|Slavery in Antebellum America
I. "King Cotton"
A. Prior to 1793, the Southern economy was weak: depressed prices,
unmarketable products, soil-ravaged lands, and an economically
risky slave system.
-- Some leaders, such as Jefferson (who freed 10% of his slaves),
believed slavery would gradually die out but it could not be done
immediately. "We have a wolf by the ears"
B. Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin (1793)
1. Impact: Cotton production now profitable; 50x more effective
than picking cotton by hand.
a. Resulted in an explosion in slavery
b. Cotton came to surpass tobacco, rice, and production
2. Cotton Kingdom developed into a huge agricultural factory
a. Western expansion into lower gulf states: Louisiana,
b. Slaves brought into new regions to cultivate cotton.
1. Cotton exported to England; revenues from sale of cotton used to
buy northern goods
-- Britain heavily dependent on U.S. cotton for its textile
factories; 80% came from U.S.
2. For a time, prosperity of both North and South rested on slave
3. Cotton accounted for 57% of all American exports by 1860.
-- South produced 75% of world’s cotton.
II. The Three Souths
1. The further North, the cooler the climate, the fewer the slaves,
and the lower the commitment to maintaining slavery..
2. The further South, the warmer the climate, the more the slaves,
and the higher the commitment to maintaining slavery.
3. Mountain whites along Appalachian Mountains would mostly
side with the Union during the Civil War.
-- W. Virginia, E. Tennessee, NE Kentucky, W. South Carolina,
N. Georgia & Alabama.
4. Southward flow of slaves (from sales) continued from 1790 to
5. Not a unified South except resistance to outside interference
B. Border South: Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, & Missouri
1. Plantations scarcer; cotton cultivation almost nonexistent;
Tobacco main crop (as in Middle South); More grain production
(as in Middle South)
2. Unionists would overcome Disunionists during and after the Civil
3. 1850, Slaves = 17% of population.; Avg. 5 slaves per slaveholder
4. 1850, over 21% of Border South’s blacks free; 46% of South’s
5. 22% of white families owned slaves
6. Those who owned more than 20 slaves in South: 6%; Ultra-
wealthy = 1%
7. Produced over 50% of South’s industrial products
C. Middle South: Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas.
1. Each state had one section resembling the Border South and
another resembling the Lower South.
-- Some industrial production: Tredegar Iron Works in Virginia
used slave labor
2. Unionists prevailed after Lincoln elected; Disunionists prevailed
after war began
3. Many plantations in eastern Virginia and western Tennessee
4. 1850, slaves = 30% of population; Avg. 8 slaves per slaveholder
5. 36% of white families owned slaves
6. Of all who owned more than 20 slaves in South: 32%; Ultra-
wealthy = 14%
D. Lower South: South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama,
Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas
1. Most slaves located in the “cotton belt” or "black belt" of Deep
South along river valleys
2. Plantations prevalent; cotton was king; grew 95% of South's
cotton & almost all sugar, rice, and indigo.
3. Disunionists (secessionists) would prevail after Lincoln was
4. 1850, slaves = 47% of population; Avg. 12 slaves per slaveholder
5. Less than 2% of blacks free; only 15% of South’s free blacks
6. 43% of white families owned slaves
7. Of all who owned more than 20 slaves in South: 62%; Ultra-
wealthy = 85%
8. Produced less than 20% of South’s industrial products
III. The Slave System in the South (the "Peculiar Institution")
A. The Planter "Aristocracy"
1. South was ruled politically and economically by wealthy
a. 1850, only 1,733 families owned more than 100 slaves; yet
dominated southern politics.
b. South was least democratic region of the country.
i. Huge gap between rich & poor
ii. Poor public education (planters sent kids to private schools)
2. Planters carried on "cavalier" tradition of early Virginia;
reflected in its military academies.
-- Elite culture included chivalry; landed genteel-class
B. Plantation system
1. Risky : Slaves might die of disease, injure themselves, or escape.
-- System required heavy investment of capital
2. One-crop economy
a. Discouraged diversification of agriculture, especially
b. Southerners resentful North made huge profits at their expense
-- Complained of northern middlemen, bankers, agents, &
c. Resented being so dependent on northern manufactures &
3. Repelled large-scale European immigration
a. Only 4.4% of foreign-born Americans were part of South’s
population in 1860;
-- 18.7% in North.
b. Slave labor was far cheaper; fertile land was too expensive for
most immigrants; immigrants not familiar with cotton
c. South most Anglo-Saxon (English) region of nation
C. Plantation slavery
1. Nearly 4 million slaves by 1860; quadrupled in number since
a. Legal imports of slaves ended in 1808
-- Thousands of slaves smuggled in despite death penalty for
b. Increase due to natural reproduction
i. Over-breeding of slaves not encouraged
-- Owners still often rewarded slave women for multiple
ii. White slaveowners often fathered sizable mulatto
population (e.g. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings)
-- Most remained slaves
2. Slaves seen as valuable assets and primary source of wealth
a. Slave auctions one of most revolting aspects of slavery
i. Families often separated: division of property, bankruptcy
ii Slavery’s greatest psychological horror
3. Punishment often brutal to intimidate slaves not to defy master’s
4. New western areas were harshest for slaves: (LA, TX, MS, AL)
5. Afro-American slave culture developed, despite oppression.
D. Burdens of slavery
1. Slaves deprived of dignity and sense of responsibility that free
people have, suffered cruel physical and psychological treatment,
and were ultimately convinced that they were inferior and
deserved their lot in life.
