12 Years a Slave
Jamestown, Virginia discovered success with the cultivation and export of tobacco to England in 1619. The profit was so high, two imports were arranged: 20 black men for labor and 90 women from England for brides. This is the beginning of slavery in America (Innercity.org 2014). The brutality of slavery was depicted in art, photographs, literature, and journalism. While many slave owners treated their slaves well, history remembers beatings, rape, murder, and splitting families apart. The debate at the time was whether Africans were animals, human, or a blending of the two. The argument was decided definitively on December 6, 1865. The United States Constitution ratified the 13th Amendment abolishing the practice of slavery in America (Archives.gov 2014).
One of the most dramatic depictions of the trials and indignities endured by slaves during the period was found in “12 Years a Slave”. Written by Solomon Northup and published initially in 1853, it recounts his abduction, entrance into slavery, attempts to escape with the help of abolitionists, and eventual return to his family after twelve years. The book is a statement of the theory of Bare Life. This theory was postulated by Giorgio Agamben, an Italian philosopher. Agamben discussed the theory of Bare Life as legally stripping the dignity of a person. The concept of “dignity” encompasses the concepts an individual retains that defines him to himself. The concepts of sexuality, motherhood, fatherhood, manhood, womanhood, and so on. Slave owners were allowed to murder the slaves belonging to them with impunity (Agamben 2014). Agamben wove the idea of “biopolitics” into his philosphy, investigating a concept of “bare life”, or a life deprived of any personal rights. The opposite of a bare life is a “qualified life”, or a life full of self-worth and dignity (Iep.utm.edu. 2014).
Slave owners strip slaves to make them obedient and pliable to their requirements. Americans not involved in large-scale agriculture were not always aware of the treatment of slaves. To inform the public of the extent of cruelty in the practice of slavery, abolitionists began to form organizations for freedom of African men and women. In 1775, the first abolition society in what was to become the United States formed in Philadelphia.
In the course of the years until the 13th Amendment was passed martyrs gave their lives in the pursuit of their beliefs. On October 18, 1856 John Brown lead a group of men in an attack on Harper’s Ferry in an attempt to seize the arsenal and free hostages. The uprising failed with ten dead; Brown was later hanged (RightsofthePeople.com 2014). Nat Turner was a black slave who believed he was instructed by God to kill all white people. The resulting slave rebellion resulted in the death of over 100 white people and 60 black slaves; all the slaves involved were put to death (A Snapshot of America’s Past 2012).
Denmark Vesey was sold into slavery at the age of 14, but because he suffered from epilepsy he spent his early adult years traveling trading ships with his owner. In 1800 he bought his freedom and after becoming involved with a newly formed African church decided to head a revolt. However, his plan was discovered and he was arrested, tortured, and hung with 35 of his followers (Snapshot 2012).
The reason slavery endured in America for almost 250 years was due to the importance of the institution. Abolitionists did not have the numbers or influence necessary to remove slavery from a system depending on the manpower for cultivation and preparation of crops for export. The northern states produced cotton for export, but required the cotton from the southern states to do so.
The publication of “12 Years a Slave” served as an incentive to end slavery approximately a decade before the 13th Amendment was made into law. Actual people were included in the narrative and in 1968 verification of facts classified it as a biography. The movie released in 2013 and in general release in 2014 (12 years a Slave 2014) is considered a historical drama. The scenes depicted numerous attitudes of whites toward slaves at that time; several were included in both the book and the movie.
Near the beginning of the narration, Northup was in a holding building waiting for sale. A woman was brought out with her two children. The boy was taken from her and accepted his fate, telling his mother he would behave. The woman was beside herself, but retained her little girl. However, a man came to buy Northup and decided to take the mother, also. When she became distraught at being separated from her daughter, the man offered to buy the child also to keep her content. The slave trader stated she was such a pretty child that in a few years he planned to sell her into prostitution. The woman lost both her children and never saw nor heard from them again. The scenes of separation and her grief following when removed to the plantation with Northup were presented in the movie, showing the terrible separation of families that occurred often during the slave trading.
When Northup is sold to a plantation owner with transportation problems, he demonstrates his worth by engineering a canal system for moving the crops. The plantation carpenter resents the intrusion and attacks Northup. Solomon defends himself, and the carpenter and his friends begin to lynch him. The plantation overseer prevents the murder, but Northup is left standing on his tiptoes for hours with the noose around his neck. The other slaves go about their business without the ability to assist him. This portion of the book was included in the movie.
During the ten years Northup lived on a cotton plantation, he experienced the motivational method of daily whipping of the slaves. If the daily cotton picked for a slave was too light, he was whipped. If it was too much, he was expected to pick more the next day. The whipping went on literally from dusk until bedtime. Even children were whipping 25 lashes for minor offenses., such as finding a dry leaf in the picked cotton. Two hundred lashes awaited a slave who quarreled with his cabin mates, and 500 for attempting to escape. The movie included a scene showing the line of slaves waiting for the cotton to be weighed, and the punishment when found lacking.
The end of slavery was not due to religious or moral recriminations. Slavery ended because it was no longer profitable. As the Civil war progressed, the use of slaves became less profitable than the use of salaried laborers (Moore 2014). Manufacturers created a shrinking market; the salaries paid to the employees returned to the employer when the produced goods were purchased. Also, you could not “fire” a slave for poor performance or breaking equipment. As this concept took hold in the South, the advocates for abolition of slavery realized greater numbers of proponents for their views.
