A nation divided
Southern cotton field.
Block on which slaves stood to be sold to the highest bidder
Slavery had been in the
colonies since 1619 when
the captured Africans first
arrived in Jamestown to
work the large tobacco
fields in Virginia.
Slavery soon became a
necessary need in the
Southern states as crops
valuable and small farms
grew into large
cotton, and rice became
for the Southern states.
Although the number of
were few, the money
brought into the region
was enormous, and slave
owners became the
political and social
leaders of the South.
Slavery soon became a
system that the South
could not live without. Most people in the South lived on small farms, grew
their own food, and tended a few acres of cash crops, but the plantations
helped the South to grow and prosper.
The writers of the Constitution did not approve of slavery, but knew it was
necessary to the South's economy. So they decided to halt the slave trade in 1808,
but leave the slavery issue up to the states. Eli Whitney's invention of the
cotton gin in the 1800s increased the production of cotton and added to the
problem by increasing the need for slave labor to pick the cotton.
The idea of slavery was tolerated this way until Americans began to move
westward, and by 1860, had claimed territory all the way to the Pacific
Ocean. New territories were added, new states were formed, and the issue of
slavery and states' rights came up again and again . Each time, the debate
became more bitter. Compromises were reached, debates were settled, but in
each instance, people on both sides of the issue felt as if they had lost
something. Their way of life was crumbling before them. As America grew, its
divisions became deeper, its differences became more evident, and the time
for compromise had come to an end. Slavery was dividing the nation.
More than 3.5 million African-Americans lived in the United States in the
mid-1800s. Of those, 500,000 were free, with half living in the North and
half in the South. In the North, most were laborers, craftspeople, household
servants, or started their own businesses. Though they were free, they still
faced discrimination, or unfair treatment, from whites in the North. The
remainder of the African-Americans were slaves, mostly found in the South,
with almost no chance to break away from the bonds of field labor.
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