Slavery, a Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life Essay
Stanley M. Elkins’ illustrative work Slavery; A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life provides a different a approach to the phenomenon of slavery in American history. Unlike ordinary depiction of causes of its origin and its advantages and disadvantages, Elkins takes into consideration an entirely novels manifestation of slavery i.
e. slavery a dilemma in American history and its effects of intellectual and institutional life. He reinforces the idea that in the early nineteenth century, two phenomenon, democracy and capitalism, changes the course of events and the socio-psychological pattern of American life.In the context of slavery, theses two phenomenon seem juxtaposing each other but reality was different as both helped dissolving old institutions Mr.
Elkin looks at the activities of the church in totality with other social forces has singled out the Catholic spirit as the dominant force that compelled the Southerners to retreat to old practices and social patterns and slavery was one of them. First main chapter “Institutions and the Law of Slavery” provide a comparative analysis of slavery in United States vis a vis Latin America.In the second chapter “Slavery and Personality”, Elkins further provide a deep insight into the psychological effect on Negro personality and its individual and collective consequences. He compares the slave life in America with the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and their conversion into immature individuals. The third main chapter “Slavery and Intellectuals” deals with abstract American thought and its inability in creating channels for resolving the slavery issue.
He elaborates various abolitionist approaches suggested and/or adopted by the contemporary leaders and politicians to solve this problem. Mr. Elkins reinforces the idea that American slavery was harsher and was augmented by institutional set-up as compared with Latin Americans. In United States, slaves were regarded as an entity that was included in their (Americans) property rights and were sanctioned by legal system. In “Slavery and Personality”, Elkins provide a deep insight into the level and intensity of control that masters had over their slaves.
He further narrates the psychological effect of this control on Negro personality and its individual and collective consequences. He tries to reinforce the idea that “Sambo’[ism] is not something inherent and it is not a racial or cultural product as no Sambo is found among the Afro-American salves of Latin America. The docility and childishness only come from harsh treatment of slaves on the North American territories. He compares the slave life in America with the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and their conversion into immature individuals.He further locates the socio-cultural motives for this action _transformation of Afro-Americans into Sambos, as compared with Latin American. He illustrates with examples that Spanish law has provision for salve to buy property and even their freedom if they have acquire enough wealth.
Furthermore, the Orthodox Church has granted them the right to marriage. Although in the Southern American states their economic conditions were better comparatively but they were negated these essential rights.The negation distorted their psychological being, hampered their psychological development and they were reverted to child-like behavior. To illustrate the psychological effect, Elkins says that harsh pattern of slavery in the South brought into being a typical Negro personality that was commonly known as Sambo. Sambo denotes to a personality prototype that was characterized by childlike behavior. This infantilism (as Mr.
Elkins calls it) was a result of absolute negation of individual rights and ultimate powerlessness.He further compares it with Nazi concentration camp, where harsh treatment and absolute powerlessness over every action had reduced the Jews to infantilism. Although “Slavery and Intellectuals” deals with abstract American thought and its inability in creating channels for resolving the slavery issue. He elaborates various abolitionist approaches suggested and/or adopted by the contemporary leaders and politicians to solve this problem. Mr.
Elkins reinforces the idea that American slavery was harsher and was augmented by institutional set-up as compared with Latin Americans.Mr. Elkins is of the view that economic compulsions interpreted the relationship of slavery as a master-slave relationship that was further rooted into the social and intellectual life of America. Later on it was structured into the legal system.
In the whole scenario, slaves acted as economic instruments and this subordination was characterized only by commercial necessities. Finally, Elkins takes into account the surge of abolitionists in American history and their passionate movements. He regards the abolitionists as of high moral character, anti-institutional and mortified.He further compares the American abolitionism with the same movements in England and manifests that that I country like England, institutions were strong and “men could hardly avid thinking and acting institutionally”. Whereas in America, there was not even a single institute of that caliber at national that could determine the slavery issue. So surge in abolitionism was a natural outcome of this situation.
Mr. Elkins investigations and interpretations depend on variety of primary and secondary sources.He has explored and utilized the legal manuscripts, the property documents, states legal codes to provide an exact legal structure of the age on the particular issue of slavery. His comparative evidences include various secondary sources. For example, he uses the authentic and influential original work “Slave and Citizen” by Frank Tannenbaum to compare slave life in Latin America and United States. He further uses the Nazi literature to compare the Sambo with Jews.
Elkins has employed the behavioral sciences to provide this analysis.He further rely on Alexander Bruce’s “An Economic history of Virginia” and Lewis C. Gray’s “History of Agriculture in the Southern America” to analyze economic perspective in which slavery took its birth and evolved. These references further capacitated Elkins with deep investigation of slave conditions in the South.
Mr. Elkins does not speculate over the institutions of slavery in different countries and draws it conclusion but he relies on primary and secondary resources to advance his thesis and provides supportive arguments and analysis to conclude those.For example, to investigate and compare the British Anti-slavery movement with American abolitionist movement, he relies on the classical source of Coupland’s book. Furthermore, plenty of footnotes enrich the authenticity of the book. Mr. Elkins’ book was a new addition in the series of U.
B. Philipps, Kenneth Stamp and James Ford Rhodes who interpreted different aspects of slavery but Elkins’ work is of importance hitherto as it has marked a new orientation to slavery. It further initiated a “comparative sociology of slavery”.It has tried to provide a comprehensive interpretation of intellectual facets of ante-bellum slavery and its institutionalization. A close analysis of Mr.
Elkins’ thesis suggests that he has not considered an important intellectual element that was the basis of this problem. In United States, the phenomenon of “slave as property” was limited to a single racial group i. e. African American. So this racial discrimination on the economic and the social level further manifested itself in the intellectual assumption of hereditary linkage between slavery and inferior mental and rational level.Additionally, he pays no heed to an important element of slavery i.
e. the effect of presence and personality of these Afro-Americans on the white population and how it contributed toward the social, cultural and political history of America. It is quite clear that no facet of American life especially the Southern life was able to escape from the powerful influence of Negro presence. I still I think that Elkin’s book is more accurate and wide-ranging as it has tried to provide a comprehensive interpretation of intellectual facets of ante-bellum slavery and its institutionalization.It interprets slavery in the social, political, economic context of American history.
Elkin’s prepositions and conclusions are not far-fetched but are based on concrete historical arguments. This like most others does not “overtone very reminiscent of the abolitionist” (Elkin, p. 6) but provides a totally new insight into the problem of slavery. This book manipulates our traditional view of slavery in United States and compels us to ponder over it in a new way.