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Slavery in the United States existed as a legal institution from the early years of the colonial period. By 1804, all states north of the Mason and Dixon Line had either abolished slavery outright or passed laws for the gradual abolition of slavery. In 1787 Congress prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territory, after a proposal by Thomas Jefferson to abolish it in all the territories failed by one vote. However slavery gained new life in the South with the cotton industry after 1800, and expanded into the Southwest. The nation was polarized into slave and free states along the Mason-Dixon Line, which separated Pennsylvania and Maryland. The international import or export of slaves became a crime under U.S. and British law in 1808. By the 1850s the South was vigorously defending slavery and its expansion into the territories. In the North a small number of abolitionists denounced it as sinful, and a large number of anti-slavery forces rejected it as detrimental to the rights of free men. Compromises were attempted and failed, and in 1861 eleven slave states broke away to form the Confederate States of America, leading to the American Civil War. The federal government in 1862 made abolition of slavery a war goal. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln freed slaves in the rebellious southern states through the Emancipation Proclamation. The Thirteenth Amendment, taking effect in December 1865, permanently abolished slavery throughout the entire United States, including the Border states, such as Kentucky, which still had about 50,000 slaves, and the Indian tribes.
Under the system that became chattel slavery (ownership of a human being, and of his/her descendants), a racial element was critical: slaves were blacks of African descent and owned by whites. Children of slave mothers always became slaves themselves. Freedom was only possible by running away (which was difficult and illegal to do), or by manumission by the owner, which was frequently regulated, and sometimes prohibited, by applicable law.
Slave labor was in demand in the North (before 1800) and in southern cities as servants. But the great majority of slaves worked at agriculture on plantations or large farms, where good-quality soil and climate made for lucrative cash crops using labor-intensive cultivation, especially rice, tobacco, sugar and, above all, cotton. By 1860 most slaves were held in the Deep South, where they were engaged in a work-gang system on large plantations; two-thirds worked in cotton. In small operations they worked side by side with their owners. In large plantations they were directed by white paid overseers.
In the earliest era of chattel slavery, much work was also organized under a system of bonded labor known as indentured servitude. This typically lasted for several years for both poor Europeans and Africans alike. Europeans paid with their labor for the costs of transport to the colonies. They contracted for such arrangements because of poor economies in their home countries. Between 1680 and 1700, as fewer Europeans migrated to the colonies, planters began to import more Africans as slaves. Recognizing the importance of slavery, the House of Burgesses in Virginia enacted a new slave code in 1705; it brought together a variety of legislation and added new provisions that embedded the principles of white supremacy in the law. By the early 18th century, colonial courts and legislatures had racialized slavery, essentially creating a caste system in which slavery applied nearly exclusively to Black Africans and people of African descent, and occasionally to Native Americans.
From the 16th to the 19th centuries, an estimated 12 million Africans were shipped as slaves to the Americas.(see Slavery in the Americas) Of these, an estimated 645,000 were brought to what is now the United States. By the 1860 United States Census, the slave population in the United States had grown to four million.
Slaveholders and the commodities of the South had a strong influence on United States politics: "in the 72 years between the election of George Washington and the election of Abraham Lincoln, 50 of those years [had] a slaveholder as president of the United States, and, for that whole period of time, there was never a person elected to a second term who was not a slaveholder." Slavery was a contentious issue in the politics of the United States from the 1770s through the 1860s, becoming a topic of debate in the drafting of the Constitution (with the slave trade protected for 20 years and slaves being counted toward Congressional apportionment); a subject of Federal legislation, such as the ban on the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1808 and the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; and a subject of landmark US Supreme Court cases, such as the Dred Scott decision of 1857.
Slaves resisted the institution through rebellions and non-compliance, and escaped it through travel to non-slave states and Canada, facilitated by the Underground Railroad. Advocates of abolitionism engaged in moral and political debates, and encouraged the creation of Free Soil states as Western expansion proceeded. Slavery was a principal issue leading to the American Civil War. After the Union prevailed in the war, slavery was made illegal throughout the United States with the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. A few instances of enslavement of Indians by other Indians persisted in the following years. In the South, practices of slavery shaped the institutions of convict leasing, sharecropping, and Jim Crow laws to enforce racial segregation, white supremacy and legal disfranchisement that persisted into the mid-1960s.
|British America (minus North America)||18.4%|
|British North America||6.45%|
|Dutch West Indies||2.0%|
|Danish West Indies||0.3%|
About 600,000 slaves were imported into the U.S., or 5% of the 12 million slaves brought across from Africa. The great majority went to sugar colonies in the Caribbean and to Brazil, where life expectancy was short and the numbers had to be continually replenished. Life expectancy was much higher in the U.S. (because of better food, less disease, lighter work loads, and better medical care) so the numbers grew rapidly by excesses of births over deaths, reaching 4 million by the 1860 Census. From 1770 until 1860, the rate of natural growth of North American slaves was much greater than for the population of any nation in Europe, and was nearly twice as rapid as that of England.
The first 19 or so blacks arrived ashore near Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, brought by Dutch traders who had seized them from a captured Spanish slave ship. The Spanish usually baptized slaves in Africa before embarking them and English law considered baptized Christians exempt from slavery, so these Blacks joined about 1,000 English indentured servants already in the colony. Some achieved freedom, owned land, and one later owned the American Colonies' first true slave.
In the early years of the Chesapeake Bay colony, most laborers came from Britain "indentured servants." To gain passage to the colonies, they signed contracts of indenture to pay with work for their passage, their upkeep and training, usually on a farm, as the colonies were highly agricultural. The servants were young people who intended to become permanent residents. Some masters treated them as well or as poorly as family members. They were not slaves. In some cases, convicted criminals were transported to the colonies as indentured servants, rather than being imprisoned. Many Scots-Irish, Irish and Germans came in the eighteenth century.
Historians estimate that more than half of all white immigrants to the English colonies of North America during the 17th and 18th centuries came as indentured servants. The number of indentured servants among immigrants was particularly high in the South. The early colonists of Virginia treated the first Africans in the colony as indentured servants. They were freed after a stated period and given the use of land and supplies by their former masters. The historian Ira Berlin noted that what he called the charter generation was sometimes made up of mixed-race men who were indentured servants, and whose ancestry was African and Iberian. They were descendants of Portuguese and Spanish men who worked in African ports as traders or facilitators in the slave trade, and their African consorts.
The Chesapeake Bay Colony had difficulty attracting sufficient laborers; in addition, there was a high mortality rate in the early years. The wealthier planters found that the major problem with indentured servants was that they left after several years, just when they had become skilled and the most valuable workers. In addition, an improving economy in England in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century meant that fewer workers chose to go to the colonies. The transformation of the status of Africans from indentured servitude to slavery—whereby they could never leave—happened gradually. There were no laws regarding slavery early in Virginia's history. But, by 1640, the Virginia courts had sentenced at least one black servant, John Punch, to slavery.
