|African American topics|
Slavery in the United States was the legal institution of chattel slavery that existed in the United States of America in the 18th and 19th centuries after it gained independence and before the end of the American Civil War. Slavery had been practiced in British North America from early colonial days, and was recognized in the Thirteen Colonies at the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. When the United States Constitution was ratified, free persons of color were among its voting citizens in five of thirteen states.
Historically, the status of slave had become associated with African descent, contributing to a system and legacy in which race played an influential role. After the Revolutionary War, abolitionist laws and sentiment gradually spread in the Northern states; in addition, as most of these states had a higher proportion of free labor, they abolished slavery by the end of the 18th century, some with gradual systems that did not free the last slave until the late 1820s. But the rapid expansion of the cotton industry from 1800 led to the Southern states to depend on slavery as integral to their economy. They attempted to extend it as an institution into the new Western territories. The United States was polarized by slavery into slave and free states divided by the Mason-Dixon Line, which separated free Pennsylvania from slave Maryland.
Although the international slave trade was prohibited from 1808, internal slave-trading continued at a rapid pace, driven by demand from the development of cotton cultivation in the Deep South. More than one million slaves were sold from the Upper South, which had a surplus of labor, and taken to the Deep South in a forced migration during the antebellum years, splitting up many families. The total slave population in the South eventually reached four million before abolition.
As the West was developed for settlement, the Southern states believed they needed to keep a balance between the number of slave and free states, in order to maintain a political balance of power in Congress. The new territories acquired from Britain, France, and Mexico were the subject of major political compromises. By 1850, the newly rich cotton-growing South was threatening to secede from the Union, and tensions continued to rise. With Southern church ministers having adapted to support of slavery, modified by Christian paternalism, the Baptist and Methodist churches split into regional organizations of the North and South. When Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 election on a platform of no new slave states, the South finally broke away to form the Confederacy; the first six states to secede held the most number of slaves. This marked the start of the Civil War, which caused a huge disruption of the slave economy, with many slaves either escaping or being liberated by the Union armies. The war effectively ended slavery, even before the Thirteenth Amendment (December 1865) formally outlawed the institution throughout the United States.
In the early years of the Chesapeake Bay settlements, colonial officials found it difficult to attract and retain laborers under the harsh frontier conditions, and there was a high mortality rate. Most laborers came from Britain as indentured servants, who 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. These indentured servants were young people who intended to become permanent residents. Some masters treated them as well or as poorly as family members. In some cases, convicted criminals were transported to the colonies as indentured servants, rather than being imprisoned. Many Scots-Irish, Irish and Germans came to the colonies in the 18th century. The indentured servants were not slaves. The planters found that the major problem with indentured servants was that many 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 17th and early 18th centuries meant that fewer workers chose to go to the colonies. 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.
|British America (minus North America)||18.4%|
|British North America||6.5%|
|Dutch West Indies||2.0%|
|Danish West Indies||0.3%|
The first 19 or so Africans arrived ashore near the English colony of 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. As English law then considered baptized Christians exempt from slavery, these Africans were treated as indentured servants, and they joined about 1,000 English indentured servants already in the colony. They were freed after a prescribed 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 African women and Portuguese and Spanish men who worked in African ports as traders or facilitators in the slave trade. For example, Anthony Johnson arrived in Virginia in 1621 as an indentured servant; he became free and became a property owner, even owning slaves. The transformation of the status of Africans from indentured servitude to slavery – which they could not leave or escape – happened gradually.
There were no laws regarding slavery early in Virginia's history. But, in 1640, a Virginia court sentenced John Punch to slavery after he attempted to flee his service. The two whites with whom he fled were only sentenced to an additional year of their indenture, and three years service to the colony. This marked the first legal sanctioning of slavery in the English colonies and was one of the first legal distinctions made between Europeans and Africans.
In 1654, John Casor, a black indentured servant, was the first man to be declared a slave in a civil case. He had claimed to an officer that his owner, free black colonist Anthony Johnson, had held him past his indenture term. A neighbor, Robert Parker told Johnson that if he did not release Casor, Parker would testify in court to this fact; which under local laws, may have resulted in Johnson losing some of his headright lands. Under duress, Johnson freed Casor, who entered into a seven years' indenture with Parker. Feeling cheated, Johnson 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".
