Chapter 11 – The Peculiar Institute : Focus Questions (1st and 7th)

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Chapter 11 – The Peculiar Institute : Focus Questions (1st and 7th)

Focus Question #1: How did slavery shape social and economic relations in the old south?

As slavery grew, it continued to shape the social and economic relations in the Old South. The South continued to grow economically, and the gap continued to widen between the wealthy plantation owners with many slaves and the poor subsistence farmers that had few slaves. The amount of slaves one owned almost became a measure of his wealth and slaves became less and less of humans and more financial capital. The people with the slaves were the people with the money and the power. People like Andrew Johnson of Tennessee resented this and began to call this “slaveocracy.” Even though there were a few people that tried to fight this imbalance of money and power, many people decided to just work with it and work with the plantation owners to get power. In all this slavery continued to shape the social sphere of influence and the monetary gap between the rich and the poor.

Focus Question #2: What were the legal and material constraints on slaves’ lives and work?

  • could be sold or leased by their owners at will

  • lacked any voice in the government that ruled over them

  • could not testify in court against a white man, sign contracts or acquire property, own firearms, hold meeting unless a white person was present, or leave the farm or plantation without the permission of their owner

  • illegal for slave to read or write

  • Famous court case: A Missouri court judged the "crime" of Celia, a slave who killed her owner while protecting herself from sexual assault. State law deemed "any woman" in such circumstances to be acting in self-defense, but Celia was not labeled at "woman," she was a slave. She was sentenced to death. They put off her execution due to her pregnancy so that her owners would miss out on the property rights

  • Alabama's legal code stated slave owners have right to the "time, labor, and services," of his slaves lives

  • No aspect of slave life, from choice in marriage partners, to how the spent their free time, was immune to tampering from their master.

  • Entire system of southern justice was designed to enforce the master's power over their slaves

  • Louisiana Law: "A slave owes his master a respect without bounds, and an absolute obedience."

  • Any rights that were given to slaves were seldom taken seriously

Focus Question #3: How did family, gender, religion, and values combine to create distinct slave cultures in the Old South?


-even male-female ration

-law did not recognize the legality of slave marriages

-families stood in constant fear of being broken up by sale

-marriages usually lasted a lifetime

-slaves did not marry first cousins

-most slaves lived in two-parent families


-slave men and women experienced the "equality of powerlessness"

-slave men could not protect their wives from physical or sexual abuse by owners and overseers

-"cult of domesticity" did not apply to women

-conventional gender roles prevailed (men chopped wood, hunted, and fished while women washed, sewed, and cared for children)


-a distinctive version of Christianity

-every plantation seemed to have its own black preacher

-urban black churches were established by free blacks and allowed slaves to attend

-Christianity offered another means of social control

-white ministers told slaves that God was good to you for bringing you over from dark and benighted Africa


-slaves identified themselves as a chosen people, whom God in the fullness of time would deliver from bondage

-equality of all souls before the Creator

-desire for freedom

-civil and political equality


Focus Question #4: What were the major forms of resistance to slavery?

In the South, those who were pro-slavery far outnumbered those who were against it. Because of this, slaves could only express their want for freedom through blatant rebellion. By doing this, they ruined the self-image of their masters and got rid of the idea that slaves were grateful for their master’s care. Forms of slave resistance included:

  • “Silent Sabotage”- Also called “day-to-day resistance,” silent sabotage was the most common form of resistance. It involved small, daily actions that would disrupt the routine, including breaking tools, leaving gates open, removing rails from fences, and performing tasks so that they would require twice the labor necessary.

  • Slaves often claimed that they were sick in order to avoid work, but were never ill on Sundays, their day of rest.

  • Food was stolen so often that one southern doctor established it as a hereditary disease unique to blacks.

  • Serious crimes were less common, but more dangerous and included poisoning, arson, and assaults against individual whites.

  • The form of resistance most threatening to the stability of the slave system was escape. An estimated 1,000 fugitive slaves per year were successful in reaching the northern United States or Canada. Men in slavery were more likely to escape, as women were not willing to leave children behind, and it would be nearly impossible to bring children on the journey of escape. The Underground Railroad was a system of sympathetic abolitionists who would keep slaves in their homes until they moved to the next home, and eventually to a place where they would gain freedom.

  • The Amistad was a ship transporting slaves between Cuban ports. The slaves took control of the ship and tried to force the navigator to take the ship to Africa. While on its way to Africa, it was seized by an American vessel off the coast of Long Island. Though Martin Van Buren argued that the slaves should be returned to Cuba, former president John Quincy Adams and the Supreme Court decided that because they had been brought in an illegal slave trade, the escaped slaves should be returned to Africa. However, the ruling had no effect on slaves within the United States.

  • Though slave resistance usually involved minor acts of defiance, slave revolts continued to occur. Many of them caused long-lasting disputes with contradictory evidence. The four largest conspiracies in American history, starting with Gabriel’s Rebellion in 1800, occurred in a span of thirty one years at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The most widely known slave revolt was Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831. Nat Turner believed that God had chosen him to lead a black uprising, and preached of heaven running red with the blood of fighting black and white angels. He and a small group of followers marched from farm to farm assaulting the white inhabitants, mostly women and children. Though Turner was captured and executed, his rebellion sent a panic through slave states, worried that the same thing would occur again. Rather than helping to free slaves, Nat Turner’s rebellion caused more strict laws against free blacks and hundreds of innocent slaves were whipped or executed.

Period 7

Focus Question #1: How did slavery shape social and economic relations in the old south?