In 1654, John Casor, a black indentured servant, became the first legally recognized slave in Colonial America. He claimed to someone named Robert Parker that his owner, free black colonist Anthony Johnson, had held him past his term. Parker told Johnson that if he did not release Casor, Parker would testify in court to this fact; under local laws, this might cause the forfeiture of some of Johnson's land. Under duress, Johnson freed Casor, who entered into seven years' servitude with Parker. Johnson, who felt he had been cheated, sued Parker to repossess Casor. A Northampton County court ruled for Johnson, declaring that Parker illegally was detaining Casor from his rightful master who legally held him "for the duration of his life". Since persons with African origins were not English subjects by birth, they were considered foreigners and generally outside English Common Law. Elizabeth Key Grinstead, a mixed-race woman, successfully gained her freedom and that of her son in the Virginia courts in 1656 by making her case as the daughter of the free Englishman Thomas Key. She was also a baptized Christian. Her attorney and her son's father was also an English subject, which may have helped her case.
Shortly after the Elizabeth Key trial and similar challenges, in 1662 Virginia passed a law adopting the principle of partus sequitur ventrum (called partus, for short), stating that any children of an enslaved mother would take her status and be born into slavery, regardless if the father were a freeborn Englishman. This institutionalized the power relationships, freed the white men from the legal responsibility to acknowledge or financially support their children, and somewhat confined the open scandal of mixed-race children and miscegenation to within the slave quarters.
The Virginia Slave codes of 1705 further defined as slaves those people imported from nations that were not Christian, as well as Native Americans who were sold to colonists by other Native Americans. This established the basis for the legal enslavement of any non-Christian foreigner.
In 1735, the trustees of the colony of Georgia, set up to enable worthy laborers to have a new start, passed a law to prohibit slavery, which was then legal in the other twelve English colonies. They wanted to eliminate the risk of slave rebellions and make Georgia better able to defend against attacks from the Spanish to the south. The law supported Georgia's original charter—to turn some of England's poor into hardworking small farmers.
The Protestant Scottish highlanders who settled what is now Darien, Georgia added a moral anti-slavery argument, which was rare at the time, in their 1739 "Petition of the Inhabitants of New Inverness".
By 1750 Georgia authorized slavery in the state because they had been unable to secure enough indentured servants as laborers, since economic conditions in England began to improve in the first half of the eighteenth century. During most of the British colonial period, slavery existed in all the colonies. People enslaved in the North typically worked as house servants, artisans, laborers and craftsmen, with the greater number in cities. The South depended on an agricultural economy, and it had a significantly higher number and proportion of slaves in the population, as its commodity crops were labor intensive. Early on, slaves in the South worked primarily in agriculture, on farms and plantations growing indigo, rice, and tobacco; cotton became a major crop after the 1790s. The invention of the cotton gin enabled the cultivation of short-staple cotton in a wide variety of areas, leading to the development of the Deep South as cotton country. Tobacco was very labor intensive, as was rice cultivation. In South Carolina in 1720, about 65% of the population consisted of slaves. Planters (defined by historians as those who held 20 slaves or more) used slaves to cultivate commodity crops. Backwoods subsistence farmers, the later wave of settlers in the 18th century who settled along the Appalachian Mountains and backcountry, seldom owned slaves.
Some of the British colonies attempted to abolish the international slave trade, fearing that the importation of new Africans would be disruptive. Virginia bills to that effect were vetoed by the British Privy Council. Rhode Island forbade the import of slaves in 1774. All of the colonies except Georgia had banned or limited the African slave trade by 1786; Georgia did so in 1798. Some of these laws were later repealed.
|Origins and Percentages of Africans|
imported into British North America
and Louisiana (1700–1820)
|West-central Africa (Kongo, N. Mbundu, S. Mbundu)||26.1|
|Bight of Biafra (Igbo, Tikar, Ibibio, Bamileke, Bubi)||24.4|
|Sierra Leone (Mende, Temne)||15.8|
|Senegambia (Mandinka, Fula, Wolof)||14.5|
|Gold Coast (Akan, Fon)||13.1|
|Windward Coast (Mandé, Kru)||5.2|
|Bight of Benin (Yoruba, Ewe, Fon, Allada and Mahi)||4.3|
|Southeast Africa (Macua, Malagasy)||1.8|
Slavery in Great Britain had never been authorized by statute. In 1772 it was made unenforceable at common law by a decision of Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the King's Bench, but this decision did not apply in the colonies. A number of cases for emancipation were presented to the British courts. Numerous runaways hoped to reach Britain where they hoped to be free. The slaves' belief that King George III was for them and against their masters rose as tensions increased before the American Revolution; colonial slaveholders feared a British-inspired slave revolt.
In early 1775 Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, wrote to Lord Dartmouth of his intent to take advantage of this situation. On November 7, 1775, Lord Dunmore issued Lord Dunmore's Proclamation which declared martial law and promised freedom for any slaves of American patriots who would leave their masters and join the royal forces. About 1500 did so; most died of disease before they could do any fighting. Only 300 made it to freedom in Britain.
In all the 13 colonies tens of thousands of slaves tried to enlist in the British army when it controlled an area. For instance, in South Carolina, nearly 25,000 slaves (30% of the total enslaved population) fled, migrated or died during the disruption of the war. In the closing months of the war, the British evacuated 20,000 freedmen, transporting them for resettlement in Nova Scotia, the Caribbean islands, and some to England.
The Constitution of the United States was drafted in 1787, and included several provisions regarding slavery. Section 9 of Article I allowed the continued "importation" of slaves. By prohibiting changes for two decades to regulation of the slave trade, Article V effectively protected the trade until 1808, giving the States then existing 20 years to resolve this issue. During that time, planters in states of the Lower South imported tens of thousands of slaves, more than during any previous two decades in colonial/US history.
As further protection for slavery, the delegates approved Section 2 of Article IV, which prohibited citizens from providing assistance to escaping slaves and required the return of chattel property to owners.
In a section negotiated by James Madison of Virginia, Section 2 of Article I designated "other persons" (slaves) to be added to the total of the state's free population, at the rate of three-fifths of their total number, to establish the state's official population for the purposes of apportionment of Congressional representation and federal taxation. This increased the power of southern states in Congress for decades, affecting national policies and legislation. They were represented primarily by men of their planter elite, who also dominated the presidency for nearly 50 years.
While the Constitution protected the slave trade, in the first two decades of the postwar era, state legislatures in both the North and South made decisions to extend freedom to more men, resulting in a dramatic rise in the number and of free blacks and their proportion in the United States by 1810. Most free blacks were in the North, but in the Upper South, the proportion went from less than one percent of all blacks to more than 10 percent, even as the number of slaves were increasing. After that, the cotton gin made the cultivation of short-staple cotton profitable, as it could be processed, and cotton cultivation spread dramatically throughout the Deep South, increasing the internal market for slaves.
The protections of slavery in the Constitution strengthened the political power of southern representatives and the southern economy had links nationwide. As the historian James Oliver Horton noted, slaveholders and the commodity crops of the South had a strong influence on United States politics and economy; New York City's economy was closely tied to the South through shipping and manufacturing, for instance. In addition, he said,
"in the 72 years between the election of George Washington and the election of Abraham Lincoln, 50 of those years [had] a slaveholder as president of the United States, and, for that whole period of time, there was never a person elected to a second term who was not a slaveholder."
