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Slavery and Freedom: Suggested Paper Topics

Paper Topics on the Slavery and Freedom

Questions that can serve as the starting point for an essay.

  • Compare the representation of slavery in the poetry of Phillis Wheatley with the representation of slavery in poems by Frances Harper. What do the differences in the central metaphors and tropes used by each poet suggest about ways that the institution of slavery had changed between 1773 and the years surrounding the Civil War?
  • Discuss the rhetorical differences you find between Harriet Jacobs's autobiographical account of southern slavery and Harriet Wilson's fictional account of de facto northern slavery. In what ways do the two women's stories overlap, in spite of their generic differences?
  • Compare and contrast King's deployment of tropes of Christianity in "Letter from Birmingham Jail" with Frederick Douglass's deployment of similar tropes at the end of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave.

Research Paper Topics on the Slavery and Freedom

Paper topics that require research.

  • Analyze two or more texts in this section of the NAFAM for their respective literary representations of infamous antebellum violent responses to slavery including Nat Turner's revolt and John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry, among others. In what ways do these authors anticipate the wide-scale violence of the Civil War? Compare and contrast your selected texts with David Walker's Appeal.
  • African Americans writing during the decades before the U.S. Civil War often referred directly or indirectly in their texts to laws that authorized chattel slavery. Consider ways that each of the authors in this section of the NAFAM engages with one or more of the following U.S. laws or official documents in effect during his or her lifetime. What critiques of the laws does each author inscribe? What attitudes toward these legal documents do the authors recommend to their readers?
  • The Three-Fifths Rule from U. S. Constitution
  • "Article 1 Section 2:  Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons." www.constitutioncenter.org/explore/TheU.S.Constitution/index.shtml#1
  • From Fugitive Slave Law (1793)
  • "ART. 4. For the better security of the peace and friendship now entered into by the contracting parties, against all infractions of the same, by the citizens of either party, to the prejudice of the other, neither party shall proceed to the infliction of punishments on the citizens of the other, otherwise than by securing the offender, or offenders, by imprisonment, or any other competent means, till a fair and impartial trial can be had by judges or juries of both parties, as near as can be, to the laws, customs, and usage's of the contracting parties, and natural justice: the mode of such trials to be hereafter fixed by the wise men of the United States, in congress assembled, with the assistance of such deputies of the Delaware nation, as may be appointed to act in concert with them in adjusting this matter to their mutual liking. And it is further agreed between the parties aforesaid, that neither shall entertain, or give countenance to, the enemies of the other, or protect, in their respective states, criminal fugitives, servants, or slaves, but the same to apprehend and secure, and deliver to the state or states, to which such enemies, criminals, servants, or slaves, respectively below."
  • From Fugitive Slave Act (1850)
  • "Wheresoever any person bound to service or labour in any state shall flee into another state, he shall not be thereby discharged from such service or labor: but the legislatures of the several states shall make provision for the recovery of such person"
  • Dred Scott v. Sanford U.S. Supreme Court case (1857)
  • The Supreme Justices decreed that African Americans, particularly enslaved people, "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."
  • Details of the case: www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2933.html
  • Link to transcript:  www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2933t.html
  • Virginia Slave Laws codifying slavery
  • Emancipation Proclamation
  • Thirteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution (Abolition), Ratified December 6, 1865
  • "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." 
  • From Fourteenth Amendment (Citizenship), Ratified July 9, 1868
  • "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
  • Fifteenth Amendment (Race No Bar to Vote), Ratified February 3, 1870
  • "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."




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