The Nature of Slavery

In: Historical Events

Submitted By ErinD
Words 1512
Pages 7
How justifiable is the claim that slavery was a "benign" institution in the antebellum South?
Slave labour was a significant economy contributor to slaveholders in the antebellum South and slaves were exploited in order to benefit their masters. Abolitionists perceived the institution of slavery as a non-Christian practice that openly dehumanised people due to their skin colour. They believed that slaveholders treated their slaves ferociously and that slavery had no place in the states. Eugene Genovese has since investigated the master-slave relationship. Although he agreed with the general view that slavery was a harsh, unjust institution, Genovese believes utmost forms of mistreatment were uncommon. Genovese established slave-owner “paternalism”; the concept that masters took a personal interest in the lives of their slaves. This idea of paternalism was, with few exceptions, not a predominant practice in the South. The underlying concept of slavery was simple – slaves were treated as property and their status as property was more than often enforced by violence at the hands of their master.
The ideology of paternalism implied masters took care of their slaves as a result of personal attachment to them. Genovese believes this practice as slaves were fed frequently to ensure their strength was maintained. He also states that medical care on plantations surpassed that of whites in the South as well as declaring slaves had outside contacts with whites which extended beyond exploited labour. Genovese uses the concepts of paternalism on the master’s side, and the complex balance between accommodation and resistance on the slave’s side to create an elaborate picture of the web of interdependence between owner and owned. However the reality is in stark contrast; many slaves were sold, punished, sexually exploited or even killed by their owners. Regardless of…...

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