Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Slavery in America: Differences Between the North and South

During the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote the famous words that "all men are created equal" but it was evident that some men were more equal than others at the time the Colonies were trying to unite to form what would become the United States. It is no secret that 13 of the first 16 Presidents owned slaves, and as an agrarian society in the early days, the United States has a long history of slavery, which I will do my best to describe briefly in this blog post.

In previous blog posts, I mentioned that the first Africans came over to what would become the United States as indentured servants. As indentured servants, they would serve for a certain period of time and would then become free, and as a reward for their indenture they would receive land, clothing, tools, and even a musket. However, there was too much work and not enough indentured servants, so the Colonists turned to slavery. First, they tried to enslave the Native peoples, but that proved ineffective, so the Colonists had turned to African slavery. With African slavery, the Colonists who could afford to buy slaves could keep the slaves for life, as there was no limit placed on how long they had to serve before they would be free--because for the African slaves, most of them would never be free.

Many people are taught that slavery only existed in the South, but contrary to this popular belief, slavery was legal in all of the states at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, with the exception of Massachusetts. Did you know that there were almost as many slaves in New York as there was in Georgia? And did you know that New Jersey had nearly as many slaves as Delaware and Tennessee combined?

The North and South were very different, so it only makes sense that slavery in the North versus slavery in the South were very different.

The North
  •  Even though some Northern states had more slaves that some Southern states, there were only about 40,000 slaves in the North as opposed to nearly 700,000 in the South at the time of the adoption of the Constitution.
  • Most Northern slaves were domestic servants, not the laborers necessary to keep mills going or to cultivate fields like in the South.
  • Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1780; Pennsylvania provided for gradual emancipation in 1780; states such as New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New Jersey would each abolish slavery; New York would declare that all children born to slaves after July 4, 1799 would be freed after a period of serving as apprentices, and would do away with slavery completely in 1827. 

The South
  • With the introduction of the cotton gin in 1793, more slaves were needed in the South to plant and harvest the cotton, so there was an increase in the numbers of slaves being imported to America, and the domestic slave trade was booming as well as many plantation owners needed more and more slaves.
  • Although at the time of the adoption of the Constitution the save population of the South was nearly 700,000, and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade would be abolished in 1807, slavery in the South quickly increased through natural reproduction.


Despite the differences listed above, and many others, there were similarities between slavery in the North and the South. For example, neither slaves in the North nor slaves in the South had the right to vote, they were counted as less than a person in the census, slaves were considered as property, and many others. However, there were positive similarities when it came to slavery in the North and South (it's a bit weird to write "positive" and "slavery" in the same sentence, haha), such as the ability to be hired out and work for wages and that the slaves could buy their freedom or the freedom of their family members. This fact will come in useful later on when we get closer to discussing the events that led up to the American Civil War. 

This has been a short post, but we're still moving on throughout history nonetheless.

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