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During the time period of 1840-1876, Early America faced problems that have greatly impacted our nation as well as shaped the United States into the country it is today. One of those problems that caused a much-needed reform of the United States was the exploitation of slave labor in the African American population in the southern United States. During the 1800s the African American population went through one of the most tragic and gruesome periods of time in American history. This period can be understood by examining the economic and social relations of the old south affecting African American families, abolitionists use of fundraising to raise money for slaves during the holiday seasons, the succession of southern states, the emancipation proclamation, and the complications of reconstruction in the United States. With the use of peer-reviewed articles and primary examples, I will explain why slavery was one of the most challenging and daunting problems that our country has had to overcome.
In the early nineteenth century, there was a shift from sugar being the number 1 slave export to cotton. With cotton being prevalent in everyday life through clothing and home goods, most of the factories in the united states used cotton as the go-to material to make cloth (Foner 404). With the demand for cotton being so high plantation owners in the southern united states used this to their advantage by capitalizing on inhumane slave labor to gain a tremendous profit. This demand for cotton in the united states was very high and since slave trade from Africa was prohibited in the United States by Congress in 1808 the emergence of slave trade within the united states started to become very prevalent in everyday life, “With more than 2 million slaves sold between 1820 and 1860 this came to be known as the Second Middle Passage” (Foner 407). There was a great number of slave families that had been broken up because of this increase of slave trade within the united states. Two examples of how this was shown by, “Single slave men, for example, were in high demand during the 1850s by railroad companies and in the New Orleans market for work on sugar plantations—a demand caused directly by government action: the railroad boom was fostered by the state backing of railroad bonds, and the sugar industry enjoyed tariff protection, and because slave transactions during the boom phase of the economy increased, the breakup of families increased as slaves were sold and literally shipped down the river to the New Orleans slave mark” (Thornton 75). This affected the African American population socially because if a slave was separated from their family, they had an incentive to escape back to their family which often lead to slaves being captured and beaten sometimes even death. This was not good for slaves nor was it good for slave owners because if a slave dies during that process or seriously injured in the slave owners’ eyes, they had suffered a loss because to them every slave was an investment. Therefore, the separation of families during this time did not benefit either party.
With the increase of technology in 1820-1840 “Antislavery leaders took advantage of the rapid development of print technology and the expansion of literacy due to common school education to spread their message” (Foner 458). Because this time period was so dark, and the slave population experienced many hardships some abolitionists used forms of fundraising to help raise money during the holidays. One form of these fundraisings were bazaars which were where women abolitionists sold clothing as well as jewelry and art from antislavery groups in the British Isles. These “fairs were held just before Christmas and included a large assortment of dolls, toys, and other gifts for children” (Foner 455). It was events such as these that set the tone that abolitionists were able to make a difference and get one step closer to the abolishment of slavery. One-way abolitionist women capitalized on these events was by using the popularity of the fairs to take “the lead in confronting a Northern public that felt the degradation of enslaved women and children was too sensitive and immodest a subject for public discussion. With clear language and vivid images, these women used their fairs to show the brutality and rape suffered by their enslaved sisters” (Katz). Even though these events were used to spread good and positivity abolitionist women did not ignore the fact that there were terrible things happening within the slave community, and as good Christian women, they believed that it was their duty to help bring attention to this terrible problem to fix it.
From 1840 to 1861 there was a great fear of civil war that was daunting over both the Northern and Southern states. Since ideologies of slavery and governing had been so different, a compromise was not a probable option for either side. “Groups such as the Republican party—-a coalition of antislavery Democrats, northern Whigs, Free Soilers, and Know-Nothings opposed to the further expansion of slavery, Republicans managed to convince most northerners that the slave power posed a more immediate threat to their liberties and aspirations than property and immigration. The party’s appeal rested on the idea of “free labor.” In Republican hands, the antithesis between “free society” and “slave society” coalesced into a comprehensive worldview that glorified the North as the home of progress, opportunity and freedom” (Foner 501). With this ideology of the north, there was an emergence of antislavery advocates one of those people being a politician by the name of Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln advocated for slaves and made it clear that slavery would result in an unsuccessful future for the united states. Lincoln famously explained how that “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.” Lincoln will continue and use similar views as northerners to campaign and eventually become elected as the 17th president of the united states. since Lincolns had a strong viewpoint on the abolishment of slavery the south saw his election as the beginning of the separation of northern and southern states. It wouldn’t be until
“The people of the State of South Carolina in Convention assembled, on the 2d day of April, A. D. 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in their withdrawal from the Federal Union” (Declaration of Causes which Induced the Secession of South Carolina). This event eventually led to 7 other southern states seceding from the union leading to a civil war that would impact our country greatly.
