Slavery: A Sectional Issue
From the time of the first exploration of the New World to the eve of the Civil War, slavery played a significant role in the development of the United States. Before the American Revolution, the North and South both practiced slavery. Whether the first African Slave trade between England and the West African Coast, or the last slave trade where Virginia and Carolina profited by selling slaves to the black belt states, slavery was a dominant presence for nearly three centuries. However, after the Revolution, the growing differences between the North and South regarding slaves made the country grow apart. The true problem centered on slaveholders’ rights within the Union and slavery’s expansion. Throughout the nineteenth century, there were major acts brought forth from the government that prolonged the real, existing problem regarding slavery, and more significantly regarding slavery in the expanding western states. The Missouri Compromise and the Wilmot Proviso were ways to keep life in the young nation simplistic and peaceful. By the government trying to give the North and South everything they wanted, it in turn just created more problems. Government actions brought compromise and postponed conflict, but did not settle the conflict. In turn, slavery became a polarizing sectional issue that drove the United States to Civil War.
The Revolution was the beginning of the polarization of ideas regarding slavery. The American Revolution was a time of new leadership and change in the young colonies. The Constitution was finalized and leaders became stronger throughout the colonies. Principles that were newly established through the Constitution began to reflect people’s views on slavery, especially in the north. Because there was no more external threat to the new country, the newly established government turned to domestic problems, none more than slavery.
After the Revolution, northern and southern opinions on slavery began to diverge. Although, at the time, both sides still held slaves, northern slave owners were philosophically on the opposite side of the spectrum to southern slave owners. Northerners thought that it was dehumanizing to think of a person as property. It was common to find northern slave owners who believed that slaves shouldn’t be hurt if they made a mistake. On rare occasions, some owners taught their slaves to read and write. In the north, blacks claimed revolutionary principles which lead whites to reconcile their practices (Silverman). During the Revolution, England offered freedom to any slave that fought for the crown. As an extension of this Americans, especially in the North, did the same. Through the mid to late 18th century, there was a gradual emancipation of slaves, with Massachusetts being the first in 1777, Pennsylvania in 1780, Rhode Island and Connecticut in 1784, and New York, where slaves were the majority, in 1799. The free black life in the North, although strongly poverty-stricken was still better than slave life. It was heavily concentrated in the cities with a focus on families, church and mutual aid. This kind of lifestyle was extremely different than that of a black person in the South.
The rise of slavery in the South was sparked by the North’s invention and production of the cotton gin. The innovative crop and production tools caused a steep increase in slavery. The slave population in the South grew from 700,000 slaves in 1790, to four million slaves in 1860. Slave owners in the deep South, specifically in Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana, had the most slaves due to the profitability of cotton. The new and very lucrative crop transformed slavery in the South to a much harsher and demeaning lifestyle. The cotton regimes were much harder than those of tobacco or rice (Silverman). There were no days off, and there was a bare minimum of food, clothing and housing for the slaves. Plantations grew to fifty...
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