- Even though some Northern states had more slaves that Southern slaves, there were "only" about 40,000 slaves in the North as opposed to 700,000 slaves in the South at the time the Constitution was ratified.
- Most slaves in the North were domestic servants, not laborers necessary to keep mills going or cultivate fields like in the South. Some of the families in New York who owned slaves include: the Ten Broecks, the Schuylers (yes, Phillip Schuyler, the father of the famed Schuyler sisters, owned slaves), and the Van Rensselaers.
- Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1780 (but the law that was passed wouldn't take effect until at least 1788) and other states such as New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New Jersey soon followed. Pennsylvania provided for gradual emancipation in 1780; and New York would declare that all children born to slave after July 4, 1799 would be freed after serving for a time as apprentices, and would go on to completely abolish slavery in 1827.
- With the introduction of the cotton gin in 1793, more slaves were needed in the South in order to make the cultivation of the plant more profitable (planting more, harvesting more, shipping more to other pats of the world and within the US, etc.), so there was an increase in the number of slaves that were being imported to America; the domestic slave trade was booming as well as many plantation owners needed more slaves.
- Although at the time of the Constitution's ratification the slave population was roughly 700,000, and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade would come to an end in 1807, slavery in the South increased greatly due to forced natural reproduction.
- Slaves were not considered citizens
- Slaves could not vote
- Slaves could not hold public office
- Slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person on the census
- Slaves were considered property
- Slaves could be hired out and work for wages
- Slaves could save up their wages to buy their own freedom and the freedom of their family members
Efforts to weaken or abolish slavery picked up speed with each passing year after 1800; as social reforms began to sweep the country as early as the 1790s, it makes sense that slavery would be a hot-button social reform issue as well.
The first organized emancipation movement began in 1817with the formation of the American Colonization Society. The American Colonization Society proposed to return freed slaves to Africa. Supporters of the Society included: James Madison, James Monroe, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster. Many who supported the Society did so because they opposed slavery; however, others saw the Society as a way to bolster slavery by doing away with troublesome freed blacks. it's no surprise that most freed blacks denounced the American Colonization Society from the start. By 1817, most of the black population had been in the US for generations, and had not set foot in Africa; they didn't see the Society as a means to return them to their homeland, because the US was their homeland. However, those who wanted to bring an end to slavery saw shipping off the black population to another continent as the only means to end slavery. Despite the outcry by many, the American Colonization Society acquired a parcel of land in West Africa from local chieftans and in 1822 the first freed blacks were transported there; 25 years later, that parcel of land became the Free and Independent Republic of Liberia. Form an outside perspective, it seems as though the American Colonization Society was at least somewhat successful...but only 15,000 or so freed blacks had migrated to Africa between 1822 and 1860, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of slaves births there were each year in the US at that time.
Things began to change drastically in the 1830s and 1840s as the anti-slavery movement developed an aggressive new strategy--gradual emancipation. This gradual emancipation wasn't quite the same thing as what some states like Pennsylvania were doing at the time; this gradual emancipation began with an attempt to ban slavery in the western territories and encouraging owners to free their slaves via manumission. Eventually, the anti-slavery movement would move towards demanding immediate abolition.
A leader of the immediate abolition movement was Bostonian newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison. In 1831, Garrison launched his newspaper, The Liberator, an antislavery newspaper. Garrison called for immediate abolition in his newspaper, growing impatient with gradual emancipation and manumission. Garrison outrage non-slave owners and slave owners alike with his militant language, but often assured everyone that although he used militant language he was not trying to incite a war because an insurrection in the South would lead to trouble in the nation as a whole; he also stated that if the slaves rose up, they would be justified in their actions of trying to break out of their binds of oppression.
Garrison inspired others, and he and those people would go on to form the American Antislavery Society. This society was made up of Quakers, Christian evangelicals, and black activists. This Society created national networks of newspapers, offices, chapters, and activists; every chapter was affiliated with a local church, as the Society did have a religious base. By 1840 over 140,000 people belonged to the American Antislavery Society. This society was fairly unique for its era because not only were its members saying that slavery was wrong in the eyes of God, the members were also saying that blacks and whites were equal and should be treated as such, essentially declaring they wanted to put an end to race-based bondage.
In the 1840, the abolition movement caught on like wildfire, with more and more people entering the fight to end slavery. As more discussions were being had, a schism began to form in the movement. Garrison and many of his followers, called Garrisonians, believed that American society was corrupt from the top to the bottom and needed an overhaul. Garrisonians embraced many reform movements of the day: abolition, championing equal rights for African-Americans, temperance, pacifism, women's rights, education reform, and prison reform. Garrison and his followers broke away from the Christian church because of their differences in ideals. Other reformers believed American society was fundamentally sound but needed to be rid of slavery. This second group did not believe in women's rights, and refused to allow women to speak and vote at their meetings. This second group would break away from the first and form the American and Foreign Antislavery Society.
Despite the abolition movement being a movement to end slavery, many white abolitionists balked at granting full recognition to black abolitionists. Many white abolitionists wanted free blacks to take a backseat in the movement, to form their own groups and do their own thing, to be seen and not heard. Garrison and his followers, especially former slave such as Frederick Douglass, because he (rightfully) believed that those former slave were the best qualified to speak out against slavery and for abolition rather than someone who never experienced slavery.
Reactions to Abolitionism
Racism was a major national problem in the 1800s, and continues to remain so today. Even in the North, abolitionists were met with hostile white crowds who disliked blacks, saw abolition as being bad for business, rationalized that freed blacks would be taking jobs seen as belonging to whites, and a host of other reasons.
In the 1830s, abolitionism took a political turn with the focus being placed on Congress. One strategy that was used was to send Congress hundreds of petitions calling for the abolition of slavery in Washington, DC. How did Congress react to this? From 1836 to 1844, Congress instituted a "gag rule", which placed all abolition petitions automatically on the table, giving Congress the ability to ignore them. The "gag rule" also banned the subjects of slavery and abolition from being discussed while Congress was in session.
The Defense of Slavery
While abolitionists were protesting slavery by holding speeches, writing newspapers, and helping slaves escape from bondage, pro-slavery believers launched their own movement to defend the "peculiar institution". During the 1830s and after, pro-slavery leaders worked to rationalize the institution of slavery via Christianity. While abolitionists were doing the same thing, pro-slavery leader were ardent in their quest to share this information, sharing biblical passages that backed up their side.
Once the religious arguments began to wane, pro-slavery leaders turned to "racial differences"--stating that white racial supremacy would come to an end, stating that blacks couldn't work under conditions of freedom because they were naturally lazy, stating that blacks were better off as slaves and prospering in the US rather than if their ancestors had stayed in Africa where they would be starving and suffering ("We saved them! They should be grateful!"), and stating that freed blacks were a threat to white workers because it would cause more hiring/workplace competition. Now, some of these arguments are still used today; I've heard so many times that blacks were lazy, that Hispanics were going to take jobs away from whites, and everyone should be grateful that they're in this great country and stop complaining about how bad they have it. This just goes to show that, sadly, we have a long way to go when it comes to racial equality in this country. In the 1800s and beyond, racial minorities had further to go.
The debate over slavery would drive an ever-increasing wedge between North and South. As the debate continued, it was becoming evident that an unavoidable separation between North and South would occur, and the early years of the 1860s would see this debate turn into the bloodiest conflict on American soil...the Civil War.
However, we're not quite there yet. Next time on the blog I'll be writing about the attempts to solve slavery as a political issue, which means we'll be discussing the actions of Congress in the 1800s.