During the colonial period, the status of slaves was also affected by interpretations related to the status of foreigners. England had no system of naturalizing immigrants to its island or its colonies. Since persons of African origins were not English subjects by birth, they were among those peoples considered foreigners and generally outside English common law. In 1656 Virginia, Elizabeth Key Grinstead, a mixed-race woman, successfully gained her freedom and that of her son by making her case as the daughter of the free Englishman Thomas Key. She was also a baptized Christian. Her attorney was an English subject, which may have helped her case. (He was also the father of her mixed-race son, and the couple married after Key was freed.)
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 considered born into slavery, regardless if the father were a freeborn Englishman or Christian. This was a reversal of common law practice, which ruled that children of English subjects took the status of the father. The change institutionalized the power relationships between slaveowners and slave women, freed the white men from the legal responsibility to acknowledge or financially support their mixed-race 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. Native Americans who were sold to colonists by other Native Americans, or captured by Europeans during village raids, were also defined as slaves. This established the basis for the legal enslavement of any non-Christian foreigner.
Implemented in colonial Louisiana in 1724, Louis XIV of France's Code Noir regulated the slave trade and the institution of slavery in the French colonies. It gave Louisiana a very different pattern of slavery compared to the rest of the United States. As written, the Code Noir gave unparalleled rights to slaves, including the right to marry. Although it authorized and codified cruel corporal punishment against slaves under certain conditions, it forbade slave owners to torture them or to separate married couples (or to separate young children from their mothers). It also required the owners to instruct slaves in the Catholic faith, implying that Africans were human beings endowed with a soul, an idea that had not been acknowledged until then.
Together with a more permeable historic French system related to the status of gens de couleur libres (free people of color), often born to white fathers and their mixed-race concubines, a far higher percentage of African Americans in Louisiana were free as of the 1830 census (13.2% in Louisiana compared to 0.8% in Mississippi, whose population was dominated by white Anglo-Americans. Most of this "third class" of free people of color, between the French and mass of slaves, lived in New Orleans.) The Louisiana free people of color were often literate, had gained educations, and a significant number owning businesses, properties, and even slaves. The Code Noir forbade interracial marriages. But interracial relationships were formed and their mixed-race descendants became an intermediate social caste between the whites and the mass of slaves. In the English colonies the mulattoes and the blacks were considered equal and discriminated against equally.
When control of Louisiana shifted to the United States after the Louisiana Purchase, the contrast with the "Protestant" South was evident, as their English norms prevailed and interracial relationships were officially discouraged. The Americanization of Louisiana gradually resulted in the same binary system about race, with free people of color losing some status and even certain rights as they became characterized as officially "black".
In 1735, the Georgia Trustees enacted a law to prohibit slavery in the new colony, which had been established in 1733 to enable the "worthy poor" as well as persecuted European Protestants to have a new start. Slavery was then legal in the other twelve English colonies. Neighboring South Carolina had an economy based on the use of enslaved labor. The Georgia Trustees wanted to eliminate the risk of slave rebellions and make Georgia better able to defend against attacks from the Spanish to the south, who offered freedom to escaped slaves. James Edward Oglethorpe was the driving force behind the colony, and the only trustee to reside in Georgia. He opposed slavery on moral grounds as well as for pragmatic reasons, and vigorously defended the ban on slavery against fierce opposition from Carolina slave merchants and land speculators.
The Protestant Scottish highlanders who settled what is now Darien, Georgia added a moral anti-slavery argument, which became increasingly rare in the South, 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; as economic conditions in England began to improve in the first half of the 18th century, workers had no reason to leave, especially to face the risks in the colonies.
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. In 1703, more than 42 percent of New York City households held slaves, the second-highest proportion of any city in the colonies after Charleston, South Carolina. But slaves were also used as agricultural workers in farm communities, including in areas of New York and Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey.