Between 1777 and 1804, anti-slavery laws or constitutions were passed in every state north of the Ohio River and the Mason-Dixon Line. By 1810, 75 percent of all blacks in the North were free. By 1840, virtually all blacks in the North were free. Vermont's 1777 constitution made no allowance for slavery. In Massachusetts, slavery was successfully challenged in court in 1783 in a freedom suit by Quock Walker as being in contradiction to the state's new constitution of 1780 providing for equality of men. Free blacks were subject to racial segregation in the North and it took decades for some states to extend the franchise to them.
However most northern states passed legislation for gradual abolition. As a result of this gradualist approach New York did not free its last slaves until 1829, Rhode Island had 5 slaves still listed in the 1840 census, Pennsylvania's last slaves were freed in 1847, Connecticut did not completely abolish slavery until 1848, and slavery was not completely lifted in New Hampshire and New Jersey until the nationwide emancipation in 1865
The principal organized bodies to advocate these reforms in the north were the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and the New York Manumission Society. The emancipation of slaves in the North led to the growth in the population of northern free blacks, from several hundreds in the 1770s to nearly 50,000 by 1810.
Through the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 under the Congress of the Confederation, slavery was prohibited in the territories northwest of the Ohio River (However existing slaves in the Territory were not freed although they could no longer be sold). That was a compromise, for Thomas Jefferson's original proposal in 1784 to end slavery in all the territories lost in Congress by one vote. As a result, the territories south of the Ohio River (and Missouri) did have full slavery Yankees and Northerners predominated in the westward movement into the Midwestern territory after the American Revolution; as the states were organized, they voted to prohibit slavery in their constitutions when they achieved statehood, Ohio 1803, Indiana 1816, and Illinois 1818. What developed into a Northern block of free states united into one contiguous geographic area that generally shared an anti-slavery culture. The exceptions were areas along the Ohio River settled by Southerners, for instance, the southern portions of states such as Indiana, Ohio and Illinois, leading those areas generally to share in Southern culture and positions.
Although Virginia, Maryland and Delaware were slave states, their legislatures made manumission easier following the Revolution. Quaker and Methodist ministers particularly urged slaveholders to free their slaves. The number and proportion of free blacks in the states rose dramatically until 1810. More than half of the number of free blacks in the United States were concentrated in the Upper South. The proportion of free blacks among the black population in the Upper South rose from less than one percent in 1792 to more than 10 percent by 1810. In Delaware, nearly 75 percent of blacks were free by 1810.
In the US as a whole, by 1810 the number of free blacks reached 186,446, or 13.5 percent of all blacks. After that period, few were freed, as the development of cotton plantations featuring short-staple cotton in the Deep South drove up the internal demand for slaves in the domestic slave trade.
The growing demand for cotton led many plantation owners further west in search of suitable land. In addition, invention of the cotton gin in 1793 enabled more economic processing of short-staple cotton, which could readily be grown in the uplands. The invention revolutionized the cotton industry by increasing fifty-fold the quantity of cotton that could be processed in a day. The mechanization could efficiently handle short-staple cotton, which could be grown in more places than the long-staple cotton of the Low Country. Results were the explosive growth of cotton cultivation throughout the Deep South and greatly increased demand for slave labor to support it. Manumissions decreased dramatically in the South. At the end of the War of 1812, fewer than 300,000 bales of cotton were produced nationally. By 1820 the amount of cotton produced had increased to 600,000 bales, and by 1850 it had reached 4,000,000.
By 1815, the internal slave trade had become a major economic activity in the United States; it lasted until the 1860s. Between 1830 and 1840 nearly 250,000 slaves were taken across state lines. In the 1850s over 193,000 were transported, and historians estimate nearly one million in total took part in the forced migration of this new Middle Passage. By 1860 the slave population in the United States had reached 4 million. As the internal slave trade became a dominant feature of American slavery, individuals lost their connection to families and clans. Added to the earlier settlers' previous glossing over of origins and combining slaves from different tribes, many ethnic Africans lost all knowledge of varying tribal origins in Africa, as most had families who had been in the United States for many generations.
This boom in agricultural economies in the Deep South resulted in a large westward and southward forced migration of slaves. Historians have estimated that one million slaves were moved westward and southward between 1790 and 1860. Most of the slaves originated in Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas, where changes in agriculture decreased demand for slaves. Before 1810, primary destinations were Kentucky and Tennessee, but after 1810 Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas received the most slaves. Kentucky and Tennessee became exporting states.
The historian Ira Berlin called this forced migration the "Second Middle Passage", because it reproduced many of the same horrors as the Middle Passage (the name given to the transportation of slaves from Africa to North America). This large migration of slaves broke up many families and caused much hardship. The historian Peter Kolchin wrote, "By breaking up existing families and forcing slaves to relocate far from everyone and everything they knew," this migration "replicated (if on a reduced level) many of [the] horrors" of the Atlantic slave trade. Characterizing it as the "central event” in the life of a slave between the American Revolution and the Civil War, Berlin wrote that whether slaves were directly uprooted or lived in fear that they or their families would be involuntarily moved, "the massive deportation traumatized black people, both slave and free."
In the 1830s, almost 300,000 slaves were transported, with Alabama and Mississippi receiving 100,000 each. During each decade between 1810 and 1860, at least 100,000 slaves were moved from their state of origin. In the final decade before the Civil War, 250,000 were moved. Michael Tadman wrote in Speculators and Slaves: Masters, Traders, and Slaves in the Old South (1989) that 60–70% of interregional migrations were the result of the sale of slaves. In 1820 a child in the Upper South had a 30% chance of being sold south by 1860. The death rate for the slaves on their way to their new destination across the American South was much less than that of the captives shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, but mortality was higher than the normal death rate.
Slave traders transported two-thirds of the slaves who moved west. Only a minority moved with their families and existing master. Slave traders had little interest in purchasing or transporting intact slave families; in the early years, planters demanded only young male slaves for heavy labor. Later, in the interest of creating a "self-reproducing labor force", planters purchased nearly equal numbers of men and women. Berlin wrote:
"The internal slave trade became the largest enterprise in the South outside the plantation itself, and probably the most advanced in its employment of modern transportation, finance, and publicity." The slave trade industry developed its own unique language, with terms such as "prime hands, bucks, breeding wenches, and fancy girls" coming into common use.
The expansion of the interstate slave trade contributed to the "economic revival of once depressed seaboard states" as demand accelerated the value of slaves who were subject to sale.
Some traders moved their "chattels" by sea, with Norfolk to New Orleans being the most common route, but most slaves were forced to walk overland. Others were shipped downriver from such markets as Louisville on the Ohio River, and Natchez on the Mississippi. Traders created regular migration routes served by a network of slave pens, yards, and warehouses needed as temporary housing for the slaves. In addition, other vendors provided clothes, food, and supplies for slaves. As the trek advanced, some slaves were sold and new ones purchased. Berlin concluded, "In all, the slave trade, with its hubs and regional centers, its spurs and circuits, reached into every cranny of southern society. Few southerners, black or white, were untouched."
