Slavery: The Double-Edged Sword
To be black is to be naturally inferior; this was the mindset of the American South in the beginning of the 19th century. African Americans were confined to slavery with no means to change their situation or to escape the abuse that often accompanied their position. Slaves endured all forms of physical and mental punishment whose sole purpose was to keep them inferior to their white suppressors. Slaves were maintained through ignorance; they had their self-identity stolen from them and were kept illiterate to prevent them from questioning what power kept them oppressed and to prevent them from spreading word of the brutalities they faced. To be a slave meant to live a doomed life. Negros were not the only ones who were ruined by the institution of slavery, though. Frederick Douglass, an African American social reformer, leader of the abolitionist movement, and former slave, believed that the unnatural means of slavery had harmful effects on everyone within the institution of slavery. Although slaves faced physical, mental, and psychological abuse, slave owners were also degraded and ruined by the institution of slavery, because it distressed slaveholding families, caused warped forms of Christianity with unjust morals to arise, and reduced civil people to fiends through irresponsibility. Through his Narrative and his speeches, Douglass reasoned that if everyone within the institution of slavery was tarnished by it, then it must be unnatural, and therefore a threat to society as a whole that must be removed.
Slavery not only ruined the lives of those who were oppressed by it, but also the lives of the oppressors, because slavery was capable of ruining the family life of slave owners. Douglass observed that men who owned female slaves were often tempted into committing adultery and rape, which resulted in them fathering the children of their female slaves . Such acts of adultery threatened the unity of the slave owner’s family. The father would be forced to either sell the child to a different owner or beat his own child as punishment , since people with any blood relations to a slave were considered slaves themselves. Problems would also arise with the slave owner’s wife . Wives were also victims to the adultery committed by their husbands and would retaliate by becoming cruel and lashing out at the female slave, even though she had no say it the affair.
In other instances, slave owners develop a deviant religious sense to remain oblivious to the sins they committed. Douglass specifically points to Thomas Auld, a man who never owned slaves, but acquired them as property when he married Lucretia Auld. Thomas is very inconsistent with his punishment, and is even described as “the victim of inconsistency .” Douglass describes him as mean and cruel, but cowardly, which makes him incapable of managing his slaves. Thomas is a prime example of Douglass’s theory, though, because he undergoes...