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Slavery in the Antebellum South

Slavery in the Antebellum South

Antebellum typically refers to America after gaining independence and before waging Civil War. During this time, slavery became engrained in the social, political, and economical structure of the Antebellum South.

 

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Allison Chen

Allison Chen

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These quarters consisted of a large grouping of rudely made cabins. Within these slave barracks, black families began to seize hold, and extended families slowly gained approval for living together within the same homestead. This provided for the cultivation and flourishment of the black community. Southern slaves also tasted a small dose of freedom when allowed to plant and manage their own, small cash crops. This added to the home realm in which black life and expression overrode white intervention. The home began to represent more than just a form of shelter... it became the haven for the development of the African-American experience.

Article: SLAVERY IN THE ANTEBELLUM...
Source: ANTEBELLUM

Many owners had experienced such high runaway rates and unsettled behavior from their male slaves that they were forced to begin to buy more females, even though they were not considered as a valuable commodity. The main reason for the purchasing of slave women had definitely been for reasons that involved the slaveholder's sexual desires rather than the female's economic potential. But slavemasters soon began to buy an equal amount of black women and men for their plantations in order to ensure families and hence stable slave behavior. A married male slave had more responsibilty to his mate and children and therefore would be more deterred from trying to escape.

Article: SLAVERY IN THE ANTEBELLUM...
Source: ANTEBELLUM

With a request for admission of Maine as a state, the way was opened for a compromise solution. In March 1820, Maine and Missouri were admitted as states, thus maintaining the Senate balance. At the same time, the issue of how slavery would be determined with regard to other states carved from the Louisiana Purchase territory was determined. Henceforth, with the exception of Missouri, slavery was prohibited in states created from that territory that were north of the 36° 30’ parallel line. This prohibition remained in effect until passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 opened the door to determination by popular sovereignty and the Supreme Court declared as part of the Dred Scott decision of 1857 that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional.

Article: Missouri Compromise of 18...
Source: Missouri Compromise of 18...

In the antebellum South, slavery provided the economic foundation that supported the dominant planter ruling class. Under slavery the structure of white supremacy was hierarchical and patriarchal, resting on male privilege and masculinist honor, entrenched economic power, and raw force.

Article: Slave Narratives: An Intr...
Source: Slave Narratives: An Intr...

While slavery essentially disappeared from the North after 1820, the South continued to grow ever more dependent on it. With the onset of cotton as the king cash-crop in the South, and sugar as a close second, both of which required intensive labor forces, slavery became crucial to the survival of the Southern way of life.

Article: Antebellum Slavery: Econo...
Source: Antebellum Slavery: Econo...

After the slave trade with Africa was abolished in 1808, an internal slave trade developed within the South. Originally three out of every four Southerners lived in the coastal states of Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina. The largest concentration of slaves was therefore initially in these states. With the growth of the cotton industry in the lower Southern states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas, the need for slave labor in these areas developed. Farmers in the Upper South found it profitable to sell their slaves to the planters in the Lower South.

Article: Antebellum Slavery: Econo...
Source: Antebellum Slavery: Econo...

South Carolina’s Slave Code of 1740 was a series of laws aimed at controlling the population of enslaved African Americans.  It prohibited slaves from gathering without white supervision, learning to read and write, and growing their own food.  It also created harsher punishments for disobeying the law.  The legislature enacted the Slave Code shortly after the Stono Rebellion, which reinforced slave owners’ fears of slave uprisings. 

Article: Slave Code of South Carol...
Source: Slave Code of South Carol...

The United States almost ended its role in the slave trade during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Most of the convention delegates, including slave owners like George Washington, wanted a provision in the Constitution prohibiting the importation of slaves. Representatives from slave-importing Georgia and South Carolina, however, threatened to leave the union if prohibition was included. To solve this dilemma, delegates put a compromise in the Constitution that prevented Congress from passing any law against slave trading for 20 years.

Article: The Slave Trade
Source: The Slave Trade - Constit...

Acrimonious debate at the Constitutional Convention made it clear that the Southern states would not join the Union unless slaves were counted as three-fifths of a man for purposes of representation. William R. Davie stated that North Carolina would never confederate unless slaves were to be counted on at least a three-fifths basis for representation, and Gouverneur Morris, who represented Pennsylvania at the convention, said, "Upon what basis shall slaves be computed in representation? Are they me? Then make them citizens and let them vote. Are they property? Why then is no other property included?"

Article:   The Historical Encycloped…
Source:  Offline Book/Journal

In the last place, the negro race is inferior to the white race, and living in their midst, they would be far outstripped or outwitted in the chase of free competition. Gradual but certain extermination would be their fate. We presume the maddest abolitionist does not think the negro's providence of habits and money-making capacity at all to compare to those of the whites. This defect of character would alone justify enslaving him, if he is to remain here.

Article: Gilder Lehrman Center: So...
Source: Gilder Lehrman Center: So...
Allison Chen

Allison Chen

61 Knowledge Cards 

This is an excerpt from the document "The Universal Law of Slavery" by George Fitzhugh 1854. Occurring only a few years before the Civil War, this reflected the general social opinion about African-American slaves.

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As mentioned, slavery was not the only factor that led to secession.  If one reads the Declarations of Causes of Secession and the Ordinances of Secession that were issued by the first seven states of the Confederacy, one finds that there were several reasons these states wanted to be independent and that some of the reasons had nothing to do with slavery. 

Article: Why Did the South Secede?...
Source: Why Did the South Secede?...
Allison Chen

Allison Chen

61 Knowledge Cards 

Among these reasons were the federal tariff and the size of federal government, both still issues in today's politics as well.

Reply

Most Southern leaders who advocated secession in order to protect slavery did so because they believed that Lincoln and the Republicans in Congress would try to abolish slavery by unconstitutional means and that Southern slaveholders would not receive compensation for their slaves.  Southern spokesmen felt this would be unfair, since Northern slaveholders had been able to receive various types of compensation for their slaves when most Northern states had abolished slavery several decades earlier. 

Article: Why Did the South Secede?...
Source: Why Did the South Secede?...

After all, a Southern confederacy, they argued, would possess two inestimable sources of strength. One was cotton. In Southern eyes, cotton was “king”: it controlled the destinies of Great Britain and much of Europe. If the South wished to, it could, by threatening to cut off the supply of cotton, bring ruin to the British economy and thus compel British intervention on the side of the Confederacy.

Article: What the South Got Wrong
Source: What the South Got Wrong ...

Southerners believed that the northern social system was weak; it was prone to cycles of boom and bust and in times of crisis the social order itself would be jeopardized by the anger and resentment of its lower orders. The South, they believed, was a haven of peace and stability. Here was irony indeed... It was the Southern, not the Northern, social system that was fatally vulnerable to pressure from its subordinate classes. But Southerners utterly failed to see the threat presented to them by their own slaves, whose racial inferiority, they sincerely believed, made them ideally suited to enslavement.

Article: What the South Got Wrong
Source: What the South Got Wrong ...
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