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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 became extremely valuable and small farms grew into large plantations. Tobacco, cotton, and rice became money-making exports for the Southern states. Although the number of slave-owning landowners 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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The story

1. A Nation Divided

2. Events and Battles

3. Leaders

4. Daily Life

5. Aftermath


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