The book “Half Slave and Half Free” by Bruce Levine provides a historical outlook on the influence slavery had on native people in the United States. Levine provides a breakdown of the relationship between the North and the South. The founding fathers aimed to develop a society of half slaves and half free people. However, the conflict between the beliefs of the North and the South lead to the rise of the civil war, which made the founding father’s dreams unattainable (Levine, 16). The North believed in a free-labor economy, while the South preferred a slave-based economy. Levine analyses the social, economic, and political transformations that ultimately led to the civil war. The vision of the forefathers was doomed through the disastrous elements that arose because of the slavery conflict; the slavery nature caused rift between both sides and defined the nature of the fabric worn in society, which needed to be settled to resolve the conflict and restore parity.
Levine defined Civil War through the subsequent results that arose because of the intensity of the conflict. Understanding what went wrong with the vision requires a broad look into Civil war and the developments that led to the Northern Union and Southern Confederacy. A civil war occurs when an internal conflict within a country leads to an uprising against the ruling authorities of the nation (Levine 4). In the United States, civil war represented the second democratic revolution in the country because it began due to the economic diversity experienced between the main regions. Slavery was the focal determinant of the economic diversity in the United States. People in the North had embraced a free culture that allowed people to be themselves and also take ownership of property. On the other hand, people in the South supported slavery because it provided them with cheap and free labor to facilitate their agrarian activities. The southern population also had a significant geographical difference and public resource distribution because of slavery. Abolishing the acts would mean that the native population would forfeit ownership of some of their prized possessions. The southern region was majorly populated by black slaves, while the north region had a bigger population of free white people and black people (Levine 6). This population distribution meant that the northern region economy flourishes more than the southern region. The southern region depended on slavery for access to cheap labor and a means to improve the economy, which meant they were unwilling to abolish it. The intensity of the conflict rose because of the power struggle in the federal government that ultimately led to the civil war.
The religious and social differences between the north and south played a significant role in worsening the conflict between the regions. The whites had embraced Christianity as their religion while African Americans preferred to practice Islam and their traditional religion. People in the north were free and thus able to practice whichever religion that served their beliefs. However, the south was polarized with the slaves taking up majority of the population. Most of the African Americans rejected their slave masters’ religion in favor of their own. Some of the slaves accepted Christianity, but were still against the harsh conditions they had to endure in the hands of their masters (Levine, 116). The resistance served as a uniting factor for rebellion leaders who used it to motivated followers during the fight. The black American leaders came together and established the Republican Party, which served their interests (Levine, 122). The demand and desire to deliver on religious and ethnic objections was considered a mutual interest that triggered the rise and spread of the civil war. The white people had exerted their authority over the slaves for years, but the rise of free and civilized black Americans in the north influenced the sensitization and mobilization an uprising. The slaves demanded the rights they had been deprived of by the people, and rebelling against their masters was the beginning of an uproar towards the Civil war.
The organization of gender roles provided women with an opportunity to redefine their position in the society. Levine explored the paternalism and feminine influences in the north and southern before the war. Many white women in the south used their influence to slavery through the strict regulations that were enforced on the slaves. The women enjoyed they power they had over the slaves as they were able to become masters, contrary to the traditional feminine roles (Levine 97). As a result, the women became the main advocates for slavery in the southern region. However, the black women were still subjected to harsh conditions, which included rape by their masters. Some masters even removed husbands from their houses to conduct such acts (Levine, 106). The slaves found this treatment embarrassing and demeaning for their women, which prompted their actions against their masters, contributing to disparity between the regions. Some slaves managed to escape from their masters, sparking a belief that the slaves could fight back and earn their freedom. Women such as Harriet Tubman repeatedly went back to the south to help more slaves escape bondage and establish themselves as organizers and speakers of antislavery missions (Levine, 187). The role of women was redefined during the rise of the civilized black community and the advanced powers of the white women in the south. These developments were critical in the social transformations that led to the war.
Slavery shaped the political landscape in the country and led to changes that fueled the rift between the north and southern antebellum. Slavery was a popular practice in American history since the founding fathers began their journey. However, as the society progressed, a new foundation began to develop in the political spectrum. Strong-minded individuals began to support anti-slavery missions and advocate for a free society in the United States (Levine 154). Slavery was responsible for the inequities experienced by the slaves especially in the south. The constitution advocated for economic, political, and social justice for everyone, which was not reflected in the treatment of the slaves in the south. The southern region wanted to retain their slave-based economy, which they considered their saving grace towards achieving prosperity. However, the North wanted to detach itself from slavery practices. The Northern society viewed slavery as an embodiment of the evil they wanted to get away from in establishing a free society (Levine, 156). Each side of the divide pushed their agenda through petitions and rallying support from the followers which heightened the conflict because of the polarizing nature of the situation.
The struggle for power in the state and federal governments was the final straw of the conflict, which led to the war breaking out. Congress deliberated on several bills aimed at addressing the issue, but it was difficult to get both sides to compromise on the matter. Congress had failed to implement constitutional changes to abolish slavery (Resendez, 306). The northern society retaliated to such loses through rejecting bills favoring slavery. For example, the northern society rejected various developments such as the Nebraska bill which was meant to allow new settlers to decide whether new territories would allow slavery (Levine, 194). The northern society faced opposition in the form of rivals who settled in the same areas as anti-slave followers. Kansas was amongst the most polarized states as it contained rival governments within one area. The slavery advocates finally decided to raid Lawrence, an anti-slave settlement, while the people retaliated by revenging the acts in an attack in Potawatomie Creek (Levine, 197). The turn off events between the conflicting society meant that a reasonable compromise could not be reached. Each side felt they needed to avenge the members that had lost their lives, while also being adamant about retaining their stance on slavery. The surprise attacks were a declaration of war and each side responded accordingly.
Overall, slavery was the main thorn in the country’s heel as it rendered each compromise between the two regions unattainable. The political landscape provided an avenue for resolution, which was thwarted by the insistence of both regions to retain their economic policies. The redefinition of gender roles and religious factors majorly contributed to the rift between the regions. Women had found an avenue to explore in liberating the traditional beliefs and acquire rights and powers that were not given before, while some wanted to be liberated from the torture and embarrassment of being handled by slave masters. Ultimately, the power struggle and surprise attacks caught up with the negotiations and open up the gateway for the civil war to breakout. Slavery needed to be dealt with for the country to move forward, while a revolution was necessary, a war was unavoidable in search of a free United States.
Levine, Bruce C. Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War. 1992.
Resendez, Andres. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America. Houghton Mifflin, 2016.