Slavery referred to the legal institution of human enslavement, primarily for Africans and African Americans.It existed between 18th and 19th centuries in the United States. Most black people were subjected to this dehumanizing experience and made to believe, slavery was a natural state inherently for blacks and they never qualified to participate in a civil society. They only qualified to work for the whites in their farms and plantations.
According to Douglass’s narrative, the slave owners employed a number of tactics to keep their slaves ignorant about their identity, individuality and their self-worth with the motive to easily control them.Most of these methods revolved around oppression and an extreme denial of voice and education. Young children were denied basic facts about themselves. It was very difficult for them to know their date of births or just a simple knowhow of their paternity.
When they reached an age to attend school, they were denied this opportunity owing to the belief by the slave owners that literacy would enlighten them of their self-sufficiency and a sense of their rights and freedom as human. It was also believed, that by making slaves illiterate, it would make the southern slaveholders to maintain the control over what the rest of Americans knew about slavery, this would therefore, make it very difficult for the story and experiences of the slaves to be old.
In addition, slaves were subjected to strict slave codes. These were rules that were made for the slaves, and they also acted as the law of the state. These laws provided for strict and dehumanizing charges to those who went against them. For instance, according to Fredrick (1860),in reference to Louisiana slave code of 1852, no slave was allowed to strike a white person to cause shedding of blood; in this case, the slave shall be punished with death. These fugitive laws, thus kept the slaves so fearful of the slave owners, they would do exactly as commanded by their masters. They had no option but to heed to every word said by their masters.
According to Simon Douglas’s narratives, he argues that the sermon preached to the slaves, also helped the slave owners in controlling those they enslaved. A common sermon on how slaves should treat their masters, in this case God, their heavenly masters was used to extend the same idea how they should respond to their earthly masters. The sermon taught that what slaves do to their earthly masters, they actually do to their heavenly masters, and thus helped the slave owners have an extended control over their slaves.
With the illiteracy the slaves have been dripped in, they had to respect their masters as much as they could respect God himself, in their own perceptions, they thought their masters were equally God and they deserved equal respect. In addition, from this sermon, they were taught no to be eye-servants. These were servants that would be seem so busy and doing perfect work in the presence of their masters, however, when the master turns his back, they will become idle and perform shoddy work.
Most slaves were put under constant punishment and intimidation,always being used as property and not human beings. Every time, their masters used them as animals.Whipping slaves was a very common practice among the slave holders. Very mere mistakes will lead to a very traumatizing whipping scene. In the statements of Fredrick Douglass, he says slave owners would find some excuse to whip a slave. He adds that a mere look, word, motion or accident, were some of the reasons a slave would be whipped. For instance, a sad looking slave would have to be whipped. The masters argued such slaves had devils in them and it is only by whipping such devils could be exorcised. However, all these experiences were mounted on slaves to create some fear between the slaves and their masters. This was believed to help the masters to fully subdue their slaves;in a manner they could fully control them as they wish.
Expressing the harshest of cruelty was another strategy used by slave holders. To execute this, they would exclude a single slave or a clique of slaves and punish them harshly. This punishment would be delivered in the presence of the rest of the slaves with an intention to send a strong message to the rest of the slaves. In some instances, physical restraints such as handcuffs were used on rogue and stubborn slaves to ensure that they do not run away.
However, in an occasion punishment and whippings did not succeed in transforming ones behavior, most slave owners resorted to their sales. This was regarded as the worst form of punishment. The individual would be separated from his family forever. This approach of slave control, seemed to have been believed to be very effective than punishment and coercion. In addition, most slave owners also realized that admonition and delivering advice before punishment was successful where further corrections had failed.
In even a more subtle manner, most slave owners resorted to breaking up of families belonging to slaves. Among the American law, slave marriages and family ties were not recognized, thus many slave owners had the tendency to sell husbands from wives, children from their parents and even brothers from sisters to their distant plantations. This would squarely destabilize most families. This method, they believed would effectively help them control slaves since it would break the spirit of most slaves. According to Frederick Douglass, he argues that due to separation of families, he never knew his father, he only heard it whispered. He says the slave-owners did this to reduce the development of affection.
Some slave workers completely resolved in performance appraisal strategies to help control their slaves. These strategies included giving out of material incentives, and verbal encouragements were offered to those slaves presumed to be good but they only lacked a little of motivation. However, finer quality blankets and clothing were offered out to those slaves regarded as most deserving; these were slaves who were completely loyal to their masters and all along have abide by the obligations of their masters.
Finally, the slave owners resorted to divide and rule methods of control. This method was employed under the basis of age and color. Under this strategy, the slave owners marginally offered better treatments than the others. Old black male was pitted against the young black male and the dark skinned slaves were pit against the light skinned slaves. This method would bring disunity, and in a case of revolt, they would possibly receive prior information from their loyal workers. It worked to most slave owners that this method helped to prevent any notion of cohesion among the slaves. These they realized could bring a greater sense of control.
In conclusion, slaveholders practiced on a number of strategies to get absolute control of their workers. They believed with the absence of their workers, their farms and plantation would die and they will be subjected to total loss. This being in their mind, they employed all avenues and options in their reach to control their slaves. For instance, by using oppression and complete denial of voice and access to education, most slaves were fully subdued by their masters. Similarly, some slaveholders isolated a single slave and demonstrated the harshest punishment before the rest to send a stern warning to them.
Colaiaco, J (2006). Frederick Douglass and the Fourth of July. New York, Palgrave Macmillan.
Douglass, F (1855). My Bondage and My Freedom…New York,Miller,Orton& Mulligan.
Douglass, F (1995). Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass. New York, Courier Corporation.
Schaeffer, R (2008). Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Society, Volume 1. New York, Sage.