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History Of American Slavery

The Illustrated London News, vol. 38, no. 1069, p. 27.

January 12, 1861


The New York correspondent of the Times supplies a most useful and interesting history of slavery as a political question in the United States. The writer takes up the story from the meeting of the Federal Convention at Philadelphia in May, 1787, and shows, by quotations from the speeches of the founders of the Republic and from the Acts of the Convention, that at the date of the formation of the present Constitution slavery was regarded as an evil to be deplored, and, if possible, to be got rid of.

"The ascendancy of the anti-slavery party continued through the Administrations of General Washington and Mr. Adams. The first retroactive move was the annexation of Louisiana by Mr. Jefferson in 1802, which was regarded as an unconstitutional act by the party which brought it about, and was justified only by the obvious political necessity of securing the western bank and outlet of the Mississippi. All comparative statements of population are made by decennial periods in the United States.

"Let us pause at the year 1810. During the twenty years two new Slave States and two new Free States had been added to the Union, and the territorial dominion of the slave interest had also been extended by the acquisition of Louisiana. The white population of the country had increased about 82 per cent, the slave population about 70 per cent, and the free black population about 213 per cent. This increase in the free black population is attributable to the emancipation of slaves in the North; notwithstanding this, it appears that the slave population nearly held its own with the white, from which we infer that the African slave trade supplied the gaps made by the Northern emancipation.

"Between 1810 and 1820 two new Slaves States and three new Free States were admitted to the Union. The Southern States, feeling themselves strong in numbers and wealth, then made the first move towards legalising slavery in the newly-acquired territory. The contest about Missouri began in 1818, and lasted more than three years. The Lower House several times voted to exclude the institution from the new State, and the Conservative Senate as often restored it. The struggle ended by the adoption of the line of 36 deg. 30 min. as the limit beyond which slavery should not go. Under this law, known as 'the Missouri Compromise,' the South and the North have each gained two States. During the same period a further Southern addition was made in the purchase of Florida.

"Of the fifteen Slave States only nine are large producers of cotton. The other six supply the slaves to work the plantations of the South. The increase of slaves in the latter States, consequently, is not proportionate with the increase in the former. In the ten years ending in 1850, for instance, the slave population of the United States increased 28 per cent. During the same period the slave population of Virginia increased only 5 1/2 per cent, while in Mississippi it increased 57 per cent, and in Arkansas 135 per cent. This explains why the Northern Slave States must politically support the planting States. The prohibition of the African slave trade gives them the monopoly of the Southern slave markets.

"The nine cotton States are divided into three great natural sections. South Carolina and the Atlantic part of Georgia form the eastern, the oldest, and the least valuable section. The seashore and the islands which abound off the coast produce the Sea Island cotton. A wide track of pine barren and swamp separates these from the uplands. Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas form a district to the west of the Mississippi. The soil of the former State is principally given up to the production of sugar; in the others the growth of cotton is recent, and confined to the country (except Texas) having an outlet through the Mississippi. The capacity of this enormous country is almost boundless. The lands are rich and yield heavy crops. They contain more than 350,000,000 acres, of which less than 5,000,000 are improved, and are permeated by large navigable rivers. Alabama, Mississippi, the northern part of Florida, and the southern part of Tennessee, constitute the third section, and furnish more than one half of the entire production of the United States. The soll [sic] is varied but ever rich. The dark loamed valleys among the sandy uplands of the north, the prairies of the centre, and the lowlands near the Mississippi, are all made to yield the great staple. When the Missouri compromise was enacted, nearly the whole of this rich country was in the occupation of the aborigines. Now they are all driven to the west of the Mississippi, and their lands are made to minister to the wants of civilised man.

"In 1830 we find one more Slave State than in 1820—Missouri. The free emigration from New York and Pennsylvania had also begun to go into Michigan, and the slave emigration into Florida and Arkansas. An unnoticed movement towards Texas had also commenced. Simultaneously with the passage of the Missouri compromise, Mexico had emancipated its slaves, but Texas was so far removed from the Central Government that the importation of slaves from the neighbouring States could not be prevented. In this way slavery found an illegal footing there. Its increase in the American Republic at that time was greater than is indicated by the number of new Slave States. No federal measure had given it so rapid an impulse as the removal of the Indians to the west of the Mississippi. The population of Alabama increased 136 per cent between 1820 and 1830, and the south-western States were found, for the first time, producing a larger crop than the Atlantic States. Not only did they have the advantage in quantity, but in the cost of production. The same amount of labour expended on these fertile lands yielded an average production of 2000lb. to the hand, while the older lands of Carolina would hardly yield 900lb. Thus the whole production of the country, which in 1816 amounted to only 100,000,000lb., in 1831 reached 300,000,000lb. Such was the demand for cotton that the price was not materially reduced. The average price for the ten years (excluding the inflated year of 1825) was between 11c. and 12c., the price before the crisis of this year. The improvements in machinery and competition in markets have cheapened manufactured goods without reducing the price of the raw material.

