A. Identify your chosen research question. Your research question must center on a specific historical event.
B. Discuss the purpose of the essay in broad terms. Your discussion should include why the research question you chose is worth investigating in terms of its significance to the larger historical time period.
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Conclusion: In your conclusion, while you cannot introduce new information, you can sum up your essay with a thought-provoking discussion related to your topic. For example, you might comment on the significance of historical study generally, or make a “call to arms” inviting the reader to take some sort of action as a result of understanding the new perspective you have presented. No matter your approach, your conclusion must include the following: Write a clear conclusion where your thesis is restated in different words and the major points of your essay are summarized.
Thesis: The Underground Railroad was an act of resistance because it encouraged the slaves to run away from the sordid slavery system in the South, rebel against the racial intolerance of their slave owners and endure the dangerous life-threatening conditions to gain their freedom.
Of all the defining events in the history of the United States, the strenuous and incredible journey of colored men and women is most admirable during the anti-slavery movement, among which the Underground Railroad is notable. “For many of the fugitive men and women, these routes were the last resort to freedom and salvation.” (Okur, 1995). The Underground Railroad comprised of many clandestine routes that aimed to receive, conceal and forward fugitive from the South to the North between 1830 to 1860.
Unfortunately, not all runaway slaves made it to freedom but many of those who did manage to escape went on to tell their stories of flight from slavery and to help other slaves not yet free. Many of the participants that aided the slaves to escape comprised of a diverse group of people. They included people of different races, occupations and income levels. There were also former slaves who had escaped using the Underground Railroad and voluntarily returned to the lands of slavery, as conductors, to help free those still enslaved. Harriett Tubman, William Still, Henry Box Brown and Robert Purvis are just a few of the many people who escaped the south via the Underground Railroad. Many of their past experiences have been documented in various articles, books and diaries over hundreds of years.
Among the active participants, William Still is accounted for documenting descriptions of every escapee, in his journal, Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, Agent William Still (excerpt), June 2-29, 1855, whom he aided during their flight via Philadelphia Underground Railroad in 1855. Being aware of the enormous frightening consequences of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, William Still kept his journal secret and hidden for many years. One of his entries paints a vivid picture of the harsh realities that slaves endured before escaping using the Underground Railroad is as follows: “June 11/55 Arrived. David Bennett, the new name Henry Washington, and wife Martha, &their .… owned by Geo Carter.” (Still, 1855)
As the Underground Railroad operations expanded from the South to the North, the journey became more and more dangerous and new creative ways of escaping were introduced. However, the Underground Railroad continue to gain a hefty number of anti-slavery supporters among both whites and the colored. Philadelphia became a safe-haven for the fugitives because of its natural junction the Underground Railroad. Fugitives benefitted from numerous hiding and freedom opportunities due to Philadelphia active transportation via water routes. One of the most popular tales of escape was that of Henry “Box” Brown. He ordered a box and himself shipped off to his Wm. H. Johnson in Philadelphia. (Okur, 1995) Henry Brown escape is a perfect explain of the lengths that slaves were willing to go to gain freedom.
Anyone, who actively participated in the operations of the Underground Railroad, did so with the understanding that their actions were deemed illegal by the federal government. Harriet Tubman was one of those individuals that understood the risk but acknowledge the importance of her role in the Underground Railroad. During her time, “she visited the Southern states 19 times and conducted more than 300 runaways to the North.” (Okur, 1995) If she or any of the other abolitionist were caught, they could be jailed for up to six month or fined one thousand dollars. The amended form of the Fugitive Slave Law was imposed in 1850 to regulate strictly both criminal surrender and fugitive slave return. It called for the appointment of commissioners in every US state for law enforcement. Moreover, they could call on the military to enforce the law. The law also called forth the warning to all the good citizens to abide by the law.
The Underground Railroad is remembered for its anti-slavery movements and emancipation of fugitive slaves. It has been one of the prominent events in the history of America. It also enlists many factors for the traditional slavery, which was abolished and demolished from the society later. The secret ‘railroad’ was put into place in the early 1800’s and was largely supported by the individuals involved in the abolitionist movement: the effort to end slavery in a nation that’s values are based on all men being created equal.
