Focus question

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APUSH: Mr. Lopez NAME:



  1. Initial position. How would you answer this question based on what you know so far? What are major topics/categories to be considered.

  1. Read through the documents. List all the reasons in the chart provided. *Cite document number. (use the chart for this step)

3. Then list outside information that helps support the categories/topics. (use the chart for this step)

  1. Discussion Questions:

    1. Identify what you consider to be the strongest argument on each side of the debate

    1. Were any documents used on both sides of the debate? Explain.

    1. Were there any documents you had a hard time placing on either side? Explain.

    1. Were there any documents you strongly agreed with? Strongly disagreed with.

    1. What is the relationship between slavery and racism?



Slavery in the English Colonies developed mainly out of racial prejudice Europeans held for Africans.

Slavery developed because of the ongoing economic needs/development in the English Colonies.

Slavery developed because of the severe labor shortage in the English Colonies.

Slavery developed because of the geography/environment in the English Colonies.


Write a response to the Focus Question, and remember:

Generate a thesis statement which clearly and concisely shows the trend, movement, or similarity between all categories (an organizing principle for this unit). Rank order the categories in a manner which enhances the logical proof of your thesis statement.


1Generate a main idea, or topic sentence, for each category, which clearly and concisely shows the trend, movement, or similarity that all bits of factual information have in common. 2. Rank order the factual information in some logical manner which serves to prove your topic sentence. Be sure to mentally consider HOW and WHY the information supports both your topic sentence and your thesis.

A. Topic 1 =


B. Topic 2 =


C. Topic 3 =



Source: Alan Brinkley, historian, Where Historians Disagree—The Origins of Slavery
Document 1

In 1950, Oscar and Mary Handlin published an influential article comparing slavery to other systems of “unfreedom” in the colonies. What separated slavery from other conditions of servitude, they argued, was that it was restricted to people of African descent, that it was permanent, and that it passed from one generation to the next. The unique characteristics of slavery, the Handlins argued, were part of an effort by colonial legislatures to increase the available labor force. White laborers needed an incentive to come to America: black laborers, forcibly imported from Africa, did not. The distinction between the conditions of white workers and the conditions of black workers was, therefore, based on legal and economic motives, not on racism.

Document 2

Winthrop Jordan was on of a number of historian who…argued that white racism, more than economic interests, produced African slavery. In White Over Black (1968) and other works, Jordan argued that Europeans had long viewed people of color as inferior beings. Those attitudes migrated with white Europeans to the New World, and white racism shaped the treatment of Africans in America from the beginning. Even without the economic incentives the Handlins described, in other words, whites would have been likely to oppress blacks in the New World.

Document 3

Peter Wood’s Black Majority (1974), a study of seventeenth-century South Carolina, was one of a number of works that moved the debate back toward social and economic conditions. Wood demonstrated that blacks and whites often worked together on relatively equal terms in the early years of settlement. But as rice cultivation expanded, it became more difficult to find white laborers willing to do the arduous work. The increase in the forcible importation of African slaves was a response to this growing demand for labor. It was also a response to fears among whites that without slavery it would be difficult to control a labor force brought to America against its will.

Document 4

Edmund Morgan’s Slavery, American Freedom (1975) argued similarly that the southern labor system was at first relatively flexible and later grew more rigid. In colonial Virginia, he claimed, white settlers did not at first intend to create a system of permanent bondage. But as the tobacco economy grew and created a high demand for cheap labor, white landowners began to feel uneasy about their dependence on a large group of dependent white workers. Such workers were difficult to recruit and control. Slavery, therefore, was less a result of racism than of the desire for whites to find a reliable and stable labor force.

Document 5

Robin Blackburn’s The Making of New World Slavery (1966) argues particularly strenuously that, while race was a factor in making the enslavement of Africans easier for whites to justify to themselves, the real reasons for the emergence of slavery were hardheaded economic decisions by ambitious entrepreneurs who realized very early that a slave-labor system in the labor-intensive agricultural world of the American South and the Caribbean was more profitable than a free-labor system. Slavery served the interests of a powerful combination of groups: planters, merchants, industrialists, and consumers. The most important reason for the creation and continuation of the system, therefore, was not racism, but the pursuit of profit. Slavery was not, Blackburn concludes, an antiquated remnant of an older world. It was a recognizably modern labor system that served the needs of an emerging market economy.

Source: History of Slavery,1790-End. (2006).