Once the trip ended, slaves faced a life on the frontier significantly different from most labor in the Upper South. Clearing trees and starting crops on virgin fields was harsh and backbreaking work. A combination of inadequate nutrition, bad water, and exhaustion from both the journey and the work weakened the newly arrived slaves and produced casualties. New plantations were located at rivers' edges for ease of transportation and travel. Mosquitoes and other environmental challenges spread disease, which took the lives of many slaves. They had acquired only limited immunities to lowland diseases in their previous homes. The death rate was so high that, in the first few years of hewing a plantation out of the wilderness, some planters preferred whenever possible to use rented slaves rather than their own.
The harsh conditions on the frontier increased slave resistance and led owners and overseers to rely on violence for control. Many of the slaves were new to cotton fields and unaccustomed to the "sunrise-to-sunset gang labor" required by their new life. Slaves were driven much harder than when they had been in growing tobacco or wheat back east. Slaves had less time and opportunity to improve the quality of their lives by raising their own livestock or tending vegetable gardens, for either their own consumption or trade, as they could in the east.
In Louisiana, French colonists had established sugar cane plantations and exported sugar as the chief commodity crop. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Americans entered the state and joined the sugar cultivation. Between 1810 and 1830, planters bought slaves from the North and the number of slaves increased from less than 10,000 to more than 42,000. Planters preferred young males, who represented two-thirds of the slave purchases. Dealing with sugar cane was even more physically demanding than growing cotton. The largely young, unmarried male slave force made the reliance on violence by the owners “especially savage.”
New Orleans became nationally important as a slave market and port, as slaves were shipped from there upriver by steamboat to plantations on the Mississippi River; it also sold slaves who had been shipped downriver from markets such as Louisville. By 1840, it had the largest slave market in North America. It became the wealthiest and the fourth-largest city in the nation, based chiefly on the slave trade and associated businesses. The trading season was from September to May, after the harvest.
The treatment of slaves in the United States varied widely depending on conditions, times and places. Treatment was generally characterized by brutality, degradation, and inhumanity. Whippings, executions, and rapes were commonplace. Exceptions existed to virtually every generalization; for instance, there were slaves who employed white workers, slave doctors who treated upper-class white patients, and slaves who rented out their labor.
The colonies and states generally denied slaves the opportunity to learn to read or write, to protect against their forming aspirations that could lead to escape or rebellion. Some slaves learned from planters' children, or from free laborers, while working alongside them.
Medical care, which was limited in terms of medical knowledge available to anyone, for slaves was generally provided by other slaves or by slaveholders' family members. Many slaves possessed medical skills needed to tend to each other, and used many folk remedies brought from Africa. They also developed new remedies based on American plants and herbs.
Some states prohibited religious gatherings of slaves, particularly following incidents such as Nat Turner's rebellion in 1831. Planters feared that group meetings would facilitate communication and may lead to rebellion.
Slaves were punished by whipping, shackling, hanging, beating, burning, mutilation, branding, and imprisonment. Punishment was most often meted in response to disobedience or perceived infractions, but sometimes abuse was carried out simply to re-assert the dominance of the master or overseer over the slave.
Because of the power relationships of the institution, slave women in the United States were at high risk for rape and sexual abuse. Many slaves fought back against sexual attacks, and some died resisting. Others carried psychological and physical scars from the attacks. Sexual abuse of slaves was partially rooted in a patriarchal Southern culture which treated black women as property or chattel. Southern culture strongly policed against sexual relations between white women and black men on the purported grounds of racial purity but, before the late eighteenth century, the many mixed-race slaves and slave children showed that white men had often taken advantage of slave women. Both Mary Chesnut and Fanny Kemble, wives of planters, wrote about this issue in the antebellum South.
To help regulate the relationship between slave and owner, including legal support for keeping the slave as property, slave codes were established. Slave codes were laws established to demonstrate legal sanctions over the black population.
While each state had its own slave code, many concepts were shared throughout the slave states. According to the slave codes, teaching a slave to read or write was illegal, although it often took place as children taught each other.
Even though slave codes had many common features, each state had specific codes or variations that suited the laws in that region. For example in Alabama, slaves were not allowed to leave from the premises of the owner without written consent, nor were slaves allowed to trade goods among themselves. In Virginia, slaves were not permitted to drink in public within one mile of his master or during public gatherings. In Ohio, an emancipated slave was prohibited from returning to the state in which he or she had been enslaved. Slaves were not permitted to carry firearms in any of the slave states.
The code for the District of Columbia defined a slave as "a human being, who is by law deprived of his or her liberty for life, and is the property of another."
As noted above, soon after the Revolutionary War, northern states began to abolish slavery. Many states, including southern ones, passed laws prohibiting the importation of slaves to end the transatlantic slave trade.
After Great Britain and the United States outlawed the international slave trade in 1808, the British West Africa Squadron's slave trade suppression activities were assisted by forces from the United States Navy, starting in 1820. With the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, the relationship with Britain was formalised, and they jointly ran the Africa Squadron.
Throughout the first half of the 19th century, abolitionism, a movement to end slavery grew in strength throughout the United States; most abolitionist societies and supporters were in the North. This struggle took place amid strong support for slavery among white Southerners, who profited greatly from the system of enslaved labor. Slavery was entwined with the national economy; for instance, the banking, shipping and manufacturing industries of New York City all had strong economic interests in slavery, as did some other major cities in the North.
Slaveholders began to refer to slavery as the "peculiar institution" to differentiate it from other examples of forced labor. They justified it as less cruel than the free labor of the North.
In the early part of the 19th century, a variety of organizations were founded that advocated moving black people from the United States to locations where they would enjoy greater freedom; some endorsed colonization in Africa, while others advocated emigration. During the 1820s and 1830s, the American Colonization Society (ACS) was the primary organization for proposals to "return" black Americans to Africa. The ACS was made up mostly of Quakers and slaveholders, who disagreed on the issue of slavery but found common ground in support of "repatriation". Most black Americans did not want to emigrate; rather, they wanted full rights in the United States, where they were native born, often for generations.
In 1821 the ACS established the colony of Liberia. It assisted thousands of former African-American slaves and free blacks (with legislated limits) to emigrate there from the United States. Many white people saw this as preferable to emancipation in the United States. Henry Clay, one of the founders, said that blacks faced
"unconquerable prejudice resulting from their color, they never could amalgamate with the free whites of this country. It was desirable, therefore, as it respected them, and the residue of the population of the country, to drain them off".
After 1830, William Lloyd Garrison worked for abolition by tying it to religion as a personal sin. He demanded the owners repent and start the process of emancipation. His position increased defensiveness on the part of some southerners, who pointed to the long history of slavery among cultures. A few abolitionists, such as John Brown, favored the use of armed force to foment uprisings among the slaves. Most tried to raise public support for changed laws and to use the legal system.
The United States Constitution, adopted in 1787, had prevented Congress from regulating the importation of slaves until 1808. Knowing the trade would end, in the eight years from 1800 until December 31, 1807, Georgia and South Carolina reopened their trade and imported about 100,000 enslaved Africans into the country. After 1820, when Congress strengthened the law, "it is unlikely that more than 10,000 [slaves] were successfully landed in the United States." Numerous states individually passed laws against importing slaves after the Revolution.