Also, politics during the Civil War are considered. The antislavery advocates were a minority against opposition either supporting slavery or those who felt slavery would be a divisive factor in the election. Lincoln promoted freeing slaves in order to declare war on the South. By defeating the southern states, the coalition of the northern ones would unify the country, dominate manufacturing, and bring the freed blacks into the workforce for factories and export/import companies.
Slavery in America is a dark time in the history of the country. With literature and video presentations similar to “12 year a Slave”, people are reminded that humanity can suffer before economic incentives and be watchful in society that it not happen again.
A Snapshot of America's Past. 'The Martyrs Of American Slavery'. N.p., 2012. Web. 9 Dec.
Archives.gov,. '13th Amendment To The U.S. Constitution: Abolition Of Slavery'. N.p., 2014.
Web. 9 Dec. 2014.
Agamben, Giorgio. “Internet Encyclopedia Of Philosophy'. N.p., 2014. Web. 9
Innercity.org. 'Chronology On The History Of Slavery 1619 To 1789'. N.p., 2014. Web. 9 Dec.
Moore, Jason. 'Too Many People Think The Abolition Of Slavery Was About Anti-Racism, But
This Explains Why It Was Not - Atlanta Blackstar'. Atlanta Blackstar. N.p., 2014. Web. 9
Northup, Solomon. 12 Years A Slave. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 1853. Print.
Rightsofthepeople.com,. 'A Martyr For Abolition, Chapter VIII - The History Of America, 1859'.
N.p., 2014. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.
12 Years A Slave. Steve McQueen, 2014. DVD.
Vorenberg, Michael. Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth
Amendment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.
Sheer demonic nature of plantation slavery – What details did Northrup provide to his abolitionist, 19th century audience in the North that demonstrated and even dramatized his theme on the evil nature of slavery? Cite at least 3 examples from the text and the DVD and
begin with the theory of Bare Life, that is the legal stripping of an individual’s life, dignity, manhood, womanhood, motherhood, sexuality, etc with impunity? Giorgio Agamben (Italian: [aˈɡambɛn]; born 22 April 1942) is an Italian continental philosopher best known for his work investigating the concepts of the state of exception,
Iep.utm.edu,. 'Agamben, Giorgio | Internet Encyclopedia Of Philosophy'. N.p., 2014. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.
How long did it take the abolitionists to bring down the south’s “peculiar” institution?
Archives.gov,. '13Th Amendment To The U.S. Constitution: Abolition Of Slavery'. N.p., 2014. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.
assed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States and provides that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.".
Why did it take so long? Who were the martyrs?
1775: Pennsylvania Abolition Society formed in Philadelphia, the first abolition society within the territory that is now the United States of America.
1865, December: US abolishes slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution; about 40,000 remaining slaves are affected.
Moore, Jason. 'Too Many People Think The Abolition Of Slavery Was About Anti-Racism, But This Explains Why It Was Not - Atlanta Blackstar'. Atlanta Blackstar. N.p., 2014. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.
Slavery was, from the onset, about profitability. However, as the Civil war progressed, the use of slaves became less profitable than the use of salaried laborers. Manufacturers created a shrinking market; the salaries paid to the employees returned to the employer when the produced goods were purchased. Also, you could not “fire” a slave for poor performance or breaking equipment. As this concept took hold in the South, the advocates for abolition of slavery saw greater proponents for their views.
Taking into consideration the politics during the Civil Way,
The antislavery advocates were a minority against opposition either supporting slavery or those who felt slavery would be a divisive factor in the election. Lincoln promoted freeing slaves in order to declare war on the South. By defeating the southern states, the coalition of the northern ones would unify the country, dominate manufacturing, and bring the freed blacks into the workforce for factories.
3 pages – MLA – 2 sources
12 Years a Slave is a 2013 historical drama film and an adaptation of the 1853 slave narrative memoir Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free African-American man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., in 1841 and sold into slavery. Northup worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for twelve years before his release. The first scholarly edition of Northup's memoir, co-edited in 1968 by Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon, carefully retraced and validated the account and concluded it to be accurate. Other characters in the film were also real people, including Edwin and Mary Epps, and Patsey.
Cite at least 3 examples from the text and the DVD
- Noah Berlatsky wrote in the The Atlantic about a scene in McQueen's movie version, shortly after Northup is kidnapped, when he is on a ship bound south, when a sailor who has entered the hold is about to rape a slave woman when a male slave intervenes. "The sailor unhesitatingly stabs and kills him," he wrote, and "this seems unlikely on its face—slaves are valuable, and the sailor is not the owner. And, sure enough, the scene is not in the book."
Feinberg, Scott (October 23, 2013). "Oscar Whisper Campaigns: The Slurs Against '12 Years,' 'Captain Phillips,' 'Gravity' and 'The Butler'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 19, 2013.
- Ford's carpenter John Tibeats resents Northup and the tensions between them escalate. Tibeats attacks Northup, who defends himself. In retaliation, Tibeats and his friends attempt to lynch Northup, but they are prevented by Ford's overseer, Chapin, though Northup is left in the noose standing on tiptoe for many hours.