This lesson can be used with The United States: An Open Ended History, a free online textbook. Adapted in part from open sources.
The negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and in some sense, the freest people in the world. The children and the aged and infirm work not at all, and yet have all the comforts and necessaries of life provided for them. They enjoy liberty, because they are oppressed neither by care or labor. The women do little hard work, and are protected from the despotism of their husbands by their masters. The negro men and stout boys work, on the average, in good weather, no more than nine hours a day. The balance of their time is spent in perfect abandon. Besides, they have their Sabbaths and holidays. White men, with so much of license and abandon, would die of ennui; but negroes luxuriate in corporeal and mental repose. With their faces upturned to the sun, they can sleep at any hour; and quiet sleep is the greatest of human enjoyments. “Blessed be the man who invented sleep.” ‘Tis happiness in itself—and results from contentment in the present, and confident assurance of the future. We do not know whether free laborers ever sleep. They are fools to do so; for, whilst they sleep, the wily and watchful capitalist is devising means to ensnare and exploit them. The free laborer must work or starve. He is more of a slave than the negro, because he works longer and harder for less allowance than the slave, and has no holiday, because the cares of life with him begin when its labors end. He has no liberty and not a single right. . . . -George Fitzhugh, 1857
Lewiston Mill Regulations, 1867, and Rules of Plantation Management, 1853.
Use the documents contained in the link above to develop a 5-6 sentence answer for each question below. Each answer requires direct quotes or examples from the documents to support it.
- Compare and contrast the way time is organized on the plantation with the way time is organized in the factory.
- Describe a regular day in the life in both the factory and on the plantation.
- What do the rules as written miss about the experience of slaves and workers?
- Do you agree with George Fitzhugh’s claim that slaves are better off than workers? Can we (and should we?) compare the lives of factory workers to those of the enslaved?
- How would you compare the factory and plantation rules to the rules of your school? – Take a look at your school handbook and cite specific examples to support your answer.
- Consider the real children’s book below, published in 2016 — given what you have learned here, what false impressions might it give children about the experience of slavery?
From the publishers description: “Everyone is buzzing about the president’s birthday! Especially George Washington’s servants, who scurry around the kitchen preparing to make this the best celebration ever. Oh, how George Washington loves his cake! And, oh, how he depends on Hercules, his head chef, to make it for him. Hercules, a slave, takes great pride in baking the president’s cake. But this year there is one problem–they are out of sugar.
This story, told in the voice of Delia, Hercules’s young daughter, is based on real events, and underscores the loving exchange between a very determined father and his eager daughter, who are faced with an unspoken, bittersweet reality. No matter how delicious the president’s cake turns out to be, Delia and Papa will not taste the sweetness of freedom.
New York Times food writer Ramin Ganeshram and acclaimed illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton serve up a slice of history in a picture book narrative that will surely satisfy.”
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