By January 1, 1808, when Congress banned further imports, only South Carolina was still importing slaves. Congress allowed continued trade only in slaves who were descendants of those currently in the United States. The domestic slave trade was allowed, and it became more profitable than ever with the development of the Deep South for cotton and sugar crops. In addition, US citizens could participate in the international slave trade and the outfitting of ships for that trade. Slavery in America became, more or less, self-sustaining by natural increase among the current slaves and their descendants.
Despite the ban, slave imports continued, if on a smaller scale, with smugglers continuing to bring in slaves past U.S. Navy patrols to South Carolina, and overland from Texas and Florida, both under Spanish control. Congress increased the punishment associated with importing slaves, classifying it in 1820 as an act of piracy, with smugglers subject to harsh penalties, including death if caught. Because of the high market demand, some smuggling of slaves into the United States continued until just before the start of the Civil War.
During the War of 1812, British Royal Navy commanders of the blockading fleet, based at the Bermuda dockyard, were instructed to offer freedom to defecting American slaves, as the Crown had during the Revolutionary War. Thousands of escaped black slaves went over to the Crown with their families. Men were recruited into the Corps of Colonial Marines on occupied Tangier Island, in the Chesapeake Bay.
The freedmen fought for Britain throughout the Atlantic campaign, including the attack on Washington D.C. and the Louisiana Campaign. Seven hundred of these ex-marines were granted land (they reportedly organised themselves in villages along the lines of their military companies). Many other freed American slaves were recruited directly into existing West Indian regiments, or newly created British Army units. The British later resettled a few thousand freed slaves at Nova Scotia.
Slaveholders, primarily in the South, had considerable "loss of property" as tens of thousands of slaves escaped to British lines or ships for freedom, despite the difficulties. The planters' complacency about slave "contentment" was shocked by seeing that slaves would risk so much to be free. Afterward, when some freed slaves had been settled at Bermuda, slaveholders such as Major Pierce Butler of South Carolina tried to persuade them to return to the United States, to no avail.
The Americans protested that Britain's failure to return all slaves violated the Treaty of Ghent. After arbitration by the Tsar of Russia the British paid $1,204,960 in damages to Washington, which reimbursed the slaveowners.
Prior to the American Revolution, masters and revivalists spread Christianity to slave communities, supported by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. In the First Great Awakening, Baptists and Methodists from New England preached a message against slavery, encouraged masters to free their slaves, converted both slaves and free blacks, and gave them active roles in new congregations. The first black congregations were started in the South before the Revolution.
Over the decades and with the growth of slavery throughout the South, Baptist and Methodist ministers gradually changed their messages to accommodate the institution. After 1830, white Southerners argued for the compatibility of Christianity and slavery, with a multitude of both Old and New Testament citations.
Southern slaves generally attended their masters’ white churches, and often outnumbered the white congregants. They were usually permitted only to sit in the back or in the balcony. They listened to white preachers, who emphasized the appropriate behavior of slaves to keep in their place, and acknowledged the slave’s identity as both person and property. Preachers taught the master's responsibility and the concept of appropriate paternal treatment, using Christianity to improve conditions for slaves, and to treat them "justly and fairly” (Col. 4:1). This included having self-control, not disciplining under anger, not threatening, and ultimately fostering Christianity among their slaves by example.
Slaves also created their own religious observances, meeting alone without the supervision of their white masters or ministers. Plantations that held groups of slaves numbering twenty, or more, lent the opportunity for nighttime meetings of one or several plantation slave populations. These congregations revolved around a singular preacher, often illiterate with limited knowledge of theology, who was marked by his personal piety and ability to foster a spiritual environment. One lasting influence of these secret congregations is the African American spiritual.
In 1831, a slave rebellion occurred in Southampton County, Virginia, organized by Nat Turner, a literate slave who claimed to have spiritual visions. He organized what became known as Nat Turner's Rebellion or the Southampton Insurrection. Turner and his followers killed nearly 60 white inhabitants, mostly women and children, as many of the men in the area were attending a religious event in North Carolina. Eventually Turner was captured with 17 other rebels and subdued by the militia.
Turner and his followers were hanged, and Turner's body was flayed. In a frenzy of fear and retaliation, the militia killed more than 100 slaves who had not been involved in the rebellion. Planters whipped hundreds of innocent slaves to quell resistance. Across the South, harsh new laws were enacted to curtail the already limited rights of African Americans. New laws in Virginia prohibited blacks, free or slave, from practicing preaching, prohibited blacks from owning firearms, and forbade anyone to teach slaves how to read. Typical was the Virginia anti-literacy law against educating slaves, free blacks and children of whites and blacks, which specified heavy penalties both for student and teacher when slaves were educated.
In Democracy in America (1835), Alexis de Tocqueville noted that "the colonies in which there were no slaves became more populous and richer than those in which slavery flourished. The more progress was made, the more was it shown that slavery, which is so cruel to the slave, is prejudicial to the master."
As the twentieth-century economist Robert Fogel noted, during the slave trade,
"premiums and discounts were applied to slaves for various skills and 'defects'. There was little difference in the way in which planters priced their slaves and the way they priced their other capital assets. They were as precise in valuing human attributes as those of their livestock or equipment. The premiums and discounts are measured relative to the price of a healthy field hand of the same age and gender."
For example, a slave with a skill set in carpentry would trade at a 50% premium relatively to a healthy one that did not. Slaves who were crippled or defective in some way were sold at steep discounts. A male who was a former runaway was sold at approximately 40% off and one who was blind in both eyes was sold at 35% off. Age had by far the greatest influence on prices.
Because of the three-fifths compromise in the U.S. Constitution, in which slaves counted as three-fifths of a person in terms of population numbers for Congressional representation, the elite planter class had long held power in Congress out of proportion to the total number of white Southerners. In 1850 they passed a more stringent Federal fugitive slave law. Refugees from slavery continued to flee the South across the Ohio River and other parts of the Mason-Dixon Line dividing North from South, to the North via the Underground Railroad. The physical presence of African Americans in Cincinnati, Oberlin, and other Northern towns agitated some white Northerners, though others helped hide former slaves from their former owners, and others helped them reach freedom in Canada. After 1854, Republicans argued that the Slave Power, especially the pro-slavery Democratic Party, controlled two of the three branches of the Federal government.
After the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, border wars broke out in Kansas Territory, where the question of whether it would be admitted to the Union as a slave or free state was left to the inhabitants. Abolitionist John Brown was active in the rebellion and killing in "Bleeding Kansas", as were many white Southerners. At the same time, fears that the Slave Power was seizing full control of the national government swept anti-slavery Republicans into office.
Dred Scott and his wife Harriet Scott each sued for freedom in St. Louis after the death of their master on the grounds that they had lived in a territory where slavery was forbidden (the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase, from which slavery was excluded under the terms of the Missouri Compromise). (Later the two cases were combined under Dred Scott's name.) Scott filed suit for freedom in 1846 and went through two state trials, the first denying and the second granting freedom to the couple (and, by extension, their two daughters, who had also been held illegally in free territories). Missouri state precedent for 28 years had generally provided for freedom in such cases during the nineteenth century, but the State Supreme Court ruled against Scott, saying that "times were not what they once were."
