Unit 5 Essay: The Debate over Slavery

In the 1820s, 1830, and 1840s, the Second Great Awakening helped to inspire a reformist impulse across the nation. One of those movements centered on an effort to abolish slavery in the United States; of course, the desire to eliminate slavery did not go unchallenged. In this activity, you will examine the views of antislavery (abolitionist) and proslavery writers in the antebellum years. This essay will help you better understand a controversy that permeated American life in the years leading up to the Civil War.

Required Readings

Read the following pro- and anti-slavery documents ATTACHED BELOW

  • Pro-Slavery
    • George Fitzhugh Advocates Slavery
    • Disease and Peculiarities of the Negro Race
    • James Henry Hammond Advocates Slavery
  • Abolitionists
    • David Walker’s Appeal
    • Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”
    • The American Anti-Slavery Society: Declaration of Sentiments

Focus Questions
Consider these questions as you read through the above sources (ALL of these questions need to be addressed in your essay):

Proslavery authors
1. How do these authors justify slavery?
2. According to these authors, what place do slaves have in society?
3. What derisive stereotypes of African Americans are found in these proslavery documents?

Abolitionist authors
1. Why do they believe slavery needs to be abolished?
2. What specific criticisms do they have about American society?
3. How do these authors view African Americans (in contrast to the stereotypes offered by proslavery authors)? How do the authors view African Americans’ place in society?

Your essay should be a minimum of 4 pages (500-750 words), and you should spend AT LEAST two pages discussing EACH position (two pages discussing the proslavery perspective and two pages discussing the abolitionist perspective). If you want a higher grade, plan to be comprehensive in your coverage of the readings (there is no maximum page limit). Your answer should reflect the main points from each assigned reading, and ALL of the above readings should be addressed in your essay. Use examples from the readings to illustrate your main points.

When you write your essay, don’t just go reading by reading; rather, see what common themes are found in the readings for both perspectives and write paragraphs based on themes rather than examining each reading individually. Yes, this requires more thought, but then your essay won’t read like an extended book report on each article. If you have any questions, just let me know and I’ll be more than happy to help.

As per the instructions in the syllabus, most of the essay should be in your own words and reflect your own analysis of the readings. Please re-read the syllabus for expectations regarding essays.

  • Essays should be original and analytical and must contain a well thought out response to the question posed. Avoid plagiarizing. All submissions will automatically be sent through Turnitin for an originality check. Any submissions that contain plagiarism will earn a grade of 0. This is not to say that you may not quote from your sources. In fact, the careful and limited use of direct quotes is encouraged, but such quotes must be formatted correctly and the source must be acknowledged using the MLA format. If you use direct quotations, you must not only cite your source, but must also use quotation marks. Example: Columbus explains that the weapons of the natives he encountered on the islands of the Caribbean were unsophisticated and that their javelin, a much-used weapon, was “no more than sticks” joined together. (Columbus, Journal, paragraph 12)
  • Use a 12-point font such as Arial or Times New Roman. Double-space between each line. Use 1-inch margins on all sides.
  • Each essay should contain a Works Cited page.
  • You should include specific examples from each of the secondary and/or primary sources specified in the development of your paper and you must cite these sources following the MLA style listed at the Purdue Owl’s Guide to the MLA Style . Use of an outside source not listed in the instructions will result in a grade of 0. Please contact me if you have questions about the sources.
  • Essays are to be written following the rules of correct grammar and spelling, both of which will be taken into consideration in the evaluation of the essay. Be sure to proofread your essays as grammar and spell checks typically do not catch words used in incorrect contexts. Avoid the use of first person unless otherwise instructed (I think, I believe, etc.).
  • Essays submitted after the due date will receive a twenty point deduction in points.

Let me conclude with a comment about the content of these readings. The first set of readings that discuss the proslavery perspective can make for difficult reading. Simply put, they can offend our modern sensibilities with their perspective on race. The goal of this assignment is to provide you with a historical context of how people viewed race and slavery in the 19th century, so sometimes it is necessary to read offensive documents like this to understand why people acted and behaved the way they did in the past. Please know that by discussing these documents, it in no way means that you approve or support what they say; rather, you are doing exactly what historians do — learn about the past and make observations based on available evidence.