Slavery in United States

In the United States,  slavery has been the official institution of human chattel enslavement, since its establishment in 1776 until the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865, mostly by Africans and African Americans. The whole of European colonization was founded in the Americas. It was taught in British colonies from the beginning of the colonial era, including 13 colonies establishing the United States. The rule recognized a slave as property to be owned, sold or circulated. Slavery continued until 1865 in approximately half of the United States. Slavery has been primarily replaced as an economic framework by sharecropping and conviction leasing.

During and shortly after the Revolution, the reform bills were enforced in several northern states and there was a campaign to end the rule of slavery. At the time of the American Revolution (1775–1783), the status of enslaved people was institutionalized to be an African ethnic caste.  Slavery’s place in the US Constitution was one of the most controversial topics in (1789). And if the constitution’s authors never used the term “slavery” the final document granted slave owners disproportionate political power by the three-fifth clause.

By 1805, all northern states had abolished slavery.  However, hundreds of people in the north remained  slaves in 1840 at the close of the census. Some slave owners, particularly in the Upper South, liberated their slaves and purchased and liberated others. Individual states which started during the American Revolution were barred from the Atlantic slave trade. In 1808 Congress outlawed the trade of importation, although afterward smuggling was accepted.

After the cotton gin discovery, the massive growth of the cotton industry in the Deep South increased the need for forced labor, while the southern countries remained as slave societies. The USA has become highly polarized in slavery, separated between slave and free states. Driven by the demands for labor in the Deep South with new cotton plantations, the Upper South sold over a million slaves to the Deep South. The South’s estimated slave population reached 4 million. As the US advanced, the South sought to spread Slavery to the new western territories, allowing proslavery forces to retain their influence in the area.

The new territories gained with the purchasing of Louisiana and the cession by Mexico also witnessed significant diplomatic conflicts and concessions. By 1850, the increasingly prosperous, cotton-growing South threatened to break from the Union causing  more friction. Slavery is defended as a “positive good” in the South and over the issue of slavery, the main religious organizations divided into regional Northern and Southern organizations.

When Lincoln was elected in 1860, on an election platform to avoid the rise of slavery, the confederacy was formed by seven slave states. Soon after,  confederate armies invaded Fort Sumter of the US Army, and the Civil War began. Since Lincoln demanded weapons from them to embark out a reprisal attack, there were four more slave countries.

Since the triumph of the Union in the Civil War, in the United States the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in December 1865, and slavery was declared illegal.

People were abducted from the continent of Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries, forced into slavery in the American colonies and abused to work in the cultivation of crops such as tobacco and cotton. The westward expansion of America and the abolition movement in the mid-19th century sparked a great debate about slavery that would divide the country in the bloody Civil War. Although the victory of the Union freed the four million enslaved people of the nation, the legacy of slavery continued to impact American history, from the period of Reconstruction to the movement for civil rights that arose a century after emancipation.

When Did Slavery Start?

In 1619,  the privateer The White Lion brought 20 African slaves ashore in the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia.  This was considered a major starting point for slavery in America. The crew had taken Africans from  the Portuguese slave ship Sao Jao Bautista.

Throughout the 17th century, North America’s European settlers turned to enslaved Africans as a cheaper and more abundant supply of labor than indentured servants, mostly poor Europeans.

While exact estimates cannot be given, some historians estimated that in the 18th century alone,  6-7 million enslaved people had been brought to the new world.

Slavic Africans worked primarily from Chesapeake Bay colony in Maryland and Virginia and further south to Georgia at the tobacconist, rice, and indigo plantations in the 17th and 18th centuries.

After the US Revolution, many colonists (especially in the North), where slavery is comparatively negligible to the agricultural industry, began to connect the oppression of the enslaved Africans with their British oppression and called for the abolition of slavery.

Ironically enough,  Crispus Attucks, a former slave was killed by British troops during the 1770 Boston massacre, and was one of the first martyrs to spark American patriotism. In the Civil War, about five thousand black soldiers and sailors combated on the American side.

Cotton Gin

In the 18th century, the South faced an economic depression as the land used to cultivate tobacco was nearly depleted.

Meanwhile, In England, the mechanization of the textiles industry led to a large demand for American cotton, which was labor intensive, particularly as extracting the seeds from raw cotton fiber by hand is tedious and painful.

But a young Yankee teacher named Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin in 1793, a basic mechanical tool that separated the seeds quickly. His machine was quickly reproduced and within a few years, the southern part of the country would change from large-scale cultivation of tobacco to that of cotton.

