The Beginning of Slavery   Leave a comment


Slavery in the United States was a form of slave labor which existed as a legal institution in North America for more than a century before the founding of the United States in 1776, and continued mostly in the South until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865 following the American Civil War.[1] The first English colony in North America, Virginia, acquired its first Africans in 1619, after a ship arrived that carried a cargo of about 20 Africans.[2][3] The practice established in the Spanish colonies as early as the 1560s was expanded into English North America.[4]

Most slaves were of African descent and were held by whites; in the English colonies, their status as foreigners and, generally, non-Christians contributed to hardening the legal boundaries of slavery. Over decades, many slaves in the Upper South were born of mixed race with white fathers; because of generations of white fathers, by the early nineteenth century, some mixed-race slaves would qualify as legally white under state laws.[5] Some Native Americans and free blacks also held African-descended slaves.[6] In 1662 the colony of Virginia passed a law adopting the principle of partus sequitur ventrem, by which children of a slave mother inherited her status. This was in contrast to English common law, in which children of subjects inherited the status of the father. Many mixed-race children were born into slavery because white men took advantage of slave women. Europeans also held some Native Americans as slaves, including some of African descent. Slave labor was in demand in the areas where there was good-quality soil and climate for large plantations of high-value cash crops with labor-intensive cultivation, such as tobacco, cotton, sugar, and coffee. By the early decades of the 19th century, the overwhelming majority of slaveholders and slaves were in the southern United States. By the Civil War, most slaves were held in the Deep South, where they were engaged in a work-gang system of agriculture on large plantations; two-thirds worked on cotton. They were directed by a supervisory class called overseers, usually white men.

Before the widespread establishment of chattel slavery (outright ownership of a human being, and of his/her descendants), much work was organized under a system of bonded labor known as indentured servitude. This typically lasted for several years for Europeans and Africans alike. People 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.[7] 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.[8] 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)[9][10] Of these, an estimated 645,000 were brought to what is now the United States.[11] By the 1860 United States Census, the slave population in the United States had grown to four million.[12]

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.”[13] 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 1855.

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.[14] 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.

Main article: Slavery in the colonial United States
Distribution of slaves (1519–1867)[15]
Destination Percentage
Portuguese America 38.5%
British America (minus North America) 18.4%
Spanish Empire 17.5%
French Americas 13.6%
British North America 6.45%
English Americas 3.25%
Dutch West Indies 2.0%
Danish West Indies 0.3%

Slave auction block, Green Hill Plantation, Campbell County, Virginia, Historic American Buildings Survey

The first African slaves arrived in the present-day United States as part of the San Miguel de Gualdape colony (most likely located in the Winyah Bay area of present-day South Carolina), founded by Spanish explorer Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón in 1526. The ill-fated colony was disrupted by a fight over leadership, during which the slaves revolted and fled the colony to seek refuge among local Native Americans. De Ayllón and many of the colonists died shortly afterward of an epidemic. The Spanish abandoned the colony, leaving the escaped slaves behind. In 1565, the Spanish colony of San Agustín in Florida became the first permanent European settlement on modern U.S. territory, and included an unknown number of African slaves.

The first 30 blacks arrived by chance in Virginia in 1619, where they joined a workforce of about 1000 English indentured servants in the colony.[16] Some achieved freedom, owned land and later owned slaves.

In the early years of the Chesapeake Bay colony, most laborers came from Europe (and particularly the British Isles) as “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. [17] 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.[17] 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 to slavery.

In 1654, John Casor, an African, became the first legally recognized slave in the present United States. In his freedom suit, he claimed that he was an indentured servant who had been held past his term. A court in Northampton County ruled against Casor, declaring him property for life and “owned” by his master, the free black colonist Anthony Johnson. 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.[18]

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.

Ledger of sale of 118 slaves, Charleston, South Carolina, c. 1754

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.[19][20]

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”.[21]

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.[7] 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.[22] In South Carolina in 1720, about 65% of the population consisted of slaves.[23] 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.[24]

 Revolutionary Era

Origins and Percentages of Africans
imported into British North America
and Louisiana (1700–1820)[25][26]
Amount %
Senegambia (Mandinka, Fula, Wolof) 14.5
Sierra Leone (Mende, Temne) 15.8
Windward Coast (Mandé, Kru) 5.2
Gold Coast (Akan, Fon) 13.1
Bight of Benin (Yoruba, Ewe, Fon, Allada and Mahi) 4.3
Bight of Biafra (Igbo, Tikar, Ibibio, Bamileke, Bubi) 24.4
West-central Africa (Kongo, N. Mbundu, S. Mbundu) 26.1
Southeast Africa (Macua, Malagasy) 1.8

 United Kingdom

Slavery in Great Britain had never been authorized by statute, in fact, 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.

