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West's Encyclopedia of American Law Dictionary of American HistoryInternational Encyclopedia of the Social SciencesThe Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Further reading




A civil relationship in which one person has absolute power over the life, fortune, and liberty of another.


At some point in history, slavery has plagued nearly every part of the world. From ancient Greece to the modern Americas, innumerable governments have sanctioned the complete control of certain persons for the benefit of other persons, usually under the guise of social, mercantile, and technological progress.

The U.S. legacy of slavery began in the early seventeenth century. However, the stage for U.S. slavery was set as early as the fourteenth century, when the rich nations of Spain and Portugal began to capture Africans for enslavement in Europe. When Spain, Portugal, and other European countries conquered and laid claim to the New World of the Caribbean and West Indies in the late sixteenth century, they brought along the practice of slavery. Eventually, slavery expanded to the north, to colonial America.

The first Africans in colonial America were brought to Jamestown by a Dutch ship in 1619. These 20 Africans were indentured servants, which meant that they were to work for a certain period of time in exchange for transportation and room and board. They were assigned land after their service and were considered free Negroes. Nonetheless, their settlement was involuntary.

The status of Africans in colonial America underwent a rapid evolution after 1619. One early judicial decision signaled the change in European attitudes toward Africans. In 1640, three Virginia servants—two Europeans and one African—escaped from their masters. Upon recapture, a Virginia court ordered the Euro pean servants to serve their master for one more year and the African servant to serve his master, or his master's assigns, for the rest of his life.

Amistad: Mutiny on a Slave Ship

African slaves occasionally revolted against their masters, and the result was usually severe punishment for the slaves. The mutiny of fifty-four slaves on the Spanish ship Amistad in 1839 proved an exception, however, as the U.S. Supreme Court granted the slaves their freedom and allowed them to return to Africa.

The fifty-four Africans were kidnapped in West Africa, near modern-day Sierra Leone, and illegally sold into the Spanish slave trade. They were transported to Cuba, fraudulently classified as native Cuban slaves, and sold to two Spaniards. The slaves were then loaded on the schooner Amistad, which set sail for Haiti.

Three days into the journey, the slaves mutinied. Led by Sengbe Pieh, known to the Spanish crew as Cinque, the slaves unshackled themselves, killed the captain and the cook, and forced all but two of the crew to leave the ship. The Africans demanded to be returned to their homeland, but the crew tricked them and sailed toward the United States. In August 1839 the ship was towed into Montauk Point, Long Island, in New York.

Cinque and the others were charged with murder and piracy. A group of abolitionists formed the Amistad Committee, which organized a legal defense that sought the slaves' freedom. U.S. President martin van buren, pressed by Spain to return the slaves without trial, hoped the court would find the slaves guilty and order them returned to Cuba. The federal circuit court dismissed the murder and piracy charges because the acts had occurred outside the jurisdiction of the United States. It referred the case to the federal district court for trial to determine if the slaves must be returned to Cuba.

At the trial the slaves argued that there was no legal basis for returning them to Cuba because the importation of slaves from Africa was illegal under Spanish law. The district court agreed, ruling that the Africans were free and should be transported home. Van Buren ordered an immediate appeal to the Supreme Court.

Former president john quincy adams represented the slaves before the Supreme Court, making an impassioned argument for their freedom. The Court, in United States v. Libellants of Schooner Amistad, 40 U.S. 518 (15 Pet. 518), 10 L. Ed. 826, affirmed the district court and agreed that the Africans were free persons. By the end of 1841, thirty-five of the Amistad survivors had sailed for Sierra Leone; the rest remained in the United States.

further readings

Wood, Gary V. 2004. Heir to the Fathers: John Quincy Adams and the Spirit of Constitutional Government. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books.

As early as 1641, colonial Massachusetts rec ognized slavery as a legal institution, announcing in its Body of Liberties that "[t]here shall never be any bond slaverie … unless it be lawful Captives taken in just warres, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us." Twenty years later, just two generations after the arrival of the first Africans in colonial America, the first statute recognizing African slavery was passed in Virginia.

In the mid-1600s, Virginia colonists began to take note of the phenomenal agricultural production occurring in the Caribbean and West Indies. The extreme labor demands and savage punishments of European colonists there had depleted the population of productive Amerindian slaves, but those same colonists were continuing to prosper. By purchasing masses of able-bodied pubescent and adult Africans, the colonists avoided waiting for a slave population to increase by native birth, and in the scramble for quick, easy, and substantial profits in the New World, this strategy gave them an edge. Virginia colonists, eager to achieve the same prosperity, endeavored to sanction African slavery.

In 1661, Virginia colonists enacted a law that legitimized African slavery and provided that the status of an African child would be determined by the status of its mother. If the mother of a child was a slave, then her child was doomed to slavery. In the following years, colonial Virginia passed more laws that severely restricted the rights of African slaves and expanded the rights of owners of African slaves. Each of the original colonies eventually followed Virginia's lead by enacting similar laws that promoted or recognized the enslavement of Africans.

Most of the first African slaves were captured in Africa by the Dutch or by fellow Africans. They were then manacled and delivered in crowded, brutal conditions across the Atlantic Ocean by the Dutch West India Company, an organization formed in Holland for the sole purpose of trafficking in slaves. English companies such as the East India Company and the Royal African Company also contributed to the seventeenth-century American slave trade. Although untold numbers of Africans died en route, the profitable slave trade so increased the African slave population in America that by the late 1600s, European colonists were already beginning to anticipate insurrections and slave revolts. By 1750, populations of displaced Africans would range from an estimated 550 in New Hampshire to over 101,000 in Virginia.

From the beginning, African slaves resisted their servitude by running away, fighting back, poisoning food, and plotting revolts. The first Europeans to openly denounce slavery and work for its abolition were Quakers, or members of the Society of Friends, who were concentrated in Pennsylvania. As early as 1688, the Quakers publicly declared that slavery was at odds with Christianity. Along with other European abolitionists, they actively worked to help African slaves escape their owners.

The legal treatment of African slaves varied slightly from colony to colony according to the area's economic structure. Northern colonies such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island relied on the export of various local commodities such as fish, liquor, and dairy products, so their involvement with African slavery was in large part limited to slave trading. Nonetheless, the New England colonies sanctioned the use of slave labor, and they enacted codes that prevented African slaves from exercising such basic rights as freedom of association and movement. Though generally regarded as less harsh than those of such southern colonies as Virginia and the Carolinas, the New England slave codes nevertheless legalized the enslavement of Africans.

The middle colonies—New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey—also had codes that promoted the slave industry and deprived African slaves of most basic rights. Laws were often tailored especially for African slaves. In New York, for example, any slave found 40 miles north of Albany was presumed to be escaping to Canada and could be executed upon the oath of two witnesses. In New York City, slaves could not appear on the street after dark without a lighted lantern. From 1700 to 1740, growth of the African slave population in New York outdistanced growth of the European population and gave the city the largest slave population in the region. Many of these slaves provided domestic service to wealthy families. Except in New York, slavery in the middle colonies was not widespread, because the commercial economies and small-scale agriculture practiced by the Germans, Swedes, and Danes in this region did not require it. Further, many settlers in the rural areas of the middle colonies were morally opposed to slavery. Neither of these conditions prevailed in the southern colonies.

Georgia was originally established as a slavery-free English colony in 1733, but the prohibition against slavery was repealed in 1750 after repeated entreaties from European settlers. The economies of colonial Virginia, Maryland, and North and South Carolina centered on large-scale agricultural production. The vast majority of the South's colonial agrarians profited at first from the sale of tobacco, rice, and indigo. These products were planted, cultivated, and harvested exclusively by African slaves on vast farms known as plantations. Plantation production relied on manual labor and in order to be successful required huge numbers of workers, and thus the southern colonies found their needs met by the widespread enslavement of Africans.

Because of the importance of slavery to the plantation-based economies, slave codes in the southern colonies were made quite elaborate. For example, South Carolina prevented slave owners from working their slaves for more than 15 hours a day in spring and summer and more than 14 hours a day in fall and winter. Slave owners were also warned against undue cruelty to slaves. At the same time, Europeans were not allowed to teach African slaves to read or write; freedom of movement was severely restricted for slaves; liquor could not be sold to slaves; and whippings, mutilations, and other forms of punishment for slaves were explicitly authorized by law.


The U. S. government enacted the thirteenth amendment to abolish slavery, but it has never formally apologized to African Americans for their enslavement nor offered financial reparations to compensate them for their peonage. Since the end of the u.s. civil war there have been occasional calls by African Americans for reparations, but political and legal efforts have always failed. However, in the 1990s a new movement for slavery reparations began to coalesce, led by a group of scholars and lawyers. This group has been encouraged by the payment of reparations to Jewish Holocaust victims by German corporations that employed slave labor and by the U.S. government's payment of $60,000 to every Japanese American person held in detention camps during world war ii. Nevertheless, the slavery reparations issue arouses strong emotions in those opposed to the idea. In addition, legal doctrines make the prospect of court victories unlikely.

The idea of reparations is rooted in the field order issued by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman as he conquered several Southern states during the last months of the Civil War. Sherman's order authorized the distribution of 40 acres of Southern land to each freed slave and the loan of a government mule to work the land. The promise of "40 acres and a mule" proved illusory, however, as Congress failed to ratify such a program. In short order Southern whites reclaimed their land and Southern blacks became sharecroppers, renting out land in return for a meager financial return.

A reparations lawsuit against the U.S. treasury department was dismissed in 1915, but in the 1920s marcus garvey made reparations part of his Black Nationalist program. In the 1950s and 1960s Elijah Muhammad, leader of the nation of islam, preached black separatism and called on the government to give blacks land as reparations for slavery. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s reparations were ignored, with leaders focusing on political and civil equality. However, by the late 1960s a new, more radical form of Black nationalism started to emphasize the need for economic justice. In 1969 James Forman issued a "Black Manifesto" that demanded $500 million as reparations "due us as people who have been exploited and degraded, brutalized, killed, and persecuted." Again, reparations were ignored and the issue appeared dead. It was resurrected, however, in 1989 when Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced a resolution that sought to establish a commission that would study reparations for African Americans. The resolution went nowhere, but Conyers has continued to introduce it every year, to no avail.

The modern debate over reparations began in earnest with the publication of Randall M. Robinson's bestseller, The Debt: What America Owes Blacks. Robinson argued that the value of slave labor over the course of 246 years of American slavery easily reached into the trillions of dollars. He noted that slaves picked and processed cotton, which fueled commerce and industry throughout the United States. Robinson called on the government to establish independent community trust funds that would distribute money into the community to fund black-owned businesses and to fund education and training programs. He disavowed the direct payment of reparations to individuals. Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree and other lawyers and scholars joined Robinson to form the Reparations Coordinating Committee. The committee has explored suing the U.S. government, and in 2002 it filed suit against several U.S. corporations that allegedly profited from slavery during the nineteenth century. A 2001 California law has aided the group's efforts, for it requires all insurance companies doing business in California to report on any policies issued to slave-holders prior to 1865. A number of prominent companies revealed in their 2002 filings that they had issued slave insurance and thereby profited from slavery.

The debate over reparations has divided along racial lines. A 2002 opinion poll found that 80 percent of African Americans endorsed a formal apology for slavery from the U.S. government and 67 percent were in favor of monetary reparations. This contrasted sharply with white respondents; 30 percent of whites supported an apology while only 4 percent thought that monetary compensation was appropriate. Opposition to reparations falls into three main arguments. First, opponents note that all former slaves are dead and that living descendants do not deserve payments for their ancestors' losses. This is quite different from the U.S. government's payments to living Japanese Americans for their detention during World War II. A second objection is more practical: who would get the money and how much would each person receive? Critics point out that some African Americans were not slaves before the Civil War and that other blacks immigrated to the United States since the abolition of slavery. It would be exceedingly difficult to sort out the descendants of slaves. A third objection centers on making current white Americans liable for the sins of the past. Critics note that millions of people entered the United States from Europe, Asia, and South American between 1865 and today. These individuals, as well as the descendants of non-slaveholding Americans, should not be forced to pay their tax dollars to compensate for a reprehensible system they had nothing to do with. In addition, some African-American scholars have voiced concerns about the symbolic consequences of seeking reparations. They contend that this cause reinforces the role of blacks as victims and looks to the past rather than the future.

Proponents of reparations respond by arguing that financial compensation will not go to individuals, thus eliminating the practical difficulties of identifying claimants. They also contend that slavery, along with the 100 years of repression and discrimination following the Civil War, have directly injured African Americans living today. They point out that the U.S. government is an ongoing organization that is responsible for its actions, whether or not individuals were present at the time of the actions in question. Finally, they believe that while the money is important, the demand for restitution will encourage the healing of old wounds.

Most commentators believe that reparations will not be achieved through the legal system, due to many substantive and procedural doctrines. In Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103 (9th Cir. 1995), a federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit that sought reparations and an apology from the U.S. government. The court found that it had no jurisdiction to consider the case. First, private citizens cannot sue the federal government under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Second, the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the suit because they could not show they were personally injured by slavery. The court made clear that generalized class-based grievances cannot be heard in a court of law. The court concluded that the plaintiffs should press their claims with Congress. Based on this ruling, many commentators have expressed skepticism that the 2002 lawsuit against several corporations would succeed. The companies will also be able to demonstrate that prior to the Civil War slavery was legal.

further readings

Horowitz, David. 2001. Uncivil Wars: The Controversy Over Reparations for Slavery. New York: Encounter.

Robinson, Randall W. 2000. The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks. New York: Dutton.

——. 2000. The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe Each Other. New York: Dutton.

Winbush, Raymond. 2003. Should America Pay?: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations. New York: Amistad.


Civil Rights Movement; Emancipation Proclamation; Reconstruction.

The laws regarding slaves reflected the terrorism and paternalism of slavery. A slave had a nebulous right to self-defense, but a slave owner was allowed to restrain and punish a slave with impunity. A slave owner could not beat a slave publicly, but a slave could not avoid punishment for a crime committed at an owner's command. A free Negro could not voluntarily submit to slavery for a price, and Europeans were not allowed to subject a free African to slavery by treating one as a slave for any length of time. Every African was presumed to be a slave, however, until she or he could prove otherwise. This presumption was abolished in the northern states shortly after the United States won its independence from England, but it remained unchanged in the southern states until the end of the u.s. civil war.

Not all Africans were slaves. Some free Africans had bought their freedom, some were the descendants of Jamestown's first free African servants, some had escaped their owner, and some had been freed, or manumitted, by their owner. A slave owner could not free a slave if doing so left the slave unable to pay his or her debts. Some statutes allowed a slave owner to free only slaves who could work and support themselves, and other statutes required a slave owner to provide continuing financial support to freed slaves.

In some areas in the South, manumission of a slave was illegal, but the law did not prevent a slave owner from sending or taking slaves to another state to set them free. In states where manumission was legal, an owner could free a slave by executing a deed declaring the slave's liberty. Generally, the deed had to be filed in a county clerk's office or authorized or proved in court. Some states allowed for the manumission of slaves in the slave owner's will. A gift of land to a slave by a slave owner was often held to be a manumission of the slave, since only a free individual could own land. A manumitted slave was entitled to work for wages and to own land and personal property through acquisition or inheritance.

After the United States won the war of independence, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, and New Jersey all passed legislation that gradually abolished slavery. These northern states, inspired mostly by the revolutionary, liberal philosophies of the period, began advocating expanding notions of freedom that were being rejected in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia.

In May 1787, delegations from each of the 13 colonies began to meet in Philadelphia to devise a federal constitution. The Constitutional Convention was to begin on May 14, but few representatives had arrived by then, and it was postponed. On May 25, seven states were represented, and the convention began. Delegates from the various colonies continued to arrive through June, with the last ones coming from New Hampshire on July 22, four days before the convention was adjourned. Slavery was just one topic on a very long agenda.

The abolition of the U.S. enslavement of Africans was not seriously entertained at the convention. Virginia's george mason and many delegates from the northern states argued against any recognition of slavery in the Constitution, but the overriding concern at the convention was to unify the states under a system of government that left substantial control of social and political questions to the individual states. It seemed clear to the majority of the representatives that a country founded on individual freedoms could not participate in slave trading, but it was equally clear that if the widespread enslavement of Africans by the southern states were prohibited by the new federal government, there would be no United States.

North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia insisted that a state's right to import slaves be left untouched. Delegates from other states argued for the abolition of slavery, and still other delegates wanted no hint of the practice included in the Constitution. A committee comprising one delegate from each state was dispatched to settle the issue. The committee returned with a constitutional clause, couched in the negative, that made slave trade vulnerable to prohibition after the year 1800. The strange set of bedfellows produced by this issue—New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia were against the clause—illustrated the variety of considerations at play.

After further debate and modification by the entire convention, the Slave Trade Clause was inserted into Section 9 of Article I: "The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight." Attached to this language was another clause that allowed for the imposition of a tax or duty on such importation, not to exceed $10 for "each Person" (read, "each Slave").

The one other opaque reference to slavery in the Constitution was the so-called Three-fifths Compromise. In Article I, Section 2, the Framers wrote that the population of a state, for purposes of determining taxation and representation in the House of Representatives, would be measured by counting the "Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons." This language struggled mightily to avoid the mention of African slavery but was understood as allowing the southern states to count each slave as three-fifths of a person in a government census.

This method of population measurement, three-fifths, was actually developed by Congress in 1783, during debate over state representation in the federal government. The northern states opposed the inclusion of African slaves in the determination of population because the southern states contained thousands of African slaves who played no part in the political process. The southern states argued that a state's African slave population reflected its true power and wealth, which should in turn be reflected in its federal representation. The northern states eventually compromised with the southern states to allow five African slaves to equal three free men for purposes of population determinations and federal representation.

At the Constitutional Convention, standing alone, the three-fifths proviso did not immediately satisfy the majority of states. Opposition to the measure was not organized: no single cause unified the dissatisfied states, and no split occurred between slave states and free states. Opposition also was not based on the morality of counting slaves as less than full citizens: very little wrangling took place over this concern, and an amendment to count slaves as whole persons was rejected by a vote of 8–2. Eventually, the three-fifths ratio was adopted for the Constitution, but only after direct taxation of the states was also tied to state population. Thus, the only compromise regarding the recognition of African slaves grew from struggles over money and political power, not a concern over morality. A showdown between the slave states and the free states over African slavery never occurred. Although the United States was to cease the purchase and sale of slaves, the practice of slavery in the southern states survived the Constitutional Convention.

While all this politicking was taking place, the land in the southern states was fast becoming infertile. Farmers and plantation owners realized they needed to diversify their crops to save the soil. Shortly after the Constitution was ratified in 1789, the southern states sought the development of a cotton gin in order to convert agricultural production from rice, tobacco, and indigo to cotton. The cotton gin, which mechanically extracted cotton seeds, was eventually designed by Eli Whitney and Phineas Miller in 1792. The production of cotton did not require large start-up funds, and with the cotton gin for seed removal, African slaves had more time for cultivation. These changes all added up to large profits for southern plantation owners. With the help of New England slave traders, the plantation owners imported African slaves by the tens of thousands in the years following the Constitutional Convention. Nevertheless, in March 1807, Congress passed a law prohibiting the importation of African slaves. Effective January 1, 1808, in fulfillment of the suggestion contained in Article I, Section 2, of the Constitution, the U.S. slave trade officially ended. But a state's right to sanction slavery did not.

In the early 1800s, the United States was expanding, and the question of slavery began to consume the country. In 1819, leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives proposed a bill that would allow the Missouri Territory to enter the Union as a slave state. Although northern legislators outnumbered southern legislators at the time, House Speaker henry clay, of Kentucky, arranged an accord between enough congressional members to pass a version of the bill that admitted Missouri as a slave state. In exchange for legal slavery in Missouri, the southern legislators agreed to limit the northern boundaries of slavery to the same latitude as the southern boundary of Missouri. Thus were the terms of the missouri compromise of 1820, which became a watershed in the U.S. experience with slavery.

In its constitution, Missouri declared it would not allow slaves to be emancipated without their owner's consent. Furthermore, free African Americans were not allowed to enter the state. Antislavery congress members objected to the latter clause on the ground that it violated the federal Constitution's mandate that "the Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of Citizens in the several States" (art. IV, § 2). African Americans had, after all, gained citizenship in the northern states.

Again Clay maneuvered votes in Congress. Missouri agreed not to discriminate against citizens from other states, but did so in a resolution that was abstract and unclear and left unsettled the question of precisely who was a citizen of the several states. In 1821, Missouri's constitution was approved, and Missouri was officially a slave state.

Once Missouri was admitted to the Union as a slave state, Maine was admitted as a free state; the Senate had refused to accept Maine until the House altered its position on Missouri. As a result, in 1821, the Union consisted of 12 free states, 12 slaves states, and a deepening divide between the two.