Slavery itself never became prevalent in the North, but the slave trade and investment of south plantations became rich for many businessmen in the area. All northern states ended the practice of slavery between 1774 and 1804, but for the south, it was the institution of slavery.

In 1808, Congress abolished the trafficking of African slaves, domestic trade was booming, and in the US the slaves almost tripled over the next 50 years. By 1860, it hit almost 4 million, and over half lived in southern cotton producing countries.

History of Slavery

In the antebellum South, about one third of the people of the South are slaves. Some of the masters had less than 50 people enslaved, others resided in large plantations or in small farms.

Enslavers tried by a scheme of oppressive codes to make their slaves totally dependent on them. Usually, they were not permitted to learn to read and write, and their actions and movement were restricted.

Some masters raped slave women or granted them favors, while revolt slaves were treated harshly. A strict hierarchy among the slaves (from privileged household workers and qualified artisans to poor field workers) helped keep them segregated and united against their masters less easily.

There were no legal basis for marriages between enslaved men and women, but many had marriages and the raising of large families. Most slave owners accepted this method but did not generally refuse to split families by selling or expulsion.

First slave

In 1641, Massachusetts became the first colony to authorize slavery by adopted legislation. Massachusetts passed the Body of Liberty, which abolished slavery in many cases but allowed citizens to be slaves if they were prisoners of war, if they sold themselves into slavery or were purchased abroad, or if they were subjected to slavery as punishment by the ruling authority. It references persons purchased and sold as slaves; they were not necessarily English subjects. The Body of Liberty used the term “strangers” to communicate. This word was compared with Native Americans and Africans by colonists.

In1654, the first man who was called slave in a legal court was John Casor, a black indentured servant of colonial Virginia. He told an officer that his master Anthony Johnson, a free Black male, had held him during his time of indenture.

Robert Parker, a friend, told Johnson he would testify to the fact if he didn’t release Casor. According to local rules, Johnson was in danger of losing his property because he had broken indenture terms. Johnson liberated Casor from coercion. Casor has been working with Parker for seven years. Johnson was stealing and suing Parker to take over Casor. Johnson was held in Northampton County, in Virginia, which declared that Casor was unlawfully detained by his legitimate master who legitimately detained him “for the duration of his life.

Slaves Rebellions

There were rebellions among the slaves – in particular, those led to Richmond by Gabriel Prosser in 1800 and to Charleston by Denmark Vesey in 1822 – but few succeeded.

In August 1831 Nat Turner in Southampton County, Virginia, conducted an uprising called Nat Turner’s Rebellion.  Turner’s party, which numbered about 75 men, murdered 55 white people before the military opposition (led my whites) and the state militia forces defeated the rebellion.

Slavery proponents look to the revolt of Turner as confirmation that Black people are intrinsically lesser barbarians who insist that an institution such as slavery should discipline them, and threats of such rebellions have driven many of the Southern states to reinforce their slave codes to further regulate the schooling, activity and compilation of enslaved people.

First Anti-Slavery Causes

In 1735, in the new colony established in 1733, the Georgia Treasurers promulgated a legislation banning slavery to allow a new beginning for the “worthy poor” as well as for oppressed European Protestants. In the other twelve English colonies then, slavery was legal. South Carolina’s neighborhood had a labor-based economy. Georgia trustees wanted to reduce the possibility of slave revolts and to make Georgia more capable of protecting itself against the assaults from Spain to the South, which provided the liberty of fugitive slaves. The driving force behind the colony was James Edward Oglethorpe and the only trustee who lived in Georgia.

A religious anti-slavery claim, added by the protestant Scottish Highlanders, who in his 1739 “Petition of the Inhabitants of New Inverness” became increasingly rarer in the South. By 1750 Georgia had authorized slavery in the colonies because it could not secure ample self-employed workers. Since economic conditions started to change in England in the first half of the 18th century, employees had no excuse to leave, in particular to face colonial danger.

The Civil War Era

Since the Northwest Order of 1787 abolished slavery in the region today known as the Mid-West, the expansion of slavery to new territory has been subject to domestic political debate. The 1820 Missouri Pledge introduced a program of the entry to the Union of an equal number of slave and free states. But, along with Dred Scott’s decision of the Supreme Court in 1857, the 1850 Compromise and Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 (in all cases focused on the theory of common sovereignty) opened the territory to slavery.