The South developed an agricultural economy dependent on commodity crops. Its planters rapidly acquired a significantly higher number and proportion of slaves in the population overall, as its commodity crops were labor intensive. Early on, enslaved people 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 in the 19th century to the development of large areas 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 enslaved people. Planters (defined by historians in the Upper South as those who held 20 enslaved people or more) used enslaved workers to cultivate commodity crops. They also worked in the artisanal trades on large plantations and in many southern port cities. Backwoods subsistence farmers, the later wave of settlers in the 18th century who settled along the Appalachian Mountains and backcountry, seldom held enslaved people.
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 enslaved people 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.
A total of about 600,000 enslaved people were imported into the Thirteen Colonies and the U.S, constituting 5% of the twelve million enslaved people brought from Africa to the Americas. The great majority of enslaved Africans were transported to sugar colonies in the Caribbean and to Brazil. As life expectancy was short, their numbers had to be continually replenished. Life expectancy was much higher in the U.S. and the enslaved population also reproduced; enslaved peoples' numbers grew rapidly, reaching 4 million by the 1860 Census. From 1770 until 1860, the rate of natural growth of North American enslaved people was much greater than for the population of any nation in Europe, and was nearly twice as rapid as that of England.
|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 govern the Atlantic slave trade, where Britain had become the largest trader, nor apply in the colonies, where the overwhelming majority of British slaves lived. 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; some colonial slaveholders feared that rebelling against the Crown might trigger a British-inspired slave revolt.
In early 1775 Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, wrote to Lord Dartmouth of his intent to free slaves in case of rebellion. 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. Slaves owned by Loyalist masters, however, were unaffected by Dunmore's Proclamation. Of slaves owned by Rebel masters, approximately 1500 did so; most died of disease before they could do any fighting. Only 300 made it to freedom in Britain.
Many Northern states moved towards emancipation during the Revolutionary Era. The 1777 Constitution of the Vermont Republic banned slavery, freeing males over the age of 21 and women over the age of 18. Pennsylvania in 1780 passed An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, which declared all children born after the act to be free, and Massachusetts, via the Quock Walker Case of 1783, immediately ended slavery in the state. In response to the British offer of freedom for slaves owned by rebel masters, tens of thousands of slaves who were owned by Rebel masters 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. Throughout the South, losses of slaves were high, with many due to escapes. Slaves escaped throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic, joining the British who had occupied New York. In the closing months of the war, the British evacuated 20,000 freedmen from major coastal cities, transporting more than 3,000 for resettlement in Nova Scotia, with others taken to the Caribbean islands, and some to England. Along with these freedmen, the British also transported the slaves of Loyalists. For example, over 5,000 enslaved Africans owned by Loyalists were transported in 1782 from Savannah to Jamaica and St. Augustine. Similarly, over half of the blacks evacuated out of Charleston to the West Indies and Florida by the British in 1782 were slaves owned by White Loyalists.
In the 18th century, Britain had become the world's largest slave trader. During the revolutionary era, all its rebellious colonies banned or suspended the international slave trade. This was done for a variety of economic, political, and moral reasons depending on the colony. The trade was later reopened in South Carolina and Georgia.
The Constitution of the United States was drafted in 1787, and included several provisions regarding slavery. Section 9 of Article I forbade the Federal government, from banning the "importation" of persons that an individual state's laws considered "proper to admit" until January 1, 1808, though a tax of ten dollars each was allowed (and which was immediately imposed, after ratification). Article V prohibited amending those portions of Section 9 before 1808. By prohibiting Federal banning of the slave trade for two decades, Article V effectively protected the trade until 1808, giving the States 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 history.
As further protection for slavery, the delegates approved Section 2 of Article IV, which prohibited states from freeing slaves who fled to them from another state, 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. The planter elite dominated the southern Congressional delegations and the United States presidency for nearly 50 years.
While the Constitution protected the slave trade until 1808 in the national Congress, in the first two decades of the postwar era, state legislatures in both the North and South made decisions to free many slaves, resulting in a dramatic rise in the number and proportion of free blacks 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 was increasing.
