During the period of 1775 to 1825 leaders in the North began to condemn slavery. Despite the views of the North, the cruel act of slavery continued to flourish in the South. Slaves made up approximately a third of the South's population and they were forced to endure harsh conditions and often reacted with violence and desperate measures.

A large portion of the southern slaves worked on plantations picking cotton and performing other household duties. Before becoming a slave, one had to be sold at a slave auction where they were bid on as if they were property. The treatment of the slaves by rich plantation owners was inhumane. Although the slave owners provided their slaves with housing, food, and clothing, the quality of these accouterments were not good. Slaves were given garments made of "towcloth" and a pair of shoes once a year. They were lodged in log huts in which wooden floors was a luxury. In a single room ten to a dozen men, women, and children were huddled together like cattle. There was little furniture and beds were made of straw and old rags. The most fortunate of the slaves were house slaves who lived in their owner's home and who worked fewer hours than plantation slaves. "All that a slave possesses, belongs to his master; he possesses nothing of his own"[I] because he himself is property, and property cannot own property.

         When a slave happened to disobey his master, discipline was very severe. The master would often punish his slave by whipping him "and it is used with such dexterity and severity, as not only to lacerate the skin, but to tear out small portions of flesh at almost every stroke."[A]   Slaves found it necessary to oblige their master in every way to prevent punishment. It was not rare that "some have an arm or a leg broken, or chopped off."[A]  If a master felt the punishment fit to the disobedience of the slave, he could have a slave be beaten to death or killed. Slaves were not given any rights but only forced to abide by slave laws. All of the Southern States denied slaves the right to "marry without the consent of their masters,"[I] the legal right to testify in court, and earn their freedom. If a slave woman had a child that child would inherit the status of their slave mother and was born a slave. Although the South treated the slaves with such disrespect, slaves were a valuable asset to the South's economy. Even after the invention of the cotton gin slaves remained greatly needed to uphold the economy.

         There were various reactions to the social environment of slaves in the South. Many slaves tried to run away to freedom, and thousands succeeded. Other slaves joined organized rebellions that were often discovered and terminated by slave owners. There were also slaves who held on to the dream of one day purchasing their freedom, but this did not occur often. Slaves lived their lives plotting about different ways to gain their freedom--the only hope they had to hold on to. Although all slaves had a common goal of achieving their freedom they had various methods. An effective method was simple everyday acts of rebellion, such as breaking tools and burning crops, barns, and houses, and faking illness when they were needed most by their slave owners.

         A common response to slavery was the birth of many slave revolts lead by freedom fighters. A noted leader was Denmark Vesey, a former slave who plotted the largest slave revolt in American history. This slave revolt failed to take place because the conspirators were caught and executed. It is believed that Vesey plotted with city and plantation slaves to stage an uprising in Charleston, South Carolina. They would attack arsenals to get weapons, kill all whites they encountered, and destroy the city. Many slave rebels informed other slave rebels "black men if you have now a mind to join with me now is your time for freedom"[E]  because there could never be a better reason to fight for. "Have a good heart fight brave and we will get free"[D]  proclaimed slave rebels of their courageous fight to gain freedom. Anonymous slaves informed the whites that they should be careful of their lives because the slaves were ready to make demands for their liberty.

         The practice of slavery was a significant cause of the split between the North and the South into two opposing nations. The South eventually seceded from the Union over the issue of slavery and became the Confederate States of America. The conditions and the treatment that were inflicted on the early black people of America should not be forced upon any ethnic group and their responses of rebellion made an impact towards their journey to freedom. The rebels of the slave revolts of this period set a precedent for the future abolitionists. They also laid the foundation for the slavery abolitionist movement and organizations like the Underground Railroad. Finally to settle the dispute of slavery, the North and the South engaged in the Civil War of the United States.

Click here for a grading rubric -->clipbrd.gif (227 bytes)  

AP US Home Page

Our Main Page

DBQ Question


Web Links