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Article

Alonford James Robinson

Proslavery arguments were not prevalent in the United States until an organized movement against slavery emerged in the late eighteenth century. Commonly referred to as the antislavery movement, abolitionism was a loose confederation of religious and political organizations that arose in defiance of the international system of slavery. The movement did not gain national credibility and acclaim until the late 1830s.

Often associated with the antislavery movement, Abolitionism differed in both the degree and methods of its antislavery activities. While antislavery advocates pushed for the gradual eradication of slavery, abolitionists called for its immediate and unconditional end. Organizations such as the American Anti-Slavery Society and newspapers such as The Liberator were prominent features of the American abolitionist movement. Emerging at the beginning of the nineteenth century, antiabolitionism was a hostile and often violent response to the abolitionist movement. As abolitionism grew, so too did antiabolitionism.

Several features of abolitionist rhetoric ...

Article

Chad Morgan

Calhoun did more than anyone else to chart the Slave South's increasingly defiant course from the 1830s onward; the trajectory of his career closely mirrors that of his region. Born into a family of ardent patriots and Revolutionary War veterans, Calhoun's early nationalism steadily gave way to the need to construct ever-moreelaborate defenses of the South's slave society. Ironically, in doing more than perhaps any other individual to set the stage for the Civil War, this “father of secession” and unapologetic slaveholder became a great practical force in the bringing about of Emancipation.

John Caldwell Calhoun was born just outside the town of Abbeville in the South Carolina Upcountry. After studying at Yale and then the Litchfield Law School, Calhoun began his meteoric rise to political prominence with a promising stint in the South Carolina state legislature. In 1811 he married his cousin Floride Bonneau Colhoun [sic a Lowcountry ...

Article

Denise R. Shaw

In August 1845, shortly after the publication of his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the author boarded the steamship Cambria of the Cunard Line for Great Britain. The voyage served a dual purpose for Frederick Douglass. First, he was embarking on a speaking tour during which he would gain financial and moral support for the antislavery movement. Second, and perhaps just as important, the trip would get Douglass out of the country, as the publication of his Narrative would not only bring attention to the horrors of slavery but would also garner the attention of slave catchers bent on reenslaving Douglass.

Prior to boarding the Cambria Douglass was notified by his traveling companion James N Buffum that he would not be able to board the ship as a cabin passenger but would be consigned to the steerage section or second class Douglass notes ...

Article

Brian D. Behnken

On 11 September 1851 in Christiana, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a violent confrontation broke out between proslavery and antislavery forces. Commonly referred to as the Christiana Riot, the encounter had its roots in the escape of four slaves—Noah Buley, Nelson Ford, George Hammond, and Joshua Hammond—from the Maryland plantation owned by Edward Gorsuch. Although Gorsuch reputedly was a good master, the slaves fled across the state line to Pennsylvania on 6 November 1849 after Gorsuch learned that they were stealing wheat from the plantation's storehouse. A resident of Christiana informed him a short time later that his slaves were taking refuge in the small town.

In Lancaster County the escaped slaves plunged into a volatile world of white slave catchers and armed black defenders Many Pennsylvanians were weary of slaves escaping from Maryland Whites from Lancaster County formed a vigilante group to apprehend runaways around ...

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Drafted on 1 March 1836 the Constitution of the Republic of Texas was the first organizing governmental document composed and adopted by non Mexicans to oversee the bueracracy of the newly independent territory Though slavery had at least officially all but vanished under Mexican rule the institution was still in practice in some parts of the territory in 1836 and when the new government was formed Texan politicians were eager to restore slavery to legal status To do so they inserted the general provision reproduced below into their new constitution Because of it African American slaves already in Texas now held in bondage were to remain slaves Likewise the provision held that the congress of the independent Republic of Texas would be powerless to create laws prohibiting the flow of new slaves into the territory nor would slaveholders be permitted to emancipate their slaves without congressional consent Likewise free blacks ...

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The U.S. Supreme Court's 1856 determination in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford sounded like a thunderclap throughout the entire country Radical Republicans in Congress and abolitionists throughout the North and South had long come to suspect pro slavery forces of conspiring to fashion a federal government that would upset the carefully maintained balance between slave and free states and allow the unfettered spread of the peculiar institution into every state and territory With the Court s decision Republicans felt they had all the proof they needed Not only had Chief Justice Roger Taney opined that Scott a slave who argued that time spent in the free states of Missouri and Illinois had emancipated him must legally remain a slave he went further to argue that black people were incapable of being citizens Taney s further ruminations on black people as an inferior class of beings who had ...

Article

Diane L. Barnes

Proponents of ethnology, a pseudoscience popular in the mid-nineteenth century, claimed that races of people were, in fact, separate human species. Some southern proslavery advocates used the notion of ethnology to support the belief that as a separate species, individuals of African descent were an inferior race and perfectly suited for slavery, but only one major advocate of ethnology hailed from the southern states. Ethnology formed only a minor influence on racial thinking among the general populace, but it did gain support among the scientific community and some intellectuals.