After 1810, the cotton gin had begun to make the cultivation of short-staple cotton profitable, as it could be more easily processed. The Deep South was rapidly developed for widespread cotton cultivation, responding to demand from Britain and Europe. This dramatically increased the demand for slaves in the southern United States. While under the Constitution Congress could not regulate the import slave trade until 1808, the third Congress regulated it in 1794, by prohibition on the use of ports for ship building and outfitting for the trade in the Slave Trade Act. Subsequent acts in 1800 and 1803, further sought to discourage the trade by limiting investment in import trading and prohibiting importation into states that had abolished slavery, which most in the North had by that point. The final Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves was adopted in 1807, effective in 1808.
The protections afforded slavery in the Constitution strengthened the political power of southern representatives, as three-fifths of the slave population was counted for Congressional apportionment. In addition, many parts of the country were tied to the southern economy. 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. By 1822 half of New York's exports were related to cotton. Horton 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.
During and after the American Revolutionary War, 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 African Americans in the North were free. By 1840, virtually all African Americans 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; he said that slavery was in contradiction to the state's new constitution of 1780 providing for equality of men. Freed slaves were subject to racial segregation in the North, and it took decades for some states to extend the franchise to them.
Most northern states passed legislation for gradual abolition, first freeing children born to slave mothers (and providing for them to serve indentures to their mother's masters, often into their 20s as young adults). As a result of this gradualist approach, New York did not free its last slaves until 1827, Rhode Island had five 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 abolition and anti-slavery 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 (But existing slaves in the Territory were not freed for years, although they could no longer be sold). That was a compromise. Thomas Jefferson proposed in 1784 to end slavery in all the territories, but his bill lost in Congress by one vote. The territories south of the Ohio River (and Missouri) had authorized 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 in 1803, Indiana in 1816, and Illinois in 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, Residents of those areas consequently generally shared in Southern culture and positions, and these areas were devoted to agriculture longer than in the industrializing northern parts of these states.
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 freed slaves in these 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. More than half of these were located in the Upper South. 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, the 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. Of all 1,515,605 free families in the fifteen slave states in 1860, nearly 400,000 held slaves (roughly one in four, or 25%), amounting to 8% of all American families.
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.
Slave traders were men of low reputation, even in the South. In the 1828 presidential election, candidate Andrew Jackson came under heavy attack as a slave trader who bought and sold slaves and moved them about in defiance of modern standards or morality. He was not attacked for merely owning slaves used in plantation work.
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. According to Adalberto Aguirre, there were 1,161 slaves executed in the U.S. between the 1790s and 1850s. 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. After 1820, in response to the inability to import new slaves from Africa, some slaveholders improved the living conditions of their slaves, to influence them not to attempt escape.
The colonies and states generally denied slaves the opportunity to learn to read or write, a prohibition unique to American slavery, 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 for slaves, which was limited in terms of medical knowledge available to anyone, 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.
Slaves were prohibited from associating in groups, with the exception of worship services (a reason why the Black church is such a notable institution in black communities today). Following Nat Turner's rebellion in 1831, some states prohibited or restricted religious gatherings of slaves. Planters feared that group meetings would facilitate communication and could lead to rebellion.
According to Andrew Fede, a master could be held criminally liable for killing a slave only if the slave he killed was "completely submissive and under the master's absolute control." For example, in 1791 the North Carolina legislature defined the willful killing of a slave as criminal murder, unless done in resisting or under moderate correction.
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. Treatment was usually harsher on large plantations, which were often managed by overseers and owned by absentee slaveholders; in contrast with small slave-owning families, where the closer relationship between the owners and slaves sometimes resulted in a more humane environment. William Wells Brown, who escaped and became a fugitive slave, reported that on one plantation, slave-men were required to pick 80 pounds-per-day of cotton, while women were required to pick 70 pounds; if any slave failed in his or her quota, they were given lashes of the whip for each pound they were short. The whipping post stood right next to the cotton scales.
Historian Lawrence M. Friedman wrote: "Ten Southern codes made it a crime to mistreat a slave. ... Under the Louisiana Civil Code of 1825 (art. 192), if a master was "convicted of cruel treatment," the judge could order the sale of the mistreated slave, presumably to a better master."
