Over the whole course of the human history, the transoceanic slave trade remains one of the greatest precedents of the human rights violation. On the other hand, it was the decisive factor which formed the global economy of the 18th century. At that time, traders tore a large number of the African people from their homes, expelled them to South America or Europe, and exploited them as slaves. The people trade lasted since the 16th to the 19th centuries and became the very first system of globalization. Overall, the transoceanic slave exchange was one of the biggest tragedies in the historical backdrop in terms of scale and duration. The effect it has made on the African social orders is colossal, even regardless of the little positive short-term changes. This paper testifies the economic and social harm made by the African slave trade, evaluating the conditions and historical circumstances of Africans’ lives.
Initially, the African slave trade emerged already in the seventh century. The principal course of slaves’ delivery started in Sahel – northern coastal region of Africa. What is more, history acknowledges the shipments of slaves across the Sahara and the Indian Ocean since the ninth century. It is assessed that merchants sent a thousand slaves each year between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean to the slave markets of the Middle East. The peak of early slave trade coincided with the improvement of shipbuilding, which expanded the number of items provided from the plantations and prompted the necessity of additional labor. The extent of the slave trade consisted an enormous quantity of people every year. In 1800, there was an expansion in the stream of slaves from Africa to the Islamic countries. The slave trade finished fully just in 1900s, when Europeans started colonization of Africa; nonetheless, officially the issue lasted in 1619-1860s. Despite some beneficial factors, the slave trade became a dark page in the human history, resulting in numerous racial issues that are valid even nowadays.
The process of the trade is connected with the expansion of the Western Europe to Africa. There were heaps of boats that were stacked with goods which the sailors exchanged for slaves. The most valuable commodities were weapon and gunpowder. Nevertheless, such goods as textiles, pearls, and rum were likewise popular. Many African vendors and political elites were eager to offer their slaves and encouraged the situation, as well as Europeans, who had no insusceptibilities to the tropical ailments. During the exchange, the Europeans were waiting in the ships near the African coasts to purchase the slaves rather than fortifying the settlements. They successfully run their businesses with the local African authorities on the equal rights. After the intersection of the Atlantic Ocean, African people were delivered to America with the purpose to be sold all across the country. Additionally, the slave merchants brought numerous farming items, made by the slaves: for example, sugar, rice, cotton, espresso, and tobacco.
Conditions of the Slave Trade
In the antebellum South, the slaves constituted approximately one-third of the whole population. Most of them lived on the small plantations or large farms; many big plantation owners used the labor of no less than fifty slaves. The owners of the slaves did everything possible to ensure the complete dependence of the slaves on them by implementing the system of codes, which framed the norms of the slaves' lives. The enslaved people were not allowed to receive education, ability to read and write was a big rarity. Moreover, their masters restricted all the basic norms of their social lives and behavior.
The historical backdrop of the antebellum South has registered two million slave sales, which formed giant slave market. Significantly, the biggest slave showcase in the country was in New Orleans, where 100,000 persons were bundled, evaluated, and sold. Walter Johnson in his book Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market emphasizes that “in the nineteenth century, New Orleans was, by the breathless account of its boosters, on the verge of becoming one of antebellum America's leading cities, a city to be compared to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston.” In addition, in a period between September and May, it was a common thing to see the walls surrounding the pens where slaves had to live. It is imperative that “inside those walls, the air must have been thick with overcrowding, smoke and shit and lye, the smells of fifty- or a hundred-people forced to live in a space the size of a home lot”.
Speaking about slavery, it is important to observe this term through the notion of living property. From the very childhood, slaves had to train their bodies according to the needs of their further work. Their development proceeded against their will; outside the market and additionally inside it, they had to consider themselves as the commodities:
When he was ten, Peter Bruner heard his master refuse an offer of eight hundred dollars (he remembered the amount years later), saying "that I was just growing into money, that I would soon be worth a thousand dollars." Before he reached adulthood, John Brown had learned that the size of his feet indicated to a slaveholder that he "would be strong and stout someday," but that his worn-down appearance-bones sticking "up almost through my skin" and hair "burnt to a brown red from exposure to the sun" – nevertheless made it unlikely that he would "fetch a price".
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Thus, from an early age, children were growing as slaves with the understanding that even their bodies belong not to them, but to their masters.
After arrival to America, the Africans mostly became servants of wealthy and powerful men and this tendency was developing quickly. Additionally, there was a gigantic interest for cotton delivered together with African slaves to the Americans’ large farms. Slavery was a real horror for the Africans since they basically had no rights. Their masters treated them badly and forced them to work under unbearable conditions; in case of mistreatment, they could not fight back or sue their masters in court as far as the law viewed slaves as property and not as humans. Therefore, they were not allowed to have personal belongings, have vacations, acquire education, or even marry. They were at the mercies of their masters as nothing was in their favor. To compensate for it, they developed an independent culture unknown to their masters. For instance, they composed countless folk tales that passed from one generation to the next and expressed their aspiration for a better life.
With regard to above-mentioned facts, it is understandable that white slaveholders considered selling people as a profession. In these terms, white slave traders were the only unmistakable authorities who could transform a huge number of individuals into prices. “When White tallied his achievement, the record he left was incomplete; even White knew that there was more to the story than that. There was, indeed, more than he may have ever suspected.” One could encounter the names of the most well-known dealers everywhere in antebellum New Orleans: Wilson, Freeman, Kendig; White, Rutherford, Botts, and Beard; Franklin and Armfield of Virginia, the Woolfolk and Slatter families of Maryland, the Hagans of South Carolina. Their posted bills covered even the houses’ walls in the cities, the newspapers punctuated their graphic advertisements, and the coffee shops and saloons burst with loose and speculative talk about their business. Thus, it is apparent that slavery was a real business that initially helped American aristocracy gain prosperity, simultaneously raising the country’s economy.