European settlements pressed westward. After the United States acquired the Southwest by force in the Mexican War, it again faced the question of slavery. In 1850, Congress altered the geographic limits on slavery established by the Missouri Compromise. California was admitted as a free state, but the Utah and New Mexico Territories were opened to slavery. The kansas-nebraska act of 1854 further eroded the dictates of the Missouri Compromise by admitting slavery in those territories.

One particular case brought by a slave came to a head in the 1850s and caught the attention of the Republican presidential candidate for the 1860 election, former Illinois congressman abraham lincoln. In dred scott v. sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393, 15 L. Ed. 691 (1857), Dred Scott sued the widow of his deceased owner in Missouri state court, asking for his freedom. The dispute began in 1834 and ended with an 1857 Supreme Court decision confirming Scott's slave status. The decision galvanized abolitionists in the north, and Lincoln railed against the decision in his campaign for the presidency. The decision also strengthened the resolve of pro-slavery forces in the South. As the struggle for power between slavers and emancipators intensified, the geographic lines proscribing slavery, drawn and redrawn, were fast becoming battle lines.

In 1860, Republican Abraham Lincoln won the presidency on an anti-slavery platform, and like-minded Republicans gained a majority in Congress. In February 1861, with the abolition of slavery imminent, South Carolina seceded from the Union, and Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, and Tennessee soon followed suit. Before Lincoln's inauguration in March, the Confederacy was in place. On April 12, the Confederates attacked South Carolina's Fort Sumter, and the U.S. internal war over the issue of slavery had begun.

Many early American colonists had believed they were justified in enslaving Africans because Africans were not Christians. After the American Revolution, as the country became polarized over the issue of slavery, slavery supporters in the South worked to clear the southern states of anti-slavery leaders and their forces. One abolitionist, for example, was beaten, tarred and feathered, set afire, doused in water, and whipped. As late as the 1820s, more than one hundred abolitionist groups operated in the slave states, but by the 1840s, virtually none was left. Slavers in the southern states also began to cultivate more ambitious rationales for African slavery. Slavery supporters cited essays written by the ancient Greek philosopher aristotle that declared that slavery was the natural order of things.

Aristotle had claimed that slaves were slaves because they had allowed themselves to become enslaved. This was just and right, his theory continued, because if those with strong bodies (Africans, to U.S. slavers) performed the labor, those with upright bodies (European colonists and their descendants) would have the time and energy for technological and economic advancement. U.S. slavery enthusiasts expanded on the theories of Aristotle and other philosophers to explain that it was the Africans' lot in life to be slaves because it was inherent in their nature to be servile and hardworking. Other southern slavers forwent any philosophy of slavery and simply enjoyed the luxuries realized through the enslavement of Africans.

Throughout the Civil War, President Lincoln and the U.S. Congress were busy passing federal legislation on the subject of slavery. On August 6, 1861, Congress passed the Confiscation Act, which allowed the United States to lay claim to any property used in insurrection against it. Under this act, slaves who served in the Confederate army were to be set free upon capture by Union forces. In June 1862, Lincoln signed a bill passed by Congress that abolished slavery in all territories owned by the federal government. On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the emancipation proclamation, which declared that all slaves in the United States were free persons and that they were to remain free persons.

In April 1865, the Confederate army surrendered to the Union forces. This event touched off a flurry of constitutional amendments. The thirteenth amendment, which abolished slavery, was ratified by Congress on December 6, 1865. The fourteenth amendment, ratified July 9, 1868, was designed to, in part, establish former slaves as full citizens and ensure that no African American would be deprived of any of the privileges and immunities that come with citizenship. The Fourteenth Amendment also deleted the offensive three-fifths ratio from the measurement of populations in Section 2 of Article I, and declared that debts relating to the loss or emancipation of slaves were illegal and void. The fifteenth amendment, ratified February 3, 1870, gave male African Americans and male former slaves the right to vote.

African slavery in the United States continued to haunt the country long after its abolition. In the North, segregation of African Americans from the European populations was a reality, if not sanctioned by law. Beginning in the 1880s, many southern states enacted black codes, or jim crow laws, which restricted the freedom of movement and expression of African Americans and enforced their segregation from the rest of society.

Contemporary Issues Surrounding Slavery

Notions of slavery in the United States have expanded to include any situation in which one person controls the life, liberty, and fortune of another person. All forms of slavery are now widely recognized as inherently immoral and thoroughly evil. Slavery still occurs in various forms, but when it does, accused offenders are aggressively prosecuted. Federal statutes punish by fine or imprisonment the enticement of per sons into slavery (18 U.S.C.A. § 1583), and the holding to or selling of persons into involuntary servitude (§ 1584). In addition, whoso ever builds a ship for slave carriage, serves on a ship carrying slaves, or owns a slave-carrying ship will be fined or imprisoned under 18 U.S.C.A. §§ 1582, 1586, and 1587, respectively.

The statute 18 U.S.C.A. § 1581 prohibits peonage, which is involuntary servitude for the payment of a debt. Labor camps are perhaps the most common violators of the law against peon age. The operators of some labor camps keep victims for work in fields through impoverished conditions, threats, acts of violence, and alcohol consumption. Offenders often provide rudi mentary shelter to migrant workers and demand work in return, which can constitute involun tary servitude. An individual can also be con victed of sale into involuntary servitude for delivering victims under false pretenses to such labor camps.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, much of the debate surrounding slavery related to movements urging the U.S. government to pay reparations to descendants of slaves. Supporters of this movement suggest that cash payments made to these descendants is justified to compensate the victims of slavery for years of hardship, harm, and indignities. Local governments in such cities as Dallas, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland have urged Congress to consider this form of payment. Opponents of reparations note that the costs of reparations, if given to the extent that some supporters urge, would cost the federal government trillions of dollars. More over, many critics question how these cash payments would be made and how recipients would be identified for receiving them.

further readings

Azmy, Baher. 2002. "Unshackling the Thirteenth Amendment: Modern Slavery and a Reconstructed Civil Rights Agenda. Fordham Law Review 71 (December).

Harris, Leslie M. 2003. In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626–1863. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

Morgan, Edmund S. 2003. American Slavery—American Freedom. New York: Norton.

Posner, Eric A., and Adrian Vermeule. 2003. "Reparations for Slavery and Other Historical Injustices." Columbia Law Review 103 (April).

Sealey, Geraldine. 2000. "Atoning for Slavery." Available online at <> (accessed October 4, 2003).

United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. 2001. Slavery Throughout the World: Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, One Hundred Sixth Congress, Second Session, September 28, 2000. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.


Celia, a Slave; Civil Rights; Civil Rights Acts; Constitution of the United States; Douglass, Frederick; Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; Indenture; Ku Klux Klan; Ku Klux Klan Act; Prigg v. Pennsylvania; Republican Party; States' Rights; Taney, Roger Brooke. See also primary documents in "Slavery" section of Appendix.

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SLAVERY. What does it mean to dehumanize a human being? To ponder this question is to approach some definition of slavery, one of the most extreme forms of dehumanization. We know enough about life in the antebellum South to know that slaves resisted dehumanization, that they created a folk culture, a family structure, and a spiritual life that blunted the dehumanizing force of slavery. What was it, then, that made slavery slavery?

The problem of slavery, and not just in the American South, was that it defined slaves as outsiders within the very societies of which they were a part. In America this meant that although the slaves got married and formed families, their families were not legally sanctioned and were therefore liable to be torn apart at the will of the master. Put differently, the slave family had no social standing. From youth to old age, from sunup to sundown, slaves spent the bulk of their waking lives at work, for slavery in America was nothing if not a system of labor exploitation. Yet the slaves had no right whatsoever to claim the fruits of their labor. This was "social death," and to the extent that humans are social beings, slavery was a profoundly dehumanizing experience.

What it means to be socially dead, an outsider, varies depending on how a society defines social life. Over the course of slavery's two and a half centuries of life in what became the United States, Americans developed a very specific understanding of social life. In so doing, they were specifying the definition of slavery in America. They saw membership in society in terms of rights, thereby defining the slaves as rightless.

To be sure, social death did not extinguish the slaves' cultural life. The slaves sometimes accumulated small amounts of property, for example, but they had no right to their property independent of the master's will. They bought and sold merchandise, they hired out their labor, but their contracts had no legal standing. In their sacred songs, their profane folktales, and in their explicit complaints, the slaves articulated their dissatisfaction with slavery. But they had no right to publish, to speak, or to assemble. They had no standing in the public sphere, just as their private lives had no legal protection. Thus the distinction between public and private—a central attribute of American society beginning in the eighteenth century—did not apply to the slaves. In all of these ways American slavery dehumanized its victims by depriving them of social standing, without which we cannot be fully human.

Origins of American Slavery

Slavery was largely incompatible with the organic societies of medieval Europe. After the collapse of ancient slavery human bondage persisted on the margins of medieval Europe, first on the islands of the eastern Mediterranean and later in the coastal areas of southern Europe. But western slavery did not revive until the feudal economies declined, opening up opportunities for European merchants and adventurers who were freed from the constraints that prevailed elsewhere. Over the course of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries Europe's consciousness of itself expanded to the point where no "Europeans" were considered "outsiders," and as such available for enslavement. This was a far cry from conditions in Africa, where a much more local conception of social membership made Africans subject to enslavement by other Africans. Thus, during those same centuries, entrepreneurs—first from Spain and Portugal and later from Holland and England—took to the seas and plugged themselves into Africa's highly developed system of slavery, transforming it into a vast Atlantic slave trade.

Finally, the collapse of an organically unified conception of European society, reflected in the Protestant Reformation's destruction of the "one true church," paved the way for the critical liberal distinction between the public and private spheres of life. Modern slavery flourished in this setting, for the slaveholders ironically required the freedom of civil society to establish the slave societies of the Atlantic world. Thus did the slave societies of the Americas grow up alongside, and as part of, the development of liberal capitalism. This is what distinguished "modern" slavery from its predecessors in antiquity.

The Atlantic Slave Trade

The Atlantic slave trade was in some ways an extension of a much older Mediterranean slave trade. Over the course of the late Middle Ages slave-based sugar plantations spread from Turkey to the islands of the eastern Mediterranean, and westward to coastal regions of southern France and Spain before breaking out into the Atlantic and spreading southward to the Azores, Madeira, and São Tomé. To some extent this line of expansion followed the source of slaves, for by the time sugar was being planted on the islands of the Mediterranean, Arab traders were transporting sub-Saharan Africans across the desert to sell them as slave laborers in southern and eastern Europe. Thus as Europe expanded it grew increasingly dependent

on the continued willingness of Africans to enslave one another.

When the Spanish and the Portuguese first encountered West Africans the Europeans were too weak to establish plantations on the African mainland. But by establishing slavery on the island off the African coast—Madiera, the Azores, and São Tomé—the Europeans created the network of connections with Africans that later allowed them to expand their operations into a vast transatlantic slave trade. Thwarted on the African mainland the Europeans turned westward, leaping across the Atlantic to establish sugar plantations in Brazil and the Caribbean. Over the course of several hundred years, European and colonial slavers purchased approximately thirteen million slaves from their African captors. Perhaps eleven million of those Africans survived the Atlantic crossing to be put to work on the farms and plantations of the New World.

Slavery and the slave trade grew as the economy of western Europe expanded and developed. It peaked in the eighteenth century, when a "consumer revolution" centered in England and North America created unprecedented demand for the commodities produced by slaves, especially sugar. Indeed, the history of slavery in the Americas can be written in terms of the rise and fall of a series of sugar economies, first in Brazil, and then on a succession of Caribbean islands beginning with Jamaica and ending, in the nineteenth century, with Cuba. By the time the British got around the establishing permanent settlements on the North American mainland, the Atlantic slave trade that fed the booming sugar plantations of Brazil and the Caribbean was fully operational. If the English colonists in Virginia, Maryland, and elsewhere chose to develop slave economies of their own, the means to do so were readily at hand.

From "Societies with Slaves" to "Slave Societies"

In 1776 slavery was legal in every one of the thirteen colonies that declared its independence from Great Britain. Most of the leading ministers in Puritan Massachusetts had been slave owners. By the second quarter of the eighteenth century a significant percentage of the population of New York City was enslaved, and in 1712 several dozen of that city's slaves openly rebelled. By then there were substantial numbers of slaves in Newport, Rhode Island, which was rapidly becoming a center for the North American slave trade. To the south, African slaves first arrived in the Chesapeake region of Virginia and Maryland in

1619. Slaves appeared in the Carolinas a generation or two later. The ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth century America was not unusual, however: slaves had been present in human societies throughout history, and colonial America was no exception.

What made the colonies—and ultimately the American South—exceptional was the fact that the Chesapeake and lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia became full-scale slave societies rather than merely societies with slaves. Slave societies are rare things in human history, and so its emergence in North America is one of the most important historical developments of the eighteenth century. Slave society, not slavery, is what distinguished the northern colonies from the southern colonies and explains why slavery was abolished in the northern states but persisted in the South. Thus the emergence of slave society, rather than the emergence of slavery itself, is the first major turning point in the history of American slavery.

In the Chesapeake slave society developed fairly slowly. For most of the seventeenth century African slaves in Maryland and Virginia numbered in the hundreds. When English settlers first discovered the profitable potential of large-scale tobacco production, their first source of labor was indentured servants, most of them from Great Britain. Thus, tobacco planting was an established business when, in the late seventeenth century, the English economy improved and the supply of indentured servants dried up. It was only then that Chesapeake planters turned to African slaves in large numbers. Between 1680 and 1720 the Chesapeake was transformed from a society with slaves to a slave society. In those same years, a slave society based on rice planting was constructed in the Carolina lowcountry.

By 1750 the economy and society of both the Chesapeake and the lowcountry were based on slavery. But the two regions differed in significant ways. Tobacco plantations were relatively small; they could be run efficiently with twenty or thirty slaves. Rice plantations were most efficient with fifty slaves or more, whereas the sugar plantations of the Caribbean—and later Louisiana—required so much initial capital that they were most efficient when they had a hundred slaves or more. Because tobacco required some care to cultivate, slaves were organized in gangs that were directly supervised either by the master, an overseer, or a slave driver. Rice planting, by contrast, demanded certain skills but it did not require direct supervision. So in the Carolina lowcountry, slave labor was organized under a "task" system, with individual slaves assigned a certain task every day and left largely on their own to complete it.

Because of these distinctions, slave life in the eighteenth-century lowcountry differed in important ways from slave life in the Chesapeake. Large rice plantations made it easier for slaves to form families of their own. On the other hand, high death rates in the lowcountry destabilized the families that did form. Smaller farms meant that tobacco slaves were much more likely to marry "away" from their home plantations, with all the disruptions and difficulties that such marriages inevitably entailed. On the other hand, Chesapeake slave families were less disrupted by disease and death than were the slave families of the Carolina lowcountry.

Because sugar cane was such a labor-intensive crop, sugar plantations in Brazil and the Caribbean were death traps for slaves; they required constant infusions of new laborers imported from Africa. But sugar could not grow in Virginia or Carolina; and the relative health of slaves working the crops grown there made a family life among slaves possible. As a result, the slave population of the North American colonies developed the ability to reproduce itself naturally over the course of the eighteenth century. In the tobacco regions the slaves achieved a fairly robust rate of population growth, whereas the rice slaves did little more than reproduce their numbers. As a result, the expansion of the rice economy required substantial imports of African slaves throughout the eighteenth century, whereas in the Chesapeake the slave population was largely native-born after 1750. The high density of blacks, combined with sustained African immigration, created a distinctive culture in the coastal lowcountry, a culture marked by its own "gullah" dialect and the persistence of significant African traditions. In Virginia and Maryland, by contrast, a largely native-born population and smaller plantations led to an English-speaking slave community that was more assimilated to the culture of the English settlers.

Although the rice plantations grew more technologically sophisticated, and therefore more productive, over the course of the eighteenth century, the rice culture itself was largely restricted to the lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia. The tobacco culture of the Chesapeake proved more adaptable. In the upper South, planters shifted readily to wheat production when the tobacco economy faltered. But more important, the tobacco pattern spread at the end of the century into the inland regions of the lower South, where it facilitated the expansion of short-staple cotton. Thus the form slave society took in the colonial Chesapeake—relatively small plantations, a gang labor system, relatively high birth rates, and a native-born slave population—became the model upon which the cotton economy of the nineteenth century depended. Before that happened, however, the American Revolution had dramatically altered the history of slavery in the United States.

Slavery and the American Revolution

The American Revolution had a profound but ambiguous effect on the history of slavery in the United States. It established the terms of a ferocious debate, without precedent in history, over the morality of slavery itself. It resulted in the creation of the first sizable communities of free blacks in the United States. It made slavery into a sectional institution by abolishing or restricting it in the North while protecting it in the South. And by defining a "citizen" of the new nation as the bearer of certain basic rights, it definitively established the status of American slaves as rightless.

As soon as the conflict between the colonies and Great Britain erupted, the English began to encourage southern slaves to rebel against their masters. Thousands of slaves took advantage of the British offer, thereby transforming the war for independence into a civil war in the southern colonies. As a result, southern slaveholders came to associate their struggle for freedom from Great Britain with the struggle to preserve slavery. The slaves, meanwhile, began to define freedom as the acquisition of rights.

Some of the revolutionary changes had important social consequences. For example, the revolutionary commitment to fundamental human equality inspired the abolition of slavery in every northern state between 1776 and 1804. In the upper South the same ideology, combined with the relative weakness of the slave economy, prompted a wave of manumissions (formal emancipations) in Virginia and Maryland. Northern abolition and southern manumissions together produced the first major communities of free blacks in the United States.

There were important legal changes as well. Slave codes across the South were revised to reflect the liberal humanist injunction against cruelty: some of the most barbaric punishments of slaves were eliminated and the wanton murder of a slave was made illegal for the first time. The new Constitution gave Congress the power to ban, by a simple majority vote, the entire nation from participating in the Atlantic slave trade after 1808. In addition the first U.S. Congress reenacted a Northwest Ordinance, first passed by the Continental Congress, substantially restricting the western expansion of slavery in the northern states. All of these developments reflected the sudden and dramatic emergence of an antislavery sentiment that was new to the world.

But the Revolution did not abolish slavery everywhere, and in important ways it reinforced the slave societies of the South even as it eliminated the last societies with slaves in the North. Humanizing the slave codes made slavery less barbaric, for example, but also more tolerable. More important, the new Constitution recognized and protected slavery without ever actually using the word "slave." It included a fugitive slave clause and two "three-fifths" clauses that gave the southern states a discount on their tax liabilities and enhanced representation in the House of Representatives. Finally, the same liberal ideology that provided so many Americans with a novel argument against slavery became the basis for an equally novel proslavery argument. The rights of property in slaves, the claim that slaves were happy, that they were not treated with cruelty, that they were less productive than free laborers: all of these sentiments drew on the same principles of politics and political economy that inspired the Revolution. They became the mainstays of a developing proslavery ideology.

The Westward Expansion of the Slave Economy

Beginning in the 1790s, a previously moribund slavery came roaring back to life. In 1793 Eli Whitney invented

a machine that made the cultivation of short-staple cotton profitable. Almost immediately the cotton economy began a relentless expansion that continued for more than half a century and eventually provided the catalyst for the Civil War.

The cotton boom commenced with the migration of slaveholders from the upper South down the Piedmont plateau into South Carolina and Georgia. By 1800 slave-holders were spilling across the Appalachians planting tobacco in Kentucky and Tennessee and cotton in Georgia and Alabama. The population of Alabama and Mississippi, 40,000 in 1810, leaped to 200,000 in 1820 and kept growing until it reached over 1.6 million by 1860. By then cotton and slavery had crossed the Mississippi River into Louisiana, parts of Missouri, and Texas. In those same years slave plantations in Kentucky and Tennessee expanded their production of tobacco and to a lesser extent, hemp. And in southern Louisiana the rise of the cotton kingdom was paralleled by the rise in huge, heavily capitalized sugar plantations.

But rice, tobacco, and sugar could not match the dynamism and scope of short-staple cotton. Indeed, cotton quickly established itself as the nation's leading export, in both tons and dollars. Although its growth was erratic—slowing in the 1820s and again in the early 1840s—it never stopped. And far from stagnating, the cotton economy was never more vibrant than it was in the 1850s. Thus on the eve of the Civil War many white Southerners were persuaded that "Cotton is King" and could never be dethroned.

The consequences of slavery's expansion were not confined to economic history, however. For both free and enslaved Southerners, the cotton boom had powerful effects on social and cultural life. Among the slaveholders, the cotton boom bred an aggressively expansionist ethos that influenced everything from family life to national politics. Wives and mothers complained about the men who were prepared to pull up stakes and move westward in search of new opportunities. Sons were urged to leave their towns and families to start up new plantations further west. And slaveholding presidents, including Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk, carried these expansionist convictions with them to Washington, D.C., provoking wars and international confrontations all for the sake of facilitating slavery's expansion. But it was the slaves whose lives, families, and communities were most profoundly disrupted by the rise of the cotton kingdom.

