“What was Thompson’s theory of the relationship between sanctions and slavery?”
Thompson believed that negative consequences had a negative effect on slaves rather than a positive effect. Many slaveowners would whip slaves for something they didn’t do or a minor offense, like not carrying as much firewood as they could. Sometimes the beatings were so horrible that the slave whipped would be left senseless for weeks. They would whip eight-year-olds for breaking a dish, and would send slaves into the freezing winter to chop wood with bare feet. Some would whip slaves just because they wanted to, or just to show who was in charge. Many people learned that by being so harsh, they were getting exactly what they didn’t want. The slaves would become rebellious, and if they’d had enough punishment, they would get revenge or beat the person whipping them with his own whip. The punishment for this was especially severe, many slaves died from the beatings that came afterwards. The slaves that were beat said that if they were ever going to do something like that again, they would just kill the person and take the hanging for it instead of being whipped like that ever again. Whenever the slaves got beat, it would just reinforce their hatred or rebelliousness against their masters.
On the other hand, the slaveowners that were kinder and more humane got better results, with slaves that were happier (as happy as a slave can be) and more willing to work. If the slaves were better fed, then they would be healthier and able to do more work. They would feel better about their work and the crops would most likely be better than if they were starved, abused slaves. They would care for the master, or at least they wouldn’t want to get sold to someone with a more cruel way of managing slaves. If the crops were doing well, the slaveowner wouldn’t have to sell slaves to make money, and families wouldn’t have to be split up. When the slaves were treated well, the masters got healthier, happier slaves who worked harder.
Conclusion: Thompson did not approve of excessive whipping, or whipping for no reason at all. He believed that kinder approaches had better results for everyone involved, both the master and the slaves, and cruelty was only returned with more cruelty, rebellion, and violence.