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A Comparative Analysis of Elkins' Historical Interpretation of Slavery with James McPherson's Interpretation in Ordeal by Fire

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The slavery issue is a subject that continues to be discussed today, and for most Americans, the main reason that launched the civil war. Both authors agree that slavery was morally wrong and it almost brought the Union to its knees and the destruction of it. However, both authors have very distinct thoughts and reasons for it. While Stanley Elkins' Slavery has a more personal and opinionated account, James McPherson's interpretation in Ordeal by Fire is based on facts. McPherson employs the use of graphics and charts to illustrate and quantify the findings about slavery and his book. James McPherson bases his writings on the economic factors that made slavery the main force for prosperity for the American South. Cotton production had become the main source of income for the US from 1815 to 1860 . The Southern States' economy was growing but they were, for the most part, reluctant to the ideas of modernization. The slave states valued tradition and stability more than change and progress. They responded with distaste to the Northern States competitive views and progress and their view of how America should be in the future.

Stanley Elkins views on slavery were based on a more personal view of the issue. He is more of a liberal writer and bases his opinion on his views of the problem. Elkins talks about the problem of slavery in America and the problem that continues to affect it. He claims that slavery and its aftermath pose a problem for all Americans that, if it already has been solved, would necessitate him writing this book . Elkins argues that one of the problems in Americas' slavery was the lack of institutions to abolish it. He compares our system to the South American and Ibero American institutions. At one point in our history there were black and white slaves. While the black continue to be slaves and even given the status of a second class citizen, the white slaves population virtually halted by 1710 . The whites were able to buy their freedom and the Black slaves were not afforded the same privileges. His approach to the subject was thus vastly different from previous historians, yet with the exception of abolitionist literature he relied almost entirely on secondary studies to reinforce his arguments, preferring to break new ground in interpretation rather than in presenting new evidence .

The church attempted to portray slavery as a mortal sin. It always maintained that taking someone's God given right of freedom was against the church preaching's and believes. In addition, some of the first emigrants to the newly discovered land (North America) were slaves themselves and they were white. One of the main reasons they immigrated to North America was to escape religious persecution. The political situation did not help either, too much support to antislavery and the church could lose the much needed support of wealthy church goers. The institution stopped short of actively going against the problem of slavery, instead they focused their efforts in making slavery more "tolerable" for slaves. After all, most of the church goers in the south were white slave owners and/or in some way or another supported slavery and the economic factors in benefitted. In the North, the Presbyterian Church had deplored the issue of black and religion; they were never unable or unwilling to tackle the problem from its source. In the North the free blacks had more religious freedom and were allowed to participate in churches or form their own congregations. There was another phenomenon that affected the lives of slaves in plantations. Most owners controlled all aspects of their slaves to include religion. The owners used the Gospel as a social control method to tell the slaves why they had to obey their masters (according to God) and inculcate and foster the believe of having to serve and be faithful their owners.

For the slaves there was no paradox: slavery was slavery, and freedom was its opposite . The masters possessed complete control over the slaves. Purchase power, punishment, and the power to separate a family were some of the powers a master had over their slaves. The slaves were considered property, and as such had no basic human rights such as marriage, own property, learn to read or write. Although, in some states the slaves were allowed to buy their freedom, and in some cases save money,

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