 Lord Dunmore’s proclamation

In early 1775 Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, wrote to Lord Dartmouth of his intent to take advantage of this situation.[27] On November 7, 1775, Lord Dunmore issued Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation which declared martial law[28] and promised freedom for any slaves of American patriots who would leave their masters and join the royal forces. Tens of thousands of slaves did so, especially in the South, finding freedom behind British lines and disrupting plantation agriculture by their escapes. 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.[29] 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.

[edit] Constitution of the United States

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.[30]

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.[31] 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.

[edit] 1790 to 1850

An animation showing when United States territories and states forbade or allowed slavery, 1789–1861.

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.[32] 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.”[33]

 Northern abolition

Most Northeastern states abolished slavery through local movements after the Revolution, and by 1810, 75 percent of all blacks in the North were free. By 1840, virtually all blacks in the North were free.[34] In Massachusetts, slavery was successfully challenged in court before 1800 in a freedom suit as being in contradiction to the state’s new constitution providing for equality of men.

Yankees and Northerners predominated in the westward movement into the Midwestern states after the American Revolution; this led to the states’ voting in the 1820s to prohibit slavery. What developed into a Northern block of free states united into one contiguous geographic area which shared an anti-slavery culture. The boundary was the Mason-Dixon Line (between slave-state Maryland and free-state Pennsylvania) and the Ohio River.

 Southern manumissions

Although Virginia, Maryland and Delaware were slave states, their legislatures made manumission easier following the Revolution, and 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. In the US as a whole, by 1810 the number of free blacks reached 186,446, or 13.5 percent of all blacks.[35]

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.[36] In Delaware, nearly 75 percent of the blacks were free by 1810.[37] 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.[38]

[edit] Forced migration westward and southward

Movement of slaves between 1790 and 1860

The growing demand for cotton led many plantation owners further west in search of suitable land. In addition, invention of the cotton gin enabled more economic processing of short-staple cotton, which could readily be grown in the uplands. This led to the development of large cotton plantations across the Deep South.[39]

This boom in agricultural economies in the deep south resulted in a large westward and southward migration of slaves. Historians have estimated that one million slaves were moved westward and southward between 1790 and 1860. Most of the slaves originated from 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.[40]

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 was traumatic, breaking up many families and causing 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.[41] 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.”[42]

In the 1830s, almost 300,000 slaves were transported, with Alabama and Mississippi receiving 100,000 each. Every decade between 1810 and 1860 had at least 100,000 slaves moved from their state of origin. In the final decade before the Civil War, 250,000 were moved. Michael Tadman, in his 1989 book, Speculators and Slaves: Masters, Traders, and Slaves in the Old South, indicates 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.[43]

Slave traders were responsible for the majority 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, only young male slaves were in demand. 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.[44]

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.[45]

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. Regular migration routes were created and were 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.”[46]

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 still higher than the normal death rate.

Slaves Waiting for Sale: Richmond, Virginia. Painted upon the sketch of 1853

Once the trip ended, slaves faced a life on the frontier significantly different from their experiences back east. 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, an environment with mosquitoes and other environmental challenges, where disease threatened the survival of slaves. They had acquired only limited immunities in their previous homes. The death rate was such 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.[47]

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 eastern south.[48]

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, the number of slaves increased from under 10,000 to more than 42,000, as planters bought slaves from the North. New Orleans became nationally important as a slave port, as slaves were shipped upriver by steamboat to plantations. By 1840, it had the largest slave market in the country. It became the wealthiest and the fourth-largest city in the nation, based chiefly on the slave trade and associated businesses. Dealing with sugar cane was even more physically demanding than growing cotton. Planters preferred young males, who represented two-thirds of the slave purchases. The largely young, unmarried male slave force made the reliance on violence by the owners “especially savage.”[49]

[edit] Treatment

Main article: Treatment of slaves in the United States

Peter, a man who was enslaved in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1863, whose scars were the result of violent abuse from a plantation overseer.

