my ‘critical thinking’ class, because we were studying the rhetoric found in the movie “Amistad” (sp?). In that movie there is an argument that it is human nature that there be those in power, and those who serve them. Then recently we were given a hand-out of an individual’s interpretation of Plato’s “Parable of the Cave”. This individual believes Plato thought it a blatant disregard for human nature not to expect for there to be those who let others do their thinking for them, those who let others oppress them so long as it is not too crassly done. It reminds me of “the bystander effect” due to “diffusion of responsibility” and “pluralistic ignorance” addressed in social psychology. That so many Africans did try to escape despite the severity of the consequences, as seen in my answer to question one, is a testimony to their strength of will. But whether or not there is a natural basis for submissive or aggressive behavior, there is also a natural basis to overcome the behavior – as is true for many behaviors rooted in nature, but overcome through social training (if there were no natural basis for this, the social progression of civil rights would have been impossible). Suppose, for example, pluralistic ignorance turns into pluralistic self-education – after all, pluralistic ignorance is the tendency for people to rely on what other people do and say (in this case – nothing). If what other people do and say is active and intelligent, then the pluralistically ignorant person will turn into a pluralistically active and intelligent person. It’s the same principle, better results. Whether or not slavery is in the genes (naturally evolved), or the memes (socially evolved) – that there are memes means we can overcome it (genes, or bad memes) with better memes. If you don’t know what memes are, Google “Richard Dawkins, memes.”
However, Zinn has settled on the conclusion that slavery was the result of historical conditions, so I want to go into that. He mentions specific social (not natural) conditions which led to the institution of slavery in America: the Jamestown settlers were desperate for labor, they could not use the Indians and it was difficult to use whites, blacks were made available in increasing numbers by those who displaced them and put them through a death march before selling them–making them easier to control, the profit to be had by slave-trader and planter, the appeal of superiority for poor whites, and the psychological, physical, and legal controls against escape, rebellion, and black and white collaboration. Zinn seems to think the racism may have been influenced by disdain toward the color black, which to me is unconvincing. The reason they were treated differently is because they looked different; how they looked different is inconsequential. Zinn does however point out the basic human drive toward community seen in the fact that, when black servants were treated the same as white servants, they behaved toward eachother as equals, so much so that laws had to be passed punishing whites and blacks for helping eachother run away, for getting married, for having children – phenomenon more prevalent before white servants were bribed by privileges over those of black slaves.
Tyranny Is Tyranny & A Kind of Revolution
1. Most history books tell us that the US Constitution creates a neutral level playing field on which contestants prove their worth and any inequality in wealth is not due to unfair rules but to unequal abilities. Why does Zinn disagree with this interpretation? Be specific and give examples.
What motivated the U.S. Constitution, and continues to motivate American politics in general, was foreshadowed by what necessitated the Boston Caucus – initially, a genuine acknowledgement of and concern for lower-class grievances, over-powered by a desire to mold popular opinion and channel lower-class energy to the advantage of upper-class politicians. What garnered support for the U.S. Constitution, a method still used today, was foreshadowed by what brought support for the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution that followed – the language of self-government, the right of altering or abolishing a flawed government, and outrage over tyranny. However, those who engineered the war were mostly members of the colonial elite. The “We the people of the United States” did not include Native Americans or blacks or women or white servants. After the American Revolution, there were more indentured servants than before the war. The phrase “all men are created equal” said nothing of women, who were politically invisible. The rhetoric of the Revolution, the brotherhood of military service, and a little distribution of land created a large body of support. With the English out of the way, the status quo of class privilege achieved by the ruling elite could be made law. The same men behind the Revolution are those who drafted the U.S. Constitution and most had direct economic interest in establishing a strong federal government. The same groups not included in “We the people of the United States” were not represented in the Constitutional Convention. The Constitution was written to benefit the groups the Founders represented. In the Federalist Paper #10, James Madison saw the Constitution, which included the principle that decisions would be by majority vote, as a solution to factional struggles stemming from inequality in wealth. It is easy to start a localized rebellion, but if it cannot be successful without the means to convince and enlist the support of a whole nation, it is doomed to fail. So, those who suffer from inequality in wealth (like those behind Shay’s Rebellion) are “divided and conquered” by the Constitution, which protects large economic interests, doing enough for small property owners, for middle-income mechanics and farmers, to maintain the middle class – an additional buffer against those in the lower classes who might revolt against those in the upper classes. The series of amendments known as the Bill of Rights built popular backing for the new government by making it appear to be a guardian of people’s liberties. However, as events unfolded, the Sedition Act of 1798 infringed on the First Amendment, whereas Congress’ power to tax and appropriate money was put to use immediately and powerfully enforced (as seen in the response to rebellion against the Whiskey Tax in 1794). Thus, the Constitution did not create, nor can it maintain, a “level playing field” – as that was never its initial function, and aspects of it which would seem to serve that function were ignored almost from its inception.
