African American Agency: Responses to the Contradiction of Liberalism in Early America
University of Utah
Read at the 2011 Phi Alpha Theta Regional Conference
Winner: Best Intellectual Traditions Paper
Published in Historia: the Alpha Rho Papers, Vol I.
For the land of the free and the home of the brave, the United States has had difficult historical contradictions to explain. Perhaps the most blatant of these contradictions lies in the institution of slavery. Slavery is an institution that effectively dehumanizes those in bondage and reduces individuals’ existences to mere matters of economic gain. It is an institution that prohibits individuals from reaping the benefits of their labors, and an institution that caused unjust physical and psychological harm to hundreds of thousands of people. Slaves have been present in societal structures as far back as any records exist. However, there have only been five genuine slave societies in history and the United States housed one of them. It does not seem possible that such an institution could have survived for nearly a century in a country whose Declaration states, “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.” So how did the institution of slavery exist and thrive for an extended period of time in such a political environment? And how was the movement towards abolishing it achieved?