Slavery in America

Slavery in America


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Negro slavery in America was introduced in the 17th century. The number of black slaves in America did not immediately expand after the Dutch Mann o Warre brought the first boatload to Jamestown in 1619. But by 1800, there were about 900,000 slaves in the United States; fewer than 40,000 of them lived in the northern states.In the last month of his life, Benjamin Franklin wrote a parody of a speech by Senator James Jackson of Georgia, in which Jackson defended the institution of slavery. Franklin pretended to recall the address made by a North African potentate a century earlier:

If we cease our Cruises against the Christians, how shall we be furnished with the Commodities their Countries produce, and which are so necessary for us? If we forbear to make Slaves of their People, who in this hot Climate are to cultivate our Lands? Who are to perform the common Labours of our City, and in our Families? Must we not then be our own Slaves? And is there not more Compassion and more Favour due to us as Mussulmen, than to these Christian Dogs?

Slavery was addressed by the United States Constitution when it calculated each slave as being equal to 3/5 of a free person for calculating representation in the House of Representatives. While there was no effort to abolish slavery itself at that time, some delegates to the constitutional conference wanted to abolish at least the slave trade. Instead, a moratorium of twenty years was agreed to.As the twenty-year period drew to a close, President Thomas Jefferson pushed for Congressional legislation to end the practice. On March 2, 1807, Congress passed the act that made the importation of slaves into America illegal effective January 1, 1808. The slave trade didn't vanish, but it became secretive.Religious groups both supported and opposed slavery. The Presbyterian Church opposed slavery as early as 1787 and its General Assembly pronounced itself deeply opposed in 1817. On the other hand, Baptists in the South found support for slavery in the Bible, both directly in the Old Testament and less clearly in the New Testament. Richard Furman, in a missive to the governor of South Carolina, wrote in 1823, which summarized the Southern Justification of Slavery:

In the Old Testament, the Isrealites were directed to purchase their bond-men and bond-maids of the Heathen nations; except they were of the Canaanites, for these were to be destroyed. And it is declared, that the persons purchased were to be their "bond-men forever;" and an "inheritance for them and their children." They were not to go out free in the year of jubilee, as the Hebrews, who had been purchased, were: the line being clearly drawn between them.

In the eyes of some, the Mexican-American War was brought about for the purpose of advancing slavery. Charles Sumner wrote a critique of the war that was adopted by the Massachusetts legislature in 1847. He stated:

A war of conquest is bad; but the present war has darker shadows. It is a war for the extension of slavery over a territory which has already been purged by Mexican authorities from this stain and curse.

This seems doubtful. The greatest support for the Mexican war came from the West. In the South, among Whigs as well as Democrats, the war was generally opposed. One of the opponents was John C. Calhoun, who worried that acquiring too much additional land would reopen the question of slavery in the territories.Many have questioned whether the economics of slavery would have kept it as an important practice in the South without the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney. The cotton gin made the growing of cotton vastly more profitable and slavery came to be regarded as a permanent necessity.In 1855, David Christy wrote "Cotton is King," a book that was hailed by pro-slavery advocates. Although maintaining a degree of neutrality with regard to the morality of slavery, Christy demonstrated that the production of cotton was an integral part of the world economy and argued that the widespread benefits outweighed the defects of slavery:

He who looks for any other result, must expect that nations, which, for centuries, have waged war to extend their commerce, will now abandon theirmeans of aggrandizement, and bankrupt themselves, to force the abolition of American Slavery!

While the planters might feel that slavery was the underpinning of King Cotton, others viewed it as the cause of the South's relative underdevelopment in the realm of commerce. Hinton R. Helper, one of the few Southern abolitionists, tried to persuade the small nonslaveholding farmers to overturn the policies of the plantation aristocracy. His book, "The Impending Crisis," was widely praised in the North. In it, he exhorted them:

Nonslaveholders of the South! Recollect that slavery is the only impediment to your progress and prosperity, that it stands diametrically opposed to all needful reforms, that it seeks to sacrifice you entirely for the benefit of others, and that it is the one great and only cause of dishonor to your country. Will you not abolish it? May Heaven help you to do your duty!

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