After the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, it denied Scott his freedom in a sweeping decision that set the United States on course for Civil War. The court ruled that, under the Constitution, Dred Scott (and other slaves) was not a citizen who had a right to sue in the Federal courts, and that Congress had had no constitutional power to pass the Missouri Compromise.
The 1857 decision, decided 7–2, held that a slave did not become free when taken into a free state; Congress could not bar slavery from a territory; and people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves, or their descendants, could not be citizens. A state could not bar slaveowners from bringing slaves into that state. Many Republicans, including Abraham Lincoln, considered the decision unjust and as proof that the Slave Power had seized control of the Supreme Court. Written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the decision effectively barred slaves and their descendants from citizenship. Abolitionists were enraged and slave owners encouraged, contributing to tensions on this subject that led to civil war.
The divisions became fully exposed with the 1860 presidential election. The electorate split four ways. The Southern Democrats endorsed slavery, while the Republicans denounced it. The Northern Democrats said democracy required the people to decide on slavery locally. The Constitutional Union Party said the survival of the Union was at stake and everything else should be compromised.
Lincoln, the Republican, won with a plurality of popular votes and a majority of electoral votes. Lincoln, however, did not appear on the ballots of ten southern states: thus his election necessarily split the nation along sectional lines. Many slave owners in the South feared that the real intent of the Republicans was the abolition of slavery in states where it already existed, and that the sudden emancipation of four million slaves would be problematic for the slave owners and for the economy that drew its greatest profits from the labor of people who were not paid.
They also argued that banning slavery in new states would upset what they saw as a delicate balance of free states and slave states. They feared that ending this balance could lead to the domination of the industrial North with its preference for high tariffs on imported goods. The combination of these factors led the South to secede from the Union, and thus began the American Civil War. Northern leaders had viewed the slavery interests as a threat politically, and with secession, they viewed the prospect of a new southern nation, the Confederate States of America, with control over the Mississippi River and the West, as politically and militarily unacceptable.
The consequent American Civil War, beginning in 1861, led to the end of chattel slavery in America. Not long after the war broke out, through a legal maneuver credited to Union General Benjamin F. Butler, a lawyer by profession, slaves who came into Union "possession" were considered "contraband of war". General Butler ruled that they were not subject to return to Confederate owners as they had been before the war. Soon word spread, and many slaves sought refuge in Union territory, desiring to be declared "contraband." Many of the "contrabands" joined the Union Army as workers or troops, forming entire regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops. Others went to refugee camps such as the Grand Contraband Camp near Fort Monroe or fled to northern cities. General Butler's interpretation was reinforced when Congress passed the Confiscation Act of 1861, which declared that any property used by the Confederate military, including slaves, could be confiscated by Union forces.
At the beginning of the war, some Union commanders thought they were supposed to return escaped slaves to their masters. By 1862, when it became clear that this would be a long war, the question of what to do about slavery became more general. The Southern economy and military effort depended on slave labor. It began to seem unreasonable to protect slavery while blockading Southern commerce and destroying Southern production. As one Congressman put it, the slaves "…cannot be neutral. As laborers, if not as soldiers, they will be allies of the rebels, or of the Union." The same Congressman—and his fellow Radical Republicans—put pressure on Lincoln to rapidly emancipate the slaves, whereas moderate Republicans came to accept gradual, compensated emancipation and colonization. Copperheads, the border states and War Democrats opposed emancipation, although the border states and War Democrats eventually accepted it as part of total war needed to save the Union.
In 1861, Lincoln expressed the fear that premature attempts at emancipation would mean the loss of the border states. He believed that "to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game." At first, Lincoln reversed attempts at emancipation by Secretary of War Simon Cameron and Generals John C. Fremont (in Missouri) and David Hunter (in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida) in order to keep the loyalty of the border states and the War Democrats.
Lincoln mentioned his Emancipation Proclamation to members of his cabinet on July 21, 1862. Secretary of State William H. Seward told Lincoln to wait for a victory before issuing the proclamation, as to do otherwise would seem like "our last shriek on the retreat". In September 1862 the Battle of Antietam provided this opportunity, and the subsequent War Governors' Conference added support for the proclamation. Lincoln had already published a letter encouraging the border states especially to accept emancipation as necessary to save the Union. Lincoln later said that slavery was "somehow the cause of the war". Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, and said that a final proclamation would be issued if his gradual plan based on compensated emancipation and voluntary colonization was rejected. Only the District of Columbia accepted Lincoln's gradual plan, and Lincoln issued his final Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. In his letter to Hodges, Lincoln explained his belief that
|“||If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong … And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling ... I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.||”|
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 was a powerful move that promised freedom for slaves in the Confederacy as soon as the Union armies reached them, and authorized the enlistment of African Americans in the Union Army. The Emancipation Proclamation did not free slaves in the Union-allied slave-holding states that bordered the Confederacy. Since the Confederate States did not recognize the authority of President Lincoln, and the proclamation did not apply in the border states, at first the proclamation freed only slaves who had escaped behind Union lines. Still, the proclamation made the abolition of slavery an official war goal that was implemented as the Union took territory from the Confederacy. According to the Census of 1860, this policy would free nearly four million slaves, or over 12% of the total population of the United States.
Since the Emancipation Proclamation was based on the President's war powers, it only included territory held by Confederates at the time. However, the Proclamation became a symbol of the Union's growing commitment to add emancipation to the Union's definition of liberty. Lincoln also played a leading role in getting Congress to vote for the Thirteenth Amendment, which made emancipation universal and permanent.
Enslaved African Americans did not wait for Lincoln's action before escaping and seeking freedom behind Union lines. From early years of the war, hundreds of thousands of African Americans escaped to Union lines, especially in Union-controlled areas like Norfolk and the Hampton Roads region in 1862 Virginia, Tennessee from 1862 on, the line of Sherman's march, etc. So many African Americans fled to Union lines that commanders created camps and schools for them, where both adults and children learned to read and write. The American Missionary Association entered the war effort by sending teachers south to such contraband camps, for instance, establishing schools in Norfolk and on nearby plantations. In addition, nearly 200,000 African-American men served with distinction as soldiers and sailors with Union troops. Most of those were escaped slaves. The Confederacy was outraged by black soldiers and refused to treat them as prisoners of war. Many were shot, as at the Fort Pillow Massacre, and others re-enslaved.
The Arizona Organic Act abolished slavery on February 24, 1863 in the newly formed Arizona Territory. Tennessee and all of the border states (except Kentucky) abolished slavery by early 1865. Thousands of slaves were freed by the operation of the Emancipation Proclamation as Union armies marched across the South. Emancipation as a reality came to the remaining southern slaves after the surrender of all Confederate troops in spring 1865.
In spite of the South's shortage of manpower, until 1865, most Southern leaders opposed arming slaves as soldiers. However, a few Confederates discussed arming slaves, and some free blacks had offered to fight for the South. Finally in early 1865 General Robert E. Lee said black soldiers were essential, and legislation was passed. The first black units were in training when the war ended in April.