-The Mason-Dixon Line separated North and South / freedom and slavery
-Almost 4 million slaves made up the population (1/3 of South population in major cotton producing areas ,the deep South slave made up half the population)
-Having so many slaves make up the population allowed cotton to be harvested much more quickly allowing the South to make large amounts of profit
-cotton became the worlds major crop produced by slaves
-due to the industrial revolution cotton was used to make cloth and became the most important in international trade
-3/4 of worlds cotton supply came from the Southern United States
-the second middle passage formed which was internally in the United States where slaves were sold to new southern states being formed since slaves were no longer allowed to be imported from other places
-slave auctions became a large business in the South
-without the internal slave trade (2nd middle passage) the Cotton Kingdom would've never grown
-large part of cotton produced was sent to north to be made to cloth then sent out to Europe and other parts of the World

Focus Question #2: What were the legal and material constraints on slaves’ lives and work?

  • The slaves were both bought and sold at the will of their owners or masters

  • They had no political voice or say in the government

  • They couldn’t testify against white people in court

  • They couldn’t buy property

  • They weren’t allowed to sign legal documents or contracts

  • They couldn’t own firearms or guns

  • They weren’t allowed to leave their farm or plantation without permission from their master

  • They weren’t allowed to read or write (this was illegal)

  • They couldn’t get together and hold meetings by themselves apart from the white

  • They did have the right to a fair trial when they were accused of a crime

Focus Question #3: How did family, gender, religion, and values combine to create distinct slave cultures in the Old South?

Slave Families:

-families were central in slave communities

-Because the slave population grew from natural reproduction there was a far more even ratio of slave men to women in the US as opposed to the West Indies where slave population increase came from importation so there were many more slave men than woman.

-US law did not recognize legality of slave marriages, slave masters had to consent to slaves marriage ceremonies, however slave families were under the constant threat of being broken up by the slave trade

-most adult slave marriages (if not broken up by trade) lasted lifetimes

-about 1/3 slave marriages was broken by sale in slave-selling states (like Virginia)

-about 1/10 teenage slaves in the Upper South were sold away from their families

-to solidify family continuity, slaves named children after relatives. Slaves did not marry first cousins (a practice common to white southerners)

-A popular slave song contained the line “Mother, is Massa going to sell us tomorrow?” This reflects the paternalist responsibilities (owners/masters caring for slaves) in which owners would encourage slaves to marry.

-slaves old enough to enter plantation work force at age 10

Slave Gender Roles:

-“(gender) equality of powerlessness”

-slave women worked regularly in the fields and slave men could not act as economic providers for their families nor could they protect them from abusive owners/overseers nor could they determine how/when their children worked

-conventional gender roles only appeared among slaves in leisure time in which men would chop wood, hunt, or fish and women washed, sewed, and assumed primary responsibility in caring for children

-some planters allowed slaves small plots of land to plant personal gardens to supplement provided food with which women usually took charge

Slave Religion:

-some blacks (free & slave) took part in the Great Awakenings and were swept into the South’s Baptist and Methodist churches during late 18th & early 19th centuries

-Cane Ridge, Kentucky great camp meeting where anyone of any age, sex, or race had “equal privilege to minister the light which they received, in whatever way the Spirit directed.”

-although by law there could be no gathering of slaves without a white person present, most every plantation had its own black preacher. The typical preacher would have little formal education but had enough rhetorical abilities and familiarity with the Bible and was usually the most respected member of the slave community

-In southern cities, slaves worshipped in biracial congregations (with white ministers) and were usually required to sit in the back pews or in the balconies. Free urban blacks sometimes established churches sometimes attended by slaves

-some masters saw Christianity as social control, teaching them morality (not to steal, etc.) and that the bible required servants to obey masters

-One slave recalled a white minister saying “how good God was in bringing us over to this country from dark and benighted Africa, and permitting us to listen to the sound of the gospel.”

-several slaves once walked out on a sermon by Charles C. Jones that claimed God had commanded servants to obey their masters and that they should not try to run away, some called the doctrine ‘one-sided’

-slave religion became a blend of African and Christian beliefs that were practiced in secret nighttime gatherings on plantations and in “praise meetings” complete with shouts, dances, and frequent emotional interchanges between preacher and congregation

-The Exodus story of Moses leading the enslaved Jews out of Egypt was a central role in black Christianity. Slaves identified themselves as a ‘chosen people’ whom God would free from bondage at the right time

-Jesus Christ represented a personal redeemer, who truly cared for slaves

-slaves found many heroes in the bible who defeated the challenges placed before them

-equality for all souls before God was a central institution of black religion

Focus Question #4: What were the major forms of resistance to slavery


  • “Day-to-day resistance” or “silent sabotage” such as doing poor work, breaking tools, abusing animals, or any other way that would disrupt the regular routine of the plantation was the most common form of resistance.

  • More extreme and major forms were when slaves used arson, poisoning, and armed assaults

  • One of the biggest threats to the slave system were fugitive slaves

    • the underground railroad ( a very loose organization of sympathetic abolitionists who would hide fugitive slaves in their homes and aid them in moving to the next safe home )

      • some individuals would make forays into the south to liberate slaves (ex. Harriet Tubman) using the underground railroad

  • Amistad- Is the most celebrated instance when a large group of slaves collectively seized their freedom.

    • They took control of the ship and made their way up the Atlantic coast, John Quincy Adams argued that because they were recently brought over from Africa it was a violation of international treaties banning the slave trade and the captives were freed.

      • Amistad inspired similar uprisings.

  • Resistance to slavery moved beyond individual and/or group acts of defiance to outright rebellion.


  • Nat Turners Rebellion:

    • Nat Turner was one of the best known slave rebel, he believed that god chose him to lead a black uprising.

    • It was the last large scale rebellion in the south

    • It led to a panic of slave owners who feared rebellion and hundreds of slaves were whipped and many were executed

      • for the last time Virginias leaders openly debated whether they should do away with “Peculiar Institution”  


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