2. Denied an education; seen as dangerous to give slaves ideas of
3. Slaves often insidiously sabotaged their master’s system
-- Poisoned food, supplies often missing, equipment often broken,
4. Many attempted to escape
-- Some success in Border South; next to impossible in Lower
E. Slave Revolts
1. Stono Rebellion, 1739
a. South Carolina slaves fled toward Florida killing whites on the
way; did not make it.
b. Led to more oppressive slave system in the South during
2. Gabriel Prosser, 1800
a. Slave blacksmith in VA who planned a military slave revolt;
recruited 150 men
b. Rebellion did not materialize and Prosser and 26 others were
3. Denmark Vesey, a mulatto in Charleston, planned largest ever
revolt in 1822 but it never materialized
a. A slave informer advised his master of the plot
b. Vesey and 30 others publicly hanged
4. Nat Turner’s revolt, 1831 (most significant of 19th century)
a. Sixty Virginians slaughtered, mostly children and women
i. Wave of killing slowed down revolt’s aim of capturing
ii. Largest slave revolt ever in the South
b. Over 100 slaves were killed in response; Turner was hanged.
c. Significance: Produced a wave of anxiety among southern
plantation owners that resulted in harsh laws clamping down
further on the slave institution.
F. Southern white paranoia
1. Feared more reprisals by slaves (like Nat Turner’s revolt)
2. Infuriated by abolitionist propaganda in the North they saw as
3. Believed in biological racial superiority as a justification for
IV. The White Majority
A. By 1860, only 1/4 of white southerners owned slaves or belonged to
1. Over 2/3 of slave owners owned less than ten slaves each.
2. Small slaveowners made up a majority of masters.
B. 75% of white southerners owned no slaves at all.
1. Located in the backcountry and mountain valleys.
2. Mostly subsistence farmers; didn’t participate in market economy.
3. Raised corn, hogs
4. Poorest called "white trash", "hillbillies", "crackers", "clay eaters"
-- Suffered from malnutrition & parasites especially hookworm.
5. Fiercely defended the slave system as it proved white superiority
a. Poor whites took comfort that they were "equal" to wealthy
b. Social status was determined by how many slaves one owned:
poor Southern whites someday hoped to own slaves.
c. Slavery proved effective in controlling blacks; ending slavery
might result in race mixing and blacks competing with whites
C. Mountain whites
1. Lived in the valleys of the Appalachian Mountain range.
2. Independent small farmers located far from the cotton kingdom.
3. Lived in rough frontier environment
4. Hated wealthy planters and slaves.
5. During Civil War were Unionist; significant in crippling
V. Free Blacks
A. Numbered about 250,000 in the South by 1860
1. In Border South, emancipation increased starting in the late 18th
2. In Lower South, many free blacks were mulattos (white father,
3. Some bought their freedom with earnings from labor after hours.
4. Some owned property; New Orleans had large prosperous mulatto
-- A few even owned slaves (although this was rare)
B. Discrimination in the South
1. Prohibited from certain occupations and from testifying against
whites in court.
2. Always in danger of being forced back into slavery by slave
C. Discrimination in the North
1. Blacks also numbered about 250,000
2. Some states forbade their entrance or denied them public
3. Most states denied them suffrage
4. Some states segregated blacks in public facilities.
5. Especially hated by Irish immigrants with whom they competed
with for jobs.
6. Much of Northern sentiment against spread of slavery into new
territories due to intense race prejudice, not humanitarianism.
-- Racist feelings often stronger in the North than in the South
Definition: Abolitionism: Movement in North that demanded immediate end to slavery
A. First abolitionist movements began during Revolutionary Era;
B. American colonization Society (founded in 1817)
1. Sought practical solution vis-à-vis free blacks if slavery was
-- Recolonization: supported by many prominent Northerners and
Southerners afraid that manumission (freeing slaves) would
create surplus of free blacks in U.S.