2. Why did American troops rebel or mutiny? What was the ruling elite’s response to resistance?
Four days after the Declaration of Independence was read, the Boston Committee of Correspondence ordered the townsmen to the Common for conscription. Those who were rich, however, could get out of it by paying for a substitute. The poor rioted and shouted “Tyranny is Tyranny let it come from whom it may!” John Shy said the army got tired of being bullied by local committees of safety, by the corruption of those who controlled the supply, and by those posing as soldiers of the Revolution. Hamilton said the countrymen were passive fools who didn’t want freedom. Those who refused to report after being drafted were jailed until and unless they agreed to fight in the war. A Pennsylvania official said the conscription of lower classes by upper classes was reminiscent of how British officers treated people under subjection to Great Britain. If a soldier acted out of line, he was tied up and received 30 or 40 lashes. Soldiers initially were not paid. Once privates started getting paid, it was much less than officers, and became worthless with inflation. All the while, they watched local government contractors and those who loaned money to the Continental Congress get rich. In 1781 on New Year’s Day, soldiers mutinied and Washington handled it with concessions. Shortly after that, a smaller mutiny occurred, and Washington was ready to make an example of them. It was ended by marching 600 well fed and clothed men against the mutineers, executing ringleaders using a tearful firing squad made up of their friends. The southern lower classes resisted conscription, seeing themselves under the rule of a political elite, regardless who won the war. Disloyalty was dealt with by a policy of concessions to some, brutality to others.
As Long as Grass Grows
2. Describe the history of Indigenous-White relations? Do you agree with Specked Snake’s synopsis?
From the beginning of the semester, we learned that Europeans used the image of the savage to justify enslavement and genocide. The main thing Europeans were driven by was greed for land, gold, industry, free labor, etcetera. Native Americans who did not go along with European interests were severely disciplined, if not executed. Europeans exploited the fact that the native Americans did not have a concept of private property when colonizing America. Europeans exploited the unassuming trust of the native Americans, accepting their gifts and violently taking the rest. Europeans fought dirty and without honor in conflicts with native Americans. They turned natives against eachother by granting privileges to those who joined forces with Europeans. They broke their promises when it was to their advantage, and their warring was unscrupulous and merciless. They would make sure their actions, like the treaty preceding the Trail of Tears, were legally sanctioned, letting the weight of moral considerations rest on the law, rather than on their own consciences. Native American parents were killed so that their children could be legally enslaved under the false pretense that they were orphans. This history of human rights violations against the indigenous peoples of America is continued in chapter 7, “As long as grass grows or water runs” – President Jackson’s false words to the Choctaw and Chickasaw. Chief Black Hawk’s voice is heard on pages 130-131, telling of how the native Americans were becoming like the white men, and how white men poison the heart. The aged Creek man, Speckled Snake, also speaks on page 135 – telling of how the first colonists depended on the native Americans for aid, but brushed them aside once they were no longer dependent upon them. The Cherokee Nation as well is heard on pages 139-140, giving voice to the chilling reality that the history of the U.S.’ treatment of native Americans includes a heart-breaking history of promises broken.
3. Evaluate the “negotiations” between the US and Indigenous Nations. What are the consequences of the treaties ratified by the US and Indigenous Nations?
Basically, the native Americans were told that they could either move voluntarily, with the aid of the government, or they would have to abide by state laws if they chose to stay, laws which destroyed their tribal and personal rights and made them vulnerable to white settlers. The consequences of their moving voluntarily (by treaty), is that 1) the U.S.’ promises that they wouldn’t have to move again (“as long as grass grows or water runs”) could not be trusted (for example, within days of the Treaty of Washington, promises made on behalf of the U.S. were broken, and the native Americans were made to move west), 2) many died during the journey, because the aid promised by the government was carried out by private contracts, and was actually just more human rights violations, and 3) one can only imagine the kind of psychological damage undergone by those who had to rip themselves from the land with which they felt so connected, watching their loved ones die along the way, only to find themselves in places inferior to the place they began. I have had to move several times in my life – moving from home was the worst, but it was genuinely voluntary, nobody died on the way, I lived well at my destination, and I didn’t have the feeling that I was moving because I was not wanted.