Slavery (Opposing Viewpoints), edited by James Torr
Given that slavery and its role in American history is still something that is fought over (for good reason), it is little surprise that it has been argued and debated over throughout the entirety of American history. This book is a short record of at least some of those aspects, and its usefulness is present mainly in the way that it conveys to the reader that disagreement has always been present about slavery and that we should therefore expect slavery to be contentious in the contemporary age and in the way that it conveys the disagreements on the subject to the reader who is invited to ponder one’s own views and perspectives. The best parts of this book show primary documentation about the way that slavery was viewed at the time by people who were present in history, because those of us who look at things later are always going to be influenced by our own biases and perspectives that will cause us to view the past in a more lawyerly fashion, which is something that I tend to view with a high degree of skepticism, it must be admitted. But there are parts of this book which deal with the secondary documentation again.
This book is a bit more than 200 pages and divided into four chapters. The first chapter discusses the debates over moral issues that relate to slavery, including selections about whether slavery is good or evil, oppressive and dehumanizing or exaggerated, and whether or not reparations should be paid more than a century and a half after slavery has been ended. The second chapter discusses slave rebellions and resistance, including whether resistance to slavery was justified or not, the success of the Underground Railroad, as well as the widespread nature (or not) of resistance to slavery in the United States. The third chapter of the book discusses abolitionism and opponents to it, including selections on the question of whether absolution should have been gradual or immediate, whether emancipation was practical or not, and to what extent William Lloyd Garrison made to the antislavery cause. The fourth chapter then discusses how slavery divided the United States, with selections that discuss popular sovereignty pro and con, the war aims of the Union during the Civil War, as well as the hypothetical case of slavery without the Civil War.
It is likely that few people will go into a book like this being in favor of the institution of chattel slavery in the early twenty-first century, but it is quite possible that even among those of us who are personally and strenuously opposed to slavery and to its legacy in the United States to have a massive amount of disagreement about. To what extent is our desire for justice to be limited by the restraint of government to do what is possible with the consent of the governed? To what extent do prudential concerns about the well-being of people and institutions influence the way we seek to obtain justice in this admittedly flawed and imperfect world? These are not easy questions to answer. It is not difficult to see that slavery denied the rights to life, liberty, and property for those who were enslaved. That said, right or wrong, slaveowners viewed slaves as their property, and any consensual solution to slavery required their consent unless they placed themselves beyond the protection of the law by being rebels and traitors as they ultimately became during the Civil War. And even to this day, the political resolution of matters of justice require the consent of the population in general, and people may not always be just.