Social Meaning of the Slave Trade
In order to analyze the slavery from another perspective, it would be helpful to use Narrative of Frederick Douglas. Born in slavery, he managed to teach himself literacy and subsequently escape to the North. It is obvious that he challenged the social view towards slaves, although no one considered they could become equal members of society. According to Douglas’ evidence, the difference between blacks and whites appeared to be striking: “the white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege.” As a child, he was confused and did not realize why African descendants could not be equal to white children.
It is important to realize that slaves regarded such plantations as Prospect Hill, Brookgreen, and Georgetown as their second homes. In Down by the Riverside, Charles Joyner sheds the light on the culture of slaves that emerged on these territories. For example, the author highlights that “the most striking aspect of slave folklife to visitors on the rice plantations of the Waccamaw was the strangeness of the slaves’ speech.” The point was that the lowland blacks of South Carolina experienced difficulties in pronouncing English words. In compliance with Edward King: “The English words seem to tumble all at once from his mouth, and to get sadly mixed whenever he endeavors to speak.” Thus, slaves created for themselves the language called Gullah that became their common dialect. In these terms, it is possible to say that slaves constructed their own culture in order to adapt to life in the foreign culture and world.
At the same time, there is no wonder that the wise slaves constituted a considerable menace suppressed by their owners at the very beginning. The predictable reaction of the middle class connected with the rapid increase of the slaves’ training and their emancipation resulted in spread of the aggressive moods towards the free population. Still, the turn of the nineteenth century gifted the slaves a great chance to defeat the oppression. Tightening of the personal relations with the owners’ class largely contributed to the development of the issue and change of the slave laws. Some families of the master class demonstrated the softening treatment and slightly warmer attitude towards slaves; for instance, they could let the blacks’ children into their dwellings and allow them eating right in the owners’ houses. The little boy and girl servants usually accompanied the most luxury employers of the former times and catered for his or her whims. Therefore, the slaves received some privileges while the social basics such as genuine ground for the educational development were absent.
According to recollections of W. Austin Steward, the other phalanx of slaves called such privileged groups as the ‘pampered niggers’ who belonged to the property of the weak owners. The ordinary slaves preferred toiling in the fields without any significant alterations of their life. Examining the historical context, they were right to some degree as those ‘quality folks’ who were spoilt by indulgence frequently became the victims of violent exploitation and blood mixture. The slaves’ children reared in the master’s house obtained the similar views and even contrived to despise the poorer whites. The aristocratic habits, neat appearance, white-person-like behavior led to losing their own cultural identity. Being white or special meant the same for the benefited servants who were not used to the other lifestyle. On the other hand, striving for being as a white implied approaching the new blacks’ identity and, therefore, possibility to receive education and higher status. The house servants used every favorable opportunity while learning the daily record, playing schools, receiving the literary enthusiasm from the master’s children.
End of the Slave Trade Era
With time, the slaves sorted more effective means of resisting their bondage. This was possible mostly through violent rebellions and covert acts of resistance such as slow work. For instance, in 1831, there occurred a revolt where the slaves arose and killed the owner of the plantation; though, local militia stopped it quickly. Apparently, not all Americans shared the same view on slavery: a group known as the Abolitionists worked to eliminate the issue. They considered slavery as immoral and unchristian. The Abolitionists supported the slaves together with other groups such as the Underground Railroad. The Railroad was a loose network of people who helped slaves to escape to the Free North and aided the slaves with supplies, food, clothing, money, transport, and safe houses. On the other hand, the traders and master set rewards for capturing escaped slaves and returning them to their masters.
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the sixteenth president of the United States. He opposed the expansion of slavery and its triumph in the south of the country. By March of 1861, 7 prevailing states from the Union decided to shape a coalition called the Confederate States of America. The Civil War began a month later. Lincoln responded by issuing a call for 75,000 volunteers to become recruits of the Union army. The Abolitionists manifested the president two their requirements: to guarantee the right of freed blacks to fight for the Union army and the emancipation of all the slaves. Eventually, Lincoln accepted both requests and nearly 185,000 blacks fought for the Coalition in the Civil War. In December 1862, Lincoln finally issued the Emancipation Proclamation, abolishing slavery. The newly freed men celebrated their earned freedom. With time, they also gained the right to vote and gradually became recognized American citizens.
To conclude, slavery trade in the United States was the system of violent exploitation of human labor, existed in the British American colonies and the United States in the 1619-1860s. Most slaves were black, had been forced to leave their living areas in Africa, and their descendants. Although the victory of the North and formally freed black slaves, the traces of discrimination echo to modern days.
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The transatlantic slave trade caused a great amount of the negative consequences for Africans. In the short-terms, it influenced the coastal kingdoms that became richer and more powerful as they were able to receive weapons and money in exchange for slaves. However, in the long-terms, it reflected in the reducing of the economic potential as there was no development of the technologies. In America, the slaves were treated as the commodities and were not endowed with the fundamental human rights. Hence, it was almost impossible for children to become free men if their parents were slaves.
However, the transatlantic African slave trade played a huge role in the international trade, which, in its turn, was a core factor in forming the global cooperation among the economies. The slave trade has brought not only the suffering and exploitation but the growth and prosperity as well, shaping the modern system of global trade. Nonetheless, it is obvious that nothing comes close to the cruelty and savage suffering which hurt the human beings for such a longstanding period. Consequently, despite some economic benefits at the beginning, slavery will always remain one of the worst and sorrowful issues humanity has ever encountered.
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