Utilitarianism - Slavery Essay

?Kunta Kinte? the infamous character from the movie Roots was the model slave that many Americans pictured as your typical slave. Most people pictured the slavery era as a dark age of the United States. They picture this part of the U.S. history as the period of suffering and regrettableness. This era has been described as a period of repression and forced labor, however without this episode there would be no modern day United States. In order to survive in a world of fierce completion one needs to do whatever it takes to succeed. For the United States, it needed the cheap labor to be able to become the world power it is now today.
Utilitarianism, whenever this word is brought up there is a sense of confusion and question. What is utilitarianism? Although, one may have never heard of the word utilitarianism we have all experienced some form of it. The formal definition of utilitarianism is that it is a principle which requires that whenever we have a choice between alternative actions or social policies we shall choose the one that has the best consequences for everyone involved. This is the single, fundamental, and universal principle of morality. This principle is considered a universal principle that applies to all people at all times, and places. The best consequences mean the best balance of happiness over unhappiness.

An example of a controversial issue about utilitarianism is euthanasia. This issue has stirred up much debate and anger. Who must decide if a person should be allowed to die, or live? Should the decision be the patient’s, the family’s’, or should it be the doctor’s? This has sparked one of the fiercest debates in our nation today. Most people have had some contact with this specific issue, whether through a personal experience or through the news. We have all developed some personal view about the issue. An example is the case of Dr. Matthew Donnelly. He was a physicist who worked with X-rays for 30 years, and as a result of this exposure he contracted cancer. He lost part of his jaw, his upper lip, his nose, his left hand, and as well as two fingers from his right hand. He lost his ability to see, and his doctor told him that he had about a year to live, but he decided that he did not want to live in this state of constant pain and torture. He begged his three brothers to take him out of his misery. Two of the brothers refused but the third one, Harold, who loved his brother very much, obeyed and killed him. This case carried much controversy and debate. Should Harold be charged with murder and what should be done about future cases? Utilitarianism says that the morally right thing to do is to do whatever brings the greatest balance of happiness over non-happiness. On occasions, the greatest balance of happiness over unhappiness may be brought about by mercy killing.

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Chattel slavery in America began in the 15th century. The first black slaves were brought over to America in the year 1619 to Jamestown, Virginia. Brought over to this country by Dutch ships, they were subjected to limited servitude, a legalized status of Native American, white, and black servants preceding slavery in most of the English colonies in the New World. The number of slaves imported was small at first, and it did not seem necessary to define their legal status. Formal recognition of slavery, however, occurred in Massachusetts in 1641, in Connecticut in 1650, and in Virginia in 1661; these statutes mainly concerned fugitive slaves.

With the development of the plantation system in the southern colonies in the latter half of the 17th century, the number of Africans imported as agricultural slave laborers increased greatly, and several northern coastal cities became centers of the slave traffic. Generally, in most of the northern colonies, slaves were used as domestics and in trade; in the Middle Atlantic colonies they were used more in agriculture; and in the southern colonies, where plantation agriculture was the primary occupation, almost all slaves were used to work the plantations.

As African slaves became an increasingly important element in the English colonies in America, particularly in the South, where they were fundamental to the economy and society, the laws affecting them were modified. By the time of the American Revolution (1775-1783), they were no longer indentured servants but slaves in the fullest sense of the term, and laws defining their legal, political, and social status, with respect to their owners, were specified.

Slavery was widely viewed as an acceptable from of labor by many of our nation’s leaders. Thomas Jefferson, for example, owned many slaves. In fact there are allegations that Thomas Jefferson had an illegitimate child with one of his slaves. Slavery was an accepted feature, often seem as essential to the economy and society, of all civilizations. The ancient Mesopotamian, Indian, and Chinese civilizations employed slaves, either domestically in homes and shops or in gangs for large-scale construction or agriculture. The ancient Egyptians used slaves on a mass scale to build the royal palaces and monuments. The ancient Hebrews also used slaves, but they were required by religious law to free slaves of their own nationality at certain fixed times. In the more advanced civilizations of pre-Columbian America, for example, those of the Aztec, Inca, and Maya, slave labor was also used on a large scale in both agriculture and warfare.

In the Homeric epics, slavery is the ordinary destiny of prisoners of war. The Greek philosophers did not consider the condition of slavery as morally objectionable, although Aristotle suggested that faithful slaves might be freed in reward for loyal service. With few exceptions, slaves in ancient Greece were treated humanely. However, the Helots of Sparta, descendants of an earlier conquered race of inhabitants, were forced to labor on large estates and were even forced to fight with the Spartan armies. They were treated severely, mainly because they far outnumbered their dependent masters. More typically, slaves were employed in domestic service, in trades, as laborers on country estates, and as seamen and oarsmen. When they were employed in private domestic service, it was quite common to find them having a healthy relationship with their masters.

