Question

Q75: What group of people was taken to America and sold as slaves?

A. the English
B. the Dutch
C. the Africans
D. the Spanish

Question Background Information

Background

The arrival in Jamestown, Virginia of a ship carrying African slaves initially captured by a coalition of Portuguese and local Africans from Angola marked the beginning of African slavery in mainland North American English colonies in 1619.

Slavery had already existed in much of the world, but the exact status of these first captured Africans who had arrived in colonial America was initially unclear—were they considered indentured servants who could become free or slaves bound for life? Over the next two and a half centuries, the American system would layer legal and cultural reinforcements to the system of race-based and heritable slavery, exploiting the labor of captured Africans and their descendants. European and eventually American slave traders would work with African allies and merchants to traffic in Africans who were either kidnapped or taken as prisoners of war, supplying the New World with a steady supply of cheap laborers subjected to brutal conditions. In addition, Americans sold slaves between the colonies (which then became the states).

At the time of the Founding, most leading Founders, including those who were slaveholders, recognized the evil of slavery —indeed, Thomas Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence condemned slavery, even as Jefferson infamously continued to practice it himself. They expected it to fade away economically, and partly inspired by the Declaration of Independence, northern states abolished slavery in the latter parts of the 18th century. However, developments in technology and the world’s economy made cotton growing more profitable, and in the early to mid-1800s Southerners like John Calhoun began defending slavery not as a necessary evil but a positive good to be defended and encouraged.  

Conversely, pressure to stop slavery’s expansion and even to abolish it entirely grew more intense in the North. Chief Justice Roger Taney’s notorious Dred Scott opinion argued the stigma of African slavery was such that no black could ever be a United States citizen. This infuriated opponents of slavery such as Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and the dissenting justices, who criticized Taney for ignoring the history of black citizenship in some mostly northern states. 

Additional Content

Offline Activity

Introduction

Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who became one of the leading abolitionist orators in the 1850s and 1860s, and one of America’s leading political thinkers in the years afterward, wrote not just a bracing autobiography but some of the most compelling speeches discussing slavery in America, both its practice and its relationship to American ideals and the Constitution ( which Douglass largely rejected). Students will read and discuss Douglass’s “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” address. We have also provided Douglass’s “Is the Constitution Proslavery or Anti-Slavery?”, in the event you want to make this lesson a two-day lesson, with the students doing one speech per day. 

Preparation

  • Provide each student or group of students a copy of Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July”? (1852)
  • Provide each student or group of students a copy of Douglass, “Is the Constitution Proslavery or Anti-slavery? (1860) (Optional)
  • (Optional) Check out this webinar, "Slavery and the Constitution: a Neo-Madisonian Perspective" with Michael Zuckert.
  • Provide each student with the 3-2-1 worksheet (or two if doing both documents).

Required materials

Instructions

  1. This activity works well as an individual assignment. However, depending on the age and/or skills level of the students, you may want to have them work in pairs. 
    • If that is the case, divide the class into pairs based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group who have mastered the material and are prepared to extend their knowledge. Pair those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C). 
  2. Explain to the students that today they are going to read a speech from Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who became a leading abolitionist. The Fourth of July speech is the default, but you might also substitute Douglass’s Constitution and slavery speech, or alternatively, do each one day and make this a two-day exercise, or have students do one document the night before.
  3. After they complete the reading, they will fill out a 3-2-1 Worksheet where they write down three facts that they learned, two questions that they have, and one opinion.
  4. Circulate throughout the room to help students as needed. 
  5. If you wish, once the students complete the worksheet, use it as a springboard into a class discussion. Questions to ask may include:  Why is Douglass so critical of America and the American people in 1852? What does Douglass think of the American founders and what they did? Is he condemning the American project, or no? What is the significance of the American project, the Declaration, and the Constitution for Douglas? What resources or solutions do Americans have in dealing with slavery?   
    • For the 1860 speech: are you persuaded by Douglass’s defense of the Constitution’s provisions dealing with slavery? How should we determine the meaning of constitutional provisions? Is the Constitution ultimately pro-slavery, anti-slavery, or neither? Does it still matter today what we think of the Constitution’s original relationship to slavery? Why or why not? 

Discussion Prompts

Slavery and its aftermath constitute one of the central faultlines in American politics and society, as well as arguably its most shameful feature. As Abraham Lincoln suggested in his Second Inaugural Address, he hoped the horror of the Civil War would soon end, but he would certainly understand if God prolonged it until “until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.”

Prompt 1

The American colonies had long transported indentured servants to work as laborers, and slavery was practiced in much of the world, but the slavery that developed here was different: it was permanent, hereditary, and far more dehumanizing, beginning with the transportation of slaves to the New World in the first place. What group of people was taken to American and sold as slaves?

Prompt 2

America’s legacy of slavery raises questions about how to think about Founders who practiced it. Consider Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. His Declaration’s acknowledgment that “all men are created equal [and] endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” served as one of the key inspirations for the abolitionist movement. (Moreover, the Declaration’s first draft harshly condemned slavery). On the other hand, even as Jefferson criticized slavery, he continued to practice it—and unlike George Washington, who freed his slaves at his death, Jefferson did not. In judging someone like Jefferson, should we repudiate him for his personal failures regarding slavery, or honor him for the intellectual contributions he made in advancing freedom, including the eventual freedom of black Americans, nonetheless? Consider recent and past events in your answer.

America’s legacy of slavery raises questions about how to think about Founders who practiced it. Consider Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. His Declaration’s acknowledgment that “all men are created equal [and] endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” served as one of the key inspirations for the abolitionist movement. (Moreover, the Declaration’s first draft harshly condemned slavery). On the other hand, even as Jefferson criticized slavery, he continued to practice it—and unlike George Washington, who freed his slaves at his death, Jefferson did not. In judging someone like Jefferson, should we repudiate him for his personal failures regarding slavery, or honor him for the intellectual contributions he made in advancing freedom, including the eventual freedom of black Americans, nonetheless? Consider recent and past events in your answer.

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