The American school of ethnology which was not an institution but more an informal movement evolved from scientific principles set forth by Samuel George Morton a Philadelphia physician Having studied the internal cranial capacity of humans from various races and ethnic groups Morton rejected prevailing theories which held that environmental forces played the largest part in racial differentiation for example that ...

Article

Paul Finkelman

The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was technically an amendment to the federal act of 1793 that regulated both criminal extradition and the return of fugitive slaves. The 1793 law never worked well, and almost immediately some southerners asked for a new law. By the mid-1840s editors and politicians throughout the South were demanding a new, more effective law. The key issue for southerners was an enforcement mechanism that would help them recover their fugitives and return home safely with them.

The 1793 law authorized all state judges and magistrates as well as all federal judges to issue certificates of removal to allow masters to take fugitive slaves back to the South However many northern jurists refused to cooperate with the implementation of the law Since there were very few federal judges at the time usually only one in a state slave owners had to rely on often uncooperative ...

Article

Before the American colonies won independence from Great Britain, several legislatures in Southern colonies passed laws providing for the return of runaway slaves. Under some of these laws, slaves who resisted arrest could be killed, and their owners would be reimbursed by the government. Other laws levied penalties against people who protected runaways and offered rewards to those who caught them. However, these laws had little effect outside the colonies that passed them, leaving those in other colonies free to harbor escaped slaves.

In 1787 the Congress of the Confederation passed the Northwest Ordinance which banned slavery from the Northwest Territory but allowed slaves who fled to the territory to be caught and returned to their owners However the ordinance did not require governments or settlers to cooperate in the capture and return of runaways Two years later the Constitution of the United States took effect with a ...

Article

Donovan S. Weight

slave owner, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to a freed slave and a white man (their names are unknown). Hinard never experienced slavery herself, and her life as a slave-owning black female was far removed from the common experience of most blacks in North America. This anomaly can be explained in part by the political and social turbulence of early New Orleans. By the time Hinard was forty-two, she had lived under French, Spanish, and American rule. In 1791 at the age of fourteen, Hinard was placéed (committed) to the white Spaniard Don Nicolás Vidal, the auditor de guerra the Spanish colonial governor In this lofty position Vidal provided military and legal counsel for both Louisiana and West Florida Both the Spanish and the French legislated against racial intermarriage as a way of maintaining pure white blood but this legislation did not stop white men from ...

Article

Nick Nesbitt

Victor Hugues was the son of a baker from Marseilles, France. At the age of twelve, he joined his uncle in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) at the height of that island's colonial prosperity. After sailing the Caribbean as a corsair in search of English ships, in 1784 Hugues settled in Port-au-Prince, where he opened a bakery. In 1788, when the French King Louis XVI convened the Estates General in Versailles in an attempt to defuse rising antimonarchical sentiment, Hugues was elected and returned to France to represent the petit blancs, or white shop owners and traders. Hugues also became embroiled in the conflict between petits blancs and a mulatto class striving for legal recognition: in February 1791 Port-au-Prince was burned by armed members of the mulatto class, and Hugues, by his own estimation, lost seven-eighths of his worldly goods.

When the French monarchy was overthrown in ...

Article

Kevin M. Levin

The Kansas-Nebraska Act, passed by Congress on 30 May 1854, was designed to allow slavery in the territories west of Missouri. For close to thirty-five years the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had banned the institution north of the line of 36°30′ north latitude, except for Missouri. Beginning in January 1854 Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois introduced a report to the Senate recommending the creation of two new territories, Kansas and Nebraska, in the former Louisiana Territory. Douglas was motivated by a desire to add to the material growth of the nation as articulated through the ideology of Manifest Destiny—a moral justification for American expansion to the Pacific Ocean based on notions of cultural superiority—as well as an interest in a transcontinental railroad from Chicago across the western plains toward California.

Douglas gained southern congressional support for the bill by introducing a principle known as popular sovereignty under which ...

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For the expanding United States, geographical reality often had as much to do with keeping the slavery question before the Congress as did political, moral, or religious will. As more and more territories were adopted into the “ever-westing” federal union, the question of slavery tightened its grip on the Congress. No longer was there a simple status quo to enforce, but rather questions of the national balance between slave states and free had constantly to be taken up and reexamined. Nowhere perhaps was this crisis more keenly and painfully felt than in the case of Kansas. When that territory applied for statehood in 1857, the rush was on to produce a constitution to “settle” the slavery question. Four were composed, one of which, the “Lecompton Constitution,” is presented below.

An attempt to admit Kansas as a slave state and one in which new slaves could be imported the document predictably ...