The Deterioration of Slave Life

In the second half of the eighteenth century the lives of most slaves improved. Infant mortality rates among slaves declined; the average height of adult slaves rose, indicating an adequate level of nutrition. With that the slaves reached a healthy rate of natural population growth, the ratio of men to women evened out, and it was possible for most slaves to form families of their own. In addition, the American Revolution had inspired many masters in the upper South to free their slaves, and for the vast majority who remained in bondage the laws of slavery became

somewhat less severe. After 1800, however, this progress came to a halt, and in some ways reversed itself.

In the nineteenth century the conditions of slave life deteriorated. Beginning in the 1790s the state legislatures made it harder and harder for masters to manumit (free) their slaves, further choking the already narrow chances the slaves had of gaining their freedom. After 1830 most southern states passed laws making it a crime to teach a slave to read, adding legally enforced illiteracy to the attributes of enslavement. The health of the slaves declined as well. The number of low-birth-weight infants increased, and the average height of the slaves fell—both of them indications of deteriorating levels of nutrition. With the rise of the sugar plantations of Louisiana, a new and particularly ferocious form of slavery established a foothold in the Old South. Sugar plantations had a well-deserved reputation for almost literally working the slaves to death. They averaged a stunning population decline of about 14 percent each decade. But sugar planting was so profitable that it could survive and prosper anyway, thanks to an internal slave trade that provided Louisiana planters with a steady supply of replacement laborers.

The growth of the internal slave trade in the antebellum South made the systematic destruction of African American families a defining element of the slave system. In colonial times, when new slaves were imported through the Atlantic slave trade, the internal trade was small. But with the expansion of the cotton economy after 1790 and the closing of the Atlantic trade in 1808, a robust market in slaves developed. At first Virginia and Maryland but later South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee exported their slaves to the newer slave states further west and south. Eventually even Alabama and Mississippi became net exporters of slaves. Between 1790 and 1860 nearly a million slaves were exported from one part of the South to another, making it one of the largest forced migrations in human history. Between one third and one half of these slaves did not migrate with their masters but were sold through the interstate slave trade.

Slaveholders protested that they sold family members apart from one another only when absolutely necessary. But "necessity" was a flexible concept in the Old South. When the cotton economy was booming and slave prices were high, for example, it became more "necessary" to sell slaves. Furthermore, the ages of the slaves put up for sale suggest that husbands were regularly sold away from wives and children were regularly sold away from parents. The paradox was appalling: cotton cultivation was healthy enough to sustain a natural growth of the slave population through the creation of slave families, but the expansion of the cotton economy broke up those families by the tens of thousands. The forced sale of a close relative became a nearly universal experience for the slaves of the Old South.

The Plantation Regime

Since the late eighteenth century, Americans both North and South accepted that slave labor was less efficient than free labor. Even the slave owners agreed that a slave lacked the incentives to diligent labor that motivated the free worker. Slaves could not be promoted for hard work or fired for poor work. They did not get raises. Harder work did not bring more food, better clothing, a finer home. The slaves could not accumulate savings hoping to buy farms of their own; they could not work with the aim of winning their ultimate freedom; nor could they work to insure that their children's lives would be easier than theirs. Lacking the normal incentives of free labor, the slaves were universally dismissed as lackluster and inefficient workers.

And yet the slave economy grew at impressive, even spectacular rates in the nineteenth century. The returns on investment in slave plantations were comparable to the returns on businesses in the North. Despite the ups and downs of the market for slave-produced commodities, slavery was by and large a profitable system in the Old South. This was no accident. The slaveholders organized their farms and plantations to be as productive as possible. They constructed a managerial hierarchy to oversee the daily labor of the slaves. They employed the latest techniques in crop rotation and manuring. They planted corn and raised livestock that complemented the cash crops, thus keeping the slaves both busy and adequately nourished.

Any free farmer could have done as much, but the slaveholders had advantages that counteracted the weaknesses of their labor system. They put otherwise "unproductive" slaves to work. Slave children went to work at an earlier age than free children, for example. And elderly slaves too old for fieldwork were put in charge of minding very small children and preparing the meals for all the slaves. These and other economies of scale turned a labor system that was in theory unproductive and inefficient into what was, in practice, one of the great economic successes of the nineteenth century.

On a well managed plantation the slaves were kept busy year round, fixing tools and repairing buildings during the winter season, tending to the corn when the cotton was taken care of, slaughtering the hogs after the last of the cotton was ginned. Since most slaves lived on units with twenty or more slaves, most were introduced to some form of systematic management. Slave "drivers" acted as foremen to oversee the gangs in the fields. On larger plantations overseers were hired to manage day to day operations. The larger the plantation the more common it was for particular slaves to specialize in various forms of skilled labor. The "well managed plantation," the slaveholders agreed, took into consideration not simply the amount of cotton produced, but the overall productivity of the farm's operations.

Yet the fact remained that the slaves lacked the incentive to care very much or work very hard to maximize the master's profits. As a result, much of the management of slaves was aimed at forcing them to do what they did not really care about. This was the underlying tension of the master-slave relationship. It was the reason almost all masters resorted to physical punishment. In the final analysis, the efficiency of southern slavery, and the resentment of the slaves, was driven by the whip.

Slave Culture

Slaves responded to the hardships and disruptions of their lives through the medium of a distinctive culture whose roots were in part African and in part American but whose basic outlines were shaped by the experience of slavery itself.

Slave culture developed in several distinct stages. Over the course of the eighteenth century, as the slave population stabilized and the majority of slaves became native-born, a variety of African dialects gave way to English as the language through which most American slaves communicated with one another. A native-born slave population in turn depended on the existence of slave families.

Beginning in the late eighteenth century, a growing number of slaves converted to evangelical Christianity and by 1860 Protestantism was the dominant religion of enslaved African Americans.

Despite the fact that most slaves eventually spoke English and practiced Christianity, elements of West African culture persisted. In some parts of the South, such as lowcountry South Carolina and southern Louisiana, the African influence could be strong. The mystical practices of voodoo common among Louisiana slaves, for example, were only one example of African cultural practices that survived in the Old South. More generally, slaves continued to put their faith in the conjurers and potions that were a part of the mystical life of West Africans. Other African cultural traces could be found in the slaves' funeral practices, their marriage ceremonies, and in the way they treated the sick and the dying. Slave music evinced a rhythmic complexity more common to West Africa than to western Europe. And slave dancing, which masters commonly dismissed as mere wild gyrations, were more often a legacy of African traditions such as the "ring shout."

Even the fact that the slaves spoke English, formed families, and practiced Christianity did not mean that they had simply absorbed the culture of their masters. In important ways the slaves used their language to construct a folk culture of rituals, music, and storytelling that reflected the continuing influence of African traditions and that remained very much the culture of slaves rather than masters. The slaves reckoned kinship more broadly and more flexibly than did their masters, providing some measure of emotional protection from the disruptions of family life. Nor was slave Christianity a mere carbon copy of the religion of the masters. Slaves did not distinguish the sacred from the profane as sharply as their owners did; they empathized more with the Moses of the Old Testament, who led his people out of bondage, than with the New Testament Epistles of St. Paul, which exhorted slaves to obey their masters.

For the masters, however, slave culture was as important for what it lacked as for what it contained. Try as they might, the slaveholders could not overcome the structural constraints of a labor system that gave the slaves no reason to respond to the bourgeois injunctions to diligence, thrift, and sobriety. Slave culture was distinguished less by the persistence of African traditions than by its distance from the culture of the masters.

The Culture of the Masters

Years ago, a pioneering historian of the Old South wrote that slavery was "less a business than a life; it made fewer fortunes than it made men." Maybe so. But slavery made more than its share of fortunes: in 1860 almost all of the richest counties in America were located in the South. And the men who made those fortunes did not do so by lolling about on their verandas, sipping mint juleps and reading the Old South's version of the daily racing form.

The slaveholders were a hard-nosed and aggressive lot. Those who inherited their plantations added to their wealth by buying second and third plantations. Sometimes they pulled up stakes, moved west, and built more plantations. Slaveholders who started with a handful of slaves often used their professional careers to subsidize their accumulation of more land and more slaves. It was the rare planter whose wealth did not entail careful management of his farm, constant supervision of his slaves, and a keen eye for a chance to expand his operations or move on.

Because successful slave ownership was hard work, the planters liked to think that they had arrived at their exalted social standing not by the advantages of privileged upbringings but through their steady adherence to the bourgeois virtues of thrift, diligence, and sobriety. No doubt a few generations of wealth smoothed out the rough edges on many a planter family, and the temptation to fancy themselves aristocrats of a sort could become irresistible. But the demands of the slave economy and the plantation regime could not be ignored: to lose sight of the bottom line was to risk financial and social ruin.

Faced with rising antislavery criticism from the North, the slaveholders looked to their experience and filtered it through the prevailing political culture to produce a provocative series of proslavery arguments. If cruelty was immoral, the slaveholders insisted that the slaves were well treated and that brutality was frowned upon. If happiness rested upon a decent standard of living, the slaves were so well treated that they were among the happiest people on earth. Only as slaves did Africans, who would otherwise languish in heathenism, have access to the word of God. Although slave labor was in principle less efficient than free labor, southern slavery put an otherwise unproductive race of people to work in an otherwise unproductive climate, thereby creating wealth and civilization where it could not otherwise have existed. In a culture that sentimentalized the family, the slaveholders increasingly insisted that the families of slaves were protected against all unnecessary disruption. Thus by the standards of liberal society—the immorality of cruelty, the universal right to happiness, freedom to worship, the sanctity of the family, the productivity of labor, and the progress of civilization—southern slave society measured up.

Or so the slaveholders claimed. Northerners—enough of them, anyway—thought differently. As the relentless expansion of the slave states pushed against the equally relentless expansion of the free states, the two regions sharpened their arguments as well as their weapons. When the war came North, with more guns and more machines and more free men to put in uniform, suppressed the slaveholders' rebellion and put down slavery to boot. Thus did American slave society, wealthier and more powerful than ever, come to its violent and irreversible end.


Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Blassingame, John. W. The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South. Rev. and enl. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Chaplin, Joyce E. An Anxious Pursuit: Agricultural Innovation and Modernity in the Lower South, 1730–1815. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

Davis, David Brion. The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1966.

Dusinberre, William. Them Dark Days: Slavery in the American Rice Swamps. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Eltis, David. The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Fogel, Robert William. Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery. New York: Norton, 1989.

Genovese, Eugene D. Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. New York: Vintage, 1974.

Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Levine, Lawrence W. Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Morgan, Philip D. Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Low Country. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Morris, Thomas D. Southern Slavery and the Law, 1619–1860. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Oakes, James. The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders. New York: Knopf, 1982.

———. Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South. New York: Knopf, 1990.

Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell. American Negro Slavery: A Survey of the Supply, Employment, and Control of Negro Labor As Determined by the Plantation Regime. New York: Appleton, 1918. Reprint, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1966.

Smith, Mark. Mastered by the Clock: Time, Slavery, and Freedom in the American South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Stampp, Kenneth M. The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Antebellum South. New York: Knopf, 1956.

Tadman, Michael. Speculators and Slaves: Masters, Traders, and Slaves in the Old South. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996.


See alsoMiddle Passage ; Plantation System of the South ; Triangular Trade ; andvol. 9:Emancipation Proclamation ; Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom ; Sociology for the South ; The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It ; A House Divided ; Text of the Pro-Slavery Argument .

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The slave as outsider

Slave supply

The uses of slaves

Slaves and masters

Slavery and Marxist theory


In classical Roman law, slavery was defined asan institution “whereby someone is subject to the dominium ofanother contrary to nature” (Digest Dominium can betranslated as “power,” but the idea of property is alsoimplied. This definition may be accepted as universally applicablewithout the controversial phrase, “contrary to nature.”Distinctions then have to be drawn according to the owner (whether anindividual, a corporate institution, the state, or a god), accordingto the existence or nonexistence of certain “rights” ofthe slave (such as the claim to eventual manumission, or statutoryfreedom), and according to the social structure within which slaveryfunctioned. However, the property element remains essential. Allforms of labor on behalf of another, whether “free” or“unfree,” place the man who labors in the power ofanother; what separates the slave from the rest, including the serfor peon, is the totality of his powerlessness in principle, and forthat the idea of property is juristically the key—hence the term“chattel slave.”

For a sociological analysis, however,equal stress must be given to the slave’s deracination. Thelaw may declare him, in a formal way, powerless and rightless; one reason the law is enforceable is that he lacks anycounterweight or support, whether from a religious institution, from a kinship group, from his own state or nation, or even from other depressed groups within the society in which he has become a slave.Legally he is not a person. Yet he is a human being, and therefore a purely juristic analysis in terms of property, though necessary, isnot sufficient.

Conceptually, every man has available to him, oris denied, a bundle of rights and obligations as diverse as freedomof movement, the right to the fruits of his labor, the right to marryand establish a family, the obligation (or right) of militaryservice, the right to look after his soul. It is not normally thecase that a man possesses either all of them or none; hence the rangeand variety of personal statuses found in different societies, and,within limits, even inside a single society, are very considerable.One may speak of a spectrum of statuses between the two extremes ofabsolute rightlessness and of absolute freedom to exercise all rightsat all times (Finley 1964). The latter has never existed, nor has theformer, although the position of the slave in the American South camevery near to it. In between the two extremes, precisely as in aspectrum, there is much shading and overlapping, which the servilevocabulary reflects.

Within the spectrum there are lines ofdemarcation. Throughout most of human history, labor for others hasbeen performed in large part under conditions of dependence orbondage; that is to say, the relation between the man who works andhis master or employer rested neither on ties of kinship nor on avoluntary, revocable contract of employment, but rather on birth intoa class of dependents, on debt, or on some other precondition whichby custom and law automatically removed from the dependent, usuallyfor a long term or for life, some measure of his freedom of choiceand action. “The concept of labor as a salable commodity,apart from the person of the seller, is relatively recent in thehistory of civilization” (Lasker 1950, p. 114). In allsocieties in which dependent labor is common, regardless of thevariations within that broad class of persons, one main demarcationline is between the dependents and the others.

Slavery is aspecies of dependent labor and not the genus. Slaves were to be foundin many societies in which other kinds of dependent labor—debtbondsmen, clients, helots, serfs, Babylonian mush-kenu, Chinesek’o, Indian Sudras—were common, just as they coexisted withfree labor. However, slavery attained its greatest functionalsignificance,and usually its greatest numerical strength, insocieties in which other, less total varieties of bondage had eitherdisappeared or had never existed. The distinction is particularlysharp as between genuine slave societies—classical Greece (exceptSparta) and Rome, the American South and the Caribbean—on the onehand, and slave-owning societies as found in the ancient Near East(including Egypt), India, or China, on the other hand. Only whenslaves became the main dependent labor force was the concept ofpersonal freedom first articulated (in classical Greece), and wordswere then created or adapted to express that idea. It is literallyimpossible to translate the word “freedom” directlyinto ancient Babylonian or classical Chinese, and modern Europeanlanguages cannot render mushkenum or k’o.

The slave as outsider

Speculations about the origins of slavery have tended tooverlook the specific character of slavery within the broadercategory of dependent labor. Thus, Nieboer (1900, especially pp. 6-7,419-430) correctly stresses “division of labor” andscarce resources (including scarce manpower) as necessary conditions,but he misses the point that the needs were usually met in early andtraditional societies by such institutions as clientage or helotagerather than by slavery, as they have again been met in many areas invery modern times after the abolition of slavery (Kloosterboer 1960,chapter 14).

The slave is an outsider: that alone permits notonly his uprooting but also his reduction from a person to a thingwhich can be owned. Insiders en masse cannot be so totallytransformed; no community could survive that. Thus, free Greeks whowished to dispose of unwanted children were compelled to resort tothe fiction that they had “exposed” them (that is,abandoned them in a deserted place); the earliest Roman law codeexplicitly provided that if a Roman were subject to enslavement as apunishment, he had to be sold abroad (Levy-Bruhl 1931); Islamic lawalways laid down, and usually enforced, the rule that no born Muslimcould be enslaved.

Any hypothesis about the origins of slaverymust therefore explain how and why a given society turned tooutsiders either to supplement or to replace its existing laborforce. Supplementation on a small scale, such as the retention offemale captives, seems both very ancient and very widespread andpresents no analytical problems. But the shift to slavery in afundamental sense, as a substantial labor force employed inproduction, is a radical step. The explanations cannot be identicalin all instances, because of profound differences in thesocial structures and economic systems. However, there were alwayspresent not only a sufficient material and technical level and aconcentration of power which made possible safe procurement ofoutsiders in sufficient numbers but also the failure,unacceptability, or unavailability of other kinds of labor.

The trauma of enslavement, often entailing great physical suffering aswell as severe psychological damage, set up a chain reaction in thebehavior of both the slaves and their masters, in which the potentialor actual employment of naked force was a permanent and inescapablefactor (Elkins 1959). These behavior patterns and their underlyingpsychology were reinforced by the slave’s lack of essentialhuman ties of kin and community. Free sexual access to slaves marksthem off from all other persons as much as their juridicalclassification as property. On the other hand, not all societies wentas far as the American South in the absolute denial to the slave of ade facto family of his own. There slavery was complete, so to speak,and the slave’s deprivation was extended to the nextgeneration; he lost all control not only over his productive activitybut also over his reproduction. In consequence, being born intoslavery meant being born an outsider, too.

Prejudice. Prejudices of color, race, nationality, and religion were deeplyinvolved in slavery, not only as ideological justification but alsoas influences on its institutional development. “Slavery wasnot born of racism,” writes Williams (1944, p. 7),“rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.”However, the question must be asked whether the very idea ofenslavement could have been thought of without the extremedistinction between groups, and therefore prejudice, in which“race” in a very loose sense was the criterion. To besure, Greeks^enslaved Greeks from other city-states, for example, andreligious conversion, whether to Christianity or to Islam, did notnormally release a slave. Nor did community solidarity always preventpenal bondage from sliding into genuine slavery (Pulleyblank 1958, p.204). These are minor aberrations, however. If one could compilestatistics of the number of slaves throughout history according totheir origins, the proportion of racial, national, and religiousoutsiders would be overwhelming. Prejudice was certainly an importantfactor in the Southern American colonies when they decreed, in the1660s, that henceforth all Negroes, but no whites, who were imported should be slaves and not indentured servants.

Prejudice had itslimits, however. For example,it never interfered with sexualrelations. It allowed Portuguese officials and missionaries to condone Negro slavery in Brazil while they struggled energetically toemancipate the Amerindians (Boxer 1963, chapter 3; Davis 1966,chapter 8). Slaves drawn from culturally advanced peoples, such asthe Hellenized Syrians in Rome, were regularly employed in suchoccupations as medicine and education. The most remarkable groups ofelite slaves—the Mamelukes and Janissaries—illustrate all aspects of the slave outsider. In each generation the Mamelukes were purchasedas children outside Islam, were given a rigorous and lengthyreligious and military training, and were freed when ready formilitary service. A closed corps was thus created; their only ties were to themselves and their patron (ex-owner), and their eliteposition was not transmissible to their own children (Ayalon 1960).

Slave supply

The procurement of a continuous and numerous supply of slaves depended above all on warfare. In early and simple societies, that usually meant raids by the slave-owning society on its source of supply. Even under more advanced conditions, when societies of more or less equal power and culture adjoined eachother, regular warfare and raiding may also have been stimulated, atleast in part, by the desire for slaves. However, greater stability of supply and greater numbers were ensured in the New World and evento a considerable extent in ancient and medieval times by a more indirect link with war. Neither Portugal nor England made war regularly in Africa in order to meet the demand in the Americas for slaves. The initial act of capture was left to the Africans themselves or to so-called pirates, as it had been left in antiquity to Scythians, Phrygians, and others. In short, the active cooperationof “native” chieftains and tribesmen was critical, and equally so was the role of professional slave traders as themiddlemen.

Slave traders often appear as ambiguous figures. The Southern judge who wrote that “the calling of a slavetraderwas always hateful, odious, even among slave holders themselves” (Bancroft [1931] 1959, p. 366) was expressing one common judgment, but not the only one, for in England at the sametime “his business was a recognized road to gentility”(Davis 1966, p. 154). In all countries his financial and governmental backers and his customers were thoroughly “respectable” figures in the community, and the high value of his services wasalways acknowledged. The suggestion that for a century or more the Roman Senate made no serious effort to suppress piracy in the eastern Mediterranean is probably sound, just as there can be littledoubt about influential, though not unchallenged, support for the extensive illicit trade in slaves which followed British abolition after the Napoleonic Wars.

