Slavery in the United States
The concept of slavery can be most succinctly described as “the social institution defined by law and custom as the most absolute involuntary form of human servitude.” The concept and practice of slavery has been in existence as long as man can remember, and has had a great impact on the social, economic, and political development of many countries around the world. In fact, the establishment of African-American slavery in America played a major role in the molding of the country in its infant years. This omnipotent force determined much of the course of American history. It can be also stated that slavery was the crux of the American economy, politics, and social culture. Although this institution has been dismantled many years ago, its ramifications still continue to be felt today.


The origin of slavery is a controversial topic, which has stimulated many opinions. Historians have come up with many suggestions as to its origins. Some of these suggestions are parallel in thinking while others differ greatly. The works of Carl Degler’s “Slavery and the Genesis of American Race,” Oscar and Mary Handlin’s “The Origin of the Southern Labor System,” and Edmund Morgan’s “Slavery and Freedom,” express different thoughts on the rationale for slavery’s origin. These historians present contrasting arguments; in that, Degler argues racism precedes slavery and is the major cause for the inferiority of blacks; whereas Morgan discusses that the rise of black slaves was an instrument in forming the United States and keeping its citizens content, while the Handlins’ suggest slavery evolved slowly and was instituted for economic reasons. Thus it is evident that the authors though different in thoughts, collectively, coalesce in their true reasons for the origins of slavery. Therefore, through an analysis of Degler’s, Morgan’s and the Handlins’ articles, it will be indisputable that their works contain convincing arguments for the true origin of slavery in the North America.


The first essay, “Slavery and the Genesis of American Race Prejudice,” Carl Degler focuses primarily on the issue of colonial racism. Degler strongly believes that the racist nature of the people of colonial America directly resulted in the creation of the institution of slavery and the inferior treatment of African workers. In his essay, Degler continues by stating that even though the term “slave” and the formal institution of slavery was not used or created until the late seventeenth century, its informal practice began in the early seventeenth century and continued on a widespread basis until it was formally legalized.


Degler’s essay falls short in placing the complete burden of the concept of slavery on the racist attitude of Western civilization and colonial society of America. Indeed, it can be said that English society promoted racist attitudes towards people of darker skin. The culture of the religion-based English colonies bred racist and inferior feelings towards other darker skinned “heathens”: “The Englishmen’s treatment of another dark-skinned, non-Christian people - the Indians - further supports the argument that a special and inferior status was accorded the Negro virtually from the first arrival. Indian slavery was practiced in all of the English settlements almost from the beginning…” (Degler53). As Degler states, these feelings are not reserved for only the Indian people, but for Negro indentured servants as well. They were thought of as members of a lower class which is supported by the fact that laws prohibited English-Christians from having sexual relations with African-Americans: “The same law stated that any Christian fornicating with a Negro man or woman shall pay double the fine imposed by the former act” (Degler 61). The Negro was thought more and more as the years progressed as a possession and was labeled as such in the tax logs of plantation and farm owners. In addition, the inequality in rights given and punishments received between English and Negro servants is also painfully apparent. For these reasons, the racial attitudes of the English people are quite evident in their daily interaction with people of darker skin, especially African-Americans. To say, however, that their placement into forced slavery was a direct result of only these English attitudes is incomplete. In the beginning, the majority of servants on the plantations were in fact imported from Europe as indentured servants. So why institute