The institution of slavery as it existed in the United States from the early 17th century until 1865. It existed in all English mainland colonies and dominated the agricultural production mostly in South. Eight of the first 12 presidents of the United States were slave-owners.
Debate over slavery increasingly dominated American politics, leading eventually to the American Civil War (1861-1865), which finally brought slavery to an end.
The economy of the southern states largely depended on rice, tobacco, coffee and cotton but after the invention of cotton gin in 1793 by Eli Whitney of Connecticut, they depended on cotton. This invention changed the face of cultivation in the south by increasing production of cotton. This made the southerners prosperous and an aristocracy came into existence, which was sometimes referred to as cottonacrocy. Increased production meant that more slaves were needed. As most of the existing slaves were Africans due to their cheap rate, more than 10 million African were brought during the 16th until mid of 19th century by the British traders through the transatlantic movement.
Thus as a result, the slave population increased from 8,00,000 in 1790 to 40,00,000 in 1860. Aristocrats owned more than a hundred slaves each and most of the white farmers had at least one or two slaves to help them. The situation of the slaves was pretty bad and they were dealt harshly. Their masters would beat them up sometimes and making them work all day long. They were not allowed to have permanent matrimonial relations nor a family life and were completely illiterate.
This inhumane treatment led to many insurrections as early as in 1712 when 21 negroes were put to death to suppress the insurrection by force. These insurrections continued and ultimaltely gave rise to a revolt in the year 1831 caused by Nat Turner as a result of which, 60 whites and the members of their family were killed. On the negro side, more than 100 were killed. The insurrection was put down and 20 negroes including turner were executed.
The effect of this was that the white owners of slaves started treating them more badly so as to scare them and not let them revolt again. Also they had fears of another such revolt. The condition of slaves got worse and this made the north to interfere in it. The government had already stopped the importation of more slaves from abroad. This increased their prices.
The harsh treatment done with slaves gave rise to many anti-slave societies. Several intellectuals like William Lloyd Garrison founded journal ”The Liberator” started writing in favor of the abolition of slavery. Whitler, Elzur and Joshua were other notable leaders of anti slave societies. At first people in the north turned against it as the economy of north depended on south but due to the increasing number of slaves, they agreed to fight against it.
They tried different methods to help slaves escape from their masters; the most popular one was “underground railroads system”. According to one estimate the total number of slaves who escaped during 1830 to 1860 were around 50,000.
Many northerners including Lincoln opposed slavery extension in the western territories. His efforts toward the abolition of slavery include issuing his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, encouraging the border states to outlaw slavery, and helping push through Congress the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which finally freed all the slaves nationwide in December 1865.
All these conditions ultimately led to the doom of the southern aristocracy and put an end to it in the Civil War(1861-65) as a result of which slavery was abolished.
Courtesy: Abdullah Nayyar Sheikh (DMG)