English Essay #19
John Thompson was a slave who escaped and wrote an autobiography about his life, his slavery and his escape. Throughout the book he shows that he hated slavery and argues against it strongly. So what did Thompson think about the sanctions, and particularly punishments, that happened in slavery?
Thompson said that there are many evils of slavery, it undermined the Negro family, split up siblings, and often resulted in sever abuse. One of the greatest evils he mentioned was the way that sanctions were abused. As the old saying goes, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Many people when given absolute power over another human being become tyrants, and Thompson’s book shows that. He made it clear that there were people who were good and fare masters who resisted the temptation to be tyrants but there were many, many more who were just plain cruel.
Most slave owners would give punishments that were much worse than the slave who did wrong deserved. In fact is was not uncommon for slave owners to whip their slaves for no reason! The sanctions were so twisted that if a slave ever attacked an overseer he would usually end up wishing that he had just killed the man so that he could be hanged and be done with the pain. Several times throughout his book Thompson told stories of slaves who threated to kill anyone who whipped them because they would rather die than be whipped once more. The owners of such slaves usually left them alone if they were good workers.
So Thompson believed that one of the worst things about slavery was that it gave one man the power to punish any infraction however severely he wanted and such power usually turned that man into a tyrant. If you did something as small as break a dish as a slave, you would be terrified, because you wouldn’t know whether you would get beaten within an inch of your life or get off with some other minor punishment. That is a great evil and a big problem.