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In 1850, most slave-owning families owned 5 or fewer slaves. Less than 40,000 families owned 20 or more slaves—the qualification of a planter. Fewer than 2,000 owned a hundred slaves or more. Still, this small percentage of the population dominate southern culture. Ownership of slaves provided the route to wealth, status and influence. Planters held not only the majority of slaves, but they controlled the most fertile land, enjoyed the highest incomes, and dominated state and local offices and the leadership of both political parties.
Slave Population from 1790-1860
1790-697,624/1860-3,953,760 Over 2 million slaves were sold between 1820 and 1860—mostly older states “importing” to the Lower South.
-“The master, said one planter, “ as the head of the system, has a right to the obedience and labor of the slave, but the slave has also his mutual rights in the master; the right of protection, the right of counsel and guidance, the right of subsistence, the right of care and attention in sickness and old age.” Paternalism defined → Planter’s values rested on a hierarchical system where slave-owning gentlemen took responsibility for the physical and moral well-being of their dependents—women, children, and slaves. Paternalism suggested owners’ economic interest in their human property. It enabled slave-owners to think of themselves as kind, even as they bought and sold slaves.
John C. Calhoun: “Many in the South once believed that [slaver] was a moral and political evil...That folly and delusion are gone; we see it now in its true light, and regard it as the most safe and stable basis for free institutions in the world.” (1837). Racism formed one pillar of the proslavery ideology: the belief that blacks were innately inferior to whites and unsuited for life in any condition other than slavery. Slaveholders also found justification for slavery in biblical passages—“servants obey your masters”. Others argued that slavery was necessary for human progress. Without slavery, planters would not be able to cultivate the arts, sciences, or continue other civilized pursuits. Others argued that because of slavery, whites would not be condemned to a life of unskilled labor—slavery for African Americans was the surest guarantee of “perfect equality” among whites.
Denmark Vesey’s conspiracy
Vesey was a slave carpenter who had purchased his freedom; outspoken leader who was a leader in the local A.M.E. church, he frequently quoted the Bible and the Declaration of Independence, making pronouncements about the equal rights of all men. Planned what would have been one of the largest slave revolts in U.S. history. When discovered, he and 34 slaves and freemen were executed, and another 35 were banished from South Carolina
Revolt!: On Board the Amistad; 53 slaves took control of this ship, which was transporting them from one port in Cuba to another in 1839. The large group of slaves who took control tried to force the navigator to steer it to Africa. An American ship seized it near Long Island. President Martin van Buren favored returning the slaves to Cuba, but when abolitionists brought the case to the Supreme Court, John Quincy Adams argued that since they had recently been brought from Africa in violation of international treaties banning the slave trade, the captives should be free. The Court accepted his reasoning, and most of the captives went back to Africa.
Nat Turner’s Rebellion
Turner was a slave preacher and religious mystic in Southampton County, VA, who came to believe that God had chosen him to lead a black uprising. On August 22, 1831, he and a handful of followers marched from farm to farm assaulting white inhabitants. By the time the militia came to control the uprising, 80 slaves had joined Turner and 60 whites had been killed. Turner was captured with 17 others and condemned to die. This was the last large-scale rebellion in southern history. It took place outside the heart of the plantation south, where slavery was most strongly policed. This revolt demonstrated that in a region where whites outnumbered African Americans and the white community was armed and united, slaves stood at a fatal disadvantage. As a result… Slave resistance did not disappear, and a connection appeared between outright rebellion and less dramatic forms of resistance—insubordinate behavior. Turner’s rebellion sent shock waves through the South. Virginia clamped down even tighter on slave laws. New laws prohibited African Americans, slave or free, from acting as preachers (which they could not enforce). Laws also strengthened the militia and patrol systems, and banned free African Americans from owning firearms, and prohibited teaching slaves to read. Other states followed suit. The proslavery argument increasingly filled southern intellectual and political life. Some states made membership in an abolitionist society a criminal offense. Mobs drove critics of slavery from their homes.
William Lloyd Garrison
Editor of The Liberator, probably the nation’s most prominent abolitionist, and the voice of the new “militant” abolitionism: “I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation...I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard.”
-“Militant” because it rejected the traditional “gradual” emancipation approach and demanded immediate abolition of slavery. Most rejected violence (some were pacifists). They were attempting to convince slave-owners of the sinfulness of their ways and to convince the North of the danger of their vital role in enabling the institution. Their language was deliberately provocative, calculated to seize public attention:“Slavery will not be overthrown without excitement, without a most tremendous excitement.”---Garrison. Southerners frequently reprinted portions of his newspaper to condemn them, thus providing instant notoriety.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, the most widely read of all antislavery writings. Modeled after an autobiography of fugitive slave Josiah Henson. First published in 1851 in a Washington anti-slavery newspaper, published as a book in 1852. Sold over 1M copies by 1854. Portrayed slaves as sympathetic men and women, Christians who were at the mercy of slaveholders who split up families and set bloodhounds on mothers and children—gave powerful human appeal to the abolitionist movement.
