A Dictatorship Created Inside the Union
A question could easily be aroused from the usage of slavery in the South. Was it possible to create a dictatorship type of role inside of what we believed to be a Union? The answer may seem to be a “no”; however, the use and management of slavery in the South would suggested a different answer. In the book Celia, A Slave, the author, Melton A. McLaurin, argues that Celia’s story demonstrates “Stanley Elkins’ contention that slaves were powerless to protect their most basic humanity from the predations of the master,” as opposed to later scholarship that emphasizes the slaves’ ability to resist despite living in such an oppressive society. 1 I believe that this argument made by McLaurin is true. Slaves tried many different tactics in order to separate themselves from the power of their master; however, their efforts weren’t able to help the issue. Slaves were powerless to their masters due to their inability to have equal rights with the whites. Whites saw themselves as more superior than the blacks, and this could be seen through the way they treated slaves during court/trial. White females usually received justice in court, but for black slave women, not so much. 2 In the case from McLaurin’s book, Celia, was a black slave and was being accused of the murder of her master. He explains how Celia was just trying to defend herself, given that her master was trying to sexually exploit her; however, the judge seemed not too concerned of this issue. 3 Section 29 of the second article of the Missouri statutes of 1845 was implemented to provide justice for those in Celia’s situation. 4 It seemed pointless to have this section of law, since the court wasn’t going to abide by it. Celia wasn’t provided justice, and this made the slaves seem powerless to the schemes of their master, and even society as a whole. Without proper representation in the court, any attempt for slaves to defend themselves and fight back would just fall against them in the court system. Another way slaves were subject to their master’s will was through their inability to prevent themselves from being sexual exploited. In the South, it wasn’t uncommon for white men, mainly the owners, to sexually exploit a slave. Robert Newsome, who was the owner of female slave Celia, would exemplify this when he went to buy her just for the soul purpose of sexually exploiting her. He evened did so before he could make it back to his farm after he purchased her. 5 Female slaves, like Celia, were powerless to these attacks by men. The attacks effected all of them psychologically, and lowered their ability to want to resist. Celia, however, did resist, but as explained earlier, it didn’t help the situation. Female slaves had no choice in their fate; do nothing and just continue to be sexually exploited, or resist and put their lives at risk. Either way, their life was in the hands of their master. Although slaves were subject to their master’s will, there were ways in which slaves tried to revolt. These included doing things like running away, breaking equipment, abusing animals, working slow, and pretending to be sick. 6 These things irritated the whites more than it helped the lives of the slaves. If anything, it made it worse on them. Owners wanted to make sure that they could contain their slaves and that they could force out any desire to rebel. One main rebellion, Nat Turner’s rebellion, was a key factor that shaped how owners needed to make sure that they maintained control over the blacks. Although, whites died and blacks hoped for a chance of a better life, the whites quickly put a close on it and destroyed the morale of slaves once again. 7 Slaves attempted to resist the power of their masters’; however, these attempts were to no avail. They would need to wait until the Emancipation Proclamation was established before they could finally break that dictatorship chain off of their masters. In McLaurin’s story, Celia takes matters into her own hands, but this would result in her death. This shows just how much slaves didn’t stand a chance and breaking the stronghold that their masters had on them. Lastly, whites showed little, to no, sympathy towards slaves, causing whites feel as if they should rule over them. Whites never really understood how bad their treatment was toward slaves since they never really considered them people in the first place. There would be times where whites were aware of things such as sexual exploitation going on, but wouldn’t take any form of action upon them. 8 People were too distracted by other issues going on rather than the lives of slaves. During the 19th century, there was a lot of tension between pro-slavery advocates and abolitionists. People like David R. Atchinson were pushing towards making Missouri a slave state, while others would argue on this subject. 9 Overall, slaves stood no chance of not allowing themselves to be powerless to their masters. Slaves were seen more as property than as people, and this was evident through their treatment in law and court issues, sexual abuse, and the lack of sympathy shown by others, mainly whites. Slavery provided great prosperity to the South; however, the conditions that slaves lived in weren’t as great. Female slaves had the roughest time, as can be detailed in McLaurin’s book. What slavery owners may have called business, slaves would probably call a dictatorship. Their lives were placed in the hands of their masters’ and these people didn’t really care for the feelings of the slaves, since all they needed from them was their labor on the farm. Going back to the question: Was it possible to create a dictatorship type of role inside of what we believed to be a Union? With slavery, one may suggest that it was possible.