Killing Black People – Part 2: Slavery

This is the second in a series of posts that examine the underlying causes for the continuing police violence disproportionately employed against African Americans, causes I believe to be deeply rooted in the past history of racism, slavery and the unique situation of blacks in the history of this country. The first one can be found here.

There I discussed the role played by denial, revisionist history, educators and popular culture after the Civil War that created and/or reinforced stereotypes, biases and racism against African Americans. In particular, I examined the creation of the fictionalized image of African Americans as a lesser form of humanity, one inferior to whites and prone to criminality and violence, with an emphasis on the the iconic and infamous image of the hyper-sexual, animal-like “Black Brute.” I concluded that the manner in which these fictionalized narratives, stereotypical portrayals and outright lies about African Americans and the institution of slavery (in both the South and the North) were perpetrated within the dominant culture informed not only how white Americans perceived black people, but also laid the foundation to justify and excuse the disproportionate use of violence against African American communities as a means of social control.

Part 2 now examines the era of American slavery to shed light on the historical record of brutality, abuse, atrocity and violence, one which many white Americans are not taught about in schools even today; facts that a significant percentage of white people either ignore or discount, or in some cases simply reject outright and do not accept as true.

Reality: The Historical Record of an American Atrocity

Slavery – The Colonial Years:

The United States were colonies once upon a time, colonies that were dependent in large part on the slave trade for their economic viability. From the quasi-aristocratic gentry and their plantations of the Southern colonies, to the enterprising slave traders in New England, slavery played a dominate role in the economies of both North and South. Tobacco and sugar were to England and its colonies the equivalent of gold and silver to Spain’s empire in the Americas. The production of both required slaves. And the cheapest, most profitable source of slaves was Africa.

For instance, in the seventeenth century, the Royal Africa Company could buy an enslaved African with trade goods worth £3 and have that person sold for £20 in the Americas. The Royal Africa Company was able to make an average profit of 38% per voyage in the 1680s. […]

Slavery was the oil in the machine of these transatlantic economies. By the 1760s annual exports from the West Indies alone to Britain were worth over £3m (equivalent to around £250m today).

Individuals made large profits: for instance the merchant Thomas Leyland, three times mayor of Liverpool, made a profit of £12,000 (about £1m today) on the 1798 voyage of his ship Lottery.

This trade in human flesh did not go unnoticed by the American colonists in the northeast. The first slave traders of record shipped slaves from Africa in 1644. By 1680, two-thirds of all the American ships that traded in slaves were based out of Rhode Island. the trade in slaves, tobacco and sugar was the “first great global industry.” By the early 1700s, England was importing over 20 million pounds of tobacco each year from colonies such as Virginia, where slaves provided the work force for the large and small tobacco planters alike.

The majority of blacks living in the Chesapeake worked on tobacco plantations and large farms. Since the cultivation of tobacco was extremely labor-intensive, African slave labor was used, despite questions of whether slavery was morally right … Tobacco was an eleven-month crop. Cultivation began in late January … By mid summer, tobacco was growing in the fields, but the delicate plant required constant care. At harvest time, tobacco was gathered and prepared for its shipment to England. […]

Slavery was the foundation of Virginia’s agricultural system and essential to its economic viability. Initially, planters bought slaves primarily to raise tobacco for export. By the last quarter of the 18th century, wealthy Virginia farmers were using slave labor in a diversified agricultural regime. Enslaved African Americans also worked as skilled tradesmen in the countryside and in the capital city of Williamsburg. Many also served as domestics in the households of wealthier white Virginians.

After the Revolution: It Gets Worse:

The American Revolution, nominally based proposition that all men were created equal and born with certain “inalienable rights” such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” was of course the first great lie regarding the foundation of the country that came to be known as the United States. As you may recall, per the Constitution, slaves counted as 3/5th of a person for purposes of determining how many free white men from each state could be elected to the House of Representatives, and for purposes of the Electoral College.

Unfortunately, despite the many slave memoirs and autobiographies written and published during the years the peculiar institution was officially sanctioned, and those that were published afterwards, many white Americans, especially those who lived in former slave states are still taught that slavery was not particularly harsh or cruel life for those held in bondage as property, despite all evidence to the contrary. Evidence such as can be seen in the following infamous photograph of an escaped slave, often referred to as “Gordon under medical inspection.”