The war ended in April 1865 and following that surrender, the Emancipation Proclamation was enforced throughout remaining regions of the South that had not yet freed the slaves. Slavery continued for a couple of months in some locations. Federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, to enforce the emancipation, and that day is now celebrated as Juneteenth in several states.
The thirteenth amendment, abolishing slavery, was passed by the Senate in April 1864, and by the House of Representatives in January 1865. The amendment did not take effect until it was ratified by three fourths of the states, which occurred on December 6, 1865 when Georgia ratified it. On that date, all remaining slaves became officially free.
Legally, the last 40,000 or so slaves were freed in Kentucky by the final ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865. Slaves still held in Tennessee, Kentucky, Kansas, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, Washington, D.C., and twelve parishes of Louisiana also became legally free on this date. American historian R.R. Palmer opined that the abolition of slavery in the United States without compensation to the former slave owners was an "annihilation of individual property rights without parallel...in the history of the Western world". Economic historian Robert E. Wright argues that it would have been much cheaper, with minimal deaths, if the federal government had purchased and freed all the slaves, rather than fighting the Civil War.
As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom.... Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.
During Reconstruction, it was a serious question whether slavery had been permanently abolished or whether some form of semi-slavery would appear after the Union armies left. Over time a large civil rights movement arose to bring full civil rights and equality under the law to all Americans.
With emancipation a legal reality, white Southerners were concerned with both controlling the newly freed slaves and keeping them in the labor force at the lowest level. The system of convict leasing began during Reconstruction and was fully implemented in the 1880s. This system allowed private contractors to purchase the services of convicts from the state or local governments for a specific time period. African Americans, due to “vigorous and selective enforcement of laws and discriminatory sentencing” made up the vast majority of the convicts leased. Writer Douglas A. Blackmon writes of the system:
It was a form of bondage distinctly different from that of the antebellum South in that for most men, and the relatively few women drawn in, this slavery did not last a lifetime and did not automatically extend from one generation to the next. But it was nonetheless slavery – a system in which armies of free men, guilty of no crimes and entitled by law to freedom, were compelled to labor without compensation, were repeatedly bought and sold, and were forced to do the bidding of white masters through the regular application of extraordinary physical coercion.
The constitutional basis for convict leasing is that the Thirteenth Amendment, while abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude generally, expressly permits it as a punishment for crime.
The anti-literacy laws after 1832 contributed greatly to the problem of widespread illiteracy facing the freedmen and other African Americans after Emancipation and the Civil War 35 years later. The problem of illiteracy and need for education was seen as one of the greatest challenges confronting these people as they sought to join the free enterprise system and support themselves during Reconstruction and thereafter.
Consequently, many black and white religious organizations, former Union Army officers and soldiers, and wealthy philanthropists were inspired to create and fund educational efforts specifically for the betterment of African Americans in the South. Blacks started their own schools even before the end of the war. Northerners helped create numerous normal schools, such as those that became Hampton University and Tuskegee University, to generate teachers. Blacks held teaching as a high calling, with education the first priority for children and adults. Many of the most talented went into the field. Some of the schools took years to reach a high standard, but they managed to get thousands of teachers started. As W. E. B. Du Bois noted, the black colleges were not perfect, but "in a single generation they put thirty thousand black teachers in the South" and "wiped out the illiteracy of the majority of black people in the land."
Northern philanthropists continued to support black education in the 20th century, even as tensions rose within the black community, exemplified by Dr. Booker T. Washington and Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, as to the proper emphasis between industrial and classical academic education at the college level. An example of a major donor to Hampton Institute and Tuskegee was George Eastman, who also helped fund health programs at colleges and in communities. Collaborating with Dr. Washington in the early decades of the 20th century, philanthropist Julius Rosenwald provided matching funds for community efforts to build rural schools for black children. He insisted on white and black cooperation in the effort, wanting to ensure that white-controlled school boards made a commitment to maintain the schools. By the 1930s local parents had helped raise funds (sometimes donating labor and land) to create over 5,000 rural schools in the South. Other philanthropists, such as Henry H. Rogers and Andrew Carnegie, each of whom had arisen from modest roots to become wealthy, used matching fund grants to stimulate local development of libraries and schools.
On February 24, 2007, the Virginia General Assembly passed House Joint Resolution Number 728 acknowledging "with profound regret the involuntary servitude of Africans and the exploitation of Native Americans, and call for reconciliation among all Virginians." With the passing of this resolution, Virginia became the first state to acknowledge through the state's governing body their state's negative involvement in slavery. The passing of this resolution came on the heels of the 400th anniversary celebration of the city of Jamestown, Virginia, which was one of the first slave ports of the American colonies.
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a similar resolution on June 18, 2009, apologizing for the "fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery". It also explicitly states that it cannot be used for restitution claims.
In the 19th century, proponents of slavery often defended the institution as a "necessary evil". White people of that time feared that emancipation of black slaves would have more harmful social and economic consequences than the continuation of slavery. In 1820, Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, wrote in a letter that with slavery:
We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.
Robert E. Lee wrote in 1856:
There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race. While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things. How long their servitude may be necessary is known and ordered by a merciful Providence.
Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America, also expressed an opposition to slavery, but felt that the existence of a multiracial society without slavery untenable, and observed prejudice against negroes increasing as they were granted more rights (for example, in northern states). He considered the attitudes of white southerners, and the concentration of the black population in the south–due to exportation resulting from restrictions in the north, and climatic and economic reasons–that was bringing the white and black population to a state of equilibrium, as a danger to both races. Thus, because of the racial differences between master and slave, the latter could not be emancipated.
However, as the abolition agitation increased and the planting system expanded, apologies for slavery became more faint in the South. Then apologies were superseded by claims that slavery was a beneficial scheme of labor control. John C. Calhoun, in a famous speech in the Senate in 1837, declared that slavery was "instead of an evil, a good—a positive good." Calhoun supported his view with the following reasoning: in every civilized society one portion of the community must live on the labor of another; learning, science, and the arts are built upon leisure; the African slave, kindly treated by his master and mistress and looked after in his old age, is better off than the free laborers of Europe; and under the slave system conflicts between capital and labor are avoided. The advantages of slavery in this respect, he concluded, "will become more and more manifest, if left undisturbed by interference from without, as the country advances in wealth and numbers."
Others who also moved from the idea of necessary evil to positive good are James Henry Hammond and George Fitzhugh. They presented several arguments to defend the act of slavery in the South. Hammond, like Calhoun, believed slavery was needed to build the rest of society. In a speech to the Senate on March 4, 1858, Hammond developed his Mudsill Theory defending his view on slavery stating, “Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mud-sill of society and of political government; and you might as well attempt to build a house in the air, as to build either the one or the other, except on this mud-sill.” Hammond believed that in every class you must have one group to do all the menial duties, because without them the leaders in society could not progress. He argued that the hired laborers of the North are slaves too: “The difference… is, that our slaves are hired for life and well compensated; there is no starvation, no begging, no want of employment,” while those in the North had to search for employment. George Fitzhugh, like many white people of his time, believed in racism and used this belief to justify slavery, writing that, “the Negro is but a grown up child, and must be governed as a child.” In "The Universal Law of Slavery" Fitzhugh argues that slavery provides everything necessary for life and that the slave is unable to survive in a free world because he is lazy, and cannot compete with the intelligent European white race. He states that "The negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and in some sense, the freest people in the world." Without the South "He (slave) would become a an insufferable burden to society" and "Society has the right to prevent this, and can only do so by subjecting him to domestic slavery."
