US History - Slavery Essay


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US History - Slavery Essay

  1. 1. Pinedo 1 Ali Pinedo November 12, 2009 U.S. History Dr. Skolnik Slavery in the 1800-1850 As early as the 1700's slaves were common in the United States; they usually worked as farm hands in order to grow tobacco and indigo. But they were not present in huge numbers before the 1790's, and there was even a trend towards states banning or limiting the slave trade before that time. ‘What happened during the 1790's?’ you ask. Well, as the United States grew westwards the cultivation of cotton, a valuable but labor intensive plant, grew as well. There was an enormous demand for cotton by textile manufacturers in Europe, due to a recent invention that allowed mass production. Cotton was previously a very difficult crop to profit from, because of the long hours required to separate cotton seeds from the actual cotton fibers. This all changed when Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, a machine that sped up the process, thereby making cotton farming a profitable industry for the Southern States. With large areas of prime land ready for crops the Southern states bought and transported slaves in record numbers in order to work on their cotton farms. Although there are no definitive statistics approximately 1,000,000 slaves were moved west from the 'old Southern states' to the new ones; i.e. Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas to Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. The new ease of cotton ginning coupled with the high demand for cotton in the textile industry gave rise to the need for a workforce to harvest the cotton. The farmers turned to a readily available labor force they didn't have to pay: slaves.
  2. 2. Pinedo 2 Slaves being transported to the South were usually ripped from their families and the surroundings they were familiar and comfortable with. These slaves then faced their new life at the plantation, a very different environment from what they were used to. They faced harder work, such as clearing trees and planting crops, than they had back in the ‘old Southern states’. The great demand for slaves on the plantations produced two very distinct types of slaves, rural and urban. Rural slaves, as you might have guessed worked on the plantations usually from dawn till dusk, driven by their overseer. Whereas urban slavery resulted from the lack of white laborers in the mining and lumber industries, because so many whites defected to the cotton industry in hopes of making a larger profit. As a result there was an increased demand for slaves in mills and in ships, so slaves that had learned specialized skills in the plantations, were in high demand in Southern cities. Slave owners hired out their slaves to work wherever their skills were required. This means that the owners left their slaves unsupervised all day, unlike the plantations where they were always under his watchful eye. Many of the slaves who worked in the cities cited them as incredibly different from working on the plantation. In the city a slave was almost a free man compared to the plantations, he got better food, clothes and privileges. Also the acts of cruelty habitually preformed on the plantations, were very uncommon in the city. Another interesting point is the social system of the white South. While small farmers lived relatively simply, working on their own farms, and relying on their neighbors; the large plantation owners who had accumulated enough wealth formed an aristocratic society. The plantation owners were, of course at the top while free southerners without land were employed by them for specific jobs, usually as plantation overseers. Along with the increase of slavery in the 'new South' came the hot debate over whether or not it was right to own slaves. There were many arguments both for and against but this
  3. 3. Pinedo 3 paragraph will focus only on the pro slavery arguments. Many people used the Bible and religion as support; they would cite passages where 'the good servant obeyed his master'. And even though most priests were initially against slavery many of them, especially in the south, changed after they saw how much wealth could be made with cotton; slavery actually benefited slaves because ' it made them part of a prosperous Christian empire'. Others simply stated that blacks were a lesser race and needed to be ruled over as they were not capable of ruling themselves. Some slave owners even went as far as starting their own myths, so to speak. They spoke of the 'happy slave' versus the 'Northern wage slave' and how in the North slaves worked in tight airless factories for very little money and would fire them if they became too old or sick to work. But the slaves on the plantations were happy because they had food, places to sleep, and owners who would take care of them no matter how old or sick they got. On a legal front the Southern states instated the 'Gag Rule' in 1836, which limited or prevented debate on a given issue. This meant that people with petitions against slavery were deprived of their right to have them heard. Because of this flagrant violation of First Amendment rights the 'Gag Rule' was repealed in 1844. In opposition to the pro-slavers, were the abolitionists who believed owning slaves was wrong and were determined to put a stop to it. Abolitionists ranged from priest to blacks who not necessarily free. One notable slave was Nat Turner; he was a gifted preacher and believed he was destined to 'lead his people out of bondage'. In 1831, during a solar eclipse he and about 80 of his followers attacked four plantations and killed nearly 60 whites before being captured. Turner hid out for several weeks but was eventually captured, tried and hung. Yet this did not end the retaliations, white southerners proceeded to kill around 200 blacks, many of them having nothing at all to do with the uprising. Turner’s Rebellion and other revolts added to the slave owner’s
  4. 4. Pinedo 4 belief in the need to control their slaves. They believed privilege and education inspired revolt, so many slave owners pressured the states to tighten restrictions on African Americans. These restrictions became known as the ‘slave codes’. They varied from state to state, for example in some states blacks lost the right to purchase alcohol, own property or work independently as carpenters or blacksmiths. Another prominent African American in the abolitionist movement was Frederick Douglas, who after a disagreement with his owner, ran away to New York. After his escape, Douglas started lecturing at the American Anti-Slavery Society, attracting huge audiences, and gathering a lot of support. Among the supporters of emancipation were some who believed the freed slaves should be sent back to Africa, back from whence they came. This was called the 'Back to Africa Movement' or ' Colonization Movement'. The American Colonization Society was directly related to these movements, its members ranged from abolitionists, who believed the slaves had the right to their own country, to slave holders, who feared free slaves in America. Yet they were united by a common purpose: the transport of freed slaves back to Africa. As early as the 1820's, freed slaves were sent to Africa through the American Colonization Society. They settled in Liberia, which was actually founded by the Society itself. The movement started to decline in 1860, but by that time the Society had relocated over 13,000 freed slaves. A final method of opposition used by abolitionists was the underground railway, a web of secret routs and safe houses used by slaves to escape to free states. It was not an actual railway it was just code for the underground movement organized by abolitionist to help slaves escape. Although about 1,000 slaves escaped every year using this route this was nothing compared to the great increase in slaves brought to the South. We have reviewed slavery’s boom, the plantation life and different types of slavery as well as the arguments on both sides of the issue, and hopefully have grasped a basic
  5. 5. Pinedo 5 understanding of the concepts discussed in the essay. The culmination of the events, arguments and actions discussed in this paper was the Civil War but that is something to be discussed in our next paper.
  6. 6. Pinedo 6 Works Cited Bellis, Mary. "The Cotton Gin and Eli Whitney." Web. 08 Nov. 2009. <>. "Slavery in the United States." Wikipedia. 8 Nov. 2009. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. <>. Phillips, William. "The Cotton Gin". EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. 10 Feb. 2004. Web. 9 Nov.2009. <>. Giesen, James C. "Cotton." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 20 Apr. 2009. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. <>. "Slavery." Think Quest. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. <>. Dattle, Eugene R. "Cotton in a Global Economy: Mississippi (1800-1860)." Mississippi History Now. Oct. 2006. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. <>.
  7. 7. Pinedo 6 Works Cited Bellis, Mary. "The Cotton Gin and Eli Whitney." Web. 08 Nov. 2009. <>. "Slavery in the United States." Wikipedia. 8 Nov. 2009. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. <>. Phillips, William. "The Cotton Gin". EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. 10 Feb. 2004. Web. 9 Nov.2009. <>. Giesen, James C. "Cotton." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 20 Apr. 2009. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. <>. "Slavery." Think Quest. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. <>. Dattle, Eugene R. "Cotton in a Global Economy: Mississippi (1800-1860)." Mississippi History Now. Oct. 2006. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. <>.