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Slavery was a form of forced labor existing as a legal institution from the colonial period until the mid-nineteenth century.
Describe how slavery became the foundational economic institution in the antebellum South
was integral to the agricultural economies of the South, and thus to the
nation's prosperity, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
1804, most Northern states abolished slavery, and the federal government
prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territory and banned the external slave
trade, spurred by abolition movements that denounced slavery as sinful and
antithetical to the principles of the nation.
of slaves was generally characterized by brutality, degradation, and
inhumanity; whippings, executions, and rapes were commonplace. Slaves resisted via
rebellions, noncompliance, and flight.
and those with vested interests in the plantation economy had a strong
influence on national politics, forcing compromises over the preservation and
extension of slavery from the time of the drafting of the Constitution through
the course of the Civil War, the Union made abolition a goal of the war effort.
They succeeded, and all slaves were freed, without compensation for their
owners, with the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.
Also known as "Mason and Dixon's Line," a boundary surveyed between 1763 and 1767 by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in the resolution of a border dispute between British colonies in colonial America.
An African-American slave in the United States who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom and that of his wife and their two daughters in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case of 1857, popularly known as the "Dred Scott Decision."
Slavery existed in
the United States as a legal institution from the early colonial period. From
the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, an estimated 12 million Africans were shipped
as slaves to the Americas. Of these, an estimated 645,000 were brought to what
is now the United States. According to the 1860 U.S. Census, the slave population in the United States had grown to four million.
Race was a critical
element of chattel slavery. Slaves were of African descent and children of
slaves became slaves themselves. Freedom was only possible via granting of
manumission by a slave’s owner, a practice that was frequently regulated and
sometimes prohibited by law, or by the slave running away, which was both dangerous
The treatment of slaves in
the United States varied depending on conditions, time, and place, but was
generally characterized by brutality, degradation, and inhumanity. Slaves were
denied basic education, and in some cases, prohibited from convening for religious
gatherings, in order to prevent potential escape or rebellion. Punishment was
meted out in response to perceived disobedience or infractions, but also as a
means for a master or overseer to assert dominance. Slaves were punished
by being whipped, shackled, hanged, beaten, burned, mutilated, branded, and imprisoned. Slave women were at high risk for rape and sexual abuse, a
practice partially rooted in the patriarchal Southern culture of the era that
perceived all women, black or white, as property or chattel. Many slaves fought
back and some died resisting this sort of treatment, though some managed to escape
to non-slave states and Canada, aided by the Underground Railroad.
While some slaves worked in
urban areas as domestic servants, most labored on plantations or large farms
where their owners took advantage of good quality soil and a temperate climate to
mass produce cash crops such as rice, tobacco, sugar, indigo, and cotton. In
small operations, slaves worked side by side with their owners; on large
plantations, they were directed by white paid overseers.
The labor-intensive agricultural
economies of the South during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were dependent upon
the continued institution of slavery. Because Northern industries depended upon
the crops produced in the South, it seemed to many that the nation's prosperity
was also tied to the institution. The invention of the cotton gin in the late eighteenth century had revitalized cotton production in the South and Southwest,
further increasing demand for slaves. Slaveholders
of the South exercised strong influence over U.S. politics, and many presidents
were slaveholders. However, by 1804, all states
north of the Mason-Dixon Line had either abolished slavery outright or passed
laws for the gradual abolition of slavery based upon abolition movements that
viewed the practice of slavery as unethical, antithetical to the core
principles of the United States, and detrimental to the rights of all free persons. Accordingly,
the nation was polarized along the Mason-Dixon Line.
By the 1850s, the South was vigorously
defending slavery and its continued expansion into new U.S. territories.
Compromises were attempted and failed, and in 1861, 11 slave states broke away
to form the Confederate States of America, leading to the American Civil War.
In 1862, the federal government made abolition
of slavery a war goal. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln freed slaves in the
rebellious Southern states via the Emancipation Proclamation. By December 1865,
the Thirteenth Amendment took effect, permanently abolishing slavery throughout
the entire United States with no compensation for the former slaves’ owners. The areas
affected included border states such as Kentucky, which was home to
approximately 50,000 slaves at the time, as well as Native American tribal
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“Slavery in the Antebellum Period.”
Boundless U.S. History
Boundless, 20 Sep. 2016.
Retrieved 22 Feb. 2017 from