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American Slavery

Powerful Essays
Enormous changes swept through nearly every facet of American society in the years between the American Revolution and the Civil War, and the institution of slavery was no exception to this rule. Prior to the Revolution, slavery existed in every American colony. The growing population of settlers was founded on and maintained by notions of inequality, in which indentured servants and slaves provided the necessary manpower for the development of a largely agricultural economy and the settlement of an ever-diminishing frontier. First- and second generation whites began to equate race and servitude as white indentured servitude waned and black slaves came to represent the primary source of forced labor in the Americas. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many whites and blacks negotiated the terms of slavery for the first time – new slaveholders sought to define the status of slaves and to create a viable workforce out of individuals unfamiliar with the language, land, or expectations of their keepers; new slaves, still intimately tied to their native languages and cultures, struggled to comprehend the new status forced on them in a strange land. As each group viewed the other as hostile strangers, dehumanization and brutality were commonly employed by new masters to conform African behavior to their expectations and needs. After the American Revolution, slavery underwent significant transformations in concert with larger changes sweeping the political, economic, and religious structure of the nation. The spirit of liberty in which the revolution was fought gave pause to whites who had begun to take the status of bondsmen for granted and elicited different responses in the North and South. Gradual emancipation in ...

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... different from that of the colonial years – it was a distinctly Southern institution, grounded in the accepted tradition of generations past, bringing masters and slaves into closer contact, and eliciting radical opposition for the first time in the North. In other ways, antebellum slavery was a product of its earlier embodiment, shaped and transformed by the political, economic, and religious revolutions of the interwar years, just as the rest of society was. By 1861, an even greater revolution would be necessary to form a society free from its yoke.

Works Consulted

Douglas, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of an American Slave, Written by Himself. New York: Signet, 1968.

Ginzberg, Lori D. Women in Antebellum Reform. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 2000.

Kolchin, Peter. American Slavery, 1619-1877. New York: Hill and Wang, 2003.