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.[50]

The colonies and states generally denied slaves the opportunity to learn to read or write, to protect from their forming aspirations that could lead to escape or rebellion.[51] Some slaves learned from planters’ children, or from free laborers, if they were 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.[52]

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.[53]

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.[54]

Because of the power relationships of the institution, slave women in the United States were at high risk for rape and sexual abuse.[55] Many slaves fought back against sexual attacks, and some died resisting. Others carried psychological and physical scars from the attacks.[56] Sexual abuse of slaves was partially rooted in a patriarchal Southern culture which treated all women, black and white, as property or chattel.[55] 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.[55] Both Mary Chesnut and Fanny Kemble, wives of planters, wrote about this issue in the antebellum South.

 Slave codes

Main article: Slave codes

To help regulate the relationship between slave and owner, including legal support for keeping the slave as property, slave codes were established. While each state had its own, most of the ideas were shared throughout the slave states. In the codes for the District of Columbia, a slave is defined as “a human being, who is by law deprived of his or her liberty for life, and is the property of another.”[57]

[edit] Abolitionist movement

Main article: Abolitionist#United States. See also List of notable opponents of slavery

Between 1776 and 1804, slavery was outlawed in every state north of the Ohio River and the Mason-Dixon Line. (Some states did it gradually by converting old slaves into indentured servants.)[58] Through the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 under the Congress of the Confederation, slavery was prohibited in the territories northwest of the Ohio River. 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 slavery.[59]

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.[60]

Some free states passed legislation for gradual abolition. As a result, both New York and Pennsylvania still listed slaves in their 1840 census returns, although they had abolished the institution decades before. A small number of black slaves were listed as still held in New Jersey in the 1860 census.[61]

The principal organized bodies to advocate these reforms in the north were the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, and the New York Manumission Society. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 declared all men “born free and equal”; the slave Quock Walker sued for his freedom on this basis and won, and slavery was ended in Massachusetts. Despite the actions of abolitionists, free blacks were subject to racial segregation in the North.[62]

Throughout the first half of the 19th century, a movement to end slavery grew in strength throughout the United States. This struggle took place amid strong support for slavery among white Southerners, who profited greatly from the system of enslaved labor. These slave owners began to refer to slavery as the “peculiar institution” in a defensive attempt to differentiate it from other examples of forced labor.

Henry Clay (1777–1852), one of three founders of the American Colonization Society, the vehicle for returning black Americans to greater freedom in Africa, founding Liberia.[63]

In the early part of the 19th century, a variety of organizations were established advocating the movement of black people from the United States to locations where they would enjoy greater freedom; some endorsed colonization, while others advocated emigration. During the 1820s and 1830s the American Colonization Society (A.C.S.) was the primary vehicle for proposals to return black Americans to greater freedom and equality in Africa,[63] and in 1821 the A.C.S. established colony of Liberia, assisting thousands of former African-American slaves and free black people (with legislated limits) to move there from the United States. Many white people saw this as preferable to emancipation in America, with A.C.S founder Henry Clay believing; “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”.[64] Clay argued that as blacks could never be fully integrated into U.S. society due to “unconquerable prejudice” by white Americans, it would be better for them to emigrate to Africa.[64] Slaveholders opposed freedom for blacks, but saw repatriation as a way of avoiding rebellions.[63]

After 1830, a religious movement led by William Lloyd Garrison declared slavery to be a personal sin. He demanded the owners repent immediately and start the process of emancipation. The movement was highly controversial and was a factor in causing the American Civil War.

A few abolitionists, such as John Brown, favored the use of armed force to foment uprisings among the slaves; others tried to use the legal system.

Rising tensions

The economic value of plantation slavery was magnified in 1793 with the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney, a device designed to separate cotton fibers from seedpods and the sometimes sticky seeds. The invention revolutionized the cotton industry by increasing fiftyfold the quantity of cotton that could be processed in a day. One result was the explosive growth of the cotton industry and greatly increased demand for slave labor in the South.[65]

At the end of the eighteenth century, the Northern states began to outlaw slavery within their borders. Some states proceeded gradually, first outlawing the sale of slaves, then later outlawing ownership. 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.[66]

Just as demand for slaves was increasing, the supply was restricted. The United States Constitution, adopted in 1787, prevented Congress from banning the importation of slaves until 1808. On January 1, 1808, Congress banned further imports. Any new slaves would have to be descendants of ones currently in the United States. However, the internal American slave trade and the involvement in the international slave trade or the outfitting of ships for that trade by U.S. citizens were not banned. Though there were certainly violations of this law, slavery in America became, more or less, self-sustaining. Despite the ban, slave imports continued, if on a smaller scale, with smugglers continuing to bring in slaves past U.S. Navy patrols. Though slave trading was declared an act of piracy in 1820, with smugglers subject to harsh penalties, including death if caught, it continued until just before the start of the Civil War.

