In the essay “Slavery in Massachusetts” Thoreau explains weaknesses of slavery and underlines importance of antislavery legislations and equal rights. The style of Thoreau is marked by unique vision of reality and slavery, causes of the problem and possible solutions. It is possible to say that his class location and background had a great impact on his views and ideas expressed in this essay. The main argument is that compromise between the states is impossible because the North, including Massachusetts, was guilty in sufferings and hardship of black people supporting unjust laws and false social norms.
The strength of Thoreau’s argument is that the North did nothing to abolish the slavery. He writes: “Every moment that she hesitated to set this man free, every moment that she now hesitates to atone for her crime, she is convicted” (Thoreau). Thoreau claims that a policy of silence can be seen as a crime which supports slavery and oppression. As the most important, Thoreau recognizes the role of the North in economic development of the nation and its impact on slavery. The other strength is recognition of unjust laws. He explains that segregation laws are unjust, and for this reason they should eliminated and abolished. These arguments are crucial for the essay because they explain principles and social rules of a free society. The author hints that it is hardly appropriate for a body of law ostensibly operating throughout the realm that it should be applied in different ways according to the vagaries of local custom or the personal preferences of judges. Also, he underlines that as principles of law became part of the common learning of the legal profession, their misapplication became so insupportable that procedures had to be devised to secure compliance and to resolve doubts.
The main weakness of the argument is that the North could not solve all the problems faced by African-Americans. The Southern states were also responsible for slavery exploiting millions of slaves in agriculture and mines. New factories needed more raw materials for production, and South planters were interested in bigger sown areas requiring more slaves. It was a well known fact that industry is influenced greatly by the agriculture, and the South. Another weakness is that Thoreau does not recognize role and importance of legislation and its impact on the institution of slavery: “the law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free” (Thoreau). In reality, laws and legislation can make men free stipulating legal norms and social relations. He does not take into account that the Constitution grants the right to the populace, and no doubt that in society the main role is featured to democracy and liberty. Law of that kind is, in the first place, more akin to custom, in the sense that the rules provide guidance but may be diverged from with impunity in particular cases. Another weakness is that Thoreau diminishes the role of government and impact of ideology on society. He states: “A government which deliberately enacts injustice, and persists in it, will at length even become the laughing-stock of the world” (Thoreau). For the majority of whites, slavery was not seen as injustice and discrimination.
In sum, the article illustrates slavery through the lens of social, legal and moral judgments. The main strengths of the arguments are that the North did nothing to abolish the slavery, the policy of silence worsened this problem, identification of unjust laws. The main weaknesses are that the North alone could not solve this problem, inadequate analysis of the role of the government and law marking.
Thoreau, H.D. n.d. Slavery in Massachusetts. 04 June 2007 <http://www.4literature.net/Henry_David_Thoreau/Slavery_in_Massachusetts/>