The study of the history of the development of America reveals the issue of race as being central in the economic, social and political development of the nation. The phenomenon of racial slavery in America emerged with the demands in the Southern states concerning the economic viability of controlled and bound labor.
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The existence of norms and values that restricted the free citizens from exploiting each other initiated the emergence of racial exploitation. The discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus provided a new source of labor upon which America’s prosperity would thrive.
An analysis of the social and economic structure of the colony of Virginia illustrates that the distortion of the indentured servant system in the colony made the concept of racial slavery considerably attractive.
The separation of indenture servants and English landowners marked the onset of racial slavery with Massachusetts becoming the first colony to legalize slavery in 1641 (Dattel, 2009). In Virginia, laws on slavery stated that the child of a slave was automatically subject to enslavement, which made slavery a generational phenomenon.
The story of the seizure of Anthony Johnson’s land following a declaration by a jury in Virginia that the government could reposes Johnsons’ land because he was a negro promoted the acceptance of racial exploitation directed towards Negros, mulattos and Indians.
IN 1672, the king of England embarked on a venture to feed the increasing demand for slaves and charted the Royal African Company, which was at the center of British slave trade.
The 1698 declaration by the England Parliament that any Briton was at liberty to trade in slaves marked the onset of a period of 50 years during which millions of Africans in slave ships reached the coasts of North and South America.
As the European empire expanded, the colonization of America brought with it vast tracts of land that required intensive labor. The arrival of a Dutch ship loaded with slaves from Africa provided a solution to the problem of working on the harsh conditions that had proved unfavorable for the natives.
The fluctuation of tobacco prices eased the demand for slaves, which later increased with the invention of the cotton gin and the replacement of tobacco with cotton as the main cash crop. The expansion of plantations in America in the 18th century demanded an increase in the supply of laborers causing a peak in the transatlantic slave trade.
The demand for laborers in the South increased with the invention of the cotton gin, which increased the cultivation cotton on a large scale due to the enhanced processing capability. In this regard, the South became a major hub for the slave trade and cotton-growing regions experienced an explosion of the slave population.
The impact of slavery is evident in the transformation and equalization of economies in both low country and upcountry because it had become easier to process both the long staple and short staple cotton grown in the two regions respectively.
However, political inequality persisted as evident by the fact that the electoral value of the salves in the upcountry was only three-fifths of a vote.
Slavery played a key role in the Westward expansion because the land seized from the Indians provided new settlements in which cultivation of tobacco and cotton blossomed. The territorial expansion of U.S involved the movement of American settlers with their slavers into news territories as evident by the case of Texas.
The ban on slavery in Texas by the Mexican government, aimed at taming the influence of Americans, faced considerable opposition by slave owners who forced freed slaves into signing life indenture contracts.
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Tension between the Mexican government and American settlers caused an outbreak of a rebellion, which eventually led to the annexation of Texas and the concession of New Mexico and California. The onset of the demise of slavery began with the establishment of an anti-slavery movement spearheaded by William Wilberforce and the Quakers.
The growing unease regarding the slave trade even among key participants such as Europe saw Denmark take a leading step in abolishing slave trade in 1792 (Horton & Horton, 2005). In 1807, Britain enacted regulations that stipulated stiff fines on any individuals found guilty of importing slaves into Britain.
Slavery was a central theme in the years following the break of the Civil War, which although having began as a struggle to prevent the segregation of the North and the South, tilted towards the freeing of slaves.
In the early years of the War, a large number of Southern slaves escaped to the North, which was a favorable occurrence for the Union considering that the slaves served as cooks, guards and soldiers.
The slaves were escaping oppression and exploitation in the North, which included physical and sexual abuse as evident by the narrations of Harriet Jacobs in the book “Life of a Slave Girl”. The status of a slave as property meant that plantation owners could use them in whatever way they wanted including sexual exploitation of women and the sale of salve family members.
Harriet’s narrations bring to light the cruel and sadistic treatment of slaves, which thrived on proclamations such as the 1857 Scott Decision by the U. S Supreme Court categorizing slaves as subhuman property devoid of any rights whatsoever.
Narratives, such as “Life of a Slave Girl” played an important role in changing the perspective of the whites on slaves because the affluent middle class had the time and resources to read the literature.
The fleeing of slaves from the South was detrimental to the chances of the Southerners winning the Civil War and the desperation for soldiers forced the Confederate army to begin enlisting African Americans.
However, the decision came late and the Union army, which had a large number of volunteers and fleeing slaves from the South, gained an edge over the Confederate army. The enactment of laws demanding the seizure and freeing of slaves as part of the property of dissidents in the South was a step forward towards the abolishment of slavery.
According to the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in the rebelling states would gain outright freedom in a hundred days starting from September 22, 1862 (Ward, 2008).
The ease on regulations restricting blacks from joining the U.S Army and creation of units such as the Colored Troopers created a system through which freed slaves influenced the outcome of the Civil War.
The end of the Civil War in 1865 provided an opportunity for individuals in the Congress and other anti-slavery groups to champion for the adoption of the 13th Amendment, which constitutionally outlawed slavery in America and strengthened the ban on slave trade that had been in place since 1807.
Dattel, E. R. (2009). Cotton and race in the making of America: the human costs of economic power. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.
Horton, J. O., & Horton, L. E. (2005). Slavery and the making of America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ward, A. (2008). The slaves’ war: the Civil War in the words of former slaves. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.