Reports of beaten, whipped and raped slaves were far from uncommon in the pre-Civil War years. It’s one of the reasons Uncle Tom’s Cabin was both a national bestseller and widely reviled by Southern whites, who protested it was full of lies about how their precious slaves were treated. Yet, Stowe’s portrayal of the brutality inflicted upon slaves was a mild depiction compared to actual narratives authored by those who suffered the harsh life of being subject to the whims of one’s master, such as revealed most famously in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass An American Slave and Solomon Northrup’s Twelve Years a Slave.

More telling than these manuscripts, however, was the reaction of slaves to their condition of involuntary lifetime servitude.

Slave Rebellions, Escapes and the White Response:

According to some historians, there were as many as 250 slave revolts or conspiracies to revolt prior to the Civil War. Slave rebellions, of course had occurred prior to the revolution, including rebellions in northern states such as New York. The largest pre-Revolutionary slave revolt was perhaps the Stono Rebellion in South Carolina in 1739:

South Carolina, September 9, 1739: A band of slaves march down the road, carrying banners that proclaim “Liberty!”. They shout out the same word. Led by an Angolan named Jemmy, the men and women continue to walk south, recruiting more slaves along the way. By the time they stop to rest for the night, their numbers will have approached one hundred.

This revolt may have been triggered by a proclamation by Spain that any slave who reached St. Augustine (then part of the Spanish Empire) would be freed, and the subsequent passage of the “Security Act: in August 1839, which required every white male to carry firearms to church (Sundays being a day slaves were usually left to their own devices while whites attended services). The Security Act was intended to allay white fears of any slave rebellion. It may have had the opposite effect of encouraging slaves to rebel. In any event, ultimately approximately 20-25 whites were killed by the rebelling slaves. Armed whites put down the revolt by shooting to death 14 “rebels” in a confrontation on and subsequently executing all those who they recaptured. One result of the Stono Rebellion was a law known as the Negro Act that expressly forbid slaves from “grow[ing] their own food, assembl[ing ]in groups, earn[ing] their own money, or learn[ing] to read.”

Slave rebellions and plots increased after the Revolution as slavery spread to the new states and territories of the South. Some of the more well known of these insurrections include the Gabriel Prosser Conspiracy of 1800 in Virginia, the Denmark Versey of 1822 in Charleston South Carolina, and perhaps the most famous of all the slave revolts in the United States, Nat Turner’s Rebellion of August, 1831 in Virginia:

[O]n August 21, Turner and six of his men met in the woods to eat a dinner and make their plans. At 2:00 that morning, they set out to the Travis household, where they killed the entire family as they lay sleeping. They continued on, from house to house, killing all of the white people they encountered. Turner’s force eventually consisted of more than 40 slaves, most on horseback.

By about mid-day on August 22, Turner decided to march toward Jerusalem, the closest town. By then word of the rebellion had gotten out to the whites; confronted by a group of militia, the rebels scattered, and Turner’s force became disorganized. After spending the night near some slave cabins, Turner and his men attempted to attack another house, but were repulsed. Several of the rebels were captured. The remaining force then met the state and federal troops in final skirmish, in which one slave was killed and many escaped, including Turner. In the end, the rebels had stabbed, shot and clubbed at least 55 white people to death.

Nat Turner hid in several different places near the Travis farm, but on October 30 was discovered and captured. His “Confession,” dictated to physician Thomas R. Gray, was taken while he was imprisoned in the County Jail. On November 5, Nat Turner was tried in the Southampton County Court and sentenced to execution. He was hanged, and then skinned, on November 11.

In total, the state executed 55 people, banished many more, and acquitted a few. The state reimbursed the slaveholders for their slaves. But in the hysterical climate that followed the rebellion, close to 200 black people, many of whom had nothing to do with the rebellion, were murdered by white mobs. In addition, slaves as far away as North Carolina were accused of having a connection with the insurrection, and were subsequently tried and executed.

Revolt was not the only means by which African American slaves sought to escape the harsh reality of being a commodity, to be bought and sold as any other form of personal property. When possible, many of slaves risked their lives and ran away from their “kindly” masters in large numbers (one estimate says at least 100,000 ” between 1810 and 1850″). These numbers led to the passage of a law (included as part of the Compromise of 1850 at the insistence of Congressional Representatives and Senators from slave states) which gave unprecedented federal power and authority to anyone seeking to recapture escaped slaves from states and territories where slavery was illegal. This law, as many of you know, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, one of the most controversial laws in American history.

