The Issue of Slavery Preceding the Civil War

The roots of slavery in America go back to around 1619 when the first ship containing slaves arrived in Virginia. Slavery gained acceptance mostly in the South where slaves were used in the cotton plantations and other agricultural fields. They were treated harshly and lived under poor conditions. The new American constitution in 1787 sought to abolish slavery but was to delay until 1808 (Infoplease, 1). With introduction of the cotton gin, slavery boomed again as the lucrative cotton plantations in the Southern States experienced labor shortage. African slaves provided labor to the white at almost no cost and were at the disposal of their masters. A slave’s day started early in the dawn and ended late at dusk when they would retire to their cabins. Children born by the slaves automatically become slaves too without an option.

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In the years prior to the Civil War, several slave sympathizers and freed slaves were actively campaigning for a ban on slavery. Transportation of slaves from America to any other foreign place had been abolished in 1803, and later an act prohibiting slave transportation within the United States was enacted. However, slavery was very alive in the South. The Northerners were also for slavery abolition, which was leading to hostile relations with the South. Along with this tension , the need to strike a balance between slave-free states and slave states arose. Compromises like the Missouri and the 1850 compromise were struck. An abolishment to the slavery was not soon coming as the south fought hard to maintain the status (LGLL, 1)

In 1831, an Africa-American preacher who was a slave, Nat Turner, led an uprising against slavery. Alongside with him fought seventy other slaves, they killed at least fifty whites (masters and their families). Later, they were hanged but had no regrets as they had fought for their freedom. This led to stricter policing codes on slaves in the South, though it stroke fear to the masters. In the same year William Garrison, released the first edition of his antislavery newspaper “Liberator” which became an instrument in airing the voices of abolitionists (American History, 1).

In 1833, a convention of abolitionists was held in Philadelphia with an aim of constructing a National Anti-slavery society. They sought to declare certain sentiments among them that “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these rights are life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness”. Upon this statement, which was guaranteed by the American constitution, they founded their campaign of abolishing slavery. Among its leaders was Garrison, son of a British merchant and at that time the publisher and editor of ‘Liberator’ (Garrison, 1).

The abolitionists sought for emancipation of all slaves in the United States. The North shared the sentiments and, though some never believed in the equality of blacks to whites, they believed that all should enjoy their labor fruits. As the divide concerning slavery between the South and the North grew wider, the South sought to separate themselves by seceding from the United States. The South held it that Africans were not American citizens and were a property to be owned and used. This led to adoption of the Fugitive Act in 1850, which allowed for all the slaves who had escaped from the South to the Free states be returned to their owners. In 1854, the US congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act opening the new territories to slavery. These legislations fueled the division between the North who were offended by it and South, who believed the North wanted to ruin the slave institution (Halsall, 1).

In 1857, during the case Scott V Sanford, the court ruled that the Congress had no powers to abolish slavery in the States. The United Supreme Court also held that the slaves, whether free or not, were not American citizens and thus remained the property of their masters (American History, 1). This meant that the slaves had no right or privileges and could not sue their masters for freedom in courts. This made the North very angry increasing the tensions between them and the South. This tension fueled the American Civil War in 1861, which saw the two regions fight for control of the nation.

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