Essay Example on Slavery and Its Abolition

Slavery was something that had been around for what has felt like forever. The privateer, the White Lion had a huge impact on slavery when he brought approximately twenty slaves with him to the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia. The use of indentured servants, which were primarily made up of poor Europeans, started to end when it was discovered that enslaved Africans were a cheaper and very useful option for slave keepers. European slave trading in Africa dates all the way back to 1441, way before the White Lion had twenty slaves taken to Virginia. Africa lost millions of its best men and women due to slavery, but these men and women became very important assets to the New World. The slaves that were transported from Africa were taken to the Chesapeake Bay colonies of both Virginia and Maryland, and down south to Georgia as well. Africans began to work on plantations that were located in the Chesapeake Bay colonies that had rice, indigo, and tobacco. Working on these plantations was the typical slave’s life during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Africans toiling on plantations date back to 1452 when they first began being used on sugar plantations.   

African slaves were worked to their deaths because slaveholders thought that it was cheaper to do this versus purchasing younger slaves. The import of African slaves was eventually outlawed by Congress in 1808, but they were still needed regardless of the outlaw. Even though there was an outlaw in the 1800s, every U.S. colony had slaves by this time. The population of slaves in the U.S. sky rocked, and it tripled over a fifty-year period.  The formal acknowledgment of slavery came after the Revolutionary War. The United States Constitution stated that each enslaved human would count as three-fifths of a person. “Slave code, in U.S. history, any of the set of rules based on the concept that enslaved persons were property, not persons,” (Britannica), was commonly used in the United States. Slavery was very popular in the Southern United States, but it was never truly used fully in the North. All of the Northern states decided to abolish slavery between the years of 1774 and 1804. Slaves started to rebel, tired of the treatment they were receiving. These rebellions were never truly successful, but their efforts at rebelling against their masters are still remembered today. Some revolts are widely remembered as dangerous, such as the revolt led by Nat Turner. The revolt led by Nat Turner occurred in August of 1831, in Southampton County, Virginia. Seventy-five black men, which were part of Turner’s group, murdered fifty-five white men in just two days before armed forces caught them. This revolt only caused more problems for slaves, and black slaves were referred to as “inherently inferior barbarians requiring an institution such as slavery to discipline them,” (History).   

The slaves’ rebellions became popular during the 1800s, but enslaved people started running away in order to escape their masters. S.J. Celestine Howards told the story of a fugitive slave Walter Hawkins in his work, “From Slavery to a Bishopric,” and he described why these slaves decided to run away. Howards stated that the slaves’ yearning for escape was, “An irrepressible desire for freedom which no danger or power could restrain, no hardship deter.” However, a slave’s chance of escaping was low, and many didn’t seek the freedom they were searching for. Many slaves had no money and were usually illiterate. Runaway slaves also had few possessions, and were commonly discovered because of their race. Slaves escaping to find freedom had to travel to a free state up in the North, or they had to travel all of the way up to Canada. The establishment of the Underground Railroad made it much easier for runaway slaves to escape. The Underground Railroad helped the escapees flee to the North, and it was run by guides that helped get the slaves to freedom. Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave, is famously known for her work in the Underground Railroad, and she risked her life just so others could experience the joy of being free. An estimated seventy-thousand slaves are estimated to have escaped slavery due to the Underground Railroad between the years of 1800 and 1865. 

Escaped slaves would finally get the freedom they were so longing for, but other issues arose for the escapees. It was rather difficult to earn any kind of living for escaped slaves, often due to discrimination and segregation. Both discrimination and segregation were popular in quite a few parts of the North, and runaway slaves discovered that this was just as miserable as being a slave. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 just made life worse for a slave. The Fugitive Slave Act, “which allowed heavy fines to be levied on anyone who interfered with a slaveowner in the process of recapturing fugitive slaves and forced law-enforcement officials to aid in the capture of runaways,” stated by Britannica. Even the North was not a safe spot for runaway slaves, leaving Canada as the best option for safety. The states themselves were also having issues of their own. The Missouri Compromise, which was created in 1820, was “a bitter debate over the federal government’s right to restrict slavery over Missouri’s application for statehood,” (History) A compromise arose out of this leaving the state of Maine a free state and Missouri was to be a slave state. The Missouri Compromise ended the problem of sectionalism for a brief amount of time before other problems arose. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act came to be. This act “opened all new territories to slavery by asserting the rule of popular sovereignty over congressional edict, leading pro- and anti-slavery forces to battle it out,” (History). The Kansas-Nebraska Act resulted in the downfall of the Whig Party, and the creation of the all-Northern Republican Party. The Missouri Compromise was repealed in 1857 due to the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court. Dred Scott was an enslaved man whom sued for his freedom because his slave holder had taken him into free territory. The Dred Scott decision made it so that all territories were now open to slavery because of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise.


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