The Missouri Comprise was introduced in 1820. The compromise served to act as an effort to preserve the overall balance of the United States between slave states, and free states. During the admittance of the state of Missouri in 1820, along with Maine, the compromise was introduced. It was decided that Missouri would become a slave state and Maine would become a free state. The compromise also corresponded to the introduction of an imaginary line stretching out across the 36, 30 line (the Northern border of Missouri).
As described in Free Black Resistance in the Antebellum Era, the Underground railroad, and the path to Black resistance was coming forth as the leading African American ideology. The ideology put a specific importance on racial unity and ‘spiritual and collective redemption’ (Page 765). African Americans across the country began to deeply comprehend the contradictions of political equality, leading to a strong political dissertation. The piece also describes that early African American resistance was the ‘dynamic’ force of African American history, brought forth a fight against oppressive persons, and, and created a movement that was substantial not only to the lives of African Americans but also created change to the entire democratic process of the nation.
It is no doubt, that at the time of the creation of the Underground Railroad, that there was a hierarchy in American society. “The predominance of slavery over the lives of African Americans, whether enslaved or free, determined superordinate-subordinate relationships between Blacks and Whites in American Society and underpinned the economic, political, and social proscriptions in Black communities.” (Free Black Resistance, 767). As a result of the hierarchy, African Americans were not treated as citizens, but rather secondary citizens.
African Americans positions economically, and socially, at the time, serve as illustration to this. It is first important to realize the difference in economic approaches between the North and the South. After the introduction of the Cotton Gin by Eli Whitney, the South’s cotton endeavors flourished. The Cotton boom became the main practice to achieve economic prosperity in the South, and plantation owners shook in their boots at the thought of achieving economic prosperity without slavery. The processes in the North were much different. The Northern economy was based around industrialization. Despite the ongoing racism (throughout both the North and the South), the North offered more opportunities for African Americans. (FBR, 768). Thus, many southern African Americans chose to take their chances on the Underground railroad.
The social restrictions placed upon African Americans also lead to the introduction of the Underground Railroad, and increased African American resistance. Restrictive laws began to emerge from Congress that were used as a means of political weaponry against African Americans. Blacks were forced to face the issue of segregated public accommodations. “In 1853, the abolitionist Sarah Parker Remond was forcefully ejected from New York’s Athenaeum Theatre and pushed down the stairs by the theatre personnel. Remond took her case to the court and won the right not only to sit in the theater but anywhere in the theater” (FBR 769). This excerpt shows the resistance ideology emerging in American culture, and can be attributed to the rise of the Underground Railroad.
As the 19th century continued, many new laws were introduced regarding the status of slavery and the freedom of African Americans. One of these pieced of legislation is known as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This act was passed as part of the Compromise of 1850. This was a piece of legislation that consisted of five separate bills, some that complimented the North, and some that complimented the South. By the middle of the 19th century, whites were becoming increasingly aggravated with the escape of African Americans to the North. Thus, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was implemented to bring increasing amounts of ‘freed slaves’ back to the south. The law states that officials who did not arrest runaway slaves could be punished, it also states they could be responsible for a fine. African Americans could not be arrested on as little of evidence as an owner’s claim to that person. The ‘slave’ could not ask for a trial, and could not escape the accusations. Furthermore, any persons that were hiding runaway slaves (such as the contributors to the Underground Railroad) could be punished in fines, and jail time. (Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 source).
