Identify and explain how the North and South came to create different definitions of freedom and democracy prior to the Civil War.
The United States has always been a melting pot of sorts, a country with different viewpoints and aspects. None have been so different than the country’s views on slavery. Foner’s book focuses on the intrinsic differences between North and South on this issue with the North being particularly harsh in their abolitionist views whilst the South were not ready to budge on this issue. The socio political implications of these times also demonstrate that the South needed slavery to sustain their economic model which would be defunct without human bondage although their refusal to diversify also made it difficult for them to survive in a difficult economic climate.
The South also held sway over the North with their theories of slavery as a boon for educating the African savage (Foner p. 45). They believed that the slave was happy and content in his/her abode and with the paternalistic attitude of the master, the slave would want for nothing. This view was challenged by the abolitionist North especially those who came in contact with free slaves who recounted their horrifying and terrifying experiences with the lash and other terrible forms of physical and mental abuse.
However Foner focuses mostly on life in the Antebellum South and what this actually meant for slaves in this context. Naturally enough he espouses great detail on the work which went on in the plantations and how this was intrinsically affected by the whims and foibles of the masters. He also goes into great detail on the resilience of slaves to the adverse working conditions especially those who were concerned with picking cotton (Foner, p 117).
On the other hand Foner waxes lyrical on the North’s view of liberty. Since there was always a strong abolitionist movement in the North, freedom was something sacrosanct and no one could deny this simply upon the basis of race (Foner p. 110). Several exponents from the Northern side such as Thaddeus Stephens had long insisted on the importance of equality which was something that was taken for granted in the North (Foner p 89).
Foner is rather circumspect about the influence of slavery on the Civil War and he prefers to see that as a logical conclusion to a lengthy debate on humanity and the influence of commerce. All this comes together in his narrative on certain aspects of the slave’s life which was not always as bad as portrayed especially in the border states (p 110).
Reconstruction after the Civil War was an important aspect of the American nation coming to terms with the end of slavery. Foner is again very detailed about this period and provides some insightful analysis into all of the proceedings. However there are some aspects with which I do not agree especially as he seems to be arguing that reconstruction was a bit hard on whites in the Deep South due to the fact that they were deprived of their principal form of labour. This was actually not the case as the black people could now offer their services but had to be paid according to what they did which was probably only fair but which was something which the white people seemed unable to understand (p. 140).
Reconstruction was also important for former slaves as it also gave them the first taste of politics where they even held office in the US Senate for a time. Foner argues that this was made possible by the understanding that slaves were no longer sub human individuals but were also individual beings possessed of a mind of their own and who could contribute to life in general even on a social basis. This obviously brought about considerable opposition from the white minority in the South who could not bring themselves to be ruled by blacks. This is an aspect which may be afforded much discussion but which at the end of the day is also an important moot point for those who wish to understand the deep rooted effects of slavery on American society in general and how this is continually relevant today even in the context of a liberalized society (p 78).
Slavery remains a topic which arouses much controversy both amongst Americans and also throughout the world when discussing the past and its effects on society in general. One has to take into account the fact that slavery remains ingrained in certain societies although the American institution also persisted for several decades after it supposedly ended through the system of sharecropping and other forms of indentured labour. To sum up, Foner provides an interestingly different analysis of proceedings regarding slavery which are not always given their due or their importance.
Although I am not in total agreement with Foner on some of the issues in the book, his account is certainly highly readable and direct and should provide the discerning reader with several interesting points for discussion which may be expanded and delved much deeper into. Foner looks into the differing views of freedom as viewed on by the North and South who had talked about liberty in strikingly different ways. The end result is that these differences led the North to dignify and esteem the black man while the South simply saw him as a cog in the wheel of economic expansion.
Foner E; Give Me Liberty, An American History, Vol 1, Seagull 3rd Edition 2011, Print