"During the next ten years Arkansas was admitted as a Slave State and Michigan as a Free State. The movement for the independence of Texas began about the same time. Under the administration of Mr. Tyler steps were taken to annex it to the United States, on the avowed ground that it was necessary to prevent emancipation. Its annexition [sic] was completed by Mr. Polk, and brought on the Mexican war, in which General Taylor won the laurels that made him Mr. Polk's successor. By this annexation the Union acquired a new Slave State, with the right to make four others out of the territory as it should be peopled. Iowa and Wisconsin were both admitted as Free States about this time. The annexation of Texas was intended by its friends to balance any future increase of the North in that quarter. The treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo terminated the Mexican war, by the cession of California and New Mexico to the United States, and the struggle for their possession began at once. In the Presidential election of 1848 a large part of the northern democrats and Whigs seceded from their respective parties, and united on the basis of non-extension of slavery, which they proposed to effect by enacting Mr. Jefferson's proviso as the fundamental law of the newly-acquired territory; and, though not strong enough to cast a vote in the Electoral College, they succeeded in throwing the Administration of General Taylor into a minority in Congress. This sectional party, known as the Free-soil Party, was organised in every Northern State, and in the great State of New York threw a vote in excess of that of the regular Democratic party. The European emigration also, commencing in 1846 for the first time on a great scale, was beginning to add a visible strength to the free labour of the North. In spite of annexation, and in spite of slave representation, the South found itself losing ground. At the formation of the Constitution it had 46 per cent of the Lower House; in in [sic] 1810, 43 per cent; 41 per cent in 1830; and 39 per cent in 1850. Free labour was gaining in spite of odds. The administration of General Taylor came into power under such a state of feeling, and ended a stormy existence in sixteen months by the death of its chief. Without being decidedly Northern, it certainly was not Southern. The Government plan for settling the sectional difficulties would have made Free States of California and Mexico, thus stopping the extension of slavery. This was opposed by the united South and the Northern Presidential rivals of General Taylor. The successor of General Taylor reversed his policy; the compromise measures of 1850 were passed; General Pearce [sic] was elected to support them; and they have since been naturally followed by the repeal of the Missouri compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision, and the rebellion of 1860. The North endeavoured to unite in 1856 to resist these measures, but found themselves unable to do so. Mr. Buchanan was elected by the united vote of the South and of the great border States of Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois. In 1860 the verdict is reversed. The great Democratic party has been itself divided. A portion, under the lead of Mr. Douglas, has maintained that Congress has no authority to legislate for the territories, but that each territory is sovereign within itself. A portion, under the lead of Mr. Breckenridge, has contended that by the Constitution the right is guaranteed to every citizen of the United States to remove to any of the territories with all his property that is recognised as property in the State from which he goes. The old Whig party has entirely vanished from the Northern States, and the Republican party, having the freedom of the territories as its leading idea, has elected its President by a nearly unanimous vote of the Free States—three votes out of the seven votes of the State of New Jersey being the only one [sic] cast against him. The southern planting States are consequently moving with unexampled unanimity for a dismemberment of the Confederation, and there is now little doubt that, before the expiration of Mr. Buchanan's term, the United States of Northern America will, on paper at least, consist of several Slave States less than at present. Instead of the extinguishment of slavery as predicted in 1787, it now threatens to extinguish the Federation. It exists in fifteen of the thirty-one States of the Union, sends thirty senators to Congress and eighty-eight representatives, and has controlled the Federal Government for the whole century. All the territories of the United States are open to its extension. We have marked its beginning and traced its progress.

"We have seen the cotton crop, less than a million of pounds in 1790, expand to 4,600,000 bails, of 400lb. in each, in 1859. The conclusion is irresistible that this plant—which brings honest bread and cheap clothing to so many free men and women, which yields millions of wealth to Great Britain, and enables a reduction of taxation upon the necessaries of life, which regulates exchanges between the greatest commercial countries, which gives employment to more labour than any other vegetable production—has also perpetuated African bondage."

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