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Denmark Vesey: Determined Revolutionist or Faultless Victim?

Examines the controversy surrounding Denmark Vesey, a once a Charleston slave tried for planning an insurrection that would have changed the course of history in this South Carolina city.

Criterion A:  Plan of the Investigation:

        The execution of African American freeman, Denmark Vesey, on July 2, 1822, served as a time of appeasement for the white population of Charleston, South Carolina, who, as news of an impending slave insurrection scurried amongst the white civilians, saw a major threat to the future of slavery.  A plethora of arrests preceded the hysteria, followed by months of trial and interrogation, and ending with thirty-five slaves meeting their demise at the gallows.  Although most historical resources recall that an insurrection was indeed planned by Denmark Vesey, new inspection of the official documents presented by the courts has led some scholars to argue the possibility that the plan of rebellion was nonexistent; the convicted slaves were, in fact, victims of white deception.  The conflicting viewpoints regarding this dubious conspiracy raises the question, “Was Denmark Vesey’s insurrection a legitimate plan of revolutionary uprising; or was the rebellion completely falsified on account of white hysteria wanting to keep a firm grasp on the institution of slavery?”  In determining a plausible conclusion to this question, the investigator must legitimize this assessment by delving into different books and essays which scrutinize valid evidence and support it with actual witness testimony that reliably depicts historical factuality.  Furthermore, examinations of authentic witness accounts and several periodicals additionally allow the investigator to research the debate in deeper perspective of the event’s appeal to scholarly interpretation.  Evaluation of the actual documents released from the trials also denotes a deeper understanding and opinion of the event in historical context.


Criterion B:  Summary of Evidence

          The surplus of scholarly assessment concerning the Denmark Vesey trials concludes evidence supporting both theories regarding the conspiracy.  Although the information released from the trials has led most historians to conclude that a plan of rebellion was indeed official, new speculation of the court’s Official Reportand transcript justifies the reasoning behind opposing viewpoints concerning the subject.  After Vesey’s execution along with thirty-four fellow conspirators, historians found no reason to question the validity of the insurrection, thus putting the case to rest.  Later assessment of the trials, however, compels some scholars to denounce the final verdict of the scheme by skeptically questioning certain aspects of the official court proceedings, presenting evidence wholly disclaiming any support of an intended rebellion.  Considering the tedious framework supporting each theory, the student must discern each piece of evidentiary support carefully to approach a reliable conclusion.

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