Slavery in the United States was the legal institution of human enslavements primarily African’s and African Americans, that only existed in the US. Slavery was started in British American from the colonial days, and it was legal in all thirteen colonies. Slavery was involved throughout the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries. Slavery started in American in 1619, throughout the 17th century, this is when European settlers in North America turned African slaves cheaper and became more useful for labor needs then regular servants. Some historians believe that between six to seven million black slaves were imported to the New World during the 18th century alone. Black slaves worked mainly on the tobacco, rice plantations on the southern coast. This was the Chesapeake Bay colonies of Maryland and Virginia.
Native American slaves were exported to the Northern colonies as well as off shore colonies. Slavery was caused by economic factors of the English settlers in the late 17th century. Colonists continually tried to allure laborers to the colony. The headright system was to give the indentured servant, a method of becoming independent after a number of years of service. Slavery was caused by economic reasons. Colonists chiefly relied on indentured servitude, in order to facilitate their need for labor. The decreasing population combined with a need for a labor force, which led the colonists to believe that African slaves were the most efficient way to acquire a labor force that would satisfy their needs. Before the 1680’s the population of the Indentured Servants decreased, exponentially. There were a number of different reasons why the population of indentured servants had decreased. In indentured servants were running away from their temporary masters, to find a job where he could become independent. After the American Revolution, many colonists especially in the North because this is where slavery was unimportant to the agricultural culture.
The new U.S. Constitution acknowledged the institution of slavery, they counted each slave as three fifths of a person, due to taxation and representation in Congress. In the late 18th century, the land to grow tobacco became exhausted, this became an economic crisis in the South. This is when the cotton gin came into play. In 1793, a schoolteacher by the name of Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. It was a mechanical device that efficiently removed the seeds. This became a huge known invention and a few years later the South transitioned from tobacco to cotton. Slaves in the south constituted about one third of the southern population. Most slaves lived on large plantations or small farms; many masters owned fewer than fifty slaves. The slave owners prohibited them from learning to read and write, and their behavior and movement was restricted.
Many masters took sexual liberties with slave women, and rewards obedient slave behavior with favors while disobedient slaves were brutally punished. Slave marriages had no legal foundation, but slaves did get marry and raise large families; most slave owners encouraged this but would never care or hesitate to divide slave families by sale or removal. The abolitionist movement began in the 1830’s and went until the 1860’s. This movement to abolish slavery in America gained strength and led by free blacks some names including Frederick Douglass and white supporters like William Lloyd Garrison founder of the newspaper called The Liberator, and Harriet Beecher Stowe or is more well known for publishing a bestselling novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Many abolitionists based on their activism on the belief that slaveholding was a sin, others were more inclined to the non- religious ‘free labor” argument, this was saying slaveholding was regressive and inefficient and made little economic sense.
Other antislavery northerners had begun helping fugitive slaves escape from southern plantations to the North by a loose network of safe houses. This was known as the Underground Railroad, this helped 40,000 to 100,000 slaved reach freedom. The Missouri Compromise was when America expanded westward in the 19th century. This would create a conflict over slavery in America and its future limitation or expansion. In 1820 a bitter debate over the federal government’s right to restrict slavery over Missouri’s application for statehood ended in a compromise. Missouri was then admitted to the Union as a slave state, Maine became a free state and all western territories north of Missouri’s southern border were to be free soil.
The Kansas Nebraska Act was another tenuous compromise. This was negotiated to resolve the question of slavery in territories won during the Mexican American War. However, four years later this act opened all new territories to slavery by asserting the rule of popular sovereignty over congressional edict, leading pro and anti-slavery forces to battle it out. The Civil War was a breaking point for the south. When Abraham Lincoln a republican candidate was elected as president. Within the next three months, seven southern states had seceded to form the Confederate States of American. Lincoln was against slavery, but he before he could abolish slavery, he needed to preserve the United States as a nation. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued a preliminary emancipation proclamation, and on January 1, 1863 he made it official that slaves within any state, or designated part of a state shall be forever free.
Three million black slaves in the rebel states became free. The 13th Amendment, was adopted on December 18, 1865. It officially abolished slavery, but freed black status in the post war South remained dangerous and significant challenges were awaiting during the Reconstruction period. Former slaves received the rights of citizenship and the ‘equal protection” of the Constitution in the 14th Amendment and the right to vote in the 15th Amendment, but their provisions of Constitution were often ignored or violated, and it was difficult for former slaves to gain a foothold in the post war economy thanks to restrictive black codes and regressive contractual arrangements such as sharecropping. Sharecropping was a form of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops produced on their portion of land.
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