Slavery in the United States: Historical Trends


Figure 1.--Little is known about this boy. We do know is name was Jackson. He appears to be a boy who ran away from his master. Basd upon his looks, he is likely a slave master's son. Many images of pre-War photographs of slaves shows them better dressed in simle home-spun garments. We do not yet know how representative these images are. Click on this image to see Jackson after he joined the Federal Army. Unfortunately we know nothing more of his life.

The first blacks arrived in what is now the United States soon after the English and Dutch colonies were established along the eastern seabord. There was considerable uncertainty about their legal status. Initially they were treated more lkike inentured servants, an important institution in early colonial America. The fitst southern colony where blacks appeared was Jamestown which became Virginia. They were brought by Dutch traders. (1619). They were then introduced to Duth New Amsterdam (1624). The Dutch played an important role because of their Aftrican trading posts. The debate over slavery in the United States did not begin with the Constitutinal Convention (1787), but it was here that the issue first came to the fore. Because of the insistence on slavery by the southern colonies, a comprise was reached. Slavery was not codified into the Federal Constitution, but it was also not prohibited. American donestic politics in the first half of the 19th century was dominated by the issue of slavery. America was unable to find a political solution to slavery. The primary cause of the Civil War was slavery. It was the War that utimately ended slavery in America. President Lincoln in practical terms ended slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation (1863). The proclamation based on executive authority was on limited and tenuous grounds. Thus the abolition of slavery was only ultimately achieved with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (1865).

Slavery in Europe

The institution of slavery virtually but not entirely disappeared in Europe after the fall of Rome. In particular the Christian church disapproved of Christians holding other Christians in slavery. The same general approach became adopted by Islam where conversion was an important factor in the spread of the religion. Slavery remained, however, a well established institution in Muslim countries and slave markets continued to function into the modern era. As a resullt, when the Europeanns began founding colonies in the New World, the legal basis for slavery did not exist. This engendered a legal debate in Spain over the status of the Native Americans. A similar debate did not occur over Africans.

The 16th Century

The Spanish and Portuguese revived the instituion in the Christian world. The Spanish after killing off the Native American popultion on many Caribbean islnds, brought in captured Africans to provide a labor force. The Portuguese did the same in Brazil. The other important naval powers (England, France, and the Netherlands) participated in the slave trade.

The 17th Century

The English colonization of North America began much later than the Spanish and Portuguese colonization of South America and Central America. The English colonization of Borth America began at Jamestown (1609) and Plymouth (1620). The first Africans arrived in what is now the United States soon after the English and Dutch colonies were established along the eastern seabord. There was considerable uncertainty about their legal status. Initially they were treated more lkike inentured servants, an important institution in early colonial America. The fitst southern colony where blacks appeared was Jamestown which became Virginia. They were brought by Dutch traders. (1619). They were then introduced to Duth New Amsterdam (1624). The Dutch played an important role because of their Aftrican trading posts. Slavery was soon established in the American colonies, although the legal code to support it did not at first exist. Here the legal code developed in Virginia, the largest and most important Southern colony was especially important. A major component of the slave system was a prohibition on inter-racial marriage. This began during the slavery era. Maryland was the first colony to ban inter-racial marriage (1664). Other colonies quickly followed suit. Slavery developed differently in each colony. The different colonies gradually passed laws codifing slavery. The year and the details of these laws varied from state to state. The laws were the wirk of the colonial legislators. The British crown gave little attention to colonial laws, especially laws regulating essentially domestic affairs. Disintrest and the English Civil War allowed the colonies to develop with a minimum of interference from England. There was some efforts in early colonial America to enslave Native Americans for farm labor. This did not prove successful. The Native Americans did not accept slavery. This may have reflected their social mindset, but also it was difficult to keep them from running away. They were also security threats as Native American raid were a constant threat in early colonial America. Here Blacks proved more suitable as they had no place to where they could escape.

The 18th Century

Slavery continued to evolve in America during the 18th century. Many colonies refined the legal code first estanlished in the 17th century regulating slavery. Slavery became a major source of labor in the southern colonies. The numbers of Africans tranported to the New World is not known with any accuracy. The first notable slave in America was the Stono River rebellion (1739). It occured in South Caeolina during harvest time when overseers were pushing the slaves to work harder. Fear of the slaves was greatest in the southern colonies because of the large numbers, but it was not absent in the north. New York had the largest black population in the Colonies with the exception of Charlestown. A major incident was the New York City Fires (1741) The largest numbrs of mortalities occurred in the 18th century, at leat in terms of Africans transported to North America. . Scholars debate the actual numbers. Slavery became a major issue during the Rvolutionary War (1775-83). The Crown offered liberty to slaves who fought with the Loyalists. Many slaves did obtain their freedom during the War. The debate over slavery in the United States did not begin with the Constitutinal Convention, but it was here that the issue first came to the fore (1787). Because of the insistence on slavery by the southern colonies, the Constitution for the most part avoided the issue. The delegates at the Constitutional Convention could not address the central issue of slavery, although they agree to make provision forr ending the slave trade. Northern States began to gradually end slavery ad it was thught that this would also occur in the South, but the invention of the cotton gin transformed the economics of slavery (1793).

The 19th Century

Slavery was not codified into the Federal Constitution, but it was also recognized and not prohibited. The Constitution did provodide for ending the slave trade. American donestic politics in the first half of the 19th century was dominated by the issue of slavery. Gradually slavery was ended in the northern states. The economic importance of cotton, however, prevented this in the South. Rather than slowly disappearing, slavery grew ijn importance in the South. The political and legal difficulties wih having slave and free states became increasingly pronounced over time, as did the emotioal tone of the debate. Abolition gradually evolved from a minor movement to a very important movement in the North. Hariet Beexher Stowe's book played an iportant role here. The South responded by ending debate on slavery--surely the most severe limitation on free speech in American history. America after seven decades of effort was unable to find a political solution to slavery--the single greatest failure of the American political system. A series of political comprises had defused the issue--but not resolved it. Finally compromise failed as positions hardened and Southerners attemted to expand slavery. The primary cause of the Civil War was slavery. It was the War that utimately ended slavery in America. President Lincoln in practical terms ended slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation (1863). The proclamation based on executive authority was on limited and tenuous grounds. Thus the abolition of slavery was only ultimately achieved with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (1865).

Sources

Ely, Melvin Patrick. Israel on the Appomattox

Horton, James Oliver and Louis E. Horton. Slavery and the Making of America (Oxford University Press, 2004), 254p.

Jacobs. Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself (1861). This book was originally published under the pseudonym Linda Brent. The book was at first dismissed as a fabrication but is today widely considered factual.






CIH







Navigate the Children in Hidtory Website:
[Return to the Main U.S. slavery page]
[Return to the Main working page]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]





Created: May 25, 2002
Last updated: 8:02 PM 4/10/2012