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The White Man's Republic: Slavery and Gender Issues After the Revolutionary War

Updated on October 2, 2011

The success of the Revolutionary War in America was a huge victory in allowing settlers to gain freedom and liberties, but these rights that were earned from the war did not apply to everyone. Native Americans, Blacks, and other ethic backgrounds that were not fit in the eyes of the Anglo-Saxon Settlers were denied basic rights and privileges that Anglo-Saxons were given. On top of different ethnic backgrounds that were denied rights, all women, including white women, were kept from obtaining any liberties. These lack of rights allowed white men to dominate the community and infringe individual rights, while abusing their own power. By justifying their actions, white men were able to suppress and limit the freedoms of both gender and ethnic groups with very little opposition and create the ultimate “White Man’s Republic”.

During the post-revolutionary war and pre civil war era blacks, especially black slaves, were constantly kept in check with pain and fear. Beatings from white owners were common when a slave misbehaved and sometimes lead to death. However, while owners were terrifying to blacks an even bigger and more terrifying group emerged called the KKK. This group, lead by radical extremists, became a symbol of terror for blacks, while providing a symbol of salvation for white settlers. Dressed in all white with pointy hats, the KKK believed that they were able to terrify blacks because they thought they looked liked ghosts and believed blacks were stupid enough to believe they were ghosts. These extremists were the ultimate murderers and torturers, which allowed them to keep blacks in a constant state of fear. This radical movement inspired one of the first full-length featured films in America and was called Birth of A Nation and featured the KKK as the heroes and protectors of the white man. The focus of the story catalogued how evil black people were from a white man’s perspective and proved to be effective in encouraging more slavery and intolerance. In the film, blacks are shown as rampaging beasts on horseback shooting and killing any white man they see, while also kidnapping helpless women. Even more insulting is the fact that white actors portray blacks using blackface, which painted a white actor black, thus eliminating the need for black actors. By using black face and having the main heroes of the film be the KKK, Birth of a Nation became a classic, but also one of the most racist and derogatory films in cinematic history.

Along with the several threats that blacks had to endure during the pre-civil wartime period they also had to lie about their living conditions. Although post-revolutionary war had united the colonies to form the United States a new movement started to slowly take effect in the north. This movement, which gave rights to blacks as citizens, was beginning to gain popularity among the northern states, but was met with resistance in the south. The movement of freeing black slaves and providing them rights was born largely out of the Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia in 1831. This rebellion, which was started by Nat Turner murdering his master’s family, later gained support and allowed him to kill another fifty white men before he was hung. In an article written on, “Turner’s rebellion demonstrated to the North the level of anger held by the enslaved, as well as the lengths freedom seekers were prepared to go for liberty. Southerners, meanwhile, saw their own vulnerability in the most shocking way possible…” (2). Southern way of life heavily relied on farming and working out in the field and if their free slave labor disappeared they would have to hire or do the work themselves. Knowing that the north was monitoring and sending reporters to the south, many farmers had to come up with a plan. Southerners then reasoned that if they could come up with a justifiable way to argue the importance of slavery then they wouldn’t have to give up their free labor. In their argument for pro slavery many would tell reporters that blacks were unintelligent to think and care for themselves, that they were child-like and needed constant monitoring. Many would also site the fact that blacks were happy with their current living arrangements and it would be cruel to send them out into the world with nothing but their own freedom. A quote from a slave holder named Swallow Barn Kennedy demonstrates this, “Having but few and simple wants, they seem to me to be provided with every comfort which falls within the ordinary compass of their wishes; and, I might say, that they find even more enjoyment,—as that word may be applied to express positive pleasures scattered through the course of daily occupation—than any other laboring people I am acquainted with” (Kennedy). When it came time to interview the black slaves themselves many resorted to telling lies about their living conditions and would report being happy with their current life. This lead reporters to be confused and often would send conflicting messages about whether blacks should be freed by the north, even though blacks were held hostage by their white owners and fear of death by the KKK.

While African American people had major problems being enslaved by white people, Native Americans had just as many problems and difficulties with the white man. Post Revolutionary War most of the Native American population was killed off by disease and ultimately left their culture in tatters. Weakened in their numbers and unable to match the gun power of the white man, many native tribes had no choice but to be bullied by the government and the “White Republic”. The strength of the government and President Jackson’s hate for Natives then used its power of the Manifest Destiny to take away the Native American’s land. Reasoning that the savages didn’t know how to utilize the rich land and that the government had a duty to bring civilization to the savages. This drive to take the Natives land was difficult however and many Natives refused to trade or sell their land. Refusing to sell their land the government drove the Natives off and began to claim the land as their own. Knowing that the white man was then going to take their land no matter what, many tribes began to try to make treaties with the government hoping to keep some of their land. One such law passed by congress and President Jackson was the Indian Removal Act made in 1830. This act allowed government to take land away from the Natives as long as they were essentially compensated for the land in exchange. Unfortunately the treaties and charters that were drawn up for the Natives were unfair and much of the land was taken with very little compensation for the Natives. Tribes such as the Cherokee tried to fight these injustices and in 1831 they went to American court hoping to plead their case. The trial, which would later be called the Cherokee Nation v. the State of Georgia, pointed out the flaws and corruption within the treaties. Although the Cherokee Nation had strong evidence to back its case it ultimately failed in court because of racial prejudice and the motion was denied. Overall the result of this entire hostile take over eventually convinced the government to intervene and try to help Native Americans by putting them onto reservations. Stating that without government intervention Natives would go extinct because they could not handle the life a white man had. Today the government has set up reservations for the Native population in an effort to try and preserve their culture.

All women of the Pre-Civil War time period were kept from obtaining rights that men had. The end of revolutionary war brought rights to men, but men refused to consider their female counterparts as their equals. Men justified that equal rights should not be given to women because they were not intelligent enough or strong enough to handle the responsibilities that a man had. A consensus was formed among many men that women were even child-like and would compare them to slaves citing that they were docile and too innocent to handle the freedom and that men needed to provide for women. Many marriages were fueled by this idea of suppression of gender because women who were married would have to rely on their husbands to defend them, even in court, but single women could have individual rights. Marriage then became a huge topic discussed by women because it fed the machine of ignorance that men had created. A lady would then have to choose which was more important to her: a family or having personal freedom.

The pre-Civil War was a time marked by the domination of the White Man and the suppression of both gender and race. Slavery, land, and control fueled the objectives of the white man and allowed him to obtain a lifestyle of ultimate freedom. While the acts of terror and abuse forced others to bow down to its suppressor these events would later shape the course of history. Allowing great men like Martin Luther King to help gain rights for black people, or women such as Susan B. Anthony who formed the National Woman’s Suffrage Association. The White Mans Republic, while short, was an unfortunate necessary evil in history that has allowed for some tolerance and comprises to be made between gender and race today.


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