Of all the bills that made up the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was the most controversial. It required citizens to assist in the recovery of fugitive slaves. It denied a fugitive’s right to a jury trial. (Cases would instead be handled by special commissioners — commissioners who would be paid $5 if an alleged fugitive were released and $10 if he or she were sent away with the claimant.) The act called for changes in filing for a claim, making the process easier for slave owners. Also, according to the act, there would be more federal officials responsible for enforcing the law.

For slaves attempting to build lives in the North, the new law was disaster. Many left their homes and fled to Canada. During the next ten years, an estimated 20,000 blacks moved to the neighboring country. For Harriet Jacobs, a fugitive living in New York, passage of the law was “the beginning of a reign of terror to the colored population.” She stayed put, even after learning that slave catchers were hired to track her down. Anthony Burns, a fugitive living in Boston, was one of many who were captured and returned to slavery. Free blacks, too, were captured and sent to the South. With no legal right to plead their cases, they were completely defenseless.

Passage of the Fugitive Slave Act made abolitionists all the more resolved to put an end to slavery. The Underground Railroad became more active, reaching its peak between 1850 and 1860. The act also brought the subject of slavery before the nation. Many who had previously been ambivalent about slavery now took a definitive stance against the institution.

The Fugitive Slave Act was followed by the equally controversial and widely despised decision by the Supreme Court in Dred Scott v. Sanford. There, after pressure by President Buchanan, the court held that (1) African Americans, free or slave could not be citizens of the United States or any individual state, and had no standing to sue in Federal Courts; (2) No law that would in effect deprive a slave owner of his or her “property” after a slave moved to a free state or territory was enforceable pursuant to the 5th Amendment; and (3) to the extent the 1850 Compromise gave the Federal government the power to regulate slavery in free territories, the laws of the states from which a slave escaped took precedence over federal law.

Slavery and White Violence

Slave Traders and Slave Patrols:

Suffice it to say that no system of oppression can exist without the use of force, both psychological and physical. Violence as a means of control of African American slaves existed from the very beginning. After all, to make a person a slave one must first employ physical force to abduct that person and keep him or here under your control before you can even begin to think about selling that slave to a market where “its” labor and body has value. What other purpose would all those chains and shackles on slave ships serve?

Then, once the slaves (those who survived the trip from Africa) had been purchased by its end user, means had to be taken to ensure that the “asset” did not just up and leave its new owner in the lurch. Or worse, decide to murder Massa in his bed. Violence became a necessary means of maintaining what we euphemistically call “social control.”

Torture, execution, rape – all were violent means to the end of insuring the slave stayed where he or she belonged – working for its owner at whatever that owner demanded it do. In short, slave owners by necessity had to be terrorists. They had to create fear of punishment, up to and including the possibility of death, in their slaves to insure the obedience and productivity of same. It didn’t matter whether a slave owner or his agent (i.e., the proverbial “overseer”) dispensed these punishments, for the object lesson for all the slaves – do not disobey your master, or else this could happen to you – did not depend on who acted as the instrument of violence.

For the same reason, slave patrols and local “militias” came into being. Here the benefit provided did not accrue to any particular slave owner, but to all who supported the patrols with men, arms or money. They were in effect the first “police forces” in what would become the United States.

The slave patrols emerged from a combination of the Night Watch, used in Northern colonies, and the Barbadian Slave Code initially employed by Barbadians settlers in South Carolina in the early 1700s.

As Southern colonies developed an agricultural economic system, slave trade became indispensable to keep the economy running. African slaves soon outnumbered whites in some colonies and the fear of insurrections and riots led to the establishment of organized groups of vigilantes to keep them under control.

In The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America 1638 – 1870, W.E.B Du Bois quotes South Carolinian authorities: “The great number of negroes which of late have been imported into this Colony may endanger the safety thereof.” And “…the white persons do not proportionately multiply, by reason whereof, the safety of the said Province is greatly endangered.”

