Oppression and Coercion

"All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves within this dominion...shall be held to be real estate. If any slave resist his master...correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction...the master shall be free of all punishment...as if such accident never happened."--Virginia Code of Law, 1705.

Virginia's legal code regarding slaves laid the groundwork upon which many other states would follow.  Draconian in measure, slaves in Virginia faced capital punishment for charges of murder and rape, public flogging for theft (as well as having their ears cut off), and for talking to whites slaves could be maimed, beaten, or branded.

After 1705, slave owners could act with impunity toward their slaves, knowing they were virtually held harmless for their behavior under the law.

Torture devices (left); Photograph of an abused former slave (right).

"...the negro race is inferior to the white race, and living in their midst, they would be far outstripped or outwitted in the chaos of free competition. Gradual but certain extermination would be their fate. We presume the maddest abolitionist does not think the negro's providence of habits and money-making capacity at all to compare to those of the whites. This defect of character would alone justify enslaving him, if he is to remain here. In Africa or the West Indies, he would become idolatrous, savage and cannibal, or be devoured by savages and cannibals. At the North he would freeze or starve."--George Fitzhugh, The Universal Law of Slavery

Illustration from Types of Mankind (1854), written by prominent ethnologists Josiah Clark Nott (1804-1873) and George R. Glidden (1809-1857).  The book's theory was to prove that the African race as wholly separate from the Caucasian, or white, race.  The book was embraced by slavery sympathizers as scientific proof that the African race was inferior.

Nott and Glidden used the famous Greek sculpture, Apollo, as the "ideal" man (top), and compared it to a crudely drawn African male (middle) and a chimpanzee (bottom), in an attempt to illustrate that the African's closer relative is the primate rather than the white man, and thus intellectually inferior.

Justifying slavery was the task of the slaveholders to maintain control and project authority.  To achieve this end, physical abuse, such as starvation, denial of medical care, sleep deprivation, and torture, was common. (right) 

Less overt but just as damaging, psychological abuse was also prevalent in the form of fear, intimidation, and threats.  Slaves were taught to believe in their subjugation without question.


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