Slavery in America (Members Only)

Digital History of Slavery in America

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Slavery in the United States began with the arrival of the first slave in North America in 1619 and ended with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. Slavery was practiced by colonists in all Thirteen Colonies, who regarded slaves as property that could be bought, sold, or given away. After the end of the Civil War and during Reconstruction, slavery was replaced by sharecropping and convict leasing.

After the Revolution, abolitionist laws were passed in most Northern states and a movement to abolish slavery took root. Slavery was the most contentious issue in the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in 1789. Although its framers never referred to “slavery”, the Constitution’s “three-fifths clause” gave slave states political power by increasing their congressional representation. The North had abolished slavery by 1805, though hundreds of people were still enslaved in Northern states as late as 1840. Some slave owners in the Upper South emancipated their slaves, and abolitionist groups, charities, and philanthropists bought and freed others. The Atlantic slave trade was outlawed by the states during the Revolution, and the importation of slaves was banned by Congress in 1808. But widespread smuggling continued.

The cotton industry in the Deep South grew rapidly after the invention of the cotton gin, which greatly increased the demand for slave labor. Driven by the demands for slaves from new cotton plantations in the Deep South, the Upper South sold more than a million slaves away to new owners down-river. The total slave population in the South reached four million, and Southern states became ever more entrenched as slave societies.  As the United States moved West, Southern states demanded their right to practice slavery in the new territories in order to maintain the balance of power in Congress between free states and free states. The United States grew dramatically with the Louisiana Purchase and the territories won by the United States from Mexico in the Mexican-American War. The role of slavery in American expansion became the subject of crises and compromises. The South, newly rich with cotton fortunes and defending slavery as a “positive good”, threatened to secede from the Union.

When Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 election on a platform of ending the expansion of slavery, the slave states began to break away to form the Confederacy. Shortly afterward, the Civil War began with the Confederate attack on the Union’s Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor in South Carolina. While the Emancipation Proclamation and Union victory in the war effectively ended the slave trade, Reconstruction would see the return of debt slavery and convict leasing until 1954, when the last white slaver was himself imprisoned.

That said, here’s our assortment… please enjoy! When you’re done perusing a map, just close it, and you’ll be back here.


Slavery Index | Morality | Ethos | Plantations | The South

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