Essay Sample on Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox by Edmund Morgan

Published: 2023-01-30
Essay Sample on Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox by Edmund Morgan
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Race Slavery American history Social issue Books
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1392 words
12 min read

Edmund has structured his book in a way that the title captures the real picture of the content of the work. "Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox" by Edmund Morgan indeed portrays the two sides of his argument, which are intertwined and independent, i.e. the Englishmen's rights that are supported by the African wrongs. The book traces the origin of freedom in American history which was marred by slavery and the slave trade (Edmund 15).

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Slavery refers to a condition in which a person is partially by another person who has control over what he does and where he lives (Franklin 5). On the contrary, freedom refers to the condition in which a person can make decisions, act, or make any changes without constraint from another person. Each of the two words has the opposite meaning of the other (Franklin 7) directly. Therefore, the title of the book is indeed a paradox because slavery cannot permit the existence of freedom in any society

The Thesis of This Secondary Source

The American Revolution had made the paradox of slavery and freedom much glaring because the slaveholding colonialists had made a proclamation of a candid world where the rights should be shared by everyone rather than only the Englishmen Edmund 18). Most importantly, in his book, Edmund singles out slavery, as the primary determinant of American history just like any American historical writer would do (Edmund 10). The thesis of his work revolves around appreciating that slavery and liberty played a significant role in American history. A subsequent rise in slavery accompanied the increase in freedom and that the two contradictory phenomena were happening simultaneously over a long period in American history. These two contradicting events formed the center of American Paradox (Edmund 8).

The Argument of This Secondary Source

Edmund's choice of structure for his book enhances his thesis. For instance, in the introductory part of the book, he introduces the two concepts of liberty and freedom and appreciates the fact that the two are paradoxical words. The simultaneous co-existence of these two paradoxical words in American history then follows the discussion (Edmund 4). Several examples and illustrations are then given to support the claims at the center of the book. For instance, an example given on the traditional American case on freedom of the sea was a paradox. The fundamental doctrine "Free ships make free trade" by American revolutionary policy was highly ironic because the goods upon which the Americans demanded freedom were produced by slave labor (Franklin 3).

The nature of the thesis argument is excellent and realistic. For example, by presenting Jefferson's arguments and concerns regarding the perception of freedom and slavery gives a clear illustration of the topic. Jefferson argues that a person cannot enjoy freedom and liberty as long as he depends on another person for survival. He also presents the role of debt in determining the freedom of a person. He argues that whenever someone is brought before another person's power through debt, he lost his liberty (Edmund 4).

The book by Edmund Morgan captures American history while having full cognizance of the economic and the political aspects that elevated the ways of slavery. Concisely, the book focuses on the nature of the American colonists. It covers how these colonialists hated the Indians, their lust for power and money. According to Morgan, the Virginia society had regrouped and formed into a republican community. The republican community had highly believed in a certain view of freedom and how this would have defined American society. The Virginia society that had never incorporated the slaves at their workplaces began to depend on the slaves and even feared them.

Moreover, the author builds his case by providing more illustrations. For instance, one of the most important things that shaped Virginia the way it is today is the increased death rates that was witnessed in the Virginia Society (Franklin 4). Furthermore, the basic cause of wealth for the Virginia men was the sales on Tobacco and property inheritance was the major practice of the society. Wealth inheritance was such that whenever one died, his children or close relatives inherited the properties (Edmund 2). However, in most cases, the husband died first. Upon the death of the husband, all the property were left for the wife. Such women were regarded with much esteem and were sought by men who expected to share the vast wealth from their previous husbands.

In this sense, according to Edmund, the men would become wealthy just by simply marrying the widows in the society. This condition is described as economic matriarchy. However, the current roles of many men as servants would deny them such chances of marrying wealthy women (Franklin 5). This illustrates how the men had limited freedom in American history. Presenting the case of Jefferson was a freedom spokesperson also sharpens the paradox in the book. It is not expected that Jefferson, being freedom spokesperson, could have slaves.

The Motives of the Secondary Source

It is rational to argue that Virginia was a death trap for men who went there for the number of death cases for men increased exponentially since the year 1600s. The slaves killed in Virginia could only be compared to the number of death cases that had been witnessed in Europe during the plagues.

The only way in which Virginia was absorbing the excess slaves from Europe was just through killing them. However, as the diseases that were also responsible for the massive deaths in Virginia began to decline, the population of the inhabitants, including the slaves, begun to rise (Edmund 9). This resulted in a significant increase in the tobacco output due to availability of human labor. The productions were so high that the earnings began to decline, thus lowering the wages for the men who planted them. Furthermore, Edmund recognizes the role of slavery in shaping Virginia history (Edmund 21). He notes that it is through slavery that Virginia was transformed from that of Governor Berkeley to that of Jefferson.

The Primary Sources of This Secondary Source

The author has used several primary sources to support the arguments of the secondary source. For example, the author uses The Emergence of a National Economy and The American Revolution and The American Agriculture 1969 as primary sources to describe the conditions surrounding the ancient agricultural practices in America and the role of the Slaves in the plantations (Edmund 22).

Furthermore, Edmund has also adequately used 'The Social Structure for Revolutionary America' by Jackson to describe the conditions of the position of the men in Revolutionary America (Edmund 16). Jackson notes that the men in Revolutionary America spent much of their times working for other men than working for themselves and that slaves constituted more of the American population. Although Jefferson was aware of this mere fact, he did nothing about it.

The author has also adequately used 'The Agrarian History of England and Wales' by Joan to illustrate the conditions of poverty and unemployment that the slaves were undergoing during the Agrarian periods in England (Edmund 16).

The author also estimates the population of the slaves in America through the comparison of the householders on the annual list of the tithables with the identifications of Negros in the records of the court. This comparison yielded an estimate that showed the number of Negros in America. The use of these primary sources in this work supports most arguments in the author's book. For instance, the population statistics of slaves before migration and after migration had apparent disparities, which indicated that there was a significant loss of lives. The deviation in slaves' population could be explained by death due to unsatisfactory conditions and to some extent, diseases.

However, the weakness with relying on the traditional primary sources of information is that there could be the inconsistency of the information therein because most of them lacked authenticity. This could be misleading to historians as some vital information could have been omitted. For instance, there is a lack of a clear continuous set of figures that present the Virginia tobacco export, especially in the seventeenth century. However, the statistics for the English importation of the Virginian Tobacco could be obtained from the United States Bureau of Census.

Works Cited

Franklin, John Hope, and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. From slavery to freedom. New York: Knopf, 1956.

Morgan, Edmund S. "Slavery and Freedom: The American paradox." The Journal of American History 59.1 (1972): 5-29.

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