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 18th century, the many mixed-race slaves and slave children showed that white men had often taken advantage of slave women. Wealthy planter widowers, notably such as John Wayles and his son-in-law Thomas Jefferson, took slave women as concubines; each had six children with his partner: Elizabeth Hemings and her daughter Sally Hemings (the half-sister of Jefferson's late wife), respectively. Both Mary Chesnut and Fanny Kemble, wives of planters, wrote about this issue in the antebellum South in the decades before the Civil War. Sometimes planters used mixed-race slaves as house servants or favored artisans because they were their children or other relatives.
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 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 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 1807 and 1808 respectively, the British West Africa Squadron's slave trade suppression activities began in 1808. They 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 in 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 1822 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, prevented Congress from completely banning the importation of slaves until 1808, although Congress did regulate against it in the Slave Trade Act of 1794, and in subsequent Acts in 1800 and 1803. 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. 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 the United States 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. After that, "it is unlikely that more than 10,000 [slaves] were successfully landed in the United States." 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 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. Afterwards, 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. In the 1840s and 50s, the issue of accepting slavery split the nation's largest religious denominations (the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian churches) into separate Northern and Southern organizations.
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.
After Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin in 1793, most of the slaves in America were directed to the production of cotton. Statistical data shows that while less than 10% of the inhabitants of the North were slaves, by 1790, Virginia had up to 44% of the total slave population. Slavery in the antebellum US was the use of Negro labor in bondage. It was common in agriculture, with a more massive presence in the South – region where climate was more propitious for agricultural activity.
Some economists and historians regard slavery as a profitable system, albeit without fully accounting for the government costs necessary to maintain the institution, much less the human suffering. The transition from indentured servants to slaves is cited to show that slaves offered greater profits to their owners. The relative price of slaves and indentured servants in the antebellum period did decrease. Indentured servants became more costly with the increase in the demand of skilled labor in England. At the same time, slaves were mostly supplied from within the United States and thus language was not a barrier and the cost of transporting slaves from one state to another was relatively low. In the decades preceding the civil war, the United States experienced a rapid natural increase of black population. Thus the slave population multiplied nearly fourfold between 1810 and 1860 even after the slave trade between England and the US was banned in 1808.
Though scholars such as Eugene Genovese's argued that slavery was a moribund, inefficient system that was only kept because of cultural reasons, Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman, in their controversial 1974 book Time on the Cross, argued that the rate of return of slavery at the market price was close to 10 percent, a number close to investment in other assets. Fogel's 1989 work, Without Consent or Contract The Rise and Fall of American Slavery, elaborated on the moral indictment of slavery which ultimately led to its abolition.
Scholars disagree on how to quantify efficiency of slavery. In Time on the Cross, Fogel and Engerman equate efficiency to Total Factor Productivity (TFP) – the output per average unit of input on a farm. Using this measurement, farms that employed slaves using the Gang System were southern farms were 35% more efficient than Northern farms which used free labor. Under the Gang System, groups of slaves perform synchronized tasks under the constant vigilance of an overseer. Each group was like a part of a machine. If perceived to be working below his capacity, a slave could be punished. However, Fogel argues that this kind of negative enforcement was not frequent; that slaves and free laborers had similar quality of life. This last statement is a controversial one and there is no agreement on this matter.
Controlling for inflation, prices of slaves rose tremendously in the six decades prior to Civil War. Although the prices of slaves relative to indentured servants declined, both got more expensive. Cotton production was rising and relied on the use of slaves to yield high profits. Fogel and Engeman initially argued that if the Civil War had not happened, the slave prices would have increased even more, an average of more than 50 percent by 1890 (p. 96.)
Prices reflected the characteristics of the slave – such factors as sex, age, nature, and height were all taken into account to determine the price of a slave. Over the life-cycle, female slaves were more expensive than their male counterparts up to puberty age, as they had the extra benefit of potentially bearing children and producing more slaves. Males around the age of 25 were the most valued, as they were at the highest level of productivity and still had a considerable life-span. If slaves had a history of fights or escapes, then the value decreased significantly as planters believed there was the imminent risk of the same action happening again. Taller male slaves were priced at a higher level, as height was viewed as a proxy for fitness and productivity.