Maps show the compromises over the extension of slavery into the territories: the areas affected by the Missouri Compromise (top left), the Compromise of 1850 (top right), and the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.

The North feared absolute domination of the nation through slave ownership by the end of the 1850s and the whites in the South claimed the North was determined to destroy its way of life. Northern defiance of the federal fugitive slave act in 1850, White Southerners, led by the White abolitionist John Brown, had been frightened by the raid on the Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now in West Virgins). Following Abraham Lincoln’s election as president in 1860, the southerners withdrew from the Union and established the Confederated States of America, on the anti-slavery agenda of the modern Republican Party.

Leaders in Africa like William Wells Brown, a doctor and journalist, Martin R. Delany, and Douglass have forcefully hired Blacks to join the Union army. Douglass declared in the North Star, “Who would be free themselves must strike the blow.” By the end of the Civil War more than 186,000 African American men were in the Union army. Despite the unrelenting aggression of confederated armies, they worked heroically despite prejudice in terms of pay, rations, supplies and assignments. The Confederate was used by slaves as a work force, but thousands fled to Union lines.

How Did Slavery Ended in America

Prior to the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and other anti-slavery figures of the Republican Party wanted not to eradicate slavery, but to combat the slavery expansion in the West. For most Southern leaders, this approach was unacceptable, who felt that the rise of free nations would turn America’s political base against it irrevocably. Lincoln’s election as chairman in November1860 marked the dissolution of seven southern countries and the creation of the Confederate States of America. The Civil War began soon after its opening in 1861. The Confederacy also entered four more southern States, while four upper-south slave frontier states remain in the Union.

Although he hated slavery in private, Lincoln responded with caution to abolitionists calling for the emancipation of all enslaved Americans after the Civil War broke out.

As the War progressed, however, the Republican-dominated federal Government started to recognize the geopolitical gains of emancipation by depriving it of a substantial part of its labor force, which in turn would reinforce the European Union by creating an explosion of jobs, undermining the Confederacy by the liberation of slaves.

In 1862, the Congress annulled the fleeting slave statute, banned U.S. slavery and permitted Lincoln to recruit previously enslaved citizens in the military. Lincoln gave a warning in September, after the great Union victory at the Antietam Battle, of his plan to declare independence for all rebellious states on New Year’s Day.

President Lincoln formally issued the declaration of emancipation that day—1 January 1863 — calling on the Union army, still in insurrection, to set all slave citizens free in States of ‘just justice on military need, as required by the Constitution.’ These three million slaves have been proclaimed ‘then, thenceforward and forever free.’

As Lincoln claimed in his Gettysburg Address in 1863, the Emancipation Declaration turned the civil war from a war against secession into a war for a “news-birth of freedom.” This ideological reform prevented France or England’s interference on behalf of the confederacy and encouraged the Union to recruit the 180,000 African American military personnel and sailors who had volunteered to serve between 1 January 1863 and the end of the war.

Lincoln recognized that the declaration of Secession, a measures of war, would have no constitutional authority after war was over, as the Confederacy stalled to the defeat. After the 13th Amendment was passed in Congress, the Republican Party ratified the amendment in April 1864, the two-thirds requested for the over-the-top Republican Senate. However, until January 1865, three months before the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, the House of Representatives with a larger proportion of democratizes ratified the amendment by a two-thirds vote.

The thirteenth amendment was adopted by Alabama on December 2nd  of 1865 and was given the required vote of the three fifths of the consent of the Member States to make the land law necessary. As prerequisite for the re-admission of Alabama, a former confederal province, was forced to ratify this amendment. On December 18, the 13th Amendment, 246 years after the first loading of bondage Africans, arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, was formally incorporated into the Constitution.

The Legacy of Slavery

The 13th amendment approved on December 18, 1865, formally ended slavery but did little to liberate African Americans in the south.  

While enslaved men received the rights to citizenship in and the right to voting for the Constitution, these provisions were frequently neglected or abused and, due to the oppressive Black codes and regressive contractual agreements, Black people could find it difficult to develop themselves in the post-war economy.

While Blacks engaged unprecedentedly in American political life, reconstruction was largely disappointing for African Americans and a resurgence of white supremacy — including the upsurge of racial groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) — regained the South in 1877.

Nearly a century later, opposition to persistent segregation and prejudice that started in America in the during slavery would contribute to the 1960s civil rights movement, giving Black Americans the largest political and social successes since reconstruction.


  2. Accessed 8 Jan. 2021.
  4. Accessed 8 Jan. 2021.
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