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Slavery, The Civil War and the Preservation of the Union
In the face of oppression and harsh treatment, slaves formed communities as a coping mechanism and to resist the belief that they were simply property. Members of these slave communities came together often to sing, talk, and even plan covert plots to runaway or sabotage the system in which they were living. Slaves married, had children and worked to keep their families together. Families were often broken up as members were sold off to different masters, but when a family was kept together, nuclear families of two parents and their children working for the same master were common. It was in these communities that countless elements of African-American slave culture were passed on for generations, including skills such as medical care, hunting, and fishing as well as how to act in front of whites, hiding their feelings and escaping punishment.
Religion also played a key role in slave culture: some practiced religions common in Africa, such as Islam, others Christianity. The slave brand of Christianity often included strong African elements and emphasized tales like the Old Testament story of Moses delivering the Hebrews from slavery and the New Testament principle of judgment, justice and life after death. This brand of Christianity was a reconciliation of Christian ideas and their bondage as opposed to the Christianity that their masters and other whites practiced that justified it.
By building communities, trying to hold on to their families and finding solace and inspiration in religion, slaves struggled through the daily degradation of their servitude. Without these elements to comfort and encourage them, African-Americans may not have been able to survive the tragedy of their enslavement. Instead, the culture they developed helped them maintain some hope and faith that their station in life may change and this hope enabled them to seek economic and political freedom as the restored Union emerged at the end of the Civil War.
2. In 1619, the first Africans were brought to the Virginia colony of Jamestown aboard a Dutch ship. The Dutch slave trader exchanged Africans for food, but the Africans were still considered indentured servants. However, the difference in the status of white and black indentured servants were clear and while they used the word "servant," Englishmen and Southerners clearly meant the word "slave" in its current understanding. In the seventeenth century, there were no laws in Virginia to officially determine the rights, or lack thereof, of blacks. However, by the 1620s and 1630s, Jamestown was booming as a producer of tobacco, procuring their labor supply from England. They needed to increase their labor supply and they could now afford to import more goods to help them with their exportation of tobacco. Virginians turned to African labor, following the tradition set by the Spanish and Portuguese many years before. By 1700, thousands of Africans were being brought into the colony every year.
Introduction of laws surrounding slavery occurred incrementally throughout the 1600s and early 1700s. In 1640, the Virginia court sentenced one runaway black servant to a life of slavery, to "serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or elsewhere." In 1662, the colony ruled that children would be born free or bonded depending on the status of the mother and finally, in 1705, the Virginia General Assembly enacted various official slave codes, stating that all servants brought into this country who were not Christians in their native country, namely all "Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves," were to be considered real estate and if such a slave was to resist his master and be killed during correction, the master was free of all punishment. The code went on further to mandate other punishments and restrictions concerning a slave's behavior. This code went on to become the template for the slave codes of other colonies, disseminating the "Terrible Transformation" throughout the American colonies.
3. By 1818, the population of the Missouri Territory had grown enough for it to apply for statehood and since most settlers came from the South, it was expected to enter the Union as a slave state. However, when the bill for statehood was brought before the House of Representatives, an amendment was proposed that would ban importation of slaves into Missouri and effectively free all slaves born in the state. When the amendment passed the House, but not the Senate, a new approach was considered: in order to ensure the equal number of free and slave states in the Union, the Missouri statehood bill was paired with the bill for Maine, which would certainly be a free state, in the Compromise of 1820 (also known as the Missouri Compromise) and a clause was added that would forbid slavery in the remaining portion of the Louisiana Purchase north of 36° 30N latitude. After much consideration, in the end, the bills were treated separately, allowing the states to enter the Union, Maine as free and Missouri as slave.
Years later, with the annexation of Texas and the acquisition of land from Mexico after the Mexican War in 1848, the debate over the extension of slavery was rekindled as California wanted to enter the Union as a free state and many antislavery forces were pushing for slavery to be excluded in any land acquired from Mexico. Furthermore, increased debate over the slave trade and fugitive slave laws fueled tensions between the North and South with the Southern states threatening to secede if strong antislavery laws were passed. In the end, the bill that became the Compromise of 1850 was proposed that would have California enter as a free state, organize the New Mexico and Utah territories without mention of slavery (to be left to the individual territories once they were ready to apply for statehood), ban slavery in the District of Columbia, introduce a more stringent fugitive law, and settle Texas boundary claims by paying $10 million dollars in exchange for the land in dispute.
4. After the Civil War, the period of Reconstruction marked efforts to rebuild the Union. Lincoln, as president and chief executive, hoped to establish a strong Republican party in the South and ease any bitterness caused by the war. As was during the war itself, his greatest aim was to restore and preserve the Union. He issued a proclamation of amnesty and reconstruction for those Confederate areas occupied by Union armies and offered pardon to any Confederate who would swear to support the Constitution and the Union. Additionally, if a group equal to one-tenth of the vote in a particular state took this oath, the state would once again be officially recognized by the federal government. However, Congress did not agree with Lincoln's efforts to alleviate tensions and reconstruct the Union. Instead, radicals in Congress felt his plan would simply restore the planter aristocracy in the South. Instead of Lincoln's ten percent requirement, they wanted to require fifty percent of a state's vote to take an even more "ironclad" oath. The bill on which this was proposed, the Wade-Davis bill, was vetoed by Lincoln and his plan was put into practice instead. A few states managed to fulfill Lincoln's requirements, but Congress refused to recognize the senators from those states.
Ultimately, Johnson, Lincoln's successor, implemented a more severe amnesty plan, requiring disenfranchisement of many Confederates, hoping to shift power to smaller farmers and others instead of the planter aristocracy. While he agreed with Lincoln's desire to restore the Union, he also believed in Congress's philosophy that the South had to be punished in some way. In the end, the status quo was not changed drastically in the South and the power of whites over blacks especially remained. Unfortunately, neither the executive or congressional philosophies would work to unite the Union completely because despite short-term requirements and oaths, no legislation was going to severely change the entire culture and way of life of the South that grew up around and relied upon slavery.
5. While the revolution and the birth of a new nation calmed the tensions of sectionalism, by the nineteenth century, the North and South had developed in two very different worlds. The North had its own agricultural resources and was marked by industrial, technological and commercial advancements. On the other hand, the South remained almost completely agricultural, relying on cash crops and slave labor for its livelihood. While the North and South butted heads often around the issue of slavery, the expansion of the country into the Western territories fueled the pressures that would lead to the Civil War. Beginning with the Missouri Compromise, the main issue was whether slavery would be allowed in the new territories, territories that would eventually apply for statehood. The South feared that as the number of abolitionists grew in the North and since slavery was not compatible with most of the territories, it would lose its equal footing in Congress and as part of the Union.
With the Compromise of 1850, the South feared even more…[continue]
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