 War of 1812

During the War of 1812, British Royal Navy commanders of the blockading fleet, based at the Bermuda dockyard, were given instructions to encourage the defection of American slaves by offering freedom, as they did during the Revolutionary War. Thousands of black slaves went over to the Crown with their families, and were recruited into the (3rd Colonial Battalion) Royal Marines on occupied Tangier Island, in the Chesapeake. A further company of colonial marines was raised at the Bermuda dockyard, where many freed slaves, men women and children, had been given refuge and employment. It was kept as a defensive force in case of an attack.

These former slaves fought for Britain throughout the Atlantic campaign, including the attack on Washington D.C.and the Louisiana Campaign, and most were later re-enlisted into British West India Regiments, or settled in Trinidad in August, 1816, where seven hundred of these ex-marines were granted land (they reportedly organised themselves in villages along the lines of military companies). Many other freed American slaves were recruited directly into existing West Indian regiments, or newly created British Army units. A few thousand freed slaves were later settled at Nova Scotia by the British.

Slaveholders primarily in the South experienced 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 slaves would risk so much to be free.[67] 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.

Under the 1814 Treaty of Ghent, Britain promised to return these freed black slaves, but instead a few years later paid the United States $350,000 for them.[68]

Slave trader’s business in Atlanta, Georgia, 1864.

[edit] Internal slave trade

By 1815, the internal slave trade had become a major activity in the United States which lasted until the 1860s.[69] Between 1830 and 1840 almost 250,000 slaves were transported over state lines.[69] In the 1850s over 193,000 were transported, and by 1860 the slave population had reached 4 million.[69] An effect of the internal slave trade becoming the dominant character in American slavery, where individuals from families and clans were forced to move on to other states, was that it became difficult to determine a slave’s country of origin whether originally from Africa, or born into slavery.[69]

 Religion

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.[70]

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 refused to entertain the conversation over the morality of slavery. They argued for the compatibility of Christianity and slavery with a multitude of both Old and New Testament citations.[71]

Southern slaves attended, and often outnumbered the white congregants, at their masters’ white churches, where 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.[71] 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.[71]

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.[71] 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.[72]

[edit] Nat Turner and anti-literacy laws

James Hopkinson’s Plantation. Planting sweet potatoes. ca. 1862/63

In 1831, a bloody slave rebellion took place in Southampton County, Virginia. A slave named Nat Turner, who was able to read and write and had visions, started what became known as Nat Turner’s Rebellion or the Southampton Insurrection. With the goal of freeing himself and others, Turner and his followers killed approximately sixty white inhabitants, mostly women and children, for many of the men were attending a religious event in North Carolina.[73] Eventually Turner was captured with 17 other rebels and subdued by the militia.[74]

Nat Turner and his followers were hanged, and Turner’s body was flayed. The militia also killed more than a hundred slaves who had not been involved in the rebellion. In fear of more slaves revolting, hundreds of innocent slaves were whipped and scores executed.[73] Across the South, harsh new laws were enacted in the aftermath of the 1831 Turner Rebellion 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.[75] 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.[76]

 Economics

In Democracy in America (1835), Alexis de Tocqueville noted that “the colonies in which there were no slaves became more populous and more rich 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.”[77]

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 that were crippled or defective in some way were sold at steep discounts. A male that was a former runaway was sold at approximately 40% off and one that was blind in both eyes was sold at 35% off. Age had by far the greatest influence on prices.[78]

 1850s

Uncle Marian, a slave of great notoriety, of North Carolina. Daguerreotype of elderly North Carolina slave, circa 1850.

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.

Congress abolished the slave trade (though not the legality of slavery) in the District of Columbia as part of the Compromise of 1850.

[edit] Bleeding Kansas

Main article: Bleeding Kansas

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

Main article: Dred Scott v. Sandford

Dred Scott was a 46 or 47-year old slave who sued for his freedom after the death of his owner on the grounds that he 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). Scott filed suit for freedom in 1846 and went through two state trials, the first denying and the second granting freedom. Eleven years later the Supreme Court denied Scott his freedom in a sweeping decision that set the United States on course for Civil War. The court ruled that Dred Scott was not a citizen who had a right to sue in the Federal courts, and that Congress had no constitutional power to pass the Missouri Compromise.

