Slavery in America in the period between the American Revolution and the Civil War became the most divisive issue on the American political scene. This period was to see a ban on the importation of slaves from outside the country. It saw the outright ban of slavery in the northern states which set the stage for the slave state-free state division of the United States.
During the American Revolution Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, issued Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation which declared martial law and promised freedom for any slaves of American patriots who would leave their masters and join the royal forces. About 1500 did so; most died of disease before they could do any fighting. Only 300 made it to freedom in Britain.
In all of the 13 colonies, tens of thousands of slaves escaped to the British Army when they were in the vicinity. In South Carolina, 25,000 slaves, representing 30% of the slave population, fled, migrated or died during the American Revolution. At the end of the war, the British evacuated 20,000 freedmen, transporting them for resettlement in Nova Scotia, the Caribbean islands, and some to England.
Map will animate by itself.
Many of the Southern Founding Fathers were slaveholders. Despite their belief in human freedom, they maintained their slave ownership for one simple reason: economic necessity. The use of slaves on the large plantations and farms throughout the South was necessary. The cultivation of crops such as tobacco, peanuts, rice, and cotton were labor intensive. Until there were mechanical devices to plant and, more importantly, harvest these crops, slavery remained an imperative for the southern agrarian economy. (The Private Lives of Washington’s Slaves)
The United States Constitution protected the slave trade until 1808, a 20-year period, when it would be outlawed. During this time frame, southerners imported more slaves than at any other time in American history. The Constitution prohibited citizens from providing assistance to escaping slaves and required the return of chattel property to owners.
The most divisive issue of the Constitutional Convention was the “three-fifths” compromise. Slaves were counted as “three-fifths” of a white person for the purposes of Congressional representation and federal taxation. This increased the power of southern states in Congress for decades, affecting national policies and legislation. They were represented primarily by men of their planter elite, who also dominated the presidency for nearly 50 years.
The invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1793 created a greater demand for slaves. It made the cultivation of short-staple cotton profitable cotton cultivation spread dramatically throughout the Deep South, increasing the internal market for slaves. Cotton production expanded from 750,000 bales in 1830 to 2.85 million bales in 1850.
As a result, the South became even more dependent on plantations and slavery, with plantation agriculture becoming the largest sector of the Southern economy. The number of slaves rose in concert with the increase in cotton production, increasing from around 700,000 in 1790 to around 3.2 million in 1850. By 1860, the Southern states were providing two-thirds of the world’s supply of cotton, and up to 80% of the crucial British market.
Meanwhile, in the North between 1777 and 1804, anti-slavery laws or constitutions were passed in every state north of the Ohio River and the Mason-Dixon Line. By 1810, 75 percent of all blacks in the North were free. By 1840, virtually all blacks in the North were free. Free blacks were subject to racial segregation in the North and it took decades for some states to extend the franchise to them. In fact, in 1861 blacks were not allowed to enlist in the Union army because they were not considered citizens.