2. Liberia created on West African Coast for former slaves in 1822.
a. 15,000 freed blacks transported over next four decades
b. Most US blacks not eager to go; saw themselves as Americans
i. Believed they were part of America’s growth & culture
ii. By 1860, virtually all southern slaves were native-born
3. Colonization appealed to most Northerners (including Lincoln)
who felt blacks and whites could not coexist in a free society.
a. Some feared a mongrelization of the white race.
b. Others thought blacks inferior, didn't want them in large #’s in
C. Abolitionism became the dominant reform movement of the
1. Second Great Awakening convinced abolitionists of the sin of
2. Abolitionists inspired that Britain freed their West Indian slaves
D. Radical Abolitionism
1. William Lloyd Garrison
a. Published 1st issue of his Liberator, a militant antislavery
newspaper in Boston in1831
-- Symbolized the beginning of the abolitionist movement
b. Demanded the "virtuous" North secede from the "wicked"
-- Yet, offered no practical solutions for ending slavery.
c. Inspired abolitionists to found American Anti-Slavery Society
2. American Anti-Slavery Society
a. Theodore Dwight Weld
i. Evangelized by Charles Grandison Finney in NY’s Burned-
Over District in 1820s and appealed to rural farmers in the
ii. American Slavery As It Is (1839): Among most effective
iii. Married Angelina Grimke, a southern abolitionist.
b. Wendell Phillips -- ostracized Boston patrician; "abolition’s
i. Perhaps most important abolitionist; major impact on politics
during the Civil War for emancipation.
ii. One of the finest orators of the 19th century.
iii. Product the 2nd Great Awakening.
iv. Followed Garrison but more politically practical in 1860s.
c. Angelina and Sarah Grimke
i. Only white southern women to become leading abolitionists
ii. Also involved in women’s rights.
iii. Angelina married to Theodore Weld; Sarah remained part of
d. Arthur and Lewis Tappan: wealthy New York merchants.
-- Funded the Anti-Slavery Society, and the Liberator
e. Organization would eventually split along gender lines;
women’s rights issues
3. David Walker: Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World,1829
-- Advocated violence to end slavery.
4. Sojourner Truth: Freed black woman; pro-emancipation &
5. Elijah Lovejoy: Militant editor of antislavery newspaper in
a. Printing press destroyed four times; 4th time press thrown into
a river and Lovejoy was killed by a mob who promptly burned
b. Became an abolitionist martyr
c. Also a nativist (may have contributed to his death)
6. Martin Delaney
-- One of few blacks to seriously advocate black mass
recolonization in Africa.
7. Frederick Douglass
a. Greatest of the black abolitionists
-- Published The North Star, his own abolitionist newspaper.
b. Former slave who escaped slavery at age 21.
c. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
-- Depicted his life as a slave, struggle to read & write & his
escape to North.
d. Flexibly practical (in contrast to Garrison who was stubbornly
e. Looked to politics to end slavery.
-- Backed the Liberty party in 1840 and the Republican party in
8. Eventually, most abolitionists support the Civil War to end
VII. Southern Responses to Abolitionism
A. In 1820s, southern antislavery societies outnumbered northern ones.
B. After 1830s , white southern abolitionism was silenced
C. Causes of southern concern
1. Nat Turner’s revolt coincided with Garrison's Liberator.
a. South saw a northern abolitionist conspiracy and called
Garrison a terrorist.
b. Georgia offered $5,000 for his arrest and conviction
2. Nullification Crisis of 1832
a. Southerners concerned powerful federal gov't might supported
b. Anti-slavery whites in South sometimes jailed, whipped, or
3. Abolitionist literature that flooded southern mails infuriated
D. Abolitionist literature banned in the Southern mails
-- Federal gov't ordered southern postmasters to destroy
abolitionist materials and to arrest federal postmasters who did
E. Pro-slavery whites responded by launching a massive defense of
1. Slavery supported by the Bible (Genesis) and Aristotle (slavery
existed in ancient Greece).
2. Slavery helped civilize and Christianize Africans
3. Master-slave relationships resembled those of a "family."
4. George Fitzhugh -- most famous pro-slavery apologist
a. Contrasted happiness of slaves with "northern wage slaves."
b. Fresh air in the south as opposed to stuffy factories
c. Full employment for blacks
d. Slaves cared for in sickness and old age unlike northern
F. "gag resolution" -- 1836, southerners drove it through Congress
1. All antislavery appeals and petitions in Congress prohibited.
-- Seen by northerners as a threat to the 1st Amendment
2. Rep. John Quincy Adams waged 8-year fight against it; repealed
3. (Note: banning of antislavery materials in the mails was a
VIII. Abolitionist impact in the North
A. Abolitionists (e.g. Garrison & Lovejoy) were unpopular in many
parts of the North.
1. Northerners revered the Constitution; slavery was protected by it.
2. Ideal of Union (advocated by Webster & others) had taken deep
root; Garrison's cries to secede from the South was seen as
3. Northern industry dependent on the South for economic well-
a. Northern bankers owed by southern planters; about $300
b. New England mills fed by southern cotton.
B. Mob outbursts occurred in response to extreme abolitionists
1. Lewis Tappan’s NY house ran-sacked in 1834 to a cheering
2. 1835, Garrison dragged through streets of Boston with rope tied
3. Elijah P. Lovejoy killed in Illinois
C. For ambitious politicians, support of abolitionism was political
D. By 1850, abolitionism significantly influenced the northern mind
1. Many saw slavery as morally evil and undemocratic.
2. Free-soilers opposed extending slavery to remaining Louisiana
Territory and Mexican Cession.
-- "Free-soil" movement grew into the Republican Party in the