The 1857 Dred Scott 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. Furthermore, a state could not bar slaveowners from bringing slaves into that state. This decision, seen as unjust by many Republicans including Abraham Lincoln, was also seen as proof that the Slave Power had seized control of the Supreme Court. The decision, written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, barred slaves and their descendants from citizenship. The decision enraged abolitionists and encouraged slave owners, helping to push the country towards civil war.[79]

 Civil War and emancipation

[edit] 1860 presidential election

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.

[edit] Civil War

A circa 1870 photograph of two children who were likely emancipated during the Civil War.

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.”[80] 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.[81] 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.

 Emancipation Proclamation

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.”[82] 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”.[83] In September 1862 the Battle of Antietam provided this opportunity, and the subsequent War Governors’ Conference added support for the proclamation.[84] Lincoln had already published a letter[85] 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”.[86] 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.”[87]

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.

Simon Legree and Uncle Tom: A scene from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, history’s most famous abolitionist novel

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.[88] Lincoln also played a leading role in getting Congress to vote for the Thirteenth Amendment,[89] which made emancipation universal and permanent.

Four generations of a slave family photographed during the Civil War, Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862

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 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.

Confederates enslaved captured black Union soldiers, and black soldiers especially were shot when trying to surrender at the Fort Pillow Massacre.[90] This led to a breakdown of the prisoner exchange program, and the growth of prison camps such as Andersonville prison in Georgia, where almost 13,000 Union prisoners of war died of disease and starvation.[91]

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 since the early stages of the war, and some free blacks had offered to fight for the South. In 1862 Georgia Congressman Warren Akin supported the enrolling of slaves with the promise of emancipation, as did the Alabama legislature. Support for doing so also grew in other Southern states. A few all black Confederate militia units, most notably the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, were formed in Louisiana at the start of the war, but were disbanded in 1862.[92] In early March, 1865, Virginia endorsed a bill to enlist black soldiers, and on March 13 the Confederate Congress did the same.[93]

 The end of slavery

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.[94] 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.[95]

Legally, the last 40,000 or so slaves were freed in Kentucky[96] 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[97] also became legally free on this date. American historian, R.R. Palmer noted that the abolishment 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”.[98] 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.[99]

Booker T. Washington, as a boy of 9 in Virginia, remembered the day in early 1865:[100]

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.

 Reconstruction to present

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.

[edit] Convict leasing

Main article: Convict lease

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.[101] 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.[102]

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.

 Educational issues

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.”[103]

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.[104] 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.

 Apologies

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.”[105] 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.

On July 30, 2008, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution apologizing for American slavery and subsequent discriminatory laws.[106]

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a similar resolution on June 18, 2009, apologizing for the “fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery”.[107] It also explicitly states that it cannot be used for restitution claims.[108]

 Justification

See also: Proslavery in the antebellum United States

 “A necessary evil”

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.[109]

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.[110]

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.[77]

 “A positive good”

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.”[111]

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.[112] 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.[113] 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.[114] 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.”[115] 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.”[116][117]

 Native Americans

Main article: Slavery among Native Americans in the United States

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.[118] 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.[119]

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.[120] 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“.[121]

 Inter-tribal slavery

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.[122][123] 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.[22]

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.[118][124]

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.[118] 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.[118][125][126]

By contrast, the Seminoles welcomed into their nation African Americans who had escaped slavery (Black Seminoles).

Post-Emancipation Proclamation slavery

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”.[127]

 Black slaveholders

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.[128] 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.[129]

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.[130]

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.”[131] 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.”[132]

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.”[133] 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.”[134]

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.[135] He also noted the number of small artisans in Charleston who held slaves to help with their businesses.

 Distribution of slaves

Percentage of slaves in each county of the slave states in 1860

Census
Year
# Slaves # Free
blacks
Total
blacks
 % Free
blacks
Total US
population
 % Blacks
of total
1790 697,681 59,527 757,208 7.9% 3,929,214 19%
1800 893,602 108,435 1,002,037 10.8% 5,308,483 19%
1810 1,191,362 186,446 1,377,808 13.5% 7,239,881 19%
1820 1,538,022 233,634 1,771,656 13.2% 9,638,453 18%
1830 2,009,043 319,599 2,328,642 13.7% 12,860,702 18%
1840 2,487,355 386,293 2,873,648 13.4% 17,063,353 17%
1850 3,204,313 434,495 3,638,808 11.9% 23,191,876 16%
1860 3,953,760 488,070 4,441,830 11.0% 31,443,321 14%
1870 0 4,880,009 4,880,009 100% 38,558,371 13%
 
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Posted February 14, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Slavery

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