Compare and contrast slavery in Europe and in the Americas.

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I'm assuming this question is discussing serfdom and the peasantry. The other Educators have already discussed some substantial differences: serfdom, as brutal as it may have been, was never couched in racial terms. In addition, while tied to the land, serfs were never understood as the personal property of their owners the way slaves were.

What no one has spoken on so far is the role of religion as it existed in both the medieval European and the American context. In this case, we could note that both serfs and slaves had a very rich and powerful spiritual life, typically grounded in Christianity. Indeed, Christianity as a religion tends to be very powerful among the oppressed (often due to oppressors requiring them to convert to Christianity), but the medieval church had far greater coercive power as an institution than any slave churches would have wielded, and it did use that power to intervene for the social well-being of peasants. This is most clearly seen in the celebration of feast days, of which the medieval church had many. On feast days, peasants would not have been expected to work (and the medieval church had the political and social power to see that its expectations tended to be met more often than not). So the medieval church did provide a certain counterbalance which would not have been seen (at least not to the same extent) in the American example.

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I agree with poster 2 that there were slaves the same race as their masters in medieval Europe. The question does not state a time period. Later on, Europe relied heavily on slaves in America. So you could say that Europe was not directly involved once there were slaves in America. Indentured servants were also slaves, and they were the same race as their masters in America.
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All systems of slavery everywhere are similar in one way -- they all force certain people to work for others without pay and without really having any control over their own lives.  So the systems in Europe and America were similar in that way.

But the systems in the two areas were very different in other ways.  Here are two important differences:

  • Slavery in the Americas was racial whereas slavery in Europe was not.  Slaves in Europe (better known as serfs) were the same race as the people who owned them.  In the Americas, slavery and race were tied up with one another.
  • Slaves in Europe were tied to the land while slaves in the Americas were personal property.  The European serfs came along with a certain piece of land.  They could not be sold to some other estate somewhere else -- they had to stay with the land.  Slaves in the Americas were the personal property of their owners and could be sold or moved as the owner wished.
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