After warfare, breeding was the major source of supply. This is a subject on which much research remains tobe done, the results of which will probably confirm the view that nosimple generalization is possible. Certainly the often cited“law” that a slave population never reproduces itselfis fictitious. In the United States the slaves did better than that,providing a very considerable increase. The question is intimately bound up with many social and economic factors and not with supposedly necessary demographic consequences (biological orotherwise) of the slave status. At one extreme there were conditionssuch as prevailed in the silver-mining district of Athens, where theslaves were almost all males and therefore could not reproducethemselves. At the other extreme there was the systematic, profitablebreeding in the poorer regions of the American South (Conrad &Meyer 1958). In between these extremes, there was a great range ofpossibilities, conditioned by, among other things, the prevailingrules regarding the inheritance of slave status. These rules appearbewildering in their variety, but much the commonest was that thechild took the mother’s status.

The uses of slaves

Theactual numbers of slaves in any society are rarely known. TheAmerican South provides the decisive exception, and there the figuresshow an upper limit far below the often repeated exaggerations, suchas the 400,000 claimed for ancient Athens. In 1860 slightly fewerthan one-third of the population of the American slave states wereslaves. Furthermore, “nearly three-fourths of all freeSoutherners had no connection with slavery through either family tiesor direct ownership. The ’typical’ Southerner was notonly a small farmer but also a nonslaveholder” (Stampp 1956,p. 30). What counts in evaluating the place of slavery in any societyis, therefore, not absolute totals or proportions, but ratherlocation and function. If the economic and political elite dependedprimarily on slave labor for basic production, then one may speak ofa slave society. It does not matter, in such situations, whether asmany as three-fourths were not slaveholders, or whether slavery wasfairly widespread outside the elite in domestic or othernonproductive roles.

Wherever there are slaves, they will befound indomestic (and therefore also sexual) roles. Such roles havetheir own spectrum, ranging from the “drawers of water”and meanest prostitutes to domestics who were occupationally employedby their craftsmen-owners and to eunuchal grand viziers and haremfavorites. If, however, this is the social location of most of theslaves, then it must follow that other kinds of dependent (or, onoccasion, free) labor together with independent peasants andcraftsmen constitute the productive labor force. That was the case inthe ancient Near East, China, India, and medieval Europe andByzantium as well as the Islamic world of the same period, and it isstill the case in Saudi Arabia.

The economics of slavery.Slavery, then, is transformed as an institution when slaves play anessential role in the economy. Historically that has meant, in thefirst instance, their role in agriculture. Slavery has beenaccommodated to the large estate under radically differentconditions: the Roman latifundia did not practice the monoculture ofthe modern plantation, and they existed within an essentiallyprecapitalist economy. However, both types of estate produced for themarket, and they both existed alongside widespread free smallholding. That both slaves and free men did identical work wasirrelevant; what mattered was the condition of the work, or rather,on whose behalf and under what (and whose) controls it was carriedon. In slave societies hired labor was rare and slave labor the rulewhenever an enterprise was too big for a family to conduct unaided.That rule extended from agriculture to manufacture and mining, andsometimes even to commerce and finance. In this article it isimpossible to examine in detail these other uses of slaves, becauseof all the complexities involved and the extent to which they varyfrom society to society. A number of variables are involved: thepoverty of the soil, as in Athens and other Greek cities; the specialposition of a particular region within an international network ofeconomic relations, as in the American South; or the special role ofthe state as a large consumer of manufactures, as in the later Romanand Byzantine empires.

As an economic institution, slavery was“profitable"; this can be asserted with confidence, despitefrequent attempts to deny it. In the strict sense of the term, thequestion of profitability does not enter into an evaluation ofdomestic slaves, court eunuchs and concubines, or Mamelukes. Nor isthere any value in hypothetical arguments about whether or not Romansenators could have managed their latifundia even more profitablywith some other kind of labor force. They made very large fortunes for centuries on end, and there is no other way to calculatethe economics of slavery in a precapitalist society. As for theAmerican South, it can no longer be seriously questioned that slaveplantations were profitable “in a strict accountingsense” (Genovese 1965, p. 280), whatever the effects ofslavery on further economic growth within a competitive worldeconomy. In the accounting, it is important to give proper weight tothe profitability of slave breeding in the agriculturally poorerregions. In addition, there were the profits of the slave trade,which might or might not accrue to members of the slaveholdingsociety itself.

Slaves and masters

The difficulties inproperly understanding the personality and the psychology of theslave are obvious. Neither the remarks by contemporary writers(whether slaveholders or outside reporters) nor the relatively fewdocuments emanating from slaves themselves can be taken at facevalue. Yet a special slave psychology must have developed (speakingin group terms, of course). In order to survive as human beings,slaves had to adapt to their new state of deracination by developingnew psychological features and new focuses of attachment, includingtheir overseers and masters. Slave elites, whether individualoverseers or whole groups of slaves and freedmen (ex-slaves), such asthe imperial familia in Rome or the Mamelukes in Egypt, serveto exemplify how far adaptation and acceptance could be pushed undercertain conditions. The slave-type—the clever schemer of Greek andRoman comedy or the childlike, indolent, amoral Sambo familiar toAmerican literature and popular humor—is no doubt a stereotype and acaricature, but, as Elkins (1959, chapter 3) has argued, it cannot bea pure invention out of nothing.

Slave rebellions. Theslave was a “troublesome property” (Stampp 1956,chapter 3). In its most extreme form, “beingtroublesome” meant revolt, but large-scale revolt is extremelydifficult to organize and has, in fact, been a relatively rarephenomenon in the history of slavery. Throughout classical antiquitythere were only three revolts of any mark, each involving 100,000 ormore slaves, and all concentrated within the short time span of135-70 B.C. Common to all three were the presence of certainnecessary conditions, including a severe breakdown of the socialorder and the concentration of large numbers of slaves with commonnationality, language, and culture, among them men with unusualpotentialities of leadership (Vogt 1957). It is important to contrastthe ancient chattel slaves with the helots (in Sparta andelsewhere)in this respect: the latter were permanently mutinous in anorganized way, presumably because they belonged to a class ofdependent labor which retained the normal human ties of solidaritywith kin and community. The Caribbean throughout the eighteenth andearly nineteenth centuries was also an area of persistent revolt. Inthe United States, under conditions which differed above all by beingnoncolonial, not a single serious revolt ever occurred; for example,the “Turner cataclysm” of 1831 was a purely localaffair lasting a few months from its inception (with only three daysof actual fighting) and involving only some hundreds of men (Aptheker1943, chapter 12).

“Being troublesome,” in sum,usually meant something much less than outright rebellion, such asflight, sabotage, theft, and inefficiency. None of these isexpressible in quantitative terms or easy to evaluate. There isAmerican evidence to support the famous judgment of the economistCairnes (1862) that slave labor was on the lowest level of skillbecause slaves were both uneducated and uncooperative (Genovese 1965,chapter 2). On the other hand, the possibilities of“loyalty,” which is equally immeasurable, cannot beignored. In contrast to American slaves, the slaves of ancient Greeceand Rome were regularly and successfully employed in the most highlyskilled occupations. Relative mildness or harshness of treatmentcannot be a sufficient explanation of such variations, which must liedeep in the social structure and in psychology. Likewise, variationsin the practice of manumission, in the place of freedmen in thesociety, and in the accompanying psychology require complexexplanations.

Attitudes of the masters. In the ancientworld the institution of slavery was never challenged, despite thenotion that it was “contrary to nature.” No seriousargument was ever put forward for the abolition of slavery in ancientGreece and Rome (as distinct from relative liberality in freeingindividual slaves), on moral or any other grounds; this was also thecase in India, China, and the Islamic world. Nor did Christianitychange the fundamental attitude after it became the official and moreor less universal religion of both the western and eastern halves ofthe Roman Empire. Slavery declined sharply at the end of antiquity,but for reasons having nothing to do with moral ideas. Furthermore,it was in the Christian states in southern and southwestern Europethat slavery was considerably revived in the late Middle Ages(Verlinden 1955), and it was among the Christian conquerors of theNew World that it received its newest and most vigorous re-creation.Paradoxically, it was then that the most powerful andpersistent claims were put forward for the“naturalness” of slavery, with ample quotation from theBible, and that moral arguments for the abolition of slaverywere fully mustered for the first time.

The whole subject of thepsychological effects of slavery calls urgently for furtherinvestigation— from the side of the masters (including the free poorwho themselves owned no slaves) as well as from the side of theslaves. The need to be brutal, ideologically as well as physically,must have had repercussions on the master’s psyche. The easysexual access to slave women influenced all attitudes toward sex andwomen: witness the quasi-chivalric ideology of Southern womanhood.Furthermore, the identification of certain forms of physical laborwith slavery, including the essential labor in agriculture, had itseffects on the free man’s choice of employment and on hisspirit of enterprise generally. More often than not, the majority offree farmers and craftsmen, out of necessity, performed labor similarto that of the slave. Even then, however, there were subtle effectson the directions into which creative talents and energies werechanneled, and there were certain employments into which it wasextremely difficult to move the free poor when they were needed.Policy makers in underdeveloped countries are still coming up againstjust such resistance (McLoughlin 1962), although it usually followsthe abolition of forms of dependent labor other than slavery.

Slavery and Marxist theory

Marxist theory, by its very nature,has assigned a unique historical position to slavery. History isviewed as a progress through a number of stages, each geneticallydetermined within its predecessor and each founded on a particularmode of production (social relations of production), of which one isslavery. In the past half century, in particular, the way in whichhistorical analysis was enmeshed in, not to say dominated by, currentpolitical discussions produced among orthodox Marxists a rigid,universal, unilinear scheme of development in five stages: primitivecommunism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and socialism. Even theancient Near East and ancient China, it was held, were slavesocieties, and there were persistent but wholly unsuccessful effortsto discover general laws or general features common to all slavesocieties.

However, scattered through Marx’s writings downto the early 1860s there are also brief, not fully developedreferences to an “Asiatic mode of production.” His onlyattempt to examine this systematically was in one section of a bulkymanuscript written in 1857-1858 but not publisheduntil 1939-1941 andnot widely known before the 1950s. In this sophisticated account, theAsiatic mode of production is characterized as one in which there wasno private property in the land and in which a despotic governmentruled over the village communities, whose members were in a conditionof “general slavery” and who were therefore not slavesin the chattel sense at all. Publication of this work has sparked avery intense new discussion, following a hiatus of nearly ageneration (PeCirka 1964). The discussion is still in an early andfluid state, but the general trend seems clear. It is argued that thestages of evolution in European history from which the traditionalscheme was constructed do not constitute a model for world history atall but were, on the contrary, a unique development. As a corollary,the “Asiatic” mode of production has been found onother continents as well, for example in Bronze Age Greece and amongthe Incas. The place of slavery in Marxist theory thus seems to beundergoing a redefinition to fit a multilinear pattern ofdevelopment.

M. I. Finley

[See also Asian Society, article on Southeast Asia; Internment And Custody.]


No serious full-scale history of slavery exists in one book. Thehooks and articles listed here, with the bibliographies they include,cover the field quite thoroughly. For classical antiquity, Wallon 1847 is still valuable for its rich documentation. The one modernbook on antiquity, Westermann 1955, is recognized to beunsatisfactory; a better, though not systematic, introduction will befound in the 11 articles collected in Finley 1960. For the fullestsurvey of modern views since the work of David Hume, with a Marxistcritique, see Lentsman 1963, Part 1. On the historiography of American slavery, see Elkins 1959, Chapter 1, and the massiveliterature cited in the notes in Davis 1966; for the new discussioninitiated by Elkins, see Sio 1965. On the unresolved controversyabout Latin American, and especially Brazilian, slavery, see Elkins 1959 for the view that there has been considerable amelioration, ascontrasted with North American slavery, and Davis 1966, Chapter 8,for the opposing view. Summaries of current Marxist discussions ofthe “Asiatic mode of production,” with particularreference to slavery, will be found in Pecirka 1964 and Chesneaux1965, both of whom write as Marxists. An important stimulant of this discussion has been the publication of Marx 1857-1858.

Aptheker,Herbert 1943 American Negro Slave Revolts. New York: Columbia Univ.Press.

Ayalon, David 1960 Studies in Al-Jabartl. Part I: Notes onthe Transformation of Mamluk Society in Egypt Under the Ottomans.Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 3:148-174,275-325. → Provides references to Ayalon’s otherarticles on the Mamelukes.

Bancroft, Frederic (1931) 1959 SlaveTrading in the Old South. New York: Ungar.

Boxer, Charles R. 1963 Race Relations in the Portuguese Colonial Empire: 1415-1825. Oxford:Clarendon.

Browning, R. 1958 Rabstvo v vizantilskoiimperil: 600-1200 (Slavery in the Byzantine Empire: 600-1200).Vizantiiskii vremennik 14:38-55.

Buckland, William W. 1908 The Roman Law of Slavery: The Condition of the Slave in Private Law From Augustus to Justinian. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Cairnes, John E.(1862) 1863 The Slave Power: Its Character, Career, and ProbableDesigns; Being an Attempt to Explain the Real Issues Involved in theAmerican Contest. 3d ed. New York: Carleton.

Chanana, Dev Raj(1960) 1961 Slavery in Ancient India, as Depicted in Pali and Sanskrit Texts. London: Collet.

Chesneaux, Jean 1965 Ou en est ladiscussion sur le mode de production asiatique? Pensee 122:40-59.

Conrad, Alfred H.; and Meyer, John R. 1958 The Economics of Slavery in the Ante Bellum South. Journal of Political Economy66:95-130, 442-443.

Davis, David Brion 1966 The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

Elkins, Stanley M. (1959) 1963 Slavery: A Problem in AmericanInstitutional and Intellectual Life. New York: Universal Library.

Filler, Louis (1960) 1963 The Crusade Against Slavery: 1830-1860.New York: Harper.

Finley, M. I. (editor) 1960 Slavery inClassical Antiquity: Views and Controversies. Cambridge: Heffer.

Finley, M. I. 1964 Between Slavery and Freedom. ComparativeStudies in Society and History 6:233-249.

Genovese, Eugene D.1965 The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy andSociety of the Slave South. New York: Pantheon.

Hadjinicolaou-Marava, Anne 1950 Recherches sur la vie des esclavesdans le monde byzantin. Athens: L’Institut Francais.

Kurd,John C. 1858-1862 The Law of Freedom and Bondage in the UnitedStates. 2, vols. Boston: Little.

Ianni, Octavio 1962 Asmetamorfoses do escravo: Apo-geu e crise da escravatura no Brazilmeridional. Sao Paulo (Brazil): Difusao Europeia do Livro.

James,Cyril L. R. (1938) 1963 The Black Jacobins: ToussaintL’Ouverture and the Santo Domingo Revolution. 2d ed. rev. NewYork: Random House.

Kloostehboer, Willemina 1960 InvoluntaryLabour Since the Abolition of Slavery: A Survey of Compulsory LibourThroughout the World. Leiden (Netherlands): Brill.

Laskeh, Bruno1950 Human Bondage in Southeast Asia. Chapel Hill: Univ. of NorthCarolina Press.

Lentsman, Iakov A. 1963 Rabstvo v mikenskoi igom-erovskoi Gretsii (Slavery in Mycenaean and Homeric Greece).Moscow: Akademiia Nauk Sssr. → Translated into German by MariaBrauer-Pospelova as Ja. A. Lencman, Die Sklaverei im mykenischen undhomerischen Griechenland, and published in 1966 by Steiner.

Levy-Bruhl, H. (1931) 1960 Theorie de 1’esclavage. Pages151-169 in M. I. Finley (editor), Slavery in Classical Antiquity:Views and Controversies. Cambridge: Heffer. → First publishedas “Esquisse d’une theorie sociologique de1’esclavage a Rome.”

McLoucHun, Peter F. M. 1962Economic Development and the Heritage of Slavery in the SudanRepublic. Africa 32:355-391.

Marx, Karl (1857-1858) 1965Pre-capitalist Economic Formations. Edited by E. J. Hobsbawm. NewYork: International Publishers. → A partial translationofMarx’s posthumously published Grundrisse der Kritik derpolitischen Okonomie.

Mendelsohn, Isaac 1949 Slavery in theAncient Near East: A Comparative Study of Slavery in Babylonia,Assyria, Syria and Palestine; From the Middle of the Third Millenniumto the End of the First Millennium. Oxford Univ. Press.

Nieboer,Herman J. (1900) 1910 Slavery as an Industrial System: EthnologicalResearches. The Hague: Nijhoff.

Pecirka, J. 1964 Die sowjetischenDiskussionen uber die asiatische Produktionsweise und tiber dieSklaven-halterformation. Eirene: Studia graeca et latina (Prague)3:147-169.

Pokora, Timoteus 1963 Existierte in China eineSklav-enhaltergesellschaft? Archiv orientdlni 31:353-363.

Puixeyblank, E. G. 1958 The Origins and Nature of Chattel Slaveryin China. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient1:185-220.

Siegel, Bernard J. 1945 Some MethodologicalConsiderations for a Comparative Study of Slavery. AmericanAnthropologist New Series 47:357-392.

Sio, Arnold A. 1965Interpretations of Slavery: The Slave Status in the Americas.Comparative Studies in Society and History 7:289-308.

Stampp,Kenneth M. 1956 The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-bellumSouth. New York: Knopf.

Urbach, Efraim E. (1960) 1964 The LawsRegarding Slavery as a Source for Social History of the Period of theSecond Temple, the Mishnah and Talmud. Volume 1, pages 1-94 inLondon, Institute of Jewish Studies, Papers of the Institute ....Edited by J. G. Weiss. Jerusalem: Hebrew Univ., Magnes Press;distributed by the Oxford Univ. Press. → First published inHebrew in the journal Zion.

Verlinden, Charles 1955L’esclavage dans I’Europe medievale. I: Peninsuleiberique-France. Bruges (Belgium): Tempel.

Vogt, J. (1957) 1965Struktur der antiken Sklaven-kriege. Pages 20-60 in J. Vogt,Sklaverei und Hu-manitdt. Historia, Einzelschriften, Heft 8.Wiesbaden (Germany): Steiner.

Wade, Richard C. 1964 Slavery inthe Cities: The South 1820-1860. Oxford Univ. Press.

Wallon,Henri (1847) 1879 Histoire de 1’esclavage dans Vantiquite. 2ded. 3 vols. Paris: Hachette.

Westermann, William L. 1955 TheSlave Systems of Greek and Roman Antiquity. Philadelphia: AmericanPhilosophical Society.

Wilbur, Clarence M. 1943 Slavery in ChinaDuring the Former Han Dynasty: 206 B.C.-A.D. 25. Field Museum ofNatural History, Anthropological Series, Vol. 34. Chicago: TheMuseum.

Williams, Eric (1944) 1961 Capitalism and Slavery. NewYork: Russell & Russell.

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slavery, historicially, an institution based on a relationship of dominance and submission, whereby one person owns another and can exact from that person labor or other services. Slavery has been found among many groups of low material culture, as in the Malay Peninsula and among some Native Americans; it also has occurred in more highly developed societies, such as the southern United States. Since the 20th cent., the term slavery has been more broadly understood as including forced labor generally.


Although it is commonly held that slavery was rare among primitive pastoral peoples and that it appeared in full form only with the development of an agricultural economy, there are numerous instances that contradict this belief. Domestic slavery and sometimes concubine slavery appeared among the nomadic Arabs, among Native Americans primarily devoted to hunting, and among the seafaring Vikings. Some ascribe the beginnings of slavery to war and the consequent subjection of one group by another. Slavery as a result of debt, however, existed in very early times, and some African peoples have had the custom of putting up wives and children as hostages for an obligation; if the obligation was unfulfilled, the hostages became permanent slaves.

Slavery in the Ancient World

The institution of slavery extends back beyond recorded history. References to it appear in the ancient Babylonian code of Hammurabi. Its form and nature varied greatly in ancient society. It seems to have been common in the Tigris-Euphrates civilizations and in ancient Persia. It may not have been common in ancient Egypt until the New Kingdom or later, and the belief that slaves built the pyramids is probably incorrect. The institution was familiar to the ancient Hebrews, according to passages in the Bible.

Slavery was an established institution in the Greece of Homer's time, and a large portion of the population of the Greek city-states in later days were of the servile class. There were domestic slaves, agricultural slaves, and artisans and workers. In Greece, although not quite as commonly as in Asia Minor, there were also public slaves, for example, those belonging to the temples. In general it is thought that slaves in the Greek city-states were relatively well treated, and there were laws protecting them against excessive cruelty or abuse. However, the slaves were regarded as property and had no rights in courts of law. Slaves could obtain their freedom by buying it, by being granted it in the owner's will, or as a reward for outstanding service.