The Grimké Sisters
Angelina and Sarah—outspoken abolitionists. It was the abolition movement that inspired the early movement for women’s rights. Born to slave-holder in South Carolina, the Grimke sisters became Quakers, then abolitionists when visiting Philadelphia. Argued against the idea that women taking part in assemblies, demonstrations, lectures was “unfeminine”. Defended the right of women to take part in political debate and their right to share in the social and educational privileges shared by men. Questioned unequal pay---an idea that later developed the mantra: “equal pay for equal work”. Sarah Grimke published: Letters on the Equality of the Sexes (1838). Angelina Grimke: “Since I engaged in the investigation of the rights of the slave, I have necessarily been led to a better understanding of my own.”
- Truth spoke at an 1851 women’s right convention, urging women to devote attention to the plight of working class and poor women, arguing against the idea that women were too delicate to work outside the home. Born a slave in 1799, Truth obtained her freedom when New York established emancipation in 1827. Excerpt from her 1851 speech:
- “...Ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
Woman’s Suffrage in the United States
Seneca Falls Convention marked the beginning of the 70-year struggle for women’s suffrage. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, key organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention, were anti-slavery veterans. This convention, held in upstate New York, was a gathering on behalf of women’s rights, this is where the issue of women’s suffrage was raised for the first time.
Mexican War / Texas’ Statehood
- The first part of Mexico to be settler by significant numbers of Americans was Texas. By 1830, the population of American origin in Texas had reached 7,000, exceeding the numbers of Tejanos (non-Native American people of Spanish origin). Also in 1830, the Mexican government, fearful of loss of control in the area, annulled existing land contracts and barred future emigration. Slavery→ Mexico had abolished slavery, but local authorities had allowed American settlers to bring slaves. When Mexico’s General Santa Anna sent an army in 1835 to impose order and authority, locals thought he was attempting to release slaves. Americans in Texas quickly united under the banner of Texas independence. March 1836—Santa Anna’s army stormed the Alamo, a mission in San Antonio, killing 187 American and Tejano defenders. “Remember the Alamo!” became a rallying cry for Texans. Santa Anna was defeated at the Battle of San Jacinto by Sam Houston, later named president of the Republic of Texas. Texas applied for statehood in 1837. By 1845, the population had reached nearly 150,000. Fearful of adding another slave state to the Union, Jackson & Van Buren avoided annexing Texas. U.S. leaders were also fearful of provoking a war with Mexico. Polk’s next goal was to acquire California from Mexico. He sent emissaries to purchase the region, but the Mexican government refused. Polk sent soldiers under command of Zachary Taylor into the disputed border lands between Texan and Mexico, sparking conflict.
- Polk insisted the Mexicans had inflicted casualties upon American soil and claimed the right to initiate an invasion of Mexico. 60,000 volunteers enlisted. While the war occurred on several fronts, most of the fighting was in central Mexico. May 1846: Congress declares a “state of war.” Polk claims Mexico “…invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil. War exists notwithstanding all our efforts to avoid it, exists by act of Mexico.” BUT: Abraham Lincoln argues that the war was one “of conquest brought into existence to catch votes.” Lincoln’s Critique of President Polk: “Allow the president to invade a neighboring country whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to make war at pleasure….If today he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him?” By February 1848, the two governments agreed to the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo, which confirmed the annexation of Texas and ceded California and present-day New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah to the United States. In exchange, the U.S. paid Mexico $15 M. The Mexican Cession (as this acquired land was called) established present territorial boundaries on the North American continent, except for the Gadsden Purchase—a parcel of additional land bought from Mexico in 1853. Ends Mexican War. Sets Rio Grande as boundary between Mexico and the U.S. Transfers the Southwest and California to U.S. American territory increases by 529,017 square miles. U.S. pays Mexico $15 mill.
One of Polk’s goals was to settle the dispute over ownership of Oregon, which owned by Great Britain. Congress made an agreement with Great Britain that divided Oregon at the 49th parallel. This represented a compromise, but it allowed control of the fertile Willamette Valley and the harbor of Puget Sound.
California Gold Rush
January 1848, Johann Sutter discovered gold at a sawmill in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Newspapers fanned accounts of instant wealth acquired by early settlers. This began an influx of newcomers to California—the population at the end of the Mexican War had been about 15,000. By 1860 (12 years later) it was 360,000. Nearly 25,000 young Chinese men arrived between 1849 and 1852. They had signed long-term labor contracts with Chinese merchants, who leased them to mining and railroad companies and other employers. The gold rush and the prospect of California’s statehood was disastrous for Native Americans. Miners and ranchers murdered Native Americans, gold seekers overran their communities. Native American children whose parents had been killed were declared orphans by the court and sent to other states as slaves. By 1860, the Native American population had been reduced to 30,000 from 150,000 in 1848.