The conditions of the market led to shocks in the supply and demand of slaves, which in turn changed prices. For instance, slaves became more expensive after the decrease in supply caused by the ban on importation of slaves in 1808. The market for the products of their work also affected slaves' economic value: demand for slaves fell with the price of cotton in 1840. Anticipation of changes also had a huge influence on prices. As the civil war progressed, there was great doubt that slavery would continue to be legal, and prime males in New Orleans were sold at $1116 by 1862 as opposed to $1381 in 1861.
While slavery brought profits in the short run, discussion continues on the economic benefits – or lack of them – of slavery in the long-run. During the 19th century Alexis de Tocqueville noted that "the colonies in which there were no slaves became more populous and richer than those in which slavery flourished". Gavin Wright admits that the use of monetary resources in the cotton industry, among others, lagged the development of commercial and industrial institutions. Railroads were less developed in the South, but Wright argues that agricultural technology was far more developed in the South, representing an economic advantage of the South over the North of the United States.
Because of the three-fifths compromise in the U.S. Constitution, in which slaves counted in the calculation of how many representatives a state had in Congress (though only three-fifths as much as a free person), 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 19th 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, neither Dred Scott nor any descendant of Africans, slave or free, was 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, state by state and territory by territory. 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.
The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863. In a single stroke it changed the legal status, as recognized by the U.S. government, of 3 million slaves in designated areas of the Confederacy from "slave" to "free." It had the practical effect that as soon as a slave escaped the control of the Confederate government, by running away or through advances of federal troops, the slave became legally and actually free. The owners were never compensated. Plantation owners, realizing that emancipation would destroy their economic system, sometimes moved their slaves as far as possible out of reach of the Union army. By June 1865, the Union Army controlled all of the Confederacy and had liberated all of the designated slaves.
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 June 22, 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 except as punishment for a crime, 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 40,000-45,000 slaves were freed in the last two slaves states of Kentucky and Delaware by the final ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December 18, 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. Another economic historian, Roger Ransom, writes about how Gerald Gunderson compared compensated emancipation to the cost of the war and "notes that the two are roughly the same order of magnitude — 2.5 to 3.7 billion dollars"  Ransom also writes that compensated emancipation would have tripled federal outlays if paid over the period of 25 years and was a program that had no political support within the United States during the 1860s.
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.
In spite of the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the road to freedom remained elusive for most former slaves in the United States. While the Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land, it is not self-enforcing, nor was the Emancipation Proclamation. The text and principles outlined in them were only words without enforcement, and so alone, they could not and did not abolish slavery. The enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment simply made slavery and all forms of involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime, unconstitutional. The actual abolition of slavery – that is the full enforcement of the 13th Amendment took many decades beyond 1865 to be realized. Enforcement of the 13th amendment began during the Reconstruction period, but there were many setbacks between that time and full enforcement.
Proponents of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution knew that without legislation that codified the 13th Amendment in the form of laws and statutes along with law enforcement agencies to uphold the laws, there would be no true end to slavery, and this is the reason for the inclusion of Section 2 of the 13th Amendment authorizing Congress to establish laws upholding the amendment. The federal government also sent troops to the south to provide protection to the former slaves who were still living among their former captors.
From 1865 to 1875, federal troops were stationed in the south specifically to keep blacks from being re-enslaved. However, after ten years of protection the federal troops were withdrawn, leaving blacks at the mercy of their former captors. When African Americans in the south no longer had the protection of the federal troops, whites found other ways to practice involuntary servitude.
This lasted well into the 20th century, with the last state, Maryland, finally abolishing in 1972. Although slavery is commonly understood to have ended with the Emancipation Proclamation, or the Thirteenth Amendment, exhaustive research conducted by journalist Douglas A. Blackmon and reported in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Slavery By Another Name shows that thousands of African Americans were re-enslaved with shocking force and brutality after the period of Reconstruction was over.
The continued involuntary servitude took various forms but the primary forms included convict leasing, peonage, and sharecropping, with the latter eventually encompassing poor whites as well. Using convict leasing programs, African American men, often guilty of no crime at all, were arrested, compelled to work without pay, repeatedly bought and sold, and coerced to do the bidding of masters. Sharecropping as it was practiced during this period often involved severe restrictions on the freedom of movement of sharecroppers who could be whipped for leaving the plantation. Both sharecropping and convict leasing were legal and tolerated by both the north and south. However, peonage was an illicit form of forced labor. Its existence was ignored by authorities while thousands of African Americans were subjugated and held in bondage well into the 20th century.