Roman slavery, however, differed in several important aspects from that of ancient Greece. Roman masters had more power over their slaves, which included, by law, the power of life and death. Slavery was also far more necessary to the economy and social system of Rome, than it had been in Greece. The wealthy Romans, often maintaining large city and country homes, depended on numerous slaves for the continuous and efficient operation of these households. Imperial conquests and expansion eventually exhausted the native Roman workforce, so a great number of foreign slaves had to be imported to work the agricultural labor needs. The primary way of acquiring slaves was through war; tens of thousands of captured prisoners of war were brought to Rome as slaves. Other sources of slaves were debtors, who sold themselves or members of their families into slavery, and persons convicted of serious crimes. Ultimately, the dependence on slavery caused Rome’s significant decline in the end.

After the introduction of Christianity, its adoption as the official religion of the Roman Empire, and its subsequent spread over Europe and parts of the Middle East during the Middle Ages helped to improve the conditions but did not eliminate the practice of slavery. After the fall of Rome, during the barbarian invasions that occurred at various times between the 5th and 10th centuries, caused the ancient institution of slavery was transformed into the generally less binding system known as serfdom.
Islam, established in the 7th century, recognized the institution of slavery from the beginning. The Prophet Muhammad urged his followers to use slaves kindly, however, and overall slaves owned by Muslims were treated well. Most were employed as domestic servants.

The coastal exploration of Africa and the invasion of North and South America by Europeans in the 15th century, and later the colonization of the Americas during the next three centuries, provided the momentum for the modern slave trade. Portugal, which lacked agricultural workers, was the first modern European nation to meet its labor needs by importing slaves. The Portuguese began the practice in 1444; by 1460, they were annually importing 700 to 800 slaves to Portugal from trading posts and forts established on the African coast. These were African people captured by other Africans and transported to the western coast of Africa. Spain soon followed, but for more than a century, Portugal virtually monopolized the African slaver trade. Throughout the 15th century, Arab traders in northern Africa shipped African people taken from central Africa to markets in Arabia, Iran, and India.

In tropical Latin America during the 16th century, Spanish colonists first forced the native populations to work the land. The native people, however, could not survive under conditions of slavery and were nearly exterminated, in part by exposure to European disease and excruciating labor. Africans were then brought to the Spanish colonies, because it was believed that they could endure forced labor in the generally more debilitating Caribbean and mainland Latin American climates.

England entered the slave trade in the latter half of the 16th century, contesting the right to supply the Spanish colonies held until then by Portugal. France, Holland, Denmark, and the American colonies themselves subsequently entered the trade as competitors. In 1713, the exclusive right to supply the Spanish colonies was granted to the British South Sea Company.

Contrary to what is commonly believed, slaves did have some legal rights, such as support in age or sickness, a right to limited religious instruction, and the right to sue and give evidence in special cases. In addition most of the slave owners gave consideration about tradition and eventually gave the slaves numerous rights. Such rights included as ownership of private property, marriage, free time, and contractual ability to females, domestic or lighter plantation labor. However, the master was not bound to respect these rules, but most of the slave owners were generous about the rights. Brutal treatment such as mutilation, branding, chaining, and murder were regulated or prohibited by law, but some instances of cruelty were common before the 19th century. In 1800, the population of the United States included 893,602 slaves, of which only 36,505 were in the northern states. Vermont, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey provided for the emancipation of their slaves before 1804, most of them by gradual measures. The 3,953,760 slaves at the census of 1860 were in the southern states.

On occasions, the greatest amount happiness is achieved through the suffering of a few. Therefore, there was nothing wrong with chattel slavery in America. Slavery may have been brutal and horrifying, but it was very much necessary. The United States in 1619 was a struggling lone colony that was an extreme distance from its mother country, Britain. It was like a lost boy from its mother, trying to do everything and anything to survive out in the cold world. The truth was in order for the United States to survive, what it needed to survive was the labor of the slaves. As much as people would like to not believe it, slavery is as much apart of America as colonies. Slavery helped America bloom into the economic power, and military it is now. This argument is sound because you can take a look at history see the evidence in hand. The slaves helped grow, and harvest crops as well as other manual labors in the factories and at home. They helped to lay down the foundation for the United States and helped the U.S. establish itself as a country. If there were no slavery then the colonies would not have been able to establish itself, causing it to not be able to gather enough strength for the American Revolution. The slaves were the backbone of the United States; they built this country up from the ground. Although many people argue that we should have avoided slavery, but that would have meant no source of labor for the colonists. Based on the Utilitarianism the greater good would be to have slaves. It would be in the best interest for our country and for the people living in our country. The blacks may have had to suffer a little bit, but it was in the best interest for the majority to have them be the source of labor for our country. They helped the Europeans build the New World into a formidable country. This brought the greatest amount of happiness over the least amount of unhappiness.


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