Slavery in early Roman history seems to have been of the same type as in Greece, but by the 1st cent. BC, as the Roman Empire continued to expand, a form of agricultural slavery called estate slavery was introduced on a wide scale; in this form agriculture was pursued by large numbers of slaves in an impersonal relationship with the landowner, who had practically absolute power over them. The increasing wealth of Rome led to an expansion in domestic slaves, and the servile class grew to great numbers. They were employed in the theater, in gladiatorial combats, and, to some extent, in prostitution. Most of the slaves were foreign, and some were highly educated and were employed as instructors. Having a large retinue of slaves became one of the prime marks of luxury, and exotic, especially Asian, slaves were in great demand. As the number of conquered provinces grew, so did the slave supply. Consequently, manumission (emancipation from slavery) was common, and freedmen became a significant factor in the Roman social system. The slave had almost no legal status, although custom mitigated against extreme brutality; the slave could testify against his or her master only in a very limited number of serious crimes (adultery, incest, and, later, lese majesty). As the Roman expansion abated, conditions of slavery improved somewhat.

Slavery after the Fall of the Roman Empire

The introduction of Christianity toward the end of the Roman Empire had no effect on the abolition of slavery, since the church at that time did not oppose the institution. However, a change in economic life set in and resulted in the gradual disappearance of the agricultural slaves, who became, for all practical purposes, one with the coloni (tenant farmers who were technically free but were in fact bound to the land by debts). This process helped prepare the way for an economy in which the agricultural slave became the serf.

The semifreedom of serfdom was the dominant theme in the Middle Ages, although domestic slavery (and, to some extent, other forms) did not disappear. The church began to encourage manumission, while ignoring the fact that many slaves were attached to church officials and church property. Sale into slavery continued to be an extreme punishment for serious crimes.

Slavery flourished in the Byzantine Empire, and the pirates of the Mediterranean continued their custom of enslaving the victims of their raids. Islam, like Christianity, accepted slavery, and it became a standard institution in Muslim lands, where most slaves were African in origin. In Islamic life, keeping slaves was largely a sign of wealth, with slaves used as soldiers, concubines, cooks, and entertainers and to perform a variety of other functions. Another form of Muslim slavery was in the eunuch guardians of the harems; eunuchs had been widely known in Greek, Roman, and especially Byzantine times, but it was among the Muslims and in East Asia that they were to survive longest. In Muslim countries, slavery and freedom had a much more fluid boundary than in the West, with some slaves and former slaves reaching positions of great power and prestige.

In Western Europe slavery largely disappeared by the later Middle Ages, although it still remained in such manifestations as the use of slaves on galleys. In Russia slavery persisted longer than in Western Europe, and indeed the serfs were pushed into the classification of slavery by Peter the Great.

Modern Slavery

A revolution in the institution of slavery came in the 15th and 16th cent. The explorations of the African coast by Portuguese navigators resulted in the exploitation of the African as a slave, and for nearly five centuries the predations of slave raiders along the coasts of Africa were to be a lucrative and important business conducted with appalling brutality. The British, Dutch, French, Spanish, and Portuguese all engaged in the African slave trade. Although Africans were, as early as 1440, brought back to Portugal, and although subsequent importations were large enough to change distinctly the ethnography of that country, it was not in Europe that African slavery was to be most profitable and widespread, but in the Americas, where European exploitation began at the end of the 15th cent.

The first people to be enslaved by the Spanish and Portuguese in the West Indies and Latin America were the Native Americans, but, because the majority of Native American slaves either revolted or escaped, other forms of forced labor, akin to serfdom, were introduced (see repartimiento and encomienda). The resistance of the Native Americans to slavery only increased the demand for Africans to replace them. Africans proved to be profitable laborers in the Caribbean islands and the lowlands of the South American mainland. In the colder highlands Native American slavery or quasi-slavery continued; long after the introduction of the first Africans the Paulistas (inhabitants of the city and state of São Paulo, Brazil) continued their slave raids against the Native Americans of the Brazilian hinterlands. But African slavery gradually became dominant.

The first Africans arrived in the British settlements on the Atlantic coast when they were traded or sold for supplies by a Dutch ship at Jamestown, Va., in 1619. They may have been indentured servants, but by the 1640s lifetime servitude existed in Virginia, and slavery was acknowledged in the laws of Massachusetts. The raising of staple crops—coffee, tobacco, sugar, rice, and, much later, cotton—and the rise of the plantation economy made the importation of slaves from Africa particularly valuable in the Southern colonies of North America. The slave trade moved in a triangle; setting out from British ports, ships would transport various goods to the western coast of Africa, where they would be exchanged for slaves. The slaves were then brought to the West Indies or to the colonies of North or South America, where they were traded for agricultural staples for the return voyage back to England. Later, New England ports were included in this last leg. The number of slaves in the colonies increased until in some (notably French Saint-Domingue, the modern Haiti) they constituted a majority of the population. In America by the date of the Declaration of Independence (1776) about one fifth of the population was enslaved.

The Antislavery Movement

The growth of humanitarian feeling during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th cent., the spread of the ideas of Jean Jacques Rousseau and others, and the increase of democratic sentiment led to a growing attack on the slave trade. The French Revolution had a great effect not only in the spread of agitation for human rights but more directly in the uprisings in Saint-Domingue and the establishment of Haitian independence. The movement for the abolition of slavery progressed slowly in the United States during the 18th and the first half of the 19th cent. Each of the Northern states gradually abolished the practice, but the prohibition of foreign slave trade promised in the Constitution (ratified in 1789) was not realized until 1808.

In Great Britain

British humanitarians who had incorporated the abolition of slavery into their conception of Christianity labored successfully to outlaw (1807) the British slave trade. These same men, especially William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Zachary Macaulay, and Lord Brougham (Henry Peter Brougham), continued to work for the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire, which was finally effected with the Abolition Act of 1833. However, according to some writers, the British, in abolishing slavery, were primarily motivated by economic, not humanitarian, interests. These critics argued that, while the institution produced great wealth under the mercantilist system, it became unprofitable with the rise of industrial capitalism, which displaced mercantilism early in the 19th cent. At any rate, the abolition legislation of 1833 was followed by the gradual abolition of slavery in all lands under British control, principally by the device of invalidating the legality of slavery and removing its legal safeguards, usually by recompensing the owners.

In the United States

Slavery proved unprofitable in the Northern states and by the early 19th cent. had disappeared. Its abolition had been hastened by the work of the Quakers, who, as in Great Britain, were staunchly opposed to the institution. In the South, however, where African slaves arrived in the tens of thousands from the late 17th through the early 18th cent., slavery came to be an integral part of the plantation system (especially after the introduction of the cotton gin in 1793). From the late 18th cent. to the eve of the Civil War, more than a million slaves were moved from the Eastern Seaboard to the Deep South, where many labored in the sugar and cotton fields and where, as pressures for profits increased, treatment of slaves was particularly brutal. The vast internal slave trade, which often tore slave families apart, was the South's second largest enterprise; only the plantation system itself surpassed it in size.

In the Northern United States, humanitarian principles led to the appearance of the abolitionists. They knew little of the actual conditions in the South and were fighting not for economic reform but for idealistic principles. The abolitionists in general tended to regard slavery as an unmitigated evil. The small Northern farmer also feared slavery as a system of cheap labor against which it was difficult to compete.

The South, eager to conserve the status quo, developed a bellicose defense of the system, which was hardened by such factors as the slave uprising led by Nat Turner, the troubles over fugitive slaves, and the very active propaganda against the South. The question, involving the very existence of Southern society as then organized, was the dominant one in U.S. history from 1830 to 1860. The political expression of the struggle was largely an attempt on the part of the South to maintain legislative guarantees of the system against the efforts of the abolitionists.

The chief question concerned the right of extension of slavery in the Western territories. This first became important in 1820 with the Missouri Compromise. Many leading statesmen of the time sought an answer: Henry Clay, the great compromiser; Daniel Webster; John C. Calhoun; Stephen A. Douglas, who proposed popular sovereignty as means to decide the free or slave status of territories; and the uncompromising antislavery men, such as Charles Sumner and William H. Seward. The great compromises—the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act—were ultimately ineffective.

Sectional opposition, which involved even broader questions than slavery, including the constitutional issue of states' rights, grew more passionate as the two sections became more and more hostile. The Ostend Manifesto and the proposed annexation of Cuba, the fugitive slave laws, the operations of the Underground Railroad, the furor caused by the Dred Scott Case, the Wilmot Proviso—all heightened the tension. Sporadic armed conflict erupted in Kansas and in the Harpers Ferry raid of John Brown. The struggle became more clearly defined as the Republican party was formed with a definite antislavery platform.

In the victory of the Republican presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln (1860), the South saw a threat to Southern institutions, and the Southern states in an effort to secure those institutions resorted to secession and formed the Confederacy. The Civil War followed, and the victory of the North brought an end to slavery in the United States. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (issued in 1863, it declared all slaves in the Southern secessionist states free) was followed by other legislation, especially the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

The end of the Civil War did not result in the integration of the former slaves into American life. Although there were gains toward this under Reconstruction, these were subsequently reversed by the Jim Crow laws. Generally easily identified by the color of their skin, African Americans were subjected to segregation and other forms of discrimination practiced by most white Americans and legislated in many jurisdictions. This situation did not begin to be ameliorated until the civil-rights struggles of the 20th cent. (see civil rights; integration).

In the late 20th cent. the idea of compensating American blacks for their enslavement through some form of reparations won widespread support from African-American organizations and greater notice, although little support, from the broader society. The reparations movement was spurred in part by payments to Holocaust victims, to Japanese Americans interned during World War II, and to some Native American tribes. Unlike these groups, however, reparations for slavery would be paid to individuals who are descendants by several generations of the victims, instead of to the victims or to a tribal people. Supporters of reparations, however, argue that contemporary African Americans continue to suffer from the vestiges of slavery and the discrimination that followed emancipation.

In Other Countries

In other countries emancipation of slaves was also a serious problem, but never to such an extent as in the United States, chiefly perhaps because the question of race prejudice was nowhere else so important. As the South American nations gained independence, they broadened their democratic principles to include absolute prohibition of slavery (Chile in 1823, Central America in 1824, Mexico in 1829, and Bolivia in 1831) or gradual emanicpation (Argentina in 1813, Colombia in 1814, and Venezuela in 1821). In Brazil the opposition of the planters to abolishing slavery was strong, and it was only after a series of rather ineffective measures that the slaves were emancipated in 1888. Opposition to that action helped to launch the revolution of 1889.

In later years the slave trade was conducted on the east coast of Africa, the market being in Muslim lands. Most antislavery efforts during the 19th cent. were directed against slave trading. Great Britain had passed antislave-trade laws in 1807 and 1811; the British attempted to enlist other nations in an effort to stop the slave trade, and several treaties for such a purpose were signed in the 1840s. However, the first important international agreement was not reached until the Berlin Conference in 1885, which bound the more important Muslim potentates to act against the slave traffic. This was supplemented by the even more significant Brussels Act of 1890, to which 18 states were signatory.

The emperor of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) was unable to prevent traffic from that land to Arabia, and a brisk trade went on over the Red Sea. International scandals occurred from time to time with regard to forced labor; three notable ones concerned the Congo, Liberia, and the Putumayo region of Peru in the 1930s (Native American servitude). The League of Nations adopted the resolutions of the International Slavery Convention of 1926, which was considered an advance over the Brussels Act of 1890; its main weakness was in not providing a permanent commission to oversee the total abolition of slavery. Slavery continued to exist in parts of Asia, the Middle East, and, despite increasingly successful efforts to abolish it, in various parts of Africa.

The United Nations has continued the efforts of the League of Nations to achieve worldwide abolition of slavery. The Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly in 1948, contained a provision prohibiting slavery or trading in slaves. The Security Council in 1954 condemned systems of forced labor, particularly those employed as a means of political coercion. In 1956 a UN conference of plenipotentiaries adopted a convention on the abolition of slavery; an important aspect of the convention was the inclusion of other institutions similar to slavery as practices to be abolished. However, a report prepared for the United Nations in 1966 charged that slavery still existed in parts of Africa and Asia.

Although efforts to end involuntary servitude continued throughout the last half of the 20th cent., by the beginning of the 21st cent. forms of slavery, forced, or bonded labor still persisted in a number of countries, e.g., Mauritania, Niger, and Sudan in Africa, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand, and parts of the Persian Gulf region in Asia, and the Amazon region of Brazil. More isolated instances have been occasionally revealed elsewhere, e.g., involving Asian immigrants in the United States. In many cases of forced labor, workers have been deceptively recruited in their home countries and then deprived of their passports and forced to work under altered contractual terms once they have arrived in a foreign country.


See W. E. B. Du Bois, The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638–1870 (1896, repr. 1970); A. H. Abel, The Slaveholding Indians (3 vol., 1915–25; repr. 1970); R. H. Barrow, Slavery in the Roman Empire (1928, repr. 1968); U. B. Phillips, Life and Labor in the Old South (1929, repr. 1963); W. L. Westermann, Upon Slavery in Ptolemaic Egypt (1929); W. L. Mathieson, British Slavery and Its Abolition, 1823–1838 (1926, repr. 1967), Great Britain and the Slave Trade, 1839–1865 (1929, repr. 1967), and British Slave Emancipation, 1838–1849 (1932, repr. 1967); E. Donnan, ed., Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America (4 vol., 1930–35; repr. 1965); G. MacMann, Slavery through the Ages (1938); R. Coupland, The Exploitation of East Africa, 1856–1890: The Slave Trade and the Scramble (1939, repr. 1968); I. E. Edwards, Towards Emancipation: A Study in South African Slavery (1942); E. Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (1944, repr. 1964); Fisk Univ., Social Science Institute, Unwritten History of Slavery: Autobiographical Account of Negro Ex-Slaves (1945, repr. 1970); G. Freyre, The Masters and the Slaves: A Study in the Development of Brazilian Civilization (tr. 1946; 2d ed. 1956, repr. 1963); I. Mendelsohn, Slavery in the Ancient Near East (1949); K. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South (1956); C. W. W. Greenidge, Slavery (1958); M. I. Finley, ed., Slavery in Classical Antiquity (1960, repr. 1968); S. O'Callaghan, The Slave Trade Today (1962); D. P. Mannix, Black Cargoes: A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1518–1865 (with M. Cowley, 1962); J. Williamson, After Slavery (1965); D. B. Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (1966), The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770–1823 (1975), and The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation (2014); A. Zilversmidt, The First Emancipation: The Abolition of Slavery in the North (1967); S. M. Elkins, Slavery (2d ed. 1968); A. Weinstein, ed., American Negro Slavery: A Modern Reader (1968); L. Foner and E. D. Genovese, ed., Slavery in the New World (1969); D. L. Robinson, Slavery in the Structure of American Politics, 1765–1820 (1970); R. S. Starobin, Industrial Slavery in the Old South (1970); J. Coughtry, The Notorious Triangle (1971); A. J. Lane, ed., The Debate over Slavery (1971); R. W. Winks, Slavery: A Comparative Perspective (1972); R. Fogel and S. Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (1974); E. D. Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974); J. A. Rawley, The Transatlantic Slave Trade (1981); E. Fox-Genovese, Within the Plantation Household (1988); C. B. Dew, Bond of Iron (1994); H. Thomas, The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440–1870 (1997); P. D. Morgan, Slave Counterpoint (1998); K. Bales, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy (1999); J. H. Franklin and L. Schweninger, Runaway Slaves (1999); R. L. Paquette and L. A. Ferleger, ed., Slavery, Secession, and Southern History (2000); R. Segal, Islam's Black Slaves: The Other Black Diaspora (2001); I. Berlin, Many Thousands Gone (1998) and Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves (2003); A. Hochschild, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves (2005); S. Deyle, Carry Me Back (2005); E. Fox-Genovese and E. D. Genovese, The Mind of the Master Class (2005); S. Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (2006); D. A. Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (2008); Y. Rotman, Byzantine Slavery and the Mediterranean World (2009); S. Drescher, Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (2009); G. W. Van Cleve, A Slaveholders' Union: Slavery, Politics, and the Constitution in the Early American Republic (2010); D. Eltis and D. Richardson, Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (2010); H. Zinn, The Other Civil War: Slavery and Struggle in Civil War America (2011); J. Oakes, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861–1865 (2012); W. Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (2013); E. E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (2014); D. B. Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation (2014); R. S. Dunn, A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia (2014); G. Grandin, The Empire of Necessity (2014).

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It has been common for many generations to begin essays on American slavery by noting how commonplace slavery is: It is sanctioned in the Old Testament and has appeared in some form throughout recorded human history, from ancient Egypt to the capture and enslavement of European Christians by Muslims in the Middle Ages to the present. Writers also commonly note that slavery existed in Africa, that Africans sold other Africans into slavery, andthough this is a relatively recent addition to the stock essaythat western Europeans ended slavery in a relatively short compass, from about the time of the American Revolution, when northern states began to adopt abolition statutes, through the 1860s.

All of this is true. However, the emphasis has important political implications. For that picture of slavery makes it look natural. It employs the everybody does it argument to demystify a practice of immense horror. In fact, those arguments were employed with great facility by proslavery thinkers to justify the continuation of the institution. During debates over the Fugitive Slave Act, Senator John Bell of Kentucky said that slavery has been contributing in a hundred various forms and modes, through a period of thousands of years, to the amelioration of the condition of mankind generally, though sometimes abused and perverted, as all human institutions, even those of religion, are (U.S. Congress 1850, 1105).

Senator Bell (who ran unsuccessfully for president of the United States in 1860) found that slavery was still contributing to advance the cause of civilization through, if you please, having its origins in individual cupidity, still mysteriously working out a general good (U.S. Congress 1850, 1105). He went so far as to reason from there that slavery was not inconsistent with Gods law.

Moreover, saying that every society engaged in slavery is misleading. The nature of African American slavery was different in kind from slavery in many other societies. This is frequently lost on those who seek to make African American slavery look commonplace and thus minimize the nature of the harm. Grecian and Roman slavery was nonracial and temporary, for example. The children of people enslaved in one generation might rise to the ranks of free people, and slaves were incorporated into the society more generally.

It is now becoming more common to emphasize other parts of the institution of slavery that resulted in the forced migration of 11 million people to America, nearly one-half million of whom came to English-speaking North America from the seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries. (The importation of slaves into the United States was outlawed in 1808, although some people were imported illegally after that.) The institution built on centuries of European experience with slavery. Slavery survived in parts of Spain through the 1500s; soon slavery spread to Spains colonies in America. In fact, in 1495 Columbus brought 500 Native American slaves back to Spain. But there were important differences. The slavery that developed in the Americas was brutally violent and perpetual. Slaves were often isolated from free people and left with no hope of having even their children escape from slavery.

The institution was revived and expanded in light of extraordinary needs for labor. Violence permeated it, including the forced separation of families, wars of conquest in Africa encouraged by the European market for humans, the middle passage to America, and brutalization on plantations in America.


Many historians debate the origins of slavery: in European practices such as slavery in Spain in the 1400s, in a legal tradition that stretched back to Roman law, in cultural patterns that encompassed slavery in the Old Testament, in economic needs, and in race prejudices. The legal traditions came largely from Spainand through Spanish law, from Roman law. European-imposed slavery came ashore in the West Indies in the late 1400s and early 1500s, then spread from the Caribbean to the mainland. Historians have spent much time trying to discern how and when slavery came to British North America. The first black people brought to Virginia in the 1620s seem to have had a status similar to that of indentured servitude, where they worked for a limited period of time and then became free. But by the 1660s, it appears that a system of inherited slavery had emerged in Virginia and elsewhere in mainland British North America. Childrens status followed that of their mothers, so the offspring of slave mothers were also slaves. The best answer as to why appears to be that a combination of economic interests, racism, and cultural practices created the American slave system. And while race lies at the center of the institution of slavery, not all blacks were slaves. No whites were slaves, either.

And yet the human spirit longed to be free, even as the system of slavery grew in British North America and statutory laws grew up around it. In 1739 the Stono Rebellion took place along the coast of South Carolina. Something like sixty slaves began the rebellion by stealing weapons along the Stono River. In the wake of the rebellion, the statutory law of South Carolina became harsher and working conditions deteriorated. Shortly afterward, in 1741, there was an alleged plot by slaves in New York City, where 10 percent of the population was enslaved. The extent of the plot remains in dispute, but more than two dozen slaves were executed in the aftermath.


Even as the slave population and the importance of slavery as a labor system were increasing, many in British North America began thinking in the Enlightenments terms of a universal right to freedom. American revolutionists gave consideration to the terms of slavery. In a draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson included the slave trade as one of the offenses of the English Crown, but that indictment was subsequently removed. Like the delegates to the Continental Congress, Americans at the time of the Revolution were more generally unwilling to act on antislavery values. One of the great paradoxes of American history is the question of how Americans could fight a war based on the idea of freedom while still maintaining slavery. Or, in the words of Dr. Samuel Johnson, How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?