With the exception of cases of peonage, beyond the period of Reconstruction, the federal government took almost no action to enforce the 13th Amendment until December 1941 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt summoned his attorney general. Five days after Pearl Harbor, at the request of the president Attorney General Francis Biddle issued Circular No. 3591 to all federal prosecutors, instructing them to actively investigate and try any case of involuntary servitude or slavery.
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 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; some African Americans had started their own schools 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, as well as other colleges for former slaves. 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 was in anticipation of the 400th anniversary commemoration of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia (the first permanent English settlement in North America), which was an early colonial slave port.
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 an insufferable burden to society" and "Society has the right to prevent this, and can only do so by subjecting him to domestic slavery."
On March 21, 1861, new southern Confederate, Vice President Alexander Stephens, delivered the Cornerstone Speech. The speech explained the differences between the constitution of the Confederate Republic and that of the United States, and laid out the cause for the American Civil War, and a defense of slavery.
The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away... Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it—when the "storm came and the wind blew, it fell."
Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.
During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, 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 1847–48 invasion by U.S. troops, the "loitering or orphaned Indians" were de facto 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, a practice they continued after being relocated to Indian Territory in the 1830s, when as many as 15,000 enslaved blacks were taken with them.
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 Native American 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. An African former indentured servant arrived to Virginia in 1621, Anthony Johnson, became one of the earliest documented slave owners in the mainland American colonies when he won a civil suit for ownership of John Casor. In 1830 there were 3,775 such slaveholders in the South who owned 12,760 slaves, 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 social class between whites and enslaved blacks, under French and Spanish colonial rule. Relatively few slaveholders of color were "substantial planters." Of those who were, most were of mixed race, often endowed by white fathers with some property and social capital. For example, Andrew Durnford of New Orleans was listed as owning 77 slaves. According to Rachel Kranz: "Durnford was known as a stern master who worked his slaves hard and punished them often in his efforts to make his Louisiana sugar plantation a success." 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.
African American history and culture scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote: "...the percentage of free black slave owners as the total number of free black heads of families was quite high in several states, namely 43 percent in South Carolina, 40 percent in Louisiana, 26 percent in Mississippi, 25 percent in Alabama and 20 percent in Georgia."
Free blacks were perceived "as a continual symbolic threat to slaveholders, challenging the idea that 'black' and 'slave' were synonymous." Free blacks were sometimes 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 "[t]he 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 at least some of their slaves for commercial reasons. For instance, he noted that in 1850 more than 80 percent of black slaveholders were of mixed race, but nearly 90 percent of their slaves were classified as black. Koger also noted that many South Carolina free people of color operated small businesses as skilled artisans, and many owned slaves working in those businesses.
Barbary pirates from North Africa began to seize North American colonists as early as 1625, and roughly 700 Americans were held captive in this region as slaves between 1785 and 1815. Some captives used their experiences as a North African slave to criticize slavery in the United States, such as William Ray in his book Horrors of Slavery.
The Barbary situation led directly to the creation of the United States Navy in March 1794. While the United States managed to secure peace treaties, these obliged it to pay tribute for protection from attack. Payments in ransom and tribute to the Barbary states amounted to 20% of United States government annual expenditures in 1800. The First Barbary War in 1801 and the Second Barbary War in 1815 led to more favorable peace terms ending the payment of tribute.
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|Source:"Distribution of Slaves in US History". Retrieved May 13, 2010.|
The historian Peter Kolchin, writing in 1993, noted that until the latter decades of the 20th century, historians of slavery had primarily concerned themselves with the culture, practices and economics of the slaveholders, not with the slaves. This was in part due to the circumstance that most slaveholders were literate and left behind written records, whereas slaves were largely illiterate and not in a position to leave written records. Scholars differed 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. By the 1970s and 1980s, historians were using archaeological records, black folklore, and statistical data to develop a much more detailed and nuanced picture of slave life. Individuals were shown to have been resilient and somewhat autonomous in many of their activities, within the limits of their situation and despite its precariousness. Historians who wrote in 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. 747–48.
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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