How did slavery deny people their basic rights?
Slavery is perhaps the ultimate denial of basic human rights. To see why this is so, let us look at what the basic human rights actually are.
One way to list basic human rights is to follow John Locke in saying that all human beings have the fundamental right to their life, their liberty, and their property. This is not the only way to enumerate our basic rights, but it is good enough that Thomas Jefferson borrowed it for use in the Declaration of Independence. Let us look at how slavery (at least potentially) takes away all of these basic human rights.
Slavery clearly takes away a person’s right to property. In fact, slavery makes a person the property of someone else. When a person owns a slave, everything the slave possesses belongs to the owner as well. This means that the slave has no effective right to property.
At its most basic level, slavery is all about taking away another person’s liberty. When a person owns a slave, they take away the slave’s right to move about. The slave is forced to live where the owner wants and can be punished if they try to leave. The slave is forced to work when the owner says to. They have no right to decide when and how they work. Slaves did not even have the right to do things like marrying and belonging to churches without the consent of their owners. Thus, they had no liberty.
Finally, slavery potentially takes away the right to life. In many places and times, owners have had the legal right to kill their slaves if they thought it necessary. Of course, owners did not always do this, but they had the right to do so. This means that slaves did not have the right to life.
Slavery does not take away slaves’ moral rights. Slaves still deserve to have life, liberty, and property. However, slavery does take away the slaves’ ability to actually enforce and enjoy their moral rights.
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