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Michael Eisenstadt History 101 Dr. Holland Artifact Paper Draft #1 Due: October 20, 2011

Guilty Dreams

The pre-Civil War era was the pinnacle of United States slavery. When looked at in a general scope, it appears that Americans were driven solely by racial politics that encouraged brutality against slaves for a long period of time. However, this tunnel vision view ignores the human potential for guilt. In January of 1787, The Columbian Magazine released an article called The Paradise of Negro Slavesa Dream.1 This paper will analyze the year of 1787 from the lens of Dr. Benjamin Rushs dream and visit history from a different perspective. In The Paradise of Negro Slavesa Dream, Dr. Benjamin Rush has awoken on an island of people who are all cheer and happy until he approaches2. When he does, the people begin to approach him and tell him the most gruesome stories he has ever heard. Upon being approached, one of the natives proclaims Excuse the panic which you have spread through this peaceful and happy company: we perceive that you are a white man.3 This is a significant moment of the dream because Dr. Rush has for the first time, been the outsider of society. This initial feeling of guilt triggers an incredible dialogue in the dream that results in Rush learning of all the hideous things done to slaves. The people he refers to as negroes
1 2

Anthony Benezet, The Paradise of Negro-Slaves.A Dream. American Periodicals Series I (5) (1787). 1-4. Ibid. 3 Ibid.

are actually from all over the world, and have gone through many routes throughout the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade4. After admitting his complicity with slavery and telling them he is their advocate, one by one they approach him to tell him the stories about how they were dehumanized5. Imagine for the first time being able to empathize with someone about the feeling of pain. There is real emotion in this rhetoric, for the first time is Dr. Benjamin Rush realizing the inhumanity of the United States. There before a man of blind prejudice, a woman spoke of her child who was killed so a white baby could nurse from her6. Not only her, but others too; families had been separated, and people had seen many countries7. Throughout the conversations Dr. Benjamin Rush is having with slaves, it must be clear he is beginning to himself see through the eyes of the oppressed other. This meant it was possible for white people at this time to empathize; it was possible to resist racial politics. If Dr. Rush is able to empathize with them, then others certainly could have in real life as well. In some ways, this can help us to see how the separation between the North and the South was possible. Some people could escape racial politics, and some could not overcome its ideology. This person is Anthony Benezet, who actually wrote the article. In the final moments of his dream, Dr. Rush sees another white man approach the slaves and declare Ah! Why will men forget, that they are brethren?8 This was a declaration of the unlawfulness of African slavery. Now not only has Dr. Benjamin Rush been able to understand empathy with slaves, but now also physically seen another white man expressing the freedom of slaves9. There can be no greater window into history than to live in the body of Dr. Rush for a few moments here to see how this process

4 5

Ibid. Ibid. 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid.

occurred. It explains a lot about the ability for an extraordinarily racist society. Individuals can effectively decouple themselves from the prejudice. At first glance this article simply shows us what we already know, the details of slaves horrifying experience. However, this passage is much deeper than that. Seeing these stories told from the third party of a dream allow the reader to really understand what is was like to have this information revealed to them. Most history textbooks are only focused on the birds eye view of what happened. It is not until you dig deep into the archives and find artifacts of history that allow you to experience first-hand what you are studying. One other thing this perspective enhances about our reading is the notion of geography. To think of how subtle colonial technology was and imagine how all these lands were being traveled to their very first few times is nothing short of amazing. Racial politics dominated the pre-Civil war era. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade caused such an economic boom that people lost sight of the need for empathy or equality when it meant they could become rich. Being able to deconstruct the moment of change in a white persons life in this era can impact history because it demonstrates that racism is not universal and that people can break away from dominant narratives. Dr. Rushs dream is but one window in the past, there are many more to see like it.