There was, then, in the ideology of republicanism popular in early Americathat conjunction of faith in widely spread property holdings, independence from economic dependency, and political independence as wella strange relationship with slavery. Harriet Beecher Stowe drew out the contradiction in her 1852 novel Uncle Toms Cabin when a boy beat his slave. The boys uncle asked whether that was consistent with the republican principle that men are born free and equal. The boys father said that the phrase was

[o]ne of Tom Jeffersons pieces of French sentiment and humbug. Its perfectly ridiculous to have that going the rounds among us, to this day. we can see plainly enough that all men are not born free, nor born equal; they are born anything else. For my part, I think half this republican talk sheer humbug. It is the educated, the intelligent, the wealthy, the refined, who ought to have equal rights and not the canaille. (Stowe 1852, p. 74)

Such an exchange pointed out one of the abolitionists arguments: that slaveholders cared little for the equality of anyone, white or black. Some abolitionists argued, instead, that the slavery of Africans was but a step on the way to further inequality.

Historian Edmund Morgans 1975 book, American Slavery, American Freedom, takes up the paradox of Americans claims for freedom in the Revolution and their concomitant respect for slavery. His answer is that slavery provided the social and intellectual setting for whites freedom. In essence, slaves made it economically possible for white men to have democracy. Moreover, the presence of slavery alerted white men to how awful servitude might beand thus led them to be vigilant in the protection of their rights. This draws in some ways from the insight of South Carolina senator James Henry Hammond, who spoke in 1858 about slaves as the mudsill class who made white freedom and equality possible. Though Hammond turned to this argument as a basis for continuing slavery, later historians have used his theory for insight into the nature of political ideology and slavery. In essence, they looked to Hammond to decode why slavery, so inconsistent with the American language of freedom, had such a powerful hold on the minds of white men.


In the aftermath of the American Revolution, the institution of slavery grew in popularity in the United States, even as the movement opposing slavery also grew. In the northern states, gradual abolition plans began the process of ending slavery. For example, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania passed statutes that would emancipate slaves born afterward, following a period of apprenticeship. The statutes also freed slaves brought into the states. Thus, by about the middle of the nineteenth century, no more slaves would live in those states; those who were enslaved prior to the enactments would have died, and the others would have been freed. One effect of this was to encourage owners to sell their slaves to southern states, where they and their children would continue to be slaves.

The Enlightenment continued to have some adherents. Thomas Jefferson noted in 1784 in his Notes on the State of Virginia that The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submission on the other. I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever (Jefferson 1984, pp. 288-289). Events elsewhere also contributed to the debate over slavery. In Haiti, Enlightenment ideas and the human impulses to resist slavery led to a revolution among the half-million slaves in 1791, which resulted by 1803 in the end of slavery in Haiti. The free black state was close to alone in the world; the United States would not receive an ambassador from Haiti or even recognize Haiti. The revolution included extraordinary violence. Hundreds of whites died; some white refugees fled from Haiti to South Carolina, where they provided living reminders of what might happen in a slave society. The United Kingdom ended slavery in its colonies in 1833, at a great financial cost, following decades of abolitionist agitation.


There remains substantial question about the origins of antislavery sentiments. They grew in conjunction with the development of the market economy, which has led some historians to ask, What is the relationship between capitalism and abolitionism? One might think at first that there is some tension, in that the institution of slavery seems to have been a fairly effective way of obtaining (relatively) inexpensive labor. Anyone wondering about how important slavery was in the development of the southern agricultural economy might perform a simple experiment: Spend an afternoonjust an afternoonworking in a field in Alabama in July. Then ask, would anyone perform this kind of labor unless forced to do so?

However, the market economy seems to have had a positive effect on antislavery sentiments; in part it made people aware of their fellow humans, in part it led to competition with free labor. Thus, free laborers had both sentimental and economic reasons for opposing slavery. That did not necessarily mean that white voters always welcomed the idea of recently freed slaves living in their community; but for reasons of self-interest, they often had a desire to end slavery. In these cases, the economic interests of many voters merged with the humanitarian sentiments of others to give strength to the antislavery cause, even as proponents of property rights in the South clung tightly to the institution.

One might also consider that Adam Smith was the author of an important treatise, Theory of Moral Sentiments, as well as The Wealth of Nations. As the market economy led the way for the development of middle-class sentiments that recognized the need for promotion of humanity (Harriet Beecher Stowes Uncle Toms Cabin is a prominent example here), it also led the way for economic competition by free workers with slavery. The Republican Partys slogan in the 1850s, for example, was Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men.

W. E. B. Du Bois discussed this in his 1935 book Black Reconstruction, one of the most important works ever written on slavery and its aftermath. The book was an important corrective to the then-dominant school of historical scholarship that relegated slavery to the sidelines in the discussion of the Civil War and that decried the domination of the South by corrupt and lawless Yankees and blacks during Reconstruction. Du Bois dealt with the differing meanings of slavery for white workersthe impact of slave labor on driving down wages, as well as the presence of free black workers in driving down wages. Du Bois wrote, for example, that white immigrants blamed blacks for the cheap price of labor. The result was race war; riots took place which were at first simply the flaming hostility of groups of laborers fighting for bread and butter (Du Bois 1935, p. 18). Du Bois pointed out the complex relationship between white workers and slaves and free blacks, which made it sometimes difficult to tell how voters would define and express their preferences.


In the United States there was other action. Congress outlawed the importation of slaves from outside the United States in 1808 (the earliest date permitted under the Constitution). That had the effect of increasing the prices of enslaved people and also encouraging better treatment because of their increased value. The controversy over the extension of slavery to newly acquired territories continued as well. The Northwest Ordinance of 1789 had prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territory (including Ohio and Michigan), which Virginia had ceded to the United States. Southern states worried that if free states were admitted, the South would gradually lose political power. In 1820, Congress passed the Missouri Compromise, which prohibited slavery in territories north of Missouris southern border. For a while that contained discord over slavery. Thomas Jefferson wrotewith great foresightabout the compromise that this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. He predicted that although sectional divisions over slavery were quelled for the time being, a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper (Ford 1904-1905, vol. 12, pp. 158-160).

Subsequent events proved Jefferson correct. By the early 1830s, the politics of slavery grew more divisive. Nat Turners August 1831 rebellion in southern Virginia led to the deaths of at least fifty-five white peopleand to a serious debate in the Virginia legislature about a gradual abolition plan. The plan failed, narrowly; in other southern states, there was growing reluctance even to discuss the possibility of termination of slavery. In 1835, when abolitionists attempted to use the U.S. mail to deliver abolitionist literature, southern states further closed ranks. After 1835, there was little serious antislavery talk in the South; the nation was on a course toward Civil War and then, emancipation.

After 1835, southern congressmen imposed the gag rule, which prohibited discussion of the abolition of slavery (or even the receipt of abolitionist petitions) in Congress. Southerners seem to have made an already degrading slavery harsher as well, for instance, by taking seriously statutes prohibiting the teaching of slaves how to read and by generally policing slaves more closely than they had before. Moreover, in the nineteenth century southern states moved to make emancipation of slaves harder and in some cases to require them to leave the states shortly after receiving freedom. College professors in southern institutions wrote important proslavery tracts, including Thomas R. Dew of William and Mary, Albert Taylor Bledsoe of the University of Virginia, R. H. Rivers of Alabama Wesleyan College (now the University of North Alabama), and William Smith of Randolph Macon College. Staples of the proslavery argument were that slavery was ubiquitous in history and that slave societies profited greatly from the institution. They concluded that slavery was not a drag on society but a principle cause of civilization. Moreover, they argued that economic and social stability required slavery. They pointed to Haiti and suggested the dangers to white society from the abolition of slavery.

In 1850, Congress again passed a comprehensive compromise (known as the Compromise of 1850) that, among other things, required northern states to assist in the return of fugitive slaves. But that could not settle the issue for long. The Supreme Court invalidated the Missouri Compromise in 1857 in the Dred Scott case, as it attempted to install southern constitutional thinking on slavery as the law of the land. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln won election, and shortly thereafter South Carolina, fearing for the future viability of slavery, seceded. Other southern states followed and the Civil War began in 1861. During the secession discussions, southern politicians frequently spoke about the importance of preservation of slavery, and some advocated the reopening of the slave trade.


Slavery was present in Spanish and French America, as well as in English-speaking America. In Spanish and French America, unlike English-speaking America, there seems to have been intermarriage between owners and slaves, and slaves seem to have had more formal legal protection. That has led to much discussion of whether the slave systems of Spanish and French America were more benign than in English-speaking America. There was, as many have pointed out, extraordinary violence in the slave systems throughout the Americas. After the Civil War finally ended slavery throughout the nation in 1865, slavery continued for a few more years in other parts of the Americas. Brazil finally ended slavery in 1888, which marked its termination in the Americas.

SEE ALSO American Revolution; Cox, Oliver C.; Declaration of Independence, U.S.; Engerman, Stanley; Fogel, Robert; Freedom; Haitian Revolution; Human Rights; Jefferson, Thomas; Liberation Movements; Liberty; Lincoln, Abraham; Liverpool Slave Trade; Migration; Race; Racial Classification; Racism; Republicanism; Revolution; Slave Mode of Production; Slave-Gun Cycle; Smith, Adam; Social Movements; Stigma; U.S. Civil War; Williams, Eric


Davis, David Brion. 2006. Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World. New York: Oxford University Press.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1935. Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. New York: Russell and Russell.

Ford, Paul Leicester, coll. and ed. 1904-1905. The Works of Thomas Jefferson. Vol. 12. New York and London: G. P. Putnams Sons.

Gross, Ariela. 2000. Double Character: Slavery and Mastery in the Antebellum Southern Courtroom. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Harris, Leslie. 2003. In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Jefferson, Thomas. 1984. Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. Merrill D. Peterson. New York: Library of America, Literary Classics of the United States.

Jordan, Winthrop. 1968. White over Black: American Attitudes Towards the Negro, 1550-1812. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Morgan, Edmund S. 1975. American SlaveryAmerican Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. New York: Norton.

Roediger, David. 1991. The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. London and New York: Verso.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. 1852. Uncle Toms Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly. Boston: John P. Jewett.

Tannenbaum, Frank. 1947. Slave and Citizen: The Negro in the Americas. New York: Knopf.

U.S. Congress. 1850. Congressional Globe, 31st Cong., 1st sess., July 6.

Watson, Alan. 1989. Slave Law in the Americas. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Williams, Eric. 1994. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Alfred L. Brophy

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Slave-Gun Cycle

Slave-Gun Cycle


For the first two centuries of European trade in western Africa (roughly 1441 to 1650), gold was the main product of trade. But as demand for slave labor in the Americas expanded following the phenomenal growth of plantation agriculture and mining from the seventeenth century, European demand in western Africa shifted decisively from gold and other products to captives, leading to the transportation of millions of Africans for enslavement in the Americas between the 1650s and the 1860s. The impact of this trade in captives on African societies has been debated since the late eighteenth centuryfirst, between the abolitionists and the slave traders and, later, among modern historians. One contested issue is the role of the trade in the scale and frequency of wars in western Africa between the 1650s and the 1860s. This is the context for the notion of the slave-gun cycle that guns were employed in wars that generated captives for export, the proceeds from which were employed to buy more guns to fight more wars that generated more captives. Historians disagree on the quantity of firearms imported during the period and their contribution to the scale and frequency of wars. This entry examines the issue of quantity and the linkages to war. It argues that the linkages presented by both sides of the debate appear to be simplistic. A combination of new evidence and a more complex analysis sheds more light on the subject.

Because of inadequate evidence and the difficulty of interpreting what is available, quantifying various aspects of the transatlantic slave trade is fraught with controversy. An estimate based on a variety of British recordsmerchants private papers, customs records, and parliamentary papersputs the mean total annual import into western Africa from all regions of the Atlantic basin at between 300,000 and 400,000 guns in the second half of the eighteenth century (Inikori 1977). Other estimates based on more limited archival sources are smaller190,000 for the 1780s; 140,000 for the 1820s; about 200,000 for the 1860s (Eltis and Jennings 1988).

The debate on the contribution of imported guns to the scale and frequency of wars in western Africa during the era of the transatlantic slave trade has been conducted largely within short time periods with all of western Africa taken as a unit of study. This methodology conceals information that region-specific study covering long time periods reveals. This entry, therefore, takes the major sub-regions of western Africa involved in the transatlantic slave trade, comprised of the Gold Coast (modern southern Ghana), the Bight of Benin (modern Togo, Republic of Benin, and southwest Nigeria), the Bight of Biafra (southeastern Nigeria and southern Cameroon), and West-Central Africa (the area from modern Gabon to modern Angola); discusses changes in the commodity composition of their imports from the early years of their trade with the Europeans; and combines the information with other relevant evidence. The Gold Coast and West-Central Africa began significant trading with the Europeans early in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; the Bights of Benin and Biafra came in relatively late during the middle decades of the seventeenth century. For this reason, British records employed in the analysis provide better coverage for the commodities imported into the Bights of Benin and Biafra in the early years.

For the Bight of Benin, cowries (sea shells employed in local trade as all-purpose currency) overwhelmingly dominated the imports in the seventeenth century, being consistently more than one-half of the total value of imports before the last decade of the century. The invoices show no firearms, again, until the last decade of the century. From the latter period, the volume and ratio of imported cowries declined continuously, while that of firearms rosefrom approximately 3 percent in 1690/1692 to 9 percent in 1724. In the Bight of Biafra, copper rods, weighing about one pound each (employed in local trade as all-purpose currency), constituted about two-thirds of the total value of imports in most years between the 1660s and 1680s. In most years from the 1660s to 1690s, there were no firearms at all in the invoices; the ratio of firearms in the invoices for 1661 and 1662 is approximately 7 percent each. Like the Bight of Benin, currency imports declined over the eighteenth century, while firearms increasedfrom approximately 3 percent in 1701 to 40 percent in 1790. From 1827 to 1839, firearms imported into both regions ranged between 21 percent and 35 percent of total imports, and 14 to 18 percent from 1840 to 1850. During these twenty-four years (with data unavailable for 1844), a total of 1.2 million guns were imported into the two regions from Britain alone, the bulk of which went to Yorubaland, where European traders choice of Lagos as their headquarters in the late eighteenth century and the collapse of the Oyo Empire in the early nineteenth century led to almost a hundred years of wars (Inikori 1992).

Detailed study of imports into the Gold Coast and West-Central Africa in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries is yet to be conducted. However, a Portuguese gold trade ledger for Elmina (Gold Coast), covering 1529 to 1531, shows that metals (without guns) made up 50 percent of imports and cloth 25 percent; no firearms were imported. From the seventeenth century, firearms flooded into the Gold Coast and West-Central Africa, at a time when the Bights of Benin and Biafra hardly imported any firearms.

When the import data is combined with other evidence, we get a much clearer linkage between imported firearms and wars in western Africa during the transatlantic slave trade era. There is clear evidence showing that local and interregional long-distance trade was expanding in western Africa (the geographical region from Mauritania to Namibia), especially West Africa (the political region from Mauritania to Nigeria), at the time Europeans arrived in the mid-fifteenth century. The early European trade in African products, particularly gold, further stimulated the ongoing trade expansion. Cowries and copper rods were already all-purpose currencies in the pre-European trade. The proportionately large import of these currencies in the early decades of European trade is a reflection of the growing local demand for currency to meet the needs of the expanding local and interregional trade. The low demand for firearms in the early years of European trade shown by the commodity composition is, again, a reflection of the general prevalence of peaceful conditions in the kin-based small-scale polities on the coast and in the hinterland. The minor skirmishes that broke out occasionally between neighbors were brief in duration, and prisoners (if any) were ransomed at the end (Meillassoux 1991, p. 33). For as long as European demand was overwhelmingly dominated by African products, the situation remained largely unchanged.

The massive shift of European demand from products to captives changed everything. As individuals and groups of bandits engaged in kidnapping and raids within polities and across political boundaries in response to growing export demand for captives, the small polities were unable to maintain law and order within, while raids across political boundaries provoked wars between neighbors, wars whose scale and consequences increased considerably. These wars disrupted the preceding interregional trade and shifted demand from currency to firearms. Initially, therefore, the wars were not caused by the import of firearms. The shift of European demand from products to captives was the main cause. However, in due course, the massive import of firearms and their distribution among bandits created conditions that fueled the wars and made them endemic. Because exporting captives provided virtually the only access to firearms, given the nature of European demand, polities in conflict were compelled to sell captives for export, which by itself provoked retaliation and continuation of hostility. On the other hand, the sale of war captives in exchange for firearms made war self-financing, which helped to prolong wars. All these developments were experienced by virtually all the polities in western Africa from Senegambia to Angola at different points in time between 1450 and 1850.

A combination of import data and other evidence thus makes it clear that the slave-gun cycle notion, as often employed in the literature, is simplistic. So, too, is the attempt to distinguish between economic and political causes of war during the Atlantic slave trade period. In the main, the wars were political in nature, but were caused largely by the political complications arising from the actions of individuals and groups of bandits responding to the growing export demand for captives, in the first instance (Inikori 1992, pp. 25-39). Given the small size and the politico-military weakness of the polities on the coast and in the hinterland when the Europeans arrived in the mid-fifteenth century, comparative arguments based on the ratio of imported firearms to population (Eltis and Jennings 1988) are not well-founded. Also erroneous is the argument that Europeans and their firearms made no difference to the wars of the slave trade era because before the arrival of Europeans political leaders in western Africa were regularly engaged in wars for the accumulation of slaves as a form of wealth owing to land laws that prevented private accumulation of land and capital as wealth (Thornton 1992). Linguistic and other evidence from West-Central Africa (Hilton 1985; Vansina 1989) and archival and oral evidence from other regions show that the largely kin-based polities on the coast and in the hinterland, and even the Kongo kingdom in West-Central Africa, were not engaged in slave gathering wars in the fifteenth century, and they had no accumulated slaves for domestic use or for sale when the Europeans arrived. A few captives were being exported across the Sahara at the time, but that trade was centered in the interior savanna; most coastal polities and their hinterlands were not involved. What is more, the evidence shows unambiguously that there were no legal barriers to the private investment of capital in land and agriculture when market conditions were appropriate. Finally, wars continued in western Africa for some decades after the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in the mid-nineteenth century because the conditions for sociopolitical conflict created by the export demand for captives continued to exist even after abolition.


Eltis, David, and Lawrence C. Jennings. 1988. Trade Between Western Africa and the Atlantic World in the Pre-Colonial Era. American Historical Review 93 (4): 936-959.

Hilton, Anne. The Kingdom of Kongo. 1985. Oxford: Clarendon.

Inikori, Joseph E. 1977. The Import of Firearms into West Africa, 1750 to 1807: A Quantitative Analysis. Journal of African History 18 (3): 339-368.

Inikori, Joseph E. 1992. The Chaining of a Continent: Export Demand for Captives and the History of Africa South of the Sahara, 1450-1870. Kingston, Jamaica: Institute of Social and Economic Research.

Inikori, Joseph E. 1996. Slavery in Africa and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In The African Diaspora, eds. Alusine Jalloh and Stephen Maizlish, 39-72. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.

Inikori, Joseph E. 2002. The Development of Entrepreneurship in Africa: Southeastern Nigeria During the Era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In Black Business and Economic Power, eds. Alusine Jalloh and Toyin Falola, 41-79. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Inikori, Joseph E. 2003. The Struggle against the Transatlantic Slave Trade: The Role of the State. In Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies, ed. Sylviane A. Diouf, 170-198. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Meillassoux, Claude. 1991. The Anthropology of Slavery: The Womb of Iron and Gold. Trans. Alide Dasnois. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Thornton, John. 1992. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1680. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Vansina, Jan. 1989. Deep-Down Time: Political Tradition in Central Africa. History in Africa 16: 341-362.

Wilks, Ivor. 1977. Land, Labour, Capital, and the Forest Kingdom of Asante: A Model of Early Change. In The Evolution of Social Systems, eds. John Friedman and M. J. Rowlands, 487-534. London: Duckworth.

Joseph E. Inikori

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Slavery is possibly the most ubiquitous of all human institutions. It has existed in most times and most places, and few peoples have not, at various times, been either the enslaved or the enslavers. While slavery has generally been coerced, the result of war capture or kidnapping, in periods of low and variable levels of agricultural output slavery has been entered into voluntarily, people choosing survival ahead of freedom. Slavery has almost always been a status reserved to those, both males and females, considered outsiders to the enslaving society, but the definition of the outsider has varied over time and place. It has been based on nationality, ethnicity, religion, race, or membership in a different tribal or clan group. Individuals who are considered outsiders have a different legal status and can be subject to different treatment and punishments from those considered members of the enslaving society, who will not become slaves, whatever their treatment in other regards.