Before 1846, the status of slavery in all parts of the U.S. had been settled either by state law or by the Missouri Compromise, which determined slavery’s status in the Louisiana Purchase. As new land opened, the question of whether a state would be free or slave becomes a major concern. In 1846, Congress David Wilmot of Pennsylvania proposes a resolution prohibiting slavery in all territory acquired from Mexico. Nearly all southerners opposed this resolution. It passed in the House (more populous North possessed a majority) but failed in the Senate (with its even balance of slave/free states).
1848—opponents of the expansion of slavery organized the Free Soil Party and nominate Martin Van Buren for president. Victory went to Whig candidate Zachary Taylor, hero of the Mexican War (and Louisiana sugar planter). The Free Soil had popular appeal in the North—the idea of preventing the creation of new slave states appealed to those who favored policies that the majority of southern political leaders opposed.
Compromise of 1850****
“The Great Compromiser”: Henry Clay, architect of Compromise of 1850 (left). Compromise fails to pass, but Stephen Douglas, D-IL pushes legislation through. New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Utah organized without mention of slavery. Slave/Free status =determined by the people, when territories apply for statehood (popular sovereignty)California admitted as free state. Slave Trade abolished in Washington, D.C. Passage of Fugitive Slave Act
Fugitive Slave Act of 1850****
- Special federal commissioners could determine the fate of alleged fugitives without benefit of a jury trial or even testimony from an accused individual.
- Prohibited local authorities from interfering with the capture of fugitives. REQUIRED individual citizens to assist in capture of fugitive slaves (or those accused of being fugitives) when called upon by federal agents. Affected all free states. Slave “catchers” entered free states attempting to catch fugitives from slave states trying to gain freedom elsewhere. Many fled to Canada, seeking refuge.
Kansas and Nebraska lay directly in the path of westward migration. Slavery was prohibited there under the terms of the Missouri Compromise. Douglas’s bill repealed the Missouri Compromise, and as a result of this 1854 act, Kansas and Nebraska were open to slavery by popular sovereignty
- When Kansas held elections in 1854-55, hundreds of pro-slavery Missourians crossed the border to cast ballots (fraudulently). President Franklin Pierce recognized the resulting proslavery legislature. Settlers from free states soon established a rival government, and a civil war broke out in Kansas, wherein 200 people died. “Bleeding Kansas,” as it was called, did much to discredit Douglas’s policy of letting the local population decide the status of slavery. May 24, 1856: Leads raid against proslavery settlers at Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas.
- Murders 5 with swords; bodies hacked to pieces. Retaliation for earlier deaths of antislavery activists; caning of Charles Sumner? Impact of Bleeding Kansas: Emergence of Republican Party (1856). Kansas admitted as free state, January 29, 1861.
Dred Scott Decision
During the 1830s, Dred Scott had accompanied his owner from Missouri to Illinois, where the Northwest Ordinance of 1784 prohibited slavery by state law, and to Wisconsin, where it was barred by the Missouri Compromise. When he returned to Missouri, Scott sued for his freedom, claiming that because he had lived on free soil, he was free. The case was sent to the Supreme Court for a decision.Congress’ 3 questions: Could a black person be a citizen and therefore sue in federal court? Did residence in a free state make Scott free? Did Congress possess the power to prohibit slavery in a territory? The Decision: Chief Justice Roger Taney declared that only white persons could be citizens of the United States. He insisted that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Scott, according to Taney, remained a slave—as soon as he returned to Missouri, Illinois state law no longer mattered. Taney also declared the recently repealed Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, as was any measure interfering with a southerner’s right to bring slaves into western territories. The decision declared unconstitutional the restriction of slavery’s expansion, undermining Douglas’s doctrine of popular sovereignty. A Georgia newspaper concluded that the Dred Scott decision “covers every question regarding slavery and settles it in favor of the South.” Meanwhile, Dred Scott’s owner emancipated him and his wife. Both died just prior to the Civil War, having enjoyed freedom only a few years.
John Brown at Harper’s Ferry
Raid on Harper’s ferry (West Virginia, 1859) Initial plan: establish base in Blue Ridge Mountains, and then… Stage guerilla attacks on slaveholders. Brown was blackmailed and plan revealed. Brown goes into hiding. F. Douglass advice: “You’re walking into a…steel trap. You will never get out alive.” Attack federal arsenal? =Treason. Brown’s “army” captures the federal armory and Hall's Rifle Works. Brown’s army cuts telegraph wires, captures arsenal, hold 60 citizens hostage. Hopes slaves will join the fight. Federal Respons: Federal troops dispatched, under the leadership of Colonel Robert E. Lee. Ten of Brown's men killed (including both of his sons). Seven captured, five escape. Aftermath of Brown’s Raid: Brown tried and convicted of treason. Hung on December 2, 1859. Day of mourning for the North.
Lincoln’s victory in 1860 (with no votes from the South) marked a fundamental shift in power for Republicans—southern slave-owners feared the power of the North’s anti-slavery sentiment. In the months following Lincoln’s election, seven states stretching from South Carolina to Texas seceded from the Union. These states were where slaves represented a larger part of the population than in the Upper South. First to secede was South Carolina, the state with the highest percentage of slaves in its population. SC also had a long history of political radicalism—e.g. Calhoun / nullification crisis
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