Discrimination is very old in its origins. From the earliest periods of human existence, groups developed prejudices toward others and then discriminated against those whom they regarded as different or inferior. Many attempts were taken to maintain or increase power, prestige, or even wealth; groups found it easy to invent or accept the idea that others were somehow inferior to them and thus not deserving of equal treatment. Among the many differences that could be used as a basis for discrimination, people quickly discovered that physical appearance was the easiest to identify.
It required no subtle analysis, no careful contemplation, but only a superficial glance at those visual features that would later be used to identify “race”. The shape of ones nose, color of ones hair, or even the color of ones skin describes the universal nature of what we now call racial consciousness. Slavery is a perfect example. Racial animosity grew in both the North and South, and in many instances led to physical violence.
The era of slavery should have been called the era of inhumanity. Slavery was inhumane, barbaric, and ultimately disgusting. In 1800 the population of the United States included 893,602 slaves, of which only 36,505 were in northern states (Phillips 18). Slaves were treated as if they were a piece of meat.
The defined characteristics of slaves are as follows, ” their labor or services are obtained through force; their physical beings are regarded as the property of another person, their master; they are entirely subject to their masters or owners will” (Phillips 17). Slave life according to historians has never been and will never be classified as a so-called idyllic experience. There was little in the way of recreation and other forms of entertainment to pass the time. It must be remembered that, slaves had no time they could call their own. Rarely did slaves get any “free time” at all, but when they did it was spent recuperating from long sixteen-hour workdays. Most slaves were not well taken care of.
Many slaves went for days without eating, and in turn this caused their work pace to slow. According to Collier, plantation slaves worked sixteen-hour days in the summer, and were only given three pounds of bacon or pork and roughly twelve quarts of cornmeal a week (26). Many slave owners or overseers would peruse the plantations and lash out at any given slave particularly because they simply werent working hard enough. Although historians believe that not all slave owners were cruel, but they have no doubt that some slave owners frequently lashed out to their slaves to instill the idea of obedience and loyalty (Collier 28).
The evidence clearly shows that slavery was wrong, and I believe the slaveholders knew it. Guilt is an inevitable effect of slavery. The simple fact remains that men were enslaving men. Regardless of how much inferior a slaveholder may perceive his slaves, it is obvious that his “property” looks similar, had similar needs, and has similar feelings. There is the necessary comparison of situations; the slaveholder is free, the slaves are in bondage – certainly a position that the slaveholder would find most disagreeable. So there is no doubt that any slaveholder with any measure of humanity within him would feel guilt.
According to Websters dictionary guilt is defined as “a feeling of responsibility for having done something wrong” (311). In other words, guilt creates such inner disturbance that a guilty man will vary from normal behavior. To illustrate this theory one would evaluate these two scenarios. First, a slaveholder that commits detrimental actions to himself or his family shows the slaveholder is in mental distress. Secondly, that the actions practiced simply illustrate the status of the slaveholder.
With such overwhelming evidence, it is absolutely safe to say those southern slaveholders as a whole felt guilt because of their status as slave owners. I believe the reason that southern slave owners felt guilty is because they were human and had true human emotions. Slave owners who did not feel any guilt regarding slavery, felt slavery was ok, not because propaganda or society influenced them, but because they were immoral to begin with. I