Why Was the Civil War Inevitable: Essay

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What did the slaves do during the civil war? Every time someone says “the civil war” most people think of a divided country that fought for the slaves’ freedom. What we don’t know as well is the slaves’ side of the war. Did they silently rebel, or were they obedient and helped their masters? Thanks to historians interviewing former slaves and finding letters and diaries, we now have some answers.

The civil war seemed inevitable. The debate over slavery started before the founding of the United States and was not resolved by the founding fathers. Those who opposed slavery often pointed to the Declaration of Independence arguing that it applied equally to Black people as well as white people. “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”- The Declaration of Independence

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Slaveowners often justified slavery by pointing to slavery in the Bible. They also claimed black people could not live on their own and the owners believed providing food and shelter was honorable. Slaves “were not human beings with rights and a soul but beasts of burden maintained to advance their owners interests.” – Slavery Remembered. This time was a bad time when it came to relationships in the United States. Abraham Lincoln once stated that “slavery is the cancer of bondage” -Abraham Lincoln, Slavery, and the Civil War. Unfortunately, the North and South could not agree, and a civil war resulted from the division.

The real-life of slaves was more brutal than slave owners wanted to admit. A normal day in the life of a slave was constant work and forced labor. In the words of a former slave, “working from the sun to sun was the pervasive reality with frequent additional chores at night, many times slaves fell onto their beds too tired to move until morning.” – Slavery Remembered. Statistics show that most female slaves were house servants, and most male slaves were fieldhands. The fieldhand job was worse than you’d expect as they worked very long hours. They were often fed like horses. Compared to the house servant who got additional privileges and got to eat at a table with a plate. The food quality also depended on the master and how they were feeling at the moment. Sometimes the slave’s food would be the same as the masters but could also be disgusting or anywhere in between. This drastic difference in treatment made the slaves turn on each other and that made the odds of rebellion lower.

In addition to the hard work and divisions, slaves were often physically beaten. Some masters would punish slaves if they were mad about anything. The main forms of punishment were whipping beatings, sales, murder, forced sex, and slave breeding. The most common punishment in the south was whipping and beating (62.2% of 167 slaves reporting) and the least common punishment was slave breeding (4.8% of 167 slaves reporting). Then there were some fair masters who gave punishments only when necessary. Those who didn’t punish because they were angry were decent, but they still had slaves.

Being a slave also meant that family names were often lost. If their family name was known, many slaves stayed with their family name. If not, some would get their master’s last name and some would make up their last name. If the slave was sold, they could stick with their previous master’s name or take the new master’s name. Everything in a slave’s life was dependent on their master.

In addition to awful living conditions, slaves were kept uneducated. An uneducated slave was a dependent slave. Being a dependent person can lead to poor decisions and not knowing what to do, and you’re most likely to be more naive than most people. If you’re an educated slave, your odds of being able to survive without your master are higher. An educated slave is more knowledgeable on what to do and what not to do. Most slave owners forbid any type of education for their slaves. This is a reason it was hard to find slaves' diaries. The more they knew, the more likely they could survive if they escaped. Masters needed their slaves to be as naive as possible.

Frederick Douglass is a good example of a former slave who escaped after he was self-educated. He made an autobiography called Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave. In that book, he described his time as a slave in Maryland. After some time as a slave, his master sent him to work for his master’s brother. The brothers’ wife taught him the alphabet, and from there he learned to read and write on his own. He took time teaching the enslaved people how to read using the Bible. After escaping, he was an advocate for women’s rights, and their right to vote, and he was an anti-slavery advocate. His education was very damaging to the slave owners.

Other forms of rebelling were less obvious but just as damaging to the slave masters. Theft of food, household items, ammunition, and guns was common. Destruction of weapons and breaking or damaging tools made harvesting more expensive. The reason, slaves damage their tools was to get their masters to spend money to replace that item. It’s basically a way to waste their money. If they weren’t damaging their tools, slaves would use them as weapons against masters or overseers.

Women slaves often had a more passive role in rebelling against their masters. They would rebel verbally and were more likely to steal from their masters. According to many accounts, men “were more likely to participate in the areas of resistance that required strength and endurance; they predominated in running away, hiding in the woods and joining in fatal confrontations with white men.” -Slavery Remembered. Hiding in the woods was a common way to rebel without the risk of running away. Slaves would just leave and hide to get rest. They would return to their homes at night for food and leave before dawn to hide again. This rebellion cost their masters a lot of money in lost productivity.

Larger uprisings from the slaves also occurred, including burning barns, ruining crops, murdering overseers, and refusing punishment. In Louisiana, a group of slaves burned boats on the river as a form of rebellion. Another Louisiana plantation had the slaves' slave revolt, chase out the overseer and destroy all the property on-site. Some slaves even hung their masters if given the opportunity. These rebellions made other masters nervous and slaves in nearby plantations would suffer more brutal beatings and living conditions got worse.

The ultimate form of rebellion was escaping. Hundreds of slaves escaped during the Civil War despite the risks of severe beatings or death if they were caught. A law called The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was made to try and stop slaves from escaping. The new law was an attempt to have slaves returned to their masters if found. Most people ignored the law and many helped escaped slaves to stay free.

Harriet Tubman is an example of one person who ignored the law and continued to help. Harriet was born and raised a slave and escaped in 1849. Once she had escaped slavery, she helped many people get to safety and was the nickname “Moses.” She used the underground railroad system to help free her people during the Civil War. She returned to the south eighteen times to help hundreds of slaves escape captivity. On her last trip south, she even helped her parents escape and the bounty on her went up to $40,000. But the bounty, the law, and the war did not stop her work.

Some slave owners would allow their slaves to help fight in the war, but that led to stealing supplies and weakened the South. Many masters didn’t want their slaves to have weapons because they were afraid the slave would use the weapons to rebel. In this case, slaves were given “household chores” such as cooks, carpenters, guards, teamsters, and scouts. Even though there weren’t given weapons, they still found ways to rebel and weaken their masters.

In the Civil War, former slaves could fight for the north, but they usually had lower pay. The U.S. army hadn’t accepted black soldiers, although they fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The army was racist back then and many union officials believed that black people weren’t as skilled. For this reason, they were only paid 10 percent (excluding the clothing and allowance) of what white soldiers would get. But the navy on the other hand had already accepted blacks since 1861. In the navy, they were serving as stewards, coal beavers, captains, and shipboard firemen. They were getting equal pay in the navy. Although these former slaves helped fight, there were not enough to really impact the outcome of the war.

For years, history books have led us to believe that the slaves did not play a role in how the Civil War turned out. The voices of the slaves were silent. Today, we know that the slaves were very busy during the war and most tried to weaken their masters. When their master wasn’t home, they had an opportunity to rebel which weakened the south and helped the north win. Did these efforts result in the south being weakened enough to lose the war? The many acts of rebellion seem to prove that the slaves helped win the war for their freedom. Every act, no matter how big or how small, weakened or distracted their masters in the south and helped to strengthen the north

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Why Was the Civil War Inevitable: Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Apr 21 [cited 2024 Jun 20]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/why-was-the-civil-war-inevitable-essay/
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