All white men aged six to sixty, were required to enlist and conduct armed patrols every night which consisted of: Searching slave residences, breaking up slave gatherings, and protecting communities by patrolling the roads. Historian Sally E. Hadden, notes:

“In the countryside, such patrols were to ‘visit every Plantation within their respective Districts once in every Month’ and whenever they thought it necessary, ‘to search and examine all Negro-Houses for offensive weapons and Ammunition.’ They were also authorized to enter any ‘disorderly tipling-House, or other Houses suspected of harboring, trafficking or dealing with Negroes’ and could inflict corporal punishment on any slave found to have left his owner’s property without permission. ‘slave patrols’ had full power and authority to enter any plantation and break open Negro houses or other places when slaves were suspected of keeping arms; to punish runaways or slaves found outside their plantations without a pass; to whip any slave who should affront or abuse them in the execution of their duties; and to apprehend and take any slave suspected of stealing or other criminal offense, and bring him to the nearest magistrate.”

Free blacks and “suspicious” whites who associated with slaves were also supervised. Slaves lived in a state of trauma and paranoia due to the terror that these patrols instilled in them. Various former slaves from different colonies provide an account of their daily lives.

Indeed, the “Stono Rebellion” discussed above, which occurred at a time when slaves may actually have outnumbered free whites in colonial South Carolina led to the creation of the first formal “Slave Code” that mandated the creation and operation of slave patrols.

In response to the Stono incident, South Carolina became the first of the three slave-owning states to adopt a comprehensive slave code. The new code officially established slave patrols or “paddyrollers,” groups of white men charged though civic duty to keep slaves down and keep revolts from happening.

But putting down or discouraging revolts was far from their only purpose. Indeed, they primary function was to recapture escaped slaves. Thus evolved the first use of racial profiling in America and the the first use of ID – slave passes.

Racial profiling became the fundamental principle of policing and the definition of law enforcement came to be white –and whitewashed – patrolmen watching, detaining, arresting and beating up people of color.

In an effort to establish a consistent surveillance and identification system, the slave pass, one of the earliest forms of IDs, was created to prevent indentured Irish servants from fleeing their master’s property, to identify Native Americans entering white colonies to trade, and to limit mobility of black slaves, of course.

Funny how things come full circle. But I digress.

The last means to which a slave owner could resort to recover his missing property, in the event the slave patrol wasn’t up to snuff, were slave catchers.

These were people who literally made their living by tracking and hunting down runaway slaves – and the occasional free black living in the North, such as the aforementioned Solomon Northrup. Communities in northern states that had abolished slavery were not always welcoming to these men who skirted the edges of the law, slave catcher being an occupation in the nature of both bounty hunter and kidnapper.

The first national law regarding Fugitive slaves was the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. However, after many states passed laws that conflicted with its provisions, the Supreme Court in 1842 held that state authorities were not required to assist slave catchers in enforcing that federal statute by it terms. Which, a few years later, of course, led to the passage of the far stricter, less open to interpretation, Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which expressly made it a crime for any state magistrate or official to refuse to assist in the recovery of a fugitive slave, one punishable by a fine of $1,000. This new law led to a great deal of trouble for northern communities whose sympathies lay more with the escaped slave than with the slave owner or his more often than not armed and dangerous agent.

After the Fugitive Slave Act passed, Wall helped start a local abolitionist society. Across the North, slavery’s opponents were resolving to do whatever they could to keep runaways free. To their minds, the law of the land had been so corrupted that there was no reason to obey it. The Fugitive Slave Act was little more than “a hideous deformity in the garb of law,” the abolitionist orator John Mercer Langston told a convention of black Ohioans in 1851. His brother Charles, a schoolteacher in Columbus who would be the namesake of his grandson Langston Hughes, called on “every slave, from Maryland to Texas, to arise and assert their liberties, and cut their masters’ throats. […]

Even as the Wall family prospered in Oberlin, however, their lives were never completely secure. Reports trickled in of court-sanctioned kidnappings in southern and central Ohio. The town reeled with word from Cincinnati of Margaret Garner, who cut her daughter’s throat rather than surrender her to slave-catchers. In 1854, Anthony Burns brought his own chilling story to Oberlin, where he was enrolling as a student. That spring he had run away from his master in Virginia, only to be captured in Boston and marched by a military guard past a crowd of tens of thousands to a boat that took him back south. He survived to tell his tale because horrified Bostonians raised $1,300 to redeem him. It was only a matter of time before the slave-catchers reached Oberlin.

