1990s >> 1999 >> no-1134-february-1999

Chattel and wage slavery

In 1855, Frederick Douglas, a former slave, born on a Maryland plantation in 1817, had his book, My Bondage and My Freedom published.

We reproduce three passages from his book because we think it draws parallels between chattel slavery in the USA over a hundred years ago and the position of a modern wage slave:

“When Col. Lloyd’s slaves met those of Jacob Jepson, they seldom parted without a quarrel about their masters, Col. Lloyd’s slaves contending that he was the richest, and Mr Jepson’s slaves that he was the smartest, man of the two. Col. Lloyd’s slaves would boast his ability to buy and sell Jacob Jepson, Mr Jepson’s slaves would boast his ability to whip Col. Lloyd. These quarrels would always end in a fight between the parties, those that beat were supposed to have gained the point at issue. They seemed to think that the greatness of their masters was transferable to themselves. To be a SLAVE , was thought to be bad enough; but to be a poor man’s slave, was deemed a disgrace, indeed” (p.118).

“Were I again to be reduced to the condition of a slave, next to that calamity, I should regard the fact of being the slave of a religious slave-holder, the greatest that could befall me. For of all slave-holders with whom I have ever met, religious slave-holders are the worst. I have found them, almost invariably, the vilest, the meanest and the basest of their class. Exceptions there may be, but this is true of religious slave-holders as a class”

When Douglas goes to work as a caulker in a shipyard in Baltimore, and works besides white wage workers, he writes about the resentment of white workers towards the black slaves:

“In the country, this conflict is not so apparent; but, in cities, such as Baltimore, Richmond, New Orleans, Mobile etc; it is seen pretty clearly. The slave-holder with a craftiness peculiar to themselves, by encouraging the enmity of the poor, labouring white men against the blacks, succeeds in making the said white men almost as much a slave as the black slave himself. The difference between the white slave, and the black slave, is this: the latter belongs to ONE slave-holder, and the former belongs to ALL the slave-holders, collectively. The white slave has taken from his, by indirection, what the black slave had taken from him, directly, and without ceremony. Both are plundered, and by the same plunderers” (p.309).

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