The Civil war was one of the most gruesome and tragic wars the United States has ever faced. It is the first war where modern weapons were used in battle. Some of these technological breakthroughs were the use of railroads to transport supplies and soldiers, the use of iron ships versus wooden ships, and the use of grenades. One of the great things that came out of the civil war was Lincolns milestone attempt to emancipate all slaves that lived in union states where slavery was still legal. It would not be until July 21, 1861, in northern Virginia where the first civil war Battle of Bull Run took place and confederate states will succeed. This would soon lead to fighting across the country. The unions attempt to secure the east fell short when they lost the Second Battle of Bull Run. It would not be until this win where Lee saw his success as an opportunity to go on the offense and attempt to “bring the border slave states into confederacy” (Foner 526). This occurred in Washington D.C. at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland where 6,000 men were killed in just 1 day. In February 1862, General Grand a West Point graduate helped the Union secure its “first significant victory when he captured Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee” (Foner). The trend of nations abolishing slavery was becoming more prevalent between 1831 and 1888 where the British and Brazil set forth to prohibit slavery and freeing 6 million slaves, it would soon be Lincolns responsibility to address the problem of slavery and begin to abolish slavery. abolishing slavery in Northern and bordering states did far more than just freeing some of the slaves that were unfairly being exploited for their free labor. These now free slaves will have the opportunity to fight for what they believe in and contribute to the abolishment of slavery. Even though there were many benefits to the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln had his concerns as well. It was concerned that “Two days after Lincoln sent his response to Mayor Wood, General Ambrose Burnside attacked Fredericksburg and suffered the worst defeat in the history of the U.S. Army, one that superseded the memory of Antietam. This disaster called into further questions the North’s ability to win the war and enforce emancipation” (Schwartz 590). This was a tragic loss for the union army considering this happened 2 days after Lincoln had signed the preliminary Emancipation. In January of 1863, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation which freed slaves that lived within the union including slave states that bordered the north and south. Following the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation many previously enslaved African American men had enlisted in the Union army to contribute to fighting for their freedom. It was said that African American troops were some of the most well put together soldiers in the Union army, this could be because the African American community had already been stigmatized to be uncivil people, they made it their best effort to be well put together in order to show people around the world how much potential and how great soldiers these men could be.
In 1865 the united states were unified once again and for the most part was completely free. Just because the union had won the war and slavery was abolished often the word freedom was not what people expected. The idea to be completely free after the civil war in the late 1800s could be defined as having the same liberties as a landowning white man which included, the freedom to travel and the freedom to vote in an election. It was immediate changes such as Black churches and schools that were “strengthened, expanded, and freed from white supervision” (Foner 567) that helped the newly reconstructing country understand what freedom really meant. Following the death of President Lincoln Andrew Johnson would become the president and with his racist and unfair viewpoints, he would soon destroy what Lincoln and the Union had worked so hard for. One-way Johnson did this was by implementing “Black Codes, laws passed by the new southern governments that attempted to regulate the lives of their former slaves” (Foner 580). These codes will bring many challenges to the African American community by limiting their freedoms. This was shown by how “Even though some half-million free blacks lived in the country in 1860, no state, North or South, afforded them complete equality before the law. In the Dred Scott decision of 1857, the Supreme Court stated explicitly that no black people, slave or free, could be citizens of the United States, even if their ancestors had been here for generations. African Americans had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” according to Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. An alternative point of view did exist, a concept of citizenship severed from race. It was advocated by the abolitionist movement, which insisted not only that the slaves should be emancipated but that they should be incorporated as equal members of society” (Foner 44). Ideas such as these are what pushed our nation into another terrible period where racism and violent actions of anti-African American groups such as the KKK terrorized the African American community as well as destroyed the hope given by Lincoln and the tremendous efforts of the Union Army.
Furthermore, the African American community endured many hardships but with great resilience overcame this terrible period of slavery. With events such as economic and social hardships African American families endured, fundraising within abolitionist groups, the souths succession from the union, Emancipation Proclamation, and the reconstruction of the United States after the civil war the unified country gave new hope for every person that lived there that freedom was the new way of life it would continue to push the African American population forward into their new free lives. It is also the negligence of the United States government and Andrew Johnson’s racist viewpoints that would attempt to crush the African American community and lead our country into a period of violence and racism.
- Declaration of Causes Which Induced the Secession of South Carolina. Great Neck. Web.
- Foner, Eric. “Freedom’s Dream Deferred.” American History, vol. 50, no. 5, Dec. 2015, pp. 42–51. EBSCOhost,
- Foner, Eric, 1943- author. Give Me Liberty! : an American History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2014. Print
- KATZ, WILLIAM LOREN. “The Women Who Gave Us Christmas.” New York Amsterdam News, vol. 101, no. 52, 23 Dec. 2010, p. 13. EBSCOhost,
- Mlambo, Nelson. “The Literary Representation of the Resilience of the Slave Family and Familial Relations in Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography.” Journal for Studies in Humanities & Social Sciences, vol. 4, no. 1/2, Jan. 2015, pp. 253–265. EBSCOhost,
- Schwartz, Barry. “The Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln’s Many Second Thoughts.” Society, vol. 52, no. 6, Dec. 2015, pp. 590–603. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s12115-015-9954-7.
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