Transcript of "Final Exam Question Three Extra Credit"
1 Louis Wischnewsky History 170 Prof Farrington 20 Jul 11 Final Exam Extra Credit: Question Three Defining the term, “peculiar instituion,” demonstrates a sad state of affairs for proslaveryconsciences but sheds some strange light upon the view of slaves by intellectuals of the north.Frederick Douglass might have been among the most outspoken detractors of slavery, but hisinfluence on the plight of African Americans arguably played a greater role roughly century laterthan it did during the years leading up to and during the Amerian Civil War. It is for a different forum to discuss the reasons for the Souths determined practice oftheir peculiar institution, however, the use of that vernacular to describe the humanitarian crimeof slavery discloses some interesting curiosities about views towards African Americans withinthe Northern anti-slavery movement and the pro-slavery South. Coined by John Calhoun in thefilm, Andrew Jackson, “peculiar instituion” was the favored phrase of Southern intellectuals inreference to slavery. This raises a question: did Southerners push into the back of their souls anguish over theinstitution? True, through the build-up to the Civil War, and surely during, there was no shortageof slavery advocates arguing that not only was slavery good for Blacks, African American slavespreferred to be slaves. Seriously, though, such arguments were obviously propaganda that even ahalf-witted commoner had to see through. And thats purely what such arguments were: purepropaganda that neither side genuinely believed. However, looking from the view of theSoutherners, the North was not at all being reasonable in the debate. Critical was the reality thatthe South, including Blacks if they were freed, would likely soon starve to death, at worst, and at
2best suffer enormous economic calamity if slavery were ended suddenly. Adding enormous fuelto that fire was the fact that with the Embargo Act, the North had already demonstrated it hadlittle concern for the welfare of the South. As a result, while the use of a term like “peculiarinstitution” demonstrated the doubts about slavery the South was surely having, the North leftthe South with no option but to focus upon defending their lives and way of life instead offinding a means to end slavery. To this end, one might be able to argue further that Southernerswere more humane than Northerners, but that would be a deeper discussion not necessary herein. Remaining on the surface of the subject of simple humanity, Frederick Douglass furtherdemonstrates the hypocrisy of the North. Douglass, however he came to be educated so well asto be so eloquent, had to be a marvel of the age. Yet, the question among the Northernsympathizers that bothered to listen to him was not, “How is it possible for a negro to be a betterorator and better educated than a white man?” but rather, “How could he be so well educated andso well-spoken if he had been a slave?” See the problem? The Northern whites never questionedwhether or not a black man was capable of learning as much as a white man, they never doubtedan African American could speak so charismatically: they doubted he had been a slave. Whatmore evidence could have been asked for to prove that African Americans were as every bitcapable as whites were?! Northern lack of acceptance of Douglass proves, clearly, the racismrampant within “holy” Northern abolitionists. Yet, it was true racism that infused white Northerners so profusely they could not see it inthemselves. As a result, it is a good question as to whether or not Douglass was effective as ananti-slavery leader. The answer, regretfully, is that he was not at all effective. While that mightmay come across as denigrating a great American, as many such great Americans have had to doin the past, they have to look at a larger picture. There was certainly something about FrederickDouglass that caused him to stand out in American history. Douglass was not really involved
3with the abolition movement for very long before he had to flee to Europe. So, again, whatmakes him stand out? It was the fact that he was every bit the intellectual that the giants of the era were. Douglass was, literally, a hundred years before his time. The Civil Rights movement ofthe mid-1900s, particularly during the 1960s would have benefited greatly from Douglass … butthat era did anyway. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an eloquent speaker and far more educated thanmore than half this nation and that demonstrated there was no intellectual purpose of inequalityand separation. What was more, King was not the first such African American to utilize suchskills: Frederick Douglass had done it a century earlier. African Americans were every bit ascapable as any white was and deserved to enjoy the full citizenship all other Americans wereenjoying. They had certainly shed enough blood for the claim to be American. Why was Kingaccepted, ultimately, and Douglass not? The deeper issue of the day was slavery, for Douglass.He was fighting against racism for equality, not against slavery. King did not have to fightslavery, he had to fight for what Douglass wanted so many years earlier. Sadly, Northern racismallowed the same cause to be two different fights.