Slavery in American Literature

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Slavery in the United States was a form of unfree labor which existed as a legal institution in North America for more than a century before the founding of the United States in 1776, and continued mostly in the South until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865. Most slaves were black and were held by whites, although some Native Americans and free blacks also held slaves; there were a small number of white slaves as well. . Slavery spread to the areas where there was good-quality soil for large plantations of high-value cash crops, such as tobacco, cotton, sugar, and coffee. By the early decades of the 19th century, the majority of slaveholders and slaves were in the southern United States, where most slaves were engaged in a work-gang system of agriculture on large plantations, especially devoted to cotton and sugar cane. Such large groups of slaves were thought to work more efficiently if directed by a managerial class called overseers, usually white men.

Slavery was a principal issue leading to the American Civil War. After the Union prevailed in the war, slavery was made illegal throughout the United States with the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[11]

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. —Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution[103] Southern states prohibited the teaching of reading and writing to Black slaves. As slaves were illiterate, there are few accounts os slavery written by slaves. A few managed to learn. The first slave to public an account of slavery was Olaudah Equiano. Perhaps the most eloquent accont was written by Harriet Jacobs. Sojurner Truth and Stephen Douglas laster wrote powerful accounts. Several great pieces of American literature addressed the slave issue.

Harriet Beecher Stowe
The most important ante-bellum (pre-War work)was Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). Stowe was virtually unknown when she wrote the book. She was influenced by the experience s of two teenage Maryland slave girls, Emily and Mary Edmonson, who were rescued from being sold as "fancy girls" to New Orleans bordellos. The story of Eliza , Topsy, Uncle Tom, and Simon Legree electrified northern readers and theater goers, affecting northern attitudes toward slavery. While a melodramatic account, it is arguably the single most important book in American history. The abolitionist movement existed before her book, but it was an often criticised movemnent, seen as imporal or treasonous by many in the North. The book had the impact of legitmizing the movement. Southern Ban

Enraged Southeners argued that Stowe's book Uncle Tom's Cabin was an exageration and that slaves were in fact trated well. Stow published a second book, A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin which describe the research she conducted before writing her novel and includes a discription of the ordeal of the Edmonson girls. Her brother, Henry Ward Beecher helped rise money to buy the Edmonson girls out of slavery. The Southern states banned abolitionist literature, surely the greates violtion of the First amendment in Ameican history. This action by the Southern states is silent testimony to the fact that it was an uneven debate. The ban did not end with the Civil War. The Kenticjky state legislture banned plays portraying slavery in a negative light (1906). The legislature apprive an Act on March 21, 1906 that banned anyone "to present, or to participate in the presentation of, or to permit to be presented" in any "opera house, theater, hall, or other building under his control" any play "that is based upon antagonism alleged formerly to exist between master and slave, or that excites race...
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