Slavery in American History

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Reséndez, in these adept chronicles of the Indian slavery in America, theorizes that it is an open secret that Columbus was arguably the worst thing to happen to the sovereignty, freedom, and heritage of the indigenous Indian population in America after his arrival in 1492. Before then, the Native Indian-Americans had elaborate inter-tribe trading arrangements. Different tribes specialized in particular products, and they did not long distances get in their trading ambitions. They were organized into clans and families that scaled up to groups or nations that spoke the same language and had descended from one person. They were religious and believed in harmonious coexistence and communal land ownership, but they weren't without their problems.

After his arrival, Columbus, riding on the Spain royalty name and misplaced mandate, was drunk on his quest for money, treasure, and patronage. So radical was his approach that Queen Isabella herself started having second thoughts. Queen Isabella, a person who had a dream of owning all the known world, for her to disapprove of Columbus technic, was proof that he was now officially off the hinges. Columbus was the one who globalized and commercialized slavery. When he arrived, he saw the natives as free labor and started integrating slavery into the New World’s economic system. So ruthless and dehumanizing was his methods that the king and queen of Spain, after failing to procure moral sanitation of slave trade from the spiritual, legal and intellectual consultants, they ordered freeing of slaves and froze future sales.

Later after Spain established several stable colonies in America in the 1500s, they didn’t mind ignoring prohibition of slavery as long as it was practiced in these new colonies and not in Spain. Reséndez argues how the impunity of the Spanish led slavery during this era of Spanish dominance, has been conveniently forgotten from today's historical literature. Through trickery and the variance in military endowment, with the settlement of more settlers, Columbus and his compatriots took advantage of the natives’ heavily incongruent political system to enslave their members with disappointing ease.

Before 1492, in some isolated cases, Indians who beat other clans in battles would also enslave the conquered tribes’ members. After Columbus commercialized, some ‘elite’ Indians started enslaving others and selling them to fairs for quick bucks. This ugly turn of events can be attributed as the root of the perpetual servitude that ensued. He explains “formal slavery was replaced by multiple forms of informal labor coercion and enslavement that were extremely difficult to track, let alone eradicate."(Reséndez pp320).

 In the southwest, with most of the ample labor being traded away, and the most valuable resources being shipped to Spain the economy deteriorated. The conflictive co-existence between the settlers and different native tribes didn’t help the case.

 Reséndez narrates that while some Americans were appalled by the idea of slavery, most of them considered the slavery of the native Indians and the Africans to be important for economic progress which explains why the trade went ahead for so long up to the civil war. What was surprising about this is how many societies were willing to excuse slavery so long as it benefited. Other Indians didn't universally subscribe to these views since they woke up to the actuality that their land was nearly fully gone and that the population was decreasing by the day. The West didn't recognize and eradicate the slavery of natives Indians soon enough because it eased their land acquisition in America and was also not as massive in scale and brutality as the African slave trade. In this Reséndez's synthesis of American Indian enslavement, it was surprising how much of these atrocities against the Indians have either been sanitized or rationalized in modern curricula.  The book informs and offers a whole new perspective on American history and Columbus interactions with the Indians.

Works Cited

Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery. 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, pp. 320

December 12, 2023




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