Slavery is regarded as one end of a spectrum that includes different forms of coerced labor, including serfdom, indentured labor, debt bondage, and "wage slavery," in contrast with so-called free labor. Slavery is characterized legally as including the right to buy and sell the enslaved and to have control over where the slave will reside and the nature of his or her labor. As a legal system it is enforced by the government or the elites, and this enforcement is central to its continuity, since it precludes one individual bidding slaves away from their owner as well as ensuring that runaway slaves will be returned to their owners. These legal rights are given slave owners and create an unbalanced power relationship, with psychological impacts upon the enslaved; these rights do not mean, however, that nominally free labor need be treated better or have a higher material standard of living than do slaves. If there are limited choices of work and residence due to poverty, the dramatic legal difference may seem more limited in its consequences in actuality.

The work performed by slave labor varied among slavery societies, and in several societies slave women served as concubines or objects for the sexual pleasure of the enslavers and not just as agricultural or industrial workers. In the extensive debate about the relative efficiency of free versus slave labor in agriculture, the expected benefits described for free labor included both the greater incentives of free labor compared to a slave system that presumably had no incentives and the greater need for free labor to work hard to avoid starvation, whereas slaves could be supported by their owners.


Most religions generally considered that slaves be well treated and that, if possible, manumission into freedom was desirable. This did not mean, however, that the existence of the slave system was placed under attack. The first major attack on slavery as a system originated in England in the late eighteenth century, and this attack spread to other western European nations

Region Numbers (in thousands) Percentage
British Mainland North America 361.1 3.8%
British Leewards 304.9 3.2%
British Windwards and Trinidad 362.0 3.8%
Jamaica 1077.1 11.2%
Barbados 494.2 5.1%
French Windwards 305.2 3.2%
St. Domingue 787.4 8.2%
Spanish American Mainland 430.3 4.5%
Spanish Caribbean 791.9 8.2%
Dutch Caribbean 129.7 1.4%
Brazil 3902.0 40.6%
Guianas 403.7 4.2%
Other Americas 118.7 1.2%
Africa 130.8 1.4%
All Regions 9599.0 100.0%
source: David Eltis, et al, eds. Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database

and to the United States in the nineteenth century. Although the attack was aimed at slavery on moral or economic grounds, most nations ended the foreign slave trade about a quarter-century before slaves were freed. Western European nations ended slavery in their American possessions at about the same time European nations ended serfdom, often with similar arguments about the nature and morality of coerced labor. In the cases of both slavery and serfdom, compensation was generally paid to slave owners and landowners in cash, bonds, or compelled labor time, with no compensation paid to the freed labor, reflecting the belief in the property rights of owners of labor, not the right of individuals to own themselves.

The antislavery argument stressed the immorality and the economic inefficiency of the slave system and argued that a devastating psychological impact resulted from the status of being a slave. Two arguments for this psychological effect dominated the slavery debates. To some, given the then-racial basis of slavery, it was due to the genetic basis of the African population. To most antislavery advocates, the destructive impact was due to the slave status and reflected environmental factors that would influence anyone, of any race, who had been enslaved. This distinction was not only important in the arguments about slavery but also was central to debates about whether emancipation should be immediate or gradual. Hence emancipation schemes that allowed for periods of apprenticeship were advocated not only because they helped masters obtain a financial return but also because such apprenticeship could serve to provide a necessary education to the freed people to deal with their freedom.

Modern Slavery in the Americas

Although slave societies have taken many different forms in terms of differences in the proportion of the population who were slaves, in the labor undertaken by slave laborers, and whether they were located in rural or urban areas, most impressions of the meaning of slavery are based upon what Moses Finley (1980) describes as the five major slave societies in world historyGreece and Rome (each with about 30 percent of the population being slaves) and the three New World slave powersthe British and French Caribbean (90 percent slaves), the U.S. South, and Brazil (each with about 30 percent slaves).

The New World slave powers imported slaves purchased in Africa; about 10 million Africans were taken to the Americas from the start of the sixteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century. Generally the number of males transported was greater than females (a proportion of about 60 to 40), due both to a New World desire for males and an internal African demand for females. There was also a large trade from southern Africa to North Africa and the Middle East, as well as a substantial internal slave trade within Africa. Most slaves in the transatlantic trade went to the Caribbean and to Brazil, with the United States receiving only a small part of this migration. The United States was unusual for a slave society because of its high fertility rate among slaves and rapid rate of natural increase, whereas the other areas suffered from a natural decrease, and the United States came to account for a large part of the New World slave population by the nineteenth century.

The experience of all ages and nations, I believe, demonstrates that the work done by slaves, although it appears to cost only their maintenance, is in the end the dearest of any. A person who can acquire no property, can have no other interest but to eat as much, and to labour as little as possible.

source: Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.

Slave labor was generally most important in producing crops, such as sugar, cotton, tobacco, rice, and coffee on plantations, for sale in European markets. Crops were grown on units larger than family farmsoften, in the case of sugar, containing up to two hundred laborersalthough most of the labor input on these plantations involved the growing of foodstuffs and the handling of livestock. Rising prices paid for slaves in Africa and in the Americas throughout this period are suggestive of the profits obtained from the use of slave labor. A few northern states in the United States ended slavery by the 1780s; with intellectual impetus from England and elsewhere in Europe, in the next century slavery was ended throughout the Americas due to slave rebellion in Haiti, legislated compensated emancipations by the British and French, the Civil War in the United States, and by legislation in Brazil in 1888.

Despite the ending of slavery in the New World, it continued into the twentieth century in Africa and Asia, with the final legislated ending in the Arabian peninsula in the 1960s, although variant forms of slavery continue to exist in parts of North Africa and sex slaves continue to be held in Asia and Arabia. The term slavery remains applied to conditions of low income and of a loss of control by individuals over their own lives, not just to the existence of slaves as a form of legal property, so that it is still argued that slavery persists in the world of the twenty-first century.

See also Abolitionism ; Black Atlantic ; Liberty ; Resistance and Accommodation .

There is no use for slaves, where all disagreeable work can be, and is performed by the weaker sex; Australian and Melanesian women supply the place of slaves. On the other hand, where the women hold a high position, and the men are desirous of relieving them of a part of their task, slavery is likely to arise sooner than otherwise would be the case.

source: H. J. Nieboer, Slavery as an Industrial System.


Davis, David Brion. Slavery and Human Progress. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Eltis, David, Stephen D. Behrendt, David Richardson, and Herbert S. Klein, eds. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade: A Database on CD-ROM. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Finley, M. I. Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology. New York: Viking Press, 1980.

Fogel, Robert William. Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery. New York: Norton, 1989.

Genovese, Eugene D. Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. New York: Pantheon Books, 1974.

Nieboer, H. J. Slavery as an Industrial System: Ethnological Researches. 2nd, rev. ed. The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1910.

Patterson, Orlando. Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982.

Stanley L. Engerman

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The Slave Trade. The enterprising spirit that was evident throughout the British Empire and that produced the high standard of living in the colonies also led to the horrifying trade in human beings. England became the most important slaving nation during the eighteenth century, establishing trading posts in Gambia and the lower Guinea coast in Africa. From there English merchants transported slaves to the cities and plantations of the Caribbean and mainland colonies. The Caribbean was by far the larger market for slaves, and by the late colonial period about 90 percent of the population there was black. A substantial proportion of the mainland colonies population was also enslaved: about one in five during the 1770s. From 1761 to 1810 more than three hundred thousand slaves were imported into the colonies. An estimated 12 percent of those brought over by American traders did not survive the voyage. Even so, the slave population on the American mainland rose rapidly due as much to natural increase as to the trade itself. In South Carolina blacks outnumbered whites as early as 1708 and continued to do so throughout the eighteenth century. In the plantation districts along the colonys tidewater, blacks comprised nearly 90 percent of the population by 1740.

Colonial Participation. Colonial merchants participated in the slave trade, although on a much smaller scale than the British. With its excellent bay, tiny Rhode Island became the center of the North American trade. In 1764 the colonys merchants argued that poor farmlands left them no choice but to turn to slaving so that they could afford to buy British manufactured goods and food from the Middle and Southern colonies. Ships originating from Rhode Island eventually transported more than one hundred thousand Africans to the New World. The colonys trade was suspended when the British occupied the town of Newport during the Revolutionary War, but the trade thrived again after the war ended and continued until the slave trade was made illegal in 1808. New Yorkers and even some Quaker merchants also were active in the trade. Apart from the merchants of South Carolina, Southerners were much less so even though that region was most heavily dependent on slave labor. Many prominent colonial merchants who became strong supporters of the Revolution were directly or indirectly involved in the slave trade. Robert Morris, the financier of the Revolution and the founder of the Bank of North America, had participated in the trade during the 1760s. The revolutionary statesman Henry Laurens had been a prominent slave merchant in his native South Carolina.

Slave Labor. By 1770 slaves made up one-fifth of the colonial population and were the second-largest occupational group after farmers. Most slaves grew staple crops while others worked as house servants or did full- or part-time artisinal work. In 1780 four statesVirginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Marylandheld 85 percent of all the slaves on the mainland. New York,

whose metropolis was active in the slave trade, was fifth. It had the highest proportion of blacksabout 12 percentof all the Northern states, and its slaves worked as house servants, in urban occupations, and on small farms scattered throughout the countryside. Slavery became much more deeply entrenched in the South because of the profitability and labor requirements of staple crops, especially tobacco and rice. Tobacco was grown extensively in the Chesapeake by both small farmers and large planters. The planters preferred to use slave labor because tobacco required only a few hours work a day during most of the growing season; thus it would have been significantly more expensive to hire free white laborers, who often demanded a full days pay. In contrast, wheat was labor-intensive only during the planting and harvest seasons, so it made sense to hire free laborers to work for several full days during those peak times. The differences in the two crops growing requirements perhaps explain why tobacco, but not wheat, tended to rely on slave labor. In the lower South slavery became an even more important component of the economy. Rice was the regions primary export crop, and it relied on slavery even more than did tobacco. The reasons for this appear to lie in the economies of scalethat is, the higher productivity of large plantations versus small farmsfor this crop. Several groups of laborers working in one large plantation were able to cultivate rice more effectively than could small farm households working separately. This may explain why rice plantations tended to be large, with slave populations of fifty to one hundred. The unhealthy climate of the region also contributed to planters heavy dependence on slaves, who seemed better able than their white masters to withstand the diseases associated with rice plantations. Unlike tobacco, rice was cultivated using the task system, whereby slaves were required to finish a prescribed amount of work per day, after which their time was essentially their own. According to a Scottish observer writing in 1773, lowcountry slaves generally were done with their assigned tasks by one or two oclock in the afternoon, and have the rest of the day for themselves, which they spend in working in their own private fields, consisting of 5 or 6 acres of ground, allowed them by their masters, for planting of rice, corn, potatoes, tobacco, &c. for their own use and profit, of which the industrious among them make a great deal. The task system suited white planters, who preferred not to have to supervise their slaves too closely and to spend a portion of the year in Charleston, where they could escape from the dullness and diseases of their plantations.

Effects of the Revolution. The slave trade became a casualty of the nonimportation agreements and the overall disruption in overseas trade. During the nonimportation movement of 1769 Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina prohibited the importation of slaves. In October 1774 the Continental Congress prohibited slaves from entering the United States and forbade any commercial dealings with nations that engaged in slave trading. The decision was met with strong objections by the merchants of Liverpool and Bristol and by the Board of Trade in London, which declared that Britain cannot allow the colonists to check or discourage in any degree a traffic so beneficial to the nation. In 1776 Thomas Jefferson inserted a passage in the Declaration of Independence condemning the trade. The Continental Congress deleted it, but the passage had by then become unnecessary because most state constitutions had abolished the slave trade. The relative importance of slaves in the economy diminished as importations ceased and the British army freed thousands of Southern slaves. South Carolina, the state most dependent on slave labor, lost twenty-five thousand of its bondsmen during the war, while Virginia lost about thirty thousand. Once the war ended, however, the trade revived. Thousands of Africans were transported to the colonies between 1783 and 1787, the year the Constitution was written. By 1787 New England, the Middle states, and Maryland once again ceased importing slaves. South Carolina and Georgia, however, managed to insert a clause ensuring that the slave trade would remain open for at least twenty years. Those two states imported more than forty thousand African slaves before Congress made the trade illegal in 1808. Ironically slavery gained in strength after the trade was made illegal. The invention of the cotton gin in 1794 made the cotten crop immensely profitable and helped to entrench slavery even more deeply in the Southern economy throughout the first half of the nineteenth century.


The number of Africans forcibly removed from their homeland during the four-hundred-year period of the Atlantic slave trade is a matter of debate. Many historians agree that approximately 10 million slaves were imported into the Americas and other parts of the Atlantic basin from 1451 to 1870, but some argue that the numbers were considerably higher. One historian made the following estimates of slave imports into British America and the United States from 1626 to just after the trade was made illegal in 1808:

Period Barbados Jamaica Other British Caribbean British N. America
Source: James Rawley, The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History (New York: Norton, 1981), p. 167.


Philip D. Morgan, Work and Culture: The Task System and the World of Lowcountry Blacks, 1700 to 1880, William and Mary Quarterly, 39 (1982): 563-599;

James A. Rawley, The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History (New York: Norton, 1981).

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Slavery in one form or another has been a central feature of East Slavic and Russian history from at least the very beginning almost to the present day. Its presence and its offshoots have lent a particular coloration to Russian civilization that can be found in few other places.

One common social science definition of slavery is that the slave is an outsider; namely, that he or she is of a different race, religion, caste, or tribe than that of his or her owner. In cases where that was not true, slaveholders resorted to fiction, which made the slave (usually an infant abandoned by its parents) appear to be an outsider. Or a slave might be a lawbreaker who by his crime had placed himself outside of society: one who, in Orlando Patterson's phrase, was "socially dead." This could include debtors, who were regarded as thieves because they could not or would not repay borrowed money or goods, or criminals who could not pay fines.

Russia included such outsiders as slaves, but (along with Korea) also enslaved its own people. This was unusual and made Russian slavery distinctive. Because of its atypical nature, some people have questioned whether Russian rabstvo and especially kholopstvo were in fact "really slavery." However, a thoughtful examination indicates that all such individuals in fact were slaves. All varieties of slaves were treated equally under the law.

From the dawn of Russian history, as everywhere else on Earth at the time, slaves were typically products of warfareEast Slavic tribes fighting with each other or with neighboring Turkic, Iranian, Finnic, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Polish, Germanic, and other peoples. Such victims were true outsiders who could be either enslaved in Rus itself or taken abroad into the international slave trade. Slaves were mentioned in every Russian law code. As the earliest such code, the Russkaia pravda, grew in size from its earliest redaction compiled in about 1016 to its full size, the so-called Expanded Pravda a special section on slavery was added. It enumerated some of the avenues into slavery, such as sale of prior slaves, self-sale, becoming a steward, and marriage of a free person to a slave. An indentured laborer could be sold into slavery as recompense for crimes. As in all slave systems, the owner was responsible for a slave's offenses, much as an owner is responsible for his dog. The heyday of medieval Russian slavery followed the collapse of political unity after 1132, and each of the dozen or so independent principalities waged civil war against each other as well as the steppe nomads and neighboring sedentary peoples to the west. As alwaysuntil probably the 1880sRussia was a labor-short country, so those desiring extra hands often enslaved them. Much of twelfth-century farming was done by slaves living in barracks.

The Mongol invasion and conquest made the situation worse. The Mongols enslaved skilled individuals and dispatched them to Karakorum, Sarai, and other corners of the earth. The dozen or so principalities of Rus in 1237 fragmented into fifty, perhaps even one hundredeach enslaving the labor of other principalities. Many of these slaves were shipped to Novgorod, whose famous slave market was at the busy intersection of Slave and High Streets, where professional readers and writers set up their business composing and reading for customers the famous birch-bark letters. Slaves from Novgorod were shipped into the Baltic, to England, to other Atlantic countries, and into the Islamic lands of the Mediterranean.

While the unification of the East Slavic lands by Moscow put an end to the capture of other East Slavs into slavery, Russia was still short of labor, and the appetite for slaves did not decline. In Kievan Rus the Orthodox Church had provided charity, but this diminished with the rise of Moscow. In order for the impoverished to survive, the practice began to develop of those in need selling themselves into what was described as "full slavery." This was a form of perpetual, lifelong slavery in which offspring were described as hereditary slaves. Most societies could not withstand the tension inherent in enslaving their own people, but this did not seem to bother the Russians. From the outset Russian society had consisted not only of East Slavs, but also the ruling Varangian/Viking element, conquered indigenous Iranians, Finns, and Balts, plus any Turkic, Mongol, or other people who wanted to live in Rus. There were no barriers to intermarriage among these peoples, and the sole distinction came to be (perhaps after 1350, or even the 1650s) those who allegedly were Orthodox Christians and those who were not. Thus the insider-outsider dichotomy was weakly developed, and this perhaps permitted Russians to enslave their own people.

In the sixteenth century full slavery came to be replaced by what is best translated as limited service contract slavery (kabalnoye kholopstvo ), known elsewhere (in Parthia) as antichresis. It worked as follows: A person in need or who did not desire to control his own life found a person who would buy him. (Two-thirds of the cases involved primarily young males, the other third females.) They agreed on a price; the slave took the money from his buyer and agreed to work for him for a year in lieu of paying the interest on the money. If he did not repay the loan (or a third personpresumably another buyerdid not repay it for him), he defaulted and became a full slave. By the 1590s there were many such slaves. Serfdom was in full development, and the slave had the advantage that he had to pay no taxes, whereas the serf did. Slavery was becoming so popular that the powerful government unilaterally changed the terms of limited service contract slavery: The limitation was changed from the one year of the loan to the life of the person giving the loan. There was a dual expropriation here: The person taking the loan (i.e., selling himself) could no longer pay it off, and the person granting the loan (i.e., buying the slave) could not pass the slave to his heirs. This became the premier form of slavery until the demise of the institution in the 1720s. Two changes were introduced: in the 1620s a maximum price of two rubles, and in the 1630s an increase of the maximum to three rubles. This meant that some would-be slaves could find no buyer because their price was too high, whereas others were forced to sell themselves for less than their "market price" would have been without the price controls. Regardless, slavery introduced a form of dependency such that those who were manumitted almost always resold themselves upon the death of the owner, often to the deceased owner's heirs. About 10 percent of the entire population were slaves.

Russia was the sole country in the world with a central office (the Slavery Chancellery) in the capital controlling the institution of slavery. All slaves had to be registered. In the 1590s a reregistration of all slaves was required, in which about half of all slaves were limited service contract slaves and the others were of half a dozen other varieties. There were military captives, subject to return home upon the signing of a peace treaty with the enemy belligerent. There were debt slaves, who had defaulted on a loan which could be "worked off" at the rate of 5 rubles per year by an adult male, 2.50 rubles per year by an adult female, and 2 rubles per year by a child over ten. There were indentured slaves, who agreed to work for a term in exchange for cash, training, and often a promise that the owner would marry them off before the end of the term. Those who married slaves were themselves enslaved, as were those who worked for someone else for over three months. There were hereditary slaves, those born to slaves and their offspring. The very complex practices of the Slavery Chancellery were codified into chapter 20 (119 articles) of the Law Code of 1649.

Slavery had a profound impact on the institution of serfdom which borrowed norms from slavery. Farming slaves were converted into taxpaying serfs in 1679. Household slaves (the vast majority of all slaves) were converted into house serfs by the poll tax in 1721. After 1721 serfdom increasingly took on the appearance of slavery until 1861.

See also: birchbark charters; emancipation act; enserfment; feudalism; golden horde; kievan rus; labor; law code of 1649; muscovy serfdom


Hellie, Richard. (1982). Slavery in Russia, 14501725. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Hellie, Richard, ed. and tr. (1988). The Muscovite Law Code (Ulozhenie) of 1649. Irvine, CA: Charles Schlacks.

Patterson, Orlando. (1982). Slavery and Social Death. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Richard Hellie

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Before the Revolution. Patrick Henry in 1773 admitted that he was baffled that slavery and religion could coexist since Christianitys chief excellence consists in softening

the human heart, in cherishing and improving its finer feelings.... He also wondered how in Virginia, a country above all other fond of liberty, men could maintain an institution as repugnant to humanity as it is inconsistent with the Bible and destructive to liberty. Yet he owned slaves, saying I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them, I will not, I cannot justify it. His proposed solution was simply the hope for some eventual emancipation. Let us transmit to our descendants together with our slaves, a pity for their unhappy lot and an abhorrence for slavery.

Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson, also a slave owner, argued a case in a Virginia court in 1770 on behalf of a mulatto whose mother, at the time he was born, was bound in indentured service for a period of years. Jefferson argued that while the mother might still be subject to the indenture, the son should be free. All men are born free...with a right to his own person.... This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the author of nature.... His argument failed in that slave-owning society, but his words were a preview of what he would write six years later in the Declaration of Independence.