Document 6

[1664] There had been a number of marriages between white women and slaves by 1664 when Maryland passed a law which made them and their mixed-race children slaves for life, noting that “divers freeborne English women forgettfull of their free Condicon and to the disgrace of our Nation doe intermarry with Negro Slaves” [Archives of Maryland, 1:5333-34].

Source: Winthrop Jordan, historian, White Over Black (1971)

Document 7

In England perhaps more than in southern Europe, the concept of blackness was loaded with intense meaning. Long before they found that some men were black, Englishmen found in the idea of blackness a way of expressing some of their most ingrained values. No other color except white conveyed so much emotional impact. As described by the Oxford English Dictionary, the meaning of black before the sixteenth century included “Deeply stained with dirt; soiled; dirty, foul…Having dark or deadly purposes, malignant; pertaining to or involving death, deadly; baneful, disastrous, sinister…wicked…indicating disgrace.

Document 8

It was the case with English confrontation with Africans, then, that a society in a state of rapid flux, undergoing important changes in religious values, and comprised of men who were energetically on the make and so acutely and often uncomfortably self-conscious of being so, came upon a people less technologically advanced, markedly different in appearance and culture. From the first, Englishmen tended so set Africans over against themselves, to stress what they conceived to be radically contrasting qualities of color, religion, and style of life…When they [Englishmen] came to the New World they were to find that they had not entirely…left behind all the impressions initially gathered of the African before he became preeminently the slave.

Document 9

Servitude, no matter how long, brutal, and involuntary, was no the same thing as perpetual slavery. Servitude comprehended alike the young, apprentice, the orphan, the indentured servant, the redemptioner, the convicted debtor or criminal, the political prisoner, and, even, the Scottish or Irish captive of war who was sold as a “slave” to New England or Barbados. Yet none of these persons, no matter how miserably treated, served for life in the colonies, though of course many died before their term ended. Hereditary lifetime service was restricted to Indians and Africans.

Document 10

Virginia’s second statutory definition of a slave (1682), for example, awkwardly attempted to rest enslavement on religious difference while excluding from possible enslavement all heathens who were not Indian or African. Despite such logical difficulties, the old European equation of slaver and religious difference did not rapidly vanish in America, for it cropped up repeatedly after 1660 in assertions that slaves by becoming Christian did not automatically become free…This decision that the slave’s religious condition had no relevance to his status as a slave…strongly suggests that heathenism was an important component in the colonists’ initial reaction to Africans early in the century.

Source: Gary Nash, historian, Red, White, and Black (1982)

Document 11

The reasons for this shift to a slave-based agricultural economy in the South are twofold. First, English entry into the African slave trade gave the Southern planter an opportunity to purchase slaves more readily and more cheaply than before. Cheap labor was what every tobacco or rice planter sought, and when the price of slave labor dipped below that of indentured labor, the demand for black slaves increased. Also, the supply of white servants from England began to dry up in the late seventeenth century, and those who did cross the Atlantic were spread among a growing number of colonies.

Document 12

As the number of slaves increased, legal codes for strictly controlling their activities were fashioned in each of the colonies. To a large extent these “black codes” were borrowed from the law books of the English West Indies. Bit by bit they deprived the African immigrant of rights enjoyed by others in the society, including indentured servants. And gradually, they reduced the slave, in the eyes of society and the law, from a human being to a piece of chattel property. In this process of dehumanization nothing was more important than the practice of hereditary lifetime service. Once servitude became perpetual, relieved only by death, then the stripping away of all other rights followed as a matter of course.

Source: Edmund Morgan, historian, American Slavery, American Freedom (1975)

Document 13

African slaves were present in Virginia, as we have seen, almost from the beginning (probably the first know Negroes to arrive, in 1619, were slaves). The courts clearly recognized property in men and women and their unborn progency at least as early as the 1640s, and there was no law to prevent any planter from bringing in as many as who wished. Why, then, did Virginians not furnish themselves with slaves as soon as they began to grow tobacco?
The answer lies in the fact that slave labor, in spite of its seeming superiority, was actually not as advantageous as indentured labor during the first half of the century. Because of the high mortality among immigrants to Virginia, there could be now great advantage in owning a man for lifetime rather than a period of years, especially since a slave cost roughly twice as much as an indentured servant. If the chances of a man’s dying during his first five years in Virginia were better than fifty-fifty—and it seems apparent that they were—and if English servants could be made to work as hard as slaves, English servants for a five-year term were the better buy….
Certainly the number of white immigrants to Virginia does seem to have declined. But if this was a factor in the conversion process, probably of greater consequence, was the decline of heavy mortality toward mid-century, for as life expectancy rose, the slave became a better buy than the servant.

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