During the 16th, 17th and 18th century, Indian slavery, the enslavement of Native Americans by European colonists, was common. Many of these Native slaves were exported to the Northern colonies and to off-shore colonies, especially the "sugar islands" of the Caribbean. Historian Alan Gallay estimates that from 1670–1715, British slave traders sold between 24,000 and 51,000 Native Americans from what is now the southern part of the U.S.
Slavery of Native Americans was organized in colonial and Mexican California through Franciscan missions, theoretically entitled to ten years of Native labor, but in practice maintaining them in perpetual servitude, until their charge was revoked in the mid-1830s. Following the 1847–1848 invasion by U.S. troops, Native Californians were enslaved in the new state from statehood in 1850 to 1867. Slavery required the posting of a bond by the slave holder and enslavement occurred through raids and a four-month servitude imposed as a punishment for Indian "vagrancy".
The Haida and Tlingit Indians who lived along southeast Alaska's coast were traditionally known as fierce warriors and slave-traders, raiding as far as California. Slavery was hereditary after slaves were taken as prisoners of war. Among some Pacific Northwest tribes, about a quarter of the population were slaves. Other slave-owning tribes of North America were, for example, Comanche of Texas, Creek of Georgia, the fishing societies, such as the Yurok, that lived along the coast from what is now Alaska to California, the Pawnee, and Klamath.
After 1800, the Cherokees and the other civilized tribes started buying and using black slaves to gain favor with Europeans, a practice they continued after being relocated to Indian Territory in the 1830s.
The nature of slavery in Cherokee society often mirrored that of white slave-owning society. The law barred intermarriage of Cherokees and enslaved African Americans. Cherokee who aided slaves were punished with one hundred lashes on the back. In Cherokee society, those with African American descent were barred from holding office even if they were a mixed blood Cherokee, bearing arms, and owning property, and they made it illegal to teach African Americans to read and write.
A few captives from other tribes who were used as slaves were not freed when African-American slaves were emancipated. Ute Woman, a Ute captured by the Arapaho and later sold to a Cheyenne, was one example. Used as a prostitute for sale to American soldiers at Cantonment in the Indian Territory, she lived in slavery until about 1880 when she died of a hemorrhage resulting from "excessive sexual intercourse".
Some slaveholders were black or had some black ancestry. In 1830 there were 3,775 such slaveholders in the South, with 80% of them located in Louisiana, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. There were economic differences between free blacks of the Upper South and Deep South, with the latter fewer in number, but wealthier and typically of mixed race. Half of the black slaveholders lived in cities rather than the countryside, with most in New Orleans and Charleston. Especially New Orleans had a large, relatively wealthy free black population (gens de couleur) composed of people of mixed race, who had become a third class between whites and enslaved blacks under French and Spanish rule. Relatively few slaveholders were “substantial planters.” Of those who were, most were of mixed race, often endowed by white fathers with some property and social capital. The historians John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger wrote:
A large majority of profit-oriented free black slaveholders resided in the Lower South. For the most part, they were persons of mixed racial origin, often women who cohabited or were mistresses of white men, or mulatto men ... . Provided land and slaves by whites, they owned farms and plantations, worked their hands in the rice, cotton, and sugar fields, and like their white contemporaries were troubled with runaways.
The historian Ira Berlin wrote:
In slave societies, nearly everyone – free and slave – aspired to enter the slaveholding class, and upon occasion some former slaves rose into slaveholders’ ranks. Their acceptance was grudging, as they carried the stigma of bondage in their lineage and, in the case of American slavery, color in their skin.
Free blacks were perceived “as a continual symbolic threat to slaveholders, challenging the idea that ‘black’ and ‘slave’ were synonymous.” Free blacks were seen as potential allies of fugitive slaves and “slaveholders bore witness to their fear and loathing of free blacks in no uncertain terms." For free blacks, who had only a precarious hold on freedom, “slave ownership was not simply an economic convenience but indispensable evidence of the free blacks' determination to break with their slave past and their silent acceptance – if not approval – of slavery.”
The historian James Oakes in 1982 notes that, “The evidence is overwhelming that the vast majority of black slaveholders were free men who purchased members of their families or who acted out of benevolence.” After 1810 southern states made it increasingly difficult for any slaveholders to free slaves. Often the purchasers of family members were left with no choice but to maintain, on paper, the owner-slave relationship. In the 1850s “there were increasing efforts to restrict the right to hold bondsmen on the grounds that slaves should be kept ‘as far as possible under the control of white men only.”
In his 1985 statewide study of black slaveholders in South Carolina, Larry Koger challenged the benevolent view. He found that the majority of black slaveholders appeared to hold slaves as a commercial decision. For instance, he noted that in 1850 more than 80% of black slaveholders were of mixed race, but nearly 90% of their slaves were classified as black. He also noted the number of small artisans in Charleston who held slaves to help with their businesses.
|# Slaves||# Free|
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|Source:"Distribution of Slaves in US History". http://thomaslegioncherokee.tripod.com/distributionofslavesinunitedstateshistory.html. Retrieved 2010-05-13.|
The historian Peter Kolchin, writing in 1993, noted that until recently historians of slavery concentrated more on the behavior of slaveholders than on slaves. Part of this was related to the fact that most slaveholders were literate and able to leave behind a written record of their perspective. Most slaves were illiterate and unable to create a written record. There were differences among scholars as to whether slavery should be considered a benign or a “harshly exploitive” institution.
Much of the history written prior to the 1950s had a distinctive racist slant to it. However by the 1970s and 1980s, historians, using archaeological records, black folklore, and statistical data were able to describe a much more detailed and nuanced picture of slave life. Far from slaves' being strictly victims or content, historians showed slaves as both resilient and autonomous in many of their activities. Despite their exercise of autonomy and their efforts to make a life within slavery, current historians recognize the precariousness of the slave's situation. Historians writing during this era include John Blassingame (Slave Community), Eugene Genovese (Roll, Jordan, Roll), Leslie Howard Owens (This Species of Property), and Herbert Gutman (The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom).
[E]very assemblage of negroes for the purpose of instruction in reading or writing, or in the night time for any purpose, shall be an unlawful assembly. Any justice may issue his warrant to any office or other person, requiring him to enter any place where such assemblage may be, and seize any negro therein; and he, or any other justice, may order such negro to be punished with stripes.
If a white person assemble with negroes for the purpose of instructing them to read or write, or if he associate with them in an unlawful assembly, he shall be confined in jail not exceeding six months and fined not exceeding one hundred dollars; and any justice may require him to enter into a recognizance, with sufficient security, to appear before the circuit, county or corporation court, of the county or corporation where the offence was committed, at its next term, to answer therefor [sic], and in the mean time to keep the peace and be of good behaviour.
- From The Code of Virginia. Richmond: William F. Ritchie. 1849. pp. 747–748
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.—Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution 
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