They first started arriving in August 1858. In the summer heat Oberliners were besieged from within and without. Upon John Mercer Langston’s election as town clerk the year before, the man he defeated switched parties from Republican to Democrat and was appointed deputy U.S. marshal by the proslavery federal administration. Carrying an open grudge against Oberlin’s black residents, the new marshal, Anson Dayton, said that he was willing to capture fugitive slaves. He started responding to advertisements and reward notices, sending south descriptions of local blacks and offering to arrest them for money.

Even though many freed slaves lived in northern communities, corrupt officials were a threat to their continued freedom, as the new Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was all too often abused to enslave both runaway slaves and freedmen. In fact, the source of abuse was written directly into the law itself (Section 8). It provided that any commissioner (an official appointed pursuant to the act who ruled on cases of regarding the validity of claims made to recover a slave) who ruled in favor of the claimant (i,e,, the slave catcher) would receive a $10 fee, but only $5 if he ruled in favor of the fugitive. As slave owners only needed to supply an affidavit to US officials regarding the identity and ownership of the alleged “fugitive” slave, you can imagine how often accused “fugitives” succeeded in winning their freedom once they were in the hands of a Federal Marshall.

Northern states continued to pass laws, however, that directed state and local authorities not to obey the law, state courts that refused to enforce it, and juries who refused to convict people charged with violating it. All in all, the effect of the new law was negative, not only runaway slaves and those who aided them, but it also proved a bone of contention between Northern and Southern states. The controversies and disputes it engendered added fuel to the fire of the abolitionist movement and also to those in the slave states who favored secession. In fact, South Carolina, in its declaration of secession, cited many of the laws passed by the non slave states as justification for severing their state from the Union.

But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

From the beginning of the Civil War many, many slaves fled to Union forces to escape their masters. As early as May, 1861 slaves in Virginia sought refuge with and protection by Union forces.

On May 23, 1861, little more than a month into the Civil War, three young black men rowed across the James River in Virginia and claimed asylum in a Union-held citadel. Fort Monroe, Va., a fishhook-shaped spit of land near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, had been a military post since the time of the first Jamestown settlers. This spot where the slaves took refuge was also, by remarkable coincidence, the spot where slavery first took root, one summer day in 1619, when a Dutch ship landed with some 20 African captives for the fledgling Virginia Colony.

There the commanding officer, Gen. Benjamin Butler, decided to hold them as “contraband of war” rather than release them back to the Confederate forces. This posed a problem for President Lincoln, who had not yet decided to emancipate slaves that fell into Union hands.

Lincoln and his cabinet gathered to address Butler’s decision — and ended up punting. While reminding Butler that “the business you are sent upon . . . is war, not emancipation,” they left the general to decide what to do with fugitive slaves — including whether or not to continue declaring them contraband of war. Unfortunately, no detailed account of the deliberations survives. But a letter from one cabinet secretary, Montgomery Blair, suggests they were driven by a motive as common in Washington then as it is now: “a desire to escape responsibility for acting at all at this time.” By that point, the administration had already received a second dispatch from Butler, describing the influx of women and children. […]

Blair suggested that Butler keep only those slaves he needed as workers and release the rest, but Butler was stubborn and insisted that none should be released back to their former owners. By June over 500 slaves resided within the walls of the fort, and Northern newspapers had made the matter of the escaped slaves a “cause celebre” with many editorial boards supporting the General.

“Stampede Among the Negroes in Virginia,” proclaimed Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, with a double-page spread of dramatic woodcuts showing black men, women and children crossing a creek under a full moon, then being welcomed heartily into the fort by General Butler himself (or rather, by the artist’s trimmer, handsomer version of him). One correspondent estimated that “this species of property under Gen. Butler’s protection [is] worth $500,000, at a fair average of $1,000 apiece in the Southern human flesh market.”

Journalists throughout the Union quipped relentlessly about the “shipments of contraband goods” or, in the words of The Times, “contraband property having legs to run away with, and intelligence to guide its flight” — until, within a week or two after Butler’s initial decision, the fugitives had a new name: contrabands. It was a perfectly composed bit of slang, a minor triumph of Yankee ingenuity. […]

Many of the Union soldiers had never really spoken with a black person before; the Vermont farmboys had perhaps never even seen one before leaving home. Now they were conversing with actual men and women who had been (and perhaps still were) slaves: people who had previously figured only as a political abstraction. Some fugitives shared horrific accounts; one man described “bucking,” a practice in which a slave, before being beaten, had his wrists and ankles tied and slipped over a wooden stake. Almost all spoke of loved ones sold away; the most chilling thing was that they said it matter-of-factly, as if their wives or children had simply died.