As Stanley Harrold states in On the Borders of Slavery and Race: Charles T. Torrey and the Underground Railroad: “Boundaries are physical, political, legal, cultural, and psychological limits on individuals and nations. They indicate points beyond which prudent persons must not venture because the risks are too great”. Such boundaries can be witnessed during the decades prior to the Civil War. Charles T. Torrey was a northern abolitionist. After he had crossed into the north, he himself realized the differences in culture. He described the North as wealthy and piety, and the South with economic depravations and desolation. Torrey did not believe in the boundary created by the National government but instead believed there should be no boundaries between races. In turn, as mentioned, he worked as an abolitionist. He portrayed this through several organized plans against Southern slavery. “Torrey and those who followed his example from peaceable advocated of emancipation into revolutionaries” (Harrold 275) Harrold states. This inspired many others in the Chesapeake area to do the same all the way up to, and during, the Civil War. In the end, due to the practices created by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 described above, Torrey was arrested for aiding the escape of slaves.
The Underground Railroad was an act of resistance because it encouraged the slaves to run away from the sordid slavery system in the South. The well-being of the slaves was constantly undermined by the white slave master who under the law, were given the rights own slaves. This resulted in the slaves resisting by running away in pursuit of freedom from the unfair slave system, that did not only rob them of basic human rights but also put their lives at risk. An example of the sordid slavery system that forced the slaves to rebel was written as an entry in William Still’s Journal, it spoke of the case of one Henry Stewart who arrived in Norfolk on June 19th, 1855 and recounted on how he worked for one James Monroe. The slave agreement between the two parties was that the former was to be paid $182 dollars per year for his labor. Although he was a hard worker, his employer failed to pay him even a cent thereby forcing him to flee to Norfolk leaving his wife and children behind. (Still, 1855). Another piece of evidence, that shows that the Underground Railroad was an act of resistance to the slavery system was a wanted poster offering a $150 reward for the capture of a runaway slave by the name of Henry May. (Burke, 1838) The illustration provides an explanation of how the slave owners operated exercised their power and authority to their advantage by mistreating the slaves. Ultimately, the Underground Railroad was an act of resistance because its main with the objective was creating boundaries between slaves and whites. Stanley Harold wrote that “it was crucial to establish boundaries that act as physical, legal, political, as well as psychological limits on people and countries (Harrold, 2000). Therefore, the Underground Railroad aimed at widening the gap between the slaves and the whites.
Secondly, the Underground Railroad was an act of resistance because it provided a way for the slave to rebel against the racial intolerance of their slave owners. The slave owners were not in favor of the slave having the same rights and privileges that they had in society. This feeling from the slave owners fueled the racial injustice that was imposed on the slaves by society. Slave owners denied the slaves the basics social amenities such as decent shelter and clothing because they felt that the slaves deserved the least based on the color of their skin. In addition, the slave owners used flogging as a means of punishment to black slaves as they believed the blacks were lesser beings. William Still’s Journal provides different examples of mistreatment cases that many of the runaway slaves he assisted on the Underground Railroad endured by their masters. One example that supports the above claim was that of Mrs. Maria Joiner, who arrived in Norfolk on 23rd June 1855. recounts how her master Capt. F was very abusive. After his death, his daughter was given ownership and the abuse and violence towards her continued because the beliefs were passed down from father to daughter that slaves should be viewed as a lesser being. (Still, 1855). It is evident that one of the key reasons of creating the Underground Railroad was due to constant violation of slave right. Therefore, the Underground Railroad became a necessary avenue to facilitate the journey to freedom and racial equality.
The third reason as to why the Underground Railroad was an act of resistance because in comparison to the conditions the slaves had to experience at the hand of the slave owners they were willing to endure dangerous life-threatening conditions to gain their freedom. Nilgun Anadolu-Okur describes in the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia, 1830-1860, that the Underground Railroad was a “railroad made up of a loosely knit network of stations located a points a day’s journey apart.” (Okur,1995) To get to these points they would operate at night and it involved walking on foot for long distances in their pursuit for freedom. They used the North Star as a guide and traveled through bushes, risked their lives in waterways that also had the high probability of killing them. Okur provides some examples of the conditions associated with northbound travel on the Underground Railroad. She explained that “during the day the fugitive would be concealed in a barn, cave, sail loft or hay rick and that most houses that were stations had secret passages and chambers to facilitate hiding and escaping.” (Okur,1995)