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By the dawn of the nineteenth century slave codes had been common in one form or another for more than a hundred years but even territories admitted as free states sometimes sought to pass legislation to regulate the rights of black people These black codes were usually crafted to control the numbers of blacks residing in a given state but were also often used to restrict the movement of free blacks across the territories and to regulate black employment Ohio was the first free state to establish such a statute though other northern states were quick to follow suit Indiana Illinois and Michigan among them Ohio s code went into effect just one year after its admission to the federal union in 1803 Among its stipulations the Ohio black code required that free blacks who wished to seek residence in the state should seek certification of their status in the ...

Article

Stephen Vincent

In early autumn 1843Frederick Douglass found himself at the center of a life threatening riot Douglass and two fellow abolitionists had come to Pendleton Indiana as part of a six month six state One Hundred Conventions speaking tour sponsored by the New England Anti Slavery Society Confronted by vocal opponents of antislavery at their scheduled meeting on 15 September the abolitionists agreed to a second open air debate the following day The ensuing debate began with heated words that quickly devolved into physical threats Despite the abolitionists pleas for restraint and nonviolent discussion a crowd of thirty whites descended on the speakers platform and rioting broke out Douglass sensing danger to William White a white colleague grabbed a heavy piece of wood to ward off White s attackers Enraged by the sight of an armed black man the mob turned on Douglass as cries of kill the nigger ...

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Judging from the sheer number of laws regarding runaway slaves in the antebellum South, slaveholders placed a high priority on using the legal system to control the movement and behavior of their property. As the Underground Railroad increased the odds in favor of an escaping slave, and as the conflict between free and slave states became more intractable, the slaveholders responded by proposing more draconian legislation. Typically, owners sought to strengthen or establish a system of patrols, by which local officials were granted the authority to establish a police force that practiced warrantless searches, inflicted corporal punishments, and organized slave hunts that went on for miles. Whereas the Underground Railroad was a secret network of sympathetic allies, the patrol system openly organized what amounted to a militia.

In a typical petition to the North Carolina General Assembly reproduced below local slaveholders express their concerns about the dangers and difficulties of ...

Primary Source

It was perhaps inevitable that the strong moral, philosophical, religious, and political arguments against the institution of human chattel slavery would eventually obviate the luxury of proslavery forces sitting idly by, allowing themselves to be run roughshod over. Counterarguments, preferably those employing the same persuasive tools as their opposite numbers, were needed. Not a few have suggested that the explosion in proslavery arguments was related to the surprising success of Harriet Beecher Stowe's sentimental antislavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), though far more likely is the possibility that in the prevailing atmosphere of direct attacks on the institution by the increasing and increasingly potent forces of the Northern abolition movement proslavery forces were simply increasing the volume of their attacks in an attempt to maintain an argumentative status quo.

Whatever the immediate cause suffice it to say that at no time in the long and sometimes unfortunate history of humankind ...

Article

Paul Finkelman

Before the American Revolution, slave owners in what became the United States rarely discussed the rationale for their system of bondage. They accepted slavery as one of the many social statuses that existed within the British Empire. Slavery was, of course, alien to English culture, so much so that its development required some justification. But that justification was easily supplied by the dual claims that slavery was an economic necessity—the colonies needed cheap labor—and that enslavement enabled Africans to become Christians, which was in itself a blessing for them. These justifications proved sufficient throughout the colonial period as new African slaves brought prosperity to the colonies and Christian ministers happily baptized them to save their immortal souls. By the mid-1700s slavery was entrenched, and American colonists seemed to give little thought to the system. With a few notable exceptions, such as the Germantown Quakers protest against slavery in 1688 ...

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Abolitionists closely followed the Congressional debate over the Compromise of 1850, the deal designed to preserve the Union by acquiescing to certain demands by the slave states. The most controversial element was the Fugitive Law of 1850, which required Northern states to assist in the capture of runaway slaves. But the policy went even further than that, empowering kidnappers with the ability to detain free blacks on the suspicion of being fugitives and transport them to the South without due process. A commission was established to oversee cases, but members were given incentives to return slaves to their masters, rather than letting them go. As a result, tens of thousands of blacks migrated to Canada, regardless of whether they were legally free or still on the run.

Particularly upsetting for abolitionists was Senator Daniel Webster s 1782 1852 support of the law On 7 March 1850 the famed orator and ...

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The Texas and New Mexico Act was only part of the broader Compromise of 1850. Vast new territories in the West were entering the Union and the delicate balance between slave- and free state was threatened. Daniel Webster, John Calhoun, and Stephen Douglas all worked to bring the 1850 Compromise together, but it was seventy-year-old Henry Clay, the author of the 1820 Missouri Compromise, who again was instrumental in forestalling the inevitable clash over slavery.

The Texas and New Mexico Act of the Compromise dealt with the entrance of Texas into the Union While the compromise allowed Texas into the Union as a slave state it redefined that state s borders and created the territory of New Mexico which later became the states of New Mexico Arizona Utah and Nevada Further any states created out of the New Mexico Territory would be allowed to resolve for themselves the issue of ...