Perhaps most surprising of all — for Northerners accustomed to Southern tales of contentedly dependent slaves — was this, in the words of one soldier: “There is a universal desire among the slaves to be free. . . . Even old men and women, with crooked backs, who could hardly walk or see, shared the same feeling.”

General Butler grew ever more adamant in the defense of “his” contrabands, to a degree that must have shocked his old associates. By July, he began pressing the Lincoln administration to admit that the contrabands were not really contraband: that they had become free.

Other Union armies soon faced similar dilemmas as escaped slaves flocked to their encampments.

Within weeks after the first contrabands’ arrival at Fort Monroe, slaves were reported flocking to the Union lines just about anywhere there were Union lines: in Northern Virginia, on the Mississippi, in Florida.

Most of these forces simply adopted the “practice” of declaring them contraband, allowing the escaped slaves to perform manual labor and other logistical services in support of the war effort. Eventually the small stream of refugee slaves became a flood, one the Union soldiers themselves found beneficial.

Within little more than a year, the stream of a few hundred contrabands at Fort Monroe became a river of tens — probably even hundreds — of thousands. They “flocked in vast numbers — an army in themselves — to the camps of the Yankees,” a Union chaplain wrote. “The arrival among us of these hordes was like the oncoming of cities.” […]

Blacks were contributing to the Union cause in larger ways. Not just at Fort Monroe but also throughout the South they provided Northerners with valuable intelligence and expert guidance. When Lincoln’s master spy, Allan Pinkerton, traveled undercover through the Confederacy, he wrote, “My best source of information was the colored men. . . . I mingled freely with them, and found them ever ready to answer questions and to furnish me with every fact which I desired to possess.” They were often the only friends the Yankees encountered as they groped their way anxiously through hostile territory.

Indeed, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, when it was finally released in September of 1862, essentially adopted the very argument that General Butler first used in denying to return the original three slaves who found their way into his fort: that as the nation was at war, he had the authority as Commander-in-Chief to emancipate slaves of disloyal rebels, because it denied to the Confederacy their labor and service. Framed as a narrow legal principle in wartime, that statement changed the war. By that action, Lincoln 1862 changed public opinion in the North, which swung toward freeing the slaves and ending slavery as one of the purposes for which the war was being fought.

The shift of opinion about emancipation and slavery was evident throughout 1862 by Lincoln, politicians, and the public. Obviously, slavery was an important topic and was in the front of many minds with the progression of the war. However, the issue of slavery took a turn when Lincoln released the preliminary emancipation proclamation to free the slaves. Regardless of the multiple opinions across the north over slavery, by the end of the year and with the Emancipation Proclamation being announced, there was a clear united front against slavery.


The historical record is clear:

1. America’s early economy from the colonial days until the Civil War was dependent on African American slaves and the slave trade.

2. Slaves were often mistreated, tortured and abused through sexual assault, psychological cruelty, and the sale of family members to new owners.

3. African American slaves were not content or happy with their lot as a general rule. This is evidenced by the many slave conspiracies and revolts, and the innumerable attempts made by African Americans to escape their condition.

4. The origins of America’s earliest police forces were slave patrols, most mandated by state laws requiring participation by white males.

5.The institution of slavery was not popular in the North, nor was it an only a minor important issue promoted by a few radical Abolitionists. Many Northern states passed laws to protect runaway slaves and freed blacks, and to obstruct federal laws mandating their return to their slave owners (i.e., The Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850).

6. The cause of the Civil War was indeed the Southern States desire to retain slavery as an institution, and even extend it to new territories, as well as the fear that the Federal Government might one day fall into the hands of abolitionists who would move to end it once and for all.

7. The flood of slaves flocking to Union Armies wherever they appeared in the early years of the Civil War was further evidence of the desire among them for freedom. That exodus, in itself, played a role in Lincoln’s decision to emancipate the slaves, and in moving public opinion in the North toward the goal of abolishing the institution of slavery.

My next diary in this series will examine the use of violence against African Americans in the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. Thank you for reading.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *