American Slavery, American Freedom by Edmund S. Morgan Review

Topics: Slavery, Slavery in the United States, Virginia Pages: 6 (2514 words) Published: April 14, 2013
American Slavery, American Freedom
Book Review

Edmund S. Morgan's book, American Slavery, American Freedom, is a book focused on the Virginian colonists and how their hatred for Indians, their lust for money, power, and freedom led to slavery. The Virginian society had formed into, as Morgan put it, a republican society towards the end of the 18th century. This society believed in a certain view of freedom and liberty that would define America, through the realization of how this republican freedom depended on its opposite, slavery. How had the Virginia, a society that originally never incorporated slaves into their workforce, become so dependent on them to the point that they feared them? This question and the republican belief of freedom in America are the thesis and topic for Edmund S. Morgan's book. The analysis, done by Morgan, begins back before the beginnings of the colony in Virginia. The colony was originally proposed by Sir Humphrey Gilbert; this idea was thwarted in 1583 when Gilbert's ship sank. The original plans for this colony, made by Gilbert, did not include “slavery or forced labor of any kind.” (24) The English, in fact, had this view of themselves freeing countless Indian and Negro slaves from the clutches of the evil Spaniards. The English held some sort of fantasized idea, that the Indians and Negroes would be appreciative of them, and serve them in submissive harmony. The English clearly at this point in history sought to create an English colony branded by a new kind of freedom. Upon achieving a colony in the New World, in 1586, the Colonists faced an immediate danger of starvation. The means of defeating this danger was the dependency on the natives. However the English, depending on the Indians for food, also were the same people that would burn down the native supply of corn, and would kill so many of their people. To fight and kill those that you depended on for survival, was a stupid idea for the English, and was in fact basically suicidal. This, however, did not stop the English who saw themselves as superior to the Indians. These Indians were supposed to have seen the English weaponry, technology, clothing government, and religion and realize English superiority. The truth is in fact that, “The Indians keeping to themselves, laughed at your superior methods and lived from the land more abundantly and with less labor then you did...”(90) This simple fact enraged the English and thus the English “...killed the Indians, tortured them, burned their villages, burned their cornfields. It proved superiority in spite of your failures” (90). The continued proving of superiority towards the Indians caused a certain hatred and fear towards them as well. It was at this point that fear, created a type of racism, would eventually be target at the Negroes. It was in 1629 that the tobacco boom then began. The colonists who had come to the New World had found their get rich export. This new development in Virginian agriculture created frenzy for labor and land. The major problem with this new investment was that “They still would not grow enough corn to feed themselves, but they grew tobacco as though their lives depended on it” (109). The main connection between Virginian slavery and the tobacco boom is that, tobacco was the initial start of slavery. Though at the time not exact slavery, the poor and new arriving colonists were forced into the role of servants. These servants would have to work a required amount of years before they would be released as freemen. By reducing “...other Virginians to a condition which, while short of slavery, was also some distance from the freedom that Englishmen liked to consider as their birthright” (123), many colonists were able to become extremely wealthy. The main problem with this servant system in Virginia was that most men, after receiving freedom, could not make it in the colony and would be forced back to being a servant. The role of servants was not something...

Bibliography: Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom. New York: W. W. Norton & Company,
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