Ron Paul Curriculum, English 1, Lesson 55

Writing assignment: 500 words on this topic: “What were Washington’s arguments against the slave system?”

In the early chapters of his autobiography, Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington makes a few arguments against slavery. The first one is that slavery disregarded black families, and often separated them. He couldn’t learn anything about his mother’s family, except that she had a half-brother and a half-sister. Washington also describes slavery’s adverse effects on work ethic, not only for the slaves, but for the masters too, so that when the Civil War ended, it wasn’t just the former slaves trying to find employment.

Washington’s first argument is that slavery tried to weaken slaves’ families. Marriages between slaves had no value, and were irrelevant in the eyes of the owners. As such, nothing prevented the owners from selling individual slaves away from their families. Washington learned that his mother had a half-brother and a half-sister, but was unable to find anything else out. The fact that they were both half-siblings suggests that something happened to one of her parents. I learned while studying Frederick Douglas’s life that after attaining freedom, many former slaves would go to huge efforts, traveling all over the country, to reunite with the rest of their families. Fortunately, slavery did not succeed at breaking the vast majority of slave families, but the fact that it separated many families, however, is what I believe Washington is referring to.

Washington’s next point is that slavery devalued work and effort not only for the slave, but for the masters too. Obviously, the only reason the slaves had to work hard was that they feared the whip. They could slack all they wanted if they could avoid punishment. They became good at manual labor, but lacked any education, the key to freedom. The slave owners, on the other hand, had a general education, but they lacked any productive trades and motivation to do manual labor themselves. They would have the (unmotivated) slaves do it. According to Washington, “The whole machinery of slavery was so constructed as to cause labour, as a rule, to be looked upon as a badge of degradation, of inferiority. Hence labour was something that both races on the slave plantation sought to escape,” “My old master had many boys and girls, but not one, so far as I know, ever mastered a single trade or special line of productive industry,” “All of this was left to the slaves.” When emancipation finally happened, the masters had no skills other than slave-driving… which wouldn’t get them anywhere in a country without slaves.

Booker T. Washington made very effective points against slavery. He didn’t focus primarily on the fact that one man owning another was immoral, the way Frederick Douglass did. By then, that argument had been made clear to just about everyone. He understood the value of strong family bonds, and wrote about how they had been discouraged by the slave system. He also greatly valued good work ethic, and said that he didn’t have any patience for schools that didn’t teach the dignity of labor. Slavery, however, encouraged everyone to avoid labor whenever possible.


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