Somersetts Case. A Virginia slave, James Somersett, was taken to England. When his owner tried to send him to Jamaica, Somersett took his case to court in 1772. Lord Chief Justice William Mansfield ruled that slavery could not exist without positive legislative enactments, and since Parliament had never created the institution, slavery did not exist in England. Hence, Somersett and any slave who set foot in England were free. While this was an important court decision, it seemed to be ignored in America.

Second Continental Congress. In the beginning of 1776 the Second Continental Congress began to discuss independence and urged the colonial assemblies to establish independent governments. As the assemblies and conventions prepared declarations of rights that might serve as the basis for new forms of government, they had difficult balancing acts to perform. They had to articulate a statement about freedom in a way that would stimulate revolutionary fervor yet not amount to abolition of slavery. The Virginia convention considered a resolution that all men are born equally free and independent, to be too broad. They finally settled on all men are by nature equally free and independent, and they enjoy their various rights when they enter into a state of society. The delegates considered their slaves not part of society and thereby excluded from the declaration.

The New States. As the colonies declared independence they adopted constitutions and bills of rights. In many of the constitutional conventions, the delegates discussed the issue of slavery, but not one expressly abolished the institution in its constitution. (The 1777 constitution of Vermont had an abolition clause, but the region did not officially become a state until 1791.) Delawares constitution prohibited the importation of slaves, and Virginia did the same by statute in 1778. Pennsylvanias assembly passed a statute in 1780 that provided for gradual abolitionany child born to a slave mother after 1780 would be free once he or she reached age twenty-eight. The Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1777 considered a bill that would abolish slavery, but decided not to act on it for fear of offending the Southern colonies. Three years later, however, Massachusetts adopted a bill of rights as part of its constitution that specified that all men are born free and equal. In a 1783 superior court case involving a fugitive slave, Chief Justice William Cushing stated that this language had abolished slavery in Massachusetts. Jefferson drafted a plan (which was never formally submitted for legislative action) for the emancipation of all Virginias slaves. He proposed removing them to some undetermined wilderness area, where they would be free and independent, and replacing them with white European immigrants.


Willi Paul Adams, The First American Constitutions (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980);

Dumas Malone, Jefferson the Virginian (Boston: Little, Brown, 1948);

Henry Mayer, A Son of Thunder (New York: Franklin Watts 1986).

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Slave Rescue Cases


SLAVE RESCUE CASES. In eighteenth-and nineteenth-century North America, slave rescue cases were a source of sensational reportage and popular heroism. Concealment in attics, ships, and even boxes; cross-dressing, wearing disguises, passing for white or free blackall were familiar to the escape stories of fugitive slaves, including those of the most famous, such as Frederick Douglass, Henry "Box" Brown, William Wells Brown, and William and Ellen Crafts.

The first fugitive slave law was passed in 1787 as part of the Northwest Ordinance. Although this legislation nominally prohibited slavery, it permitted all masters to "lawfully reclaim" runaway slaves and avowed that the Constitution would work to suppress the threat of slave

insurrection. The Fugitive Slave Act passed in 1850 was much more effective than its predecessor, though, as it systematized the return of runaways on a national scale and gave slaveholders the right to appear in court and bear witness to the escape of their "property." Court officials then produced a description of the runaway, which could be used as legal proof of his or her slave status even in free states. Significantly, courts were expected only to verify an individual's identity and not to determine their slave status. The financial rewards for the return of fugitive slavesauthorities received $10 if the fugitive was returned to the slave owner and $5 if notbetray the injustices of the system. Not surprisingly, this legislation produced an abolitionist outcry and inspired a wealth of antislavery literature including Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), as well as the first novel by an African American, Clotel; or, The President's Daughter (1853) by William Wells Brown. Stowe's work became famous for its hairbreadth escapes, as the flight of "the slave mother," Eliza, and her son across the frozen Ohio River, in particular, became a major attraction in theatrical adaptations. By comparison, Brown's novel adopted a much bleaker tone as he documented that the only escape from slavery for his title heroine was death by her own hand. As well as the literary outpourings prompted by this legislation, abolitionist protest meetings were held in states such as Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania, while support for black-and white-run Vigilance Committees, as well as for the Underground Railroada large network of "stations" run by abolitionists including Harriet Tubman and William Stillintensified. The case of Solomon Northup, a free black kidnapped and sold into slavery for twelve years, proved abolitionist fears that the Fugitive Slave Act encouraged the unlawful kidnapping of free blacks. Finally, the famous cases of slave rescuethe fugitive slaves Frederick "Shadrach" Wilkins (1851), Anthony Burns (1854), and Dred Scott (1857) among themnot only converted large numbers to abolition as a means to register their resentment toward the domination of Southern slave power, but also contributed to the same escalating sectional differences that foreshadowed the American Civil War.


Brown, Henry "Box." Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Written by Himself. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. The original edition was published in 1851.

Craft, William. Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom: The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999. The original edition was published in 1860.

Franklin, John Hope, and Loren Schweninger. Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation, 17901860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Grover, Kathryn. The Fugitive's Gibraltar: Escaping Slaves and Abolitionism in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001.

Celeste-Marie Bernier

See also Antislavery ; Burns Fugitive Slave Case ; Dred Scott Case ; Fugitive Slave Acts ; Uncle Tom's Cabin .

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Contraband, Slaves as


CONTRABAND, SLAVES AS, the Union policy during the Civil War that, prior to the implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation, applied to slaves of disloyal Southerners who came under the jurisdiction of Northern military authorities. Major General Benjamin Butler initiated this policy in May 1861, after three Virginia slaves escaped from labor on Confederate fortifications and arrived within his command at Fortress Monroe. By designating them "contrabands of war," Butler finessed the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. His action justified employing them and the many slaves who subsequently came within his lines as labor and, later, while he was in command of the occupation of New Orleans, in active service for the Union military. The U.S. Congress applied Butler's approach to the entire Confederacy in the First Confiscation Act of 6 August 1861 and in a new article of war adopted in March 1862 that prohibited the military from returning to their owners slaves who had arrived from beyond Union lines. However, even after Abraham Lincoln's emancipation policy went into effect, the Fugitive Slave Act, which was not repealed by Congress until 28 June 1864, still applied to escaped slaves of loyal citizens within areas exempt from the Emancipation Proclamation. This created a fluid situation in places such as western Virginia and southern Louisiana, where officers were expected to differentiate between slaves and contrabands. As the conflict lengthened, Union authorities increasingly treated even the slaves of loyal owners as contrabands.

Although some African Americans objected to being called contrabands, the term became a popular label for all former slaves who fell under the auspices of the federal military in the South. Private citizens in Cincinnati, for example, formed the Contraband Relief Association. When General Ulysses S. Grant faced the problem of caring for multitudes of destitute blacks during his Tennessee and Mississippi campaign, he appointed the chaplain John Eaton to assume charge of the contrabands. Eaton and other superintendents of contrabands established contraband camps throughout the occupied South, where blacks were given help but often were subjected to abuse. Many contrabands labored for the Union army, and thousands of male contrabands were either impressed or enticed into Union military service. Federal authorities also arranged for large numbers of contrabands to work for minimal wages on confiscated or abandoned plantations, generally under the supervision of white lessees.

During the war's early stages, the contraband policy provided Northern authorities with a rationale for withholding African American labor from the Southern cause that was not so flagrantly emancipationist as to provoke still-loyal slave states into leaving the Union. But by denying white Southerners' claims to blacks as property, it also helped prepare public opinion in the North and the border South for the likelihood of slavery's eventual abolition.


Gerteis, Louis S. From Contraband to Freedman: Federal Policy toward Southern Blacks, 1861–1865. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1973.

Jordan, Ervin L., Jr. Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995.

Walker, Cam. "Corinth: The Story of a Contraband Camp." Civil War History 20, no. 1 (March 1974): 5–22.

Robert E.May

See alsoCivil War ; Fugitive Slave Acts ; Slavery ; andvol. 9:Benjamin Butter's Report on Contrabands of War .

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The institution of masters owning their servants is accepted in the Hebrew scriptures. A Hebrew could become a slave to redeem his debts (Leviticus 25. 35) or to make restitution for theft (Exodus 22. 2). According to Leviticus 25. 44–5, it was permissible to take slaves of ‘the nations that are round about you’. The extent of the practice of slavery among the Jews in the Talmudic period is debatable. Maimonides summed up the rabbinic laws of slavery by saying, ‘It is permissible to work the slave hard; but while this is the law, the ways of ethics and prudence are that the master should be just and merciful.’


Slavery in the New Testament period is not questioned as an institution. A slave can fulfil his duty as a Christian by serving his master as Christ (Ephesians 6. 5–8), though the owner must realize that the slave is his brother in Christ and must treat him accordingly. Perhaps, even, he should set him free (Philemon 14–21). The more important point is that the age is being inaugurated when all divisions of this kind will be abolished, when there will be ‘neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female’ (Galatians 3. 28), because all are one in Christ. Nevertheless, inequalities continued to be regarded as a consequence of the Fall (e.g., by Augustine), even though slavery gradually gave way in Europe to serfdom. The biblical warrant for slavery was appealed to in the development of the slave-trade (which, after fierce struggle, was formally ended at the Congress of Vienna, 1814–15) and in the perpetuation of slavery in America. Slavery ended in America after the Civil War through the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) and the Thirteenth Amendment (1865).


Slavery is taken for granted in the Qurʾān and in ḥadīth—where the subject of slavery is mainly a concern with manumission and its consequences. Legally, slaves could only be obtained as a consequence of war, or as the children of existing slaves. Slaves were able to rise to positions of considerable responsibility, even seizing power in the case of the Mamlukes (the word means ‘owned one’, and refers to a dynasty derived from Turkish and Circassian slave soldiers, which held power in Egypt, 1250–1517 (AH 648–922)). Since Qurʾān and ḥadīth cannot be abrogated, it is not possible for slavery to be abolished, at least as a theoretical possibility, in Islam.


Slavery appears to have existed in early India ( Dev Raj, L'Esclavage dans l'Inde ancienne, 1957), but it did not continue as an institution extensively. Instead, forms of obligatory service developed through dharma and the caste system.

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Slavery, an important institution of the classical world, declined in the Middle Ages as Christianity spread to northern and eastern Europe, and the teachings of the new church prohibited making slaves of those who had converted. Yet the practice never completely died out. From the teachings of Aristotle and others, slavery was considered a natural state for lesser orders of human beings, as well as nonbelievers. Slaves taken as prisoners of war served as household servants and manual laborers in the homes of the wealthy. Their children were commonly born as free persons, sometimes considered the legally adopted sons or daughters of the owners of their parents.

Crusaders took captive Muslims as slaves in the Middle East, and in the early Renaissance human trafficking grew more common in the Mediterranean states of Spain and southern Italy. Muslims captured in North Africa and in battles with the Ottoman Empire were made servants in wealthy and noble families, while Venice and other maritime states used slaves as well as prisoners to row their galley fleets. A few slaves from sub-Saharan Africa were also brought to Europe via caravan routes that linked the Mediterranean with the west African empires, including Ghana and Mali.

The industry of slavery revived with the Portuguese explorations of the west coast of Africa in the fifteenth century. Africans were captured and brought to fortified posts at the coast, then transported to Portuguese colonies to work farming plantations. With the discovery of the Americas, and the encounters with native tribes of the Caribbean, Europeans found another source of slave labor. Without having what the slave-dealing countries considered organized governments, true religion, or profitable occupations, Native Americans were considered properly slaves, who benefited from their service to their masters. A few voices protested this practice, including the Spanish monk Bartolomé de Las Casas, and in Europe, several philosophers including Desiderius Erasmus and Sir Thomas More rejected the doctrine of natural slavery. In Europe, slavery died out in the late Renaissance, as the new doctrine of equality was taken up by the Enlightenment writers and philosophers. Slavery continued in the overseas colonies, which benefited immensely from slaves imported from Africa and the Americas to work sugar, indigo, and cotton plantations.

See Also: exploration; Las Casas Bartolomé de

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Slavery was introduced to the American colonies in the 1620s. By 1700 the slave population, located primarily in the southern colonies, had grown dramatically. After independence, the United States debated whether slavery should be allowed to continue. Though the northwest ordinance of 1787 banned slavery in the western territories, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution did not outlaw it. For the most part the Constitution ignored the issue, but the Three-fifths Compromise permitted southern states to count each slave as three-fifths of a white person for legislative apportionment.

The invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney, which revolutionized cotton processing and vastly increased the profitability of cotton growing, and the louisiana purchase of 1803 forced the United States to consider whether slavery should be confined to the Southern states or extended to the new states carved out of the territory west of the Mississippi River. Legislative compromises succeeded in holding the Union together until mid-century. The Dred Scott case (dred scott v. sandford, 60 U.S. [19 How.] 393, 15 L. Ed. 691 [1857]), however, destroyed the legal basis for compromise by holding that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories.

Abolitionist opposition to slavery increased after Dred Scott.abraham lincoln's hostility to slavery, expressed in his "House Divided" speech, frightened the Southern states. His election as president in 1860 led to the secession of the Southern states and the u.s. civil war. Though Lincoln saw the preservation of the Union as his main goal, he recognized that slavery had to be ended. The emancipation proclamation of January 1, 1863, decreed the freedom of slaves in Southern territories, but it took the thirteenth amendment, ratified in December 1865, to abolish slavery in the United States.

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"Slavery." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005. 30 May. 2016 <>.

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slavery Slavery refers to a variety of forms of unfreedom, such as serfdom and bonded labour. However, it is normally associated with chattel slavery, in which the human being is a thing to be bought or sold, and does not have the status of personhood. Chattel slavery is thus distinguished from other forms of slavery by its property dimension. Slaves are not paid for their labour or services (even in cases where they can handle money or economic transactions). Thus they can be regarded as instruments of production.

There are both historical and recent cases of enslavement of peoples conquered in warfare. In modern, early capitalist situations, chattel slavery was used as an efficient (or, more accurately, cheap) labour system by the planters and slaveowners of the Americas between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, with the labour-supply ensured through the slave trade.

Plantation slavery could only exist through a codified legal system and mechanisms for its enforcement. These modern slave systems also existed in mining enterprises and industrial production. In plantation slavery the slave is the property of the master. By contrast, in the enslavement of whole peoples by conquest, the slave becomes the property of the whole society. The difference rests in the fact that plantation slavery is found in state societies and conquest slavery in pre-state societies.

There is a huge literature documenting the history of slavery (see, for example, E. Fox-Genovese , Fruits of Merchant Capital, 1983
). For sociological and anthropological treatments see Robert H. Abzug and and Stephen E. Maizlish , New Perspectives on Race and Slavery in America (1986)
and Claude Meillassoux and and Alide Dasnois . The Anthropology of Slavery (1991

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GORDON MARSHALL. "slavery." A Dictionary of Sociology. 1998. 30 May. 2016 <>.

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slavery Social system in which people are the property of their owner, and are compelled to work without pay. Slavery of some kind was common to practically all ancient societies, and to most modern societies until the 19th century. Common in ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Greek societies, an extreme form of slavery also existed in the Americas from the 16th century, where the need for cheap labour in European colonies was not satisfied by enslaving Native Americans or by acquiring poor Europeans as servants. This situation gave rise to the highly organized and profitable Atlantic triangular slave trade. Ships sailed from ports such as Liverpool with guns and other goods that were exchanged for slaves in states on West African coasts. The slaves were sold in markets in the Caribbean, Brazil, and North America, mainly to work on farms and plantations. On the return journey, the ships carried colonial produce from the Americas to Europe. An estimated 15 million Africans were sold into slavery. Millions more died on the voyage across the Atlantic. By the late 18th and early 19th century, slavery had been abolished throughout much of Europe; it was declared illegal in Britain in 1807, and outlawed in 1833. Most South American states abolished it soon after gaining independence. In the USA, slavery was one cause of the Civil War, and was formally ended when the aims of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) were incorporated in the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution (1865). Isolated cases of slavery were discovered in China and some areas of Africa in the 1990s, and it is likely that some form of slavery will be discovered periodically.

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"slavery." World Encyclopedia. 2005. 30 May. 2016 <>.

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Slavery (issue)


The Portuguese were the first Europeans to enslave Africans. They began this practice during their explorations of the West African Coast in the fifteenth century. They usually acquired their slaves from other Africans and took them back to Europe where they were employed as servants or laborers.

Christopher Columbus opened the New World to Europeans in 1492, and soon Spain, Portugal, and other European states had established colonies. Regardless of whether the Europeans concentrated on mining precious metals (as the Spanish did), grew and refined sugar cane (as was true of virtually all the European powers), or settled down to grow staple agricultural exports (as in the English case), they soon had to confront the need for labor. The Spanish and, later, the English attempted to enslave American Indians, but that did not work well (in part because the lack of immunity to European diseases decimated the native populations), so they began to import laborers from Africa.

Actually, the English colonists turned first to their own poverty-stricken population of peasants who had been driven off the land by the conversion of crop land into sheep pasture during the sixteenth century. This displacement of the English peasantry was called the enclosure movement. It produced an army of desperate and angry peasants who wandered the English countryside looking for work, poaching game on the gentry's land, or engaging in robbery, for which many were hanged. Of the peasants who remained in England a good number would eventually make up the country's wage labor force as textile manufacturing changed England from an agricultural to an industrial economy. But tens of thousands of poor Britons also immigrated to the New World as indentured servants. Tobacco farming was profitable but labor-intensive and the Chesapeake colonies of Virginia, Carolina, and Maryland employed these bonded laborers. Until the late seventeenth century, most of the work force in the English mainland colonies were indentured servants, working an average of seven years to pay off the debt of ship passage. Some of these bonded servants eventually became prosperous in the America; many died from overwork, disease, and mistreatment, or else, after their debt was paid, migrated to the back country and lived as subsistence farmers.

By the last quarter of the seventeenth century, an improving employment picture in England dried up the stream of available indentured servants. The practice of many white servants of escaping and passing themselves off as independent laborers or small farmers as well as the fact that many of the popular protests and rebellions in the New World, like Bacon's Rebellion (16751676) involved poor former indentured servants, also led the colonial elite to consider an alternative labor source.

That source was African slaves. A lucrative system known as Triangular Trade provided this new labor source. Traders took rum, guns, powder, and

states holders with 1-9 slaves holders with 10-20 slaves holders with 20-50 slaves holders with 50-100 slaves holders with 100-500 slaves holders with 500-1000 slaves holders with over 1000 slaves total slave-holders total slaves
source: united states census, agriculture of the united states in 1860, p. 247.
alabama 21,793 5,906 4,344 1,341 346     33,730 435,080
arkansas 941 142 56 10       1,149 111,115
delaware 562 25           587 1,798
florida 3,368 976 603 158 47     5,152 61,745
georgia 27,191 7,530 5,049 1,102 211 1   41,084 462,198
kentucky 31,819 5,271 1,485 63 7     38,645 225,483
louisiana 14,886 3,222 2,349 1,029 543 4   22,033 331,726
maryland 11,203 1,718 747 99 16     13,783 87,189
mississippi 19,559 5,489 4,220 1,359 315 1   30,943 436,631
missouri 21,380 2,400 502 34 4     24,320 114,931
north carolina 24,520 6,073 3,321 611 133     34,658 331,059
south carolina 16,199 5,210 3,646 1,197 441 7 1 26,701 402,406
tennessee 28,389 5,523 2,550 335 47     36,844 275,719
texas 16,292 3,423 1,827 282 54     21,878 182,566
virginia 37,577 8,774 4,917 746 114     52,128 490,865
total 275,679 61,682 35,616 8,366 2,278 13 1 383,635 3,950,511

trinkets to Africa where they were exchanged for slaves. The slaves were shipped below decks to the West Indies where they were sold. Then the traders hauled cargoes of sugar, and other products to North America, where the sugar was converted to rum, or else they sailed back to Europe. The trip to the New World was hideous for the slaves. They were packed into the slave ships like sardines and many died en route. This infamous leg of the Triangular Trade was known as the Middle Passage. In this fashion the slave trade continued for 300 years and millions of people were deported from Africa in the process.

Slavery may have been introduced in the English colonies as early as 1619 when a Dutch trading vessel brought 20 Africans to the Jamestown Colony. (Historians disagree on whether this particular group of Africans was enslaved or not.) At any rate, towards the end of the century as the settlers' tobacco plantations grew larger, their need for workers also grew and they found that Africans better served their needs. Africans could not pass themselves off as free men and their total subjugation meant that their exploitation was governed by cold calculation of how hard to work them.

In the Caribbean the cost of replacing slaves who died from overwork was low enough that it made economic sense to work the slave to death. That calculus of exploitation worked the other way in the mainland colonies. Slaves were sometimes worked to death, but the price of replacing slaves was high enough that they were often allowed enough food and just enough sleep to live an abbreviated life-span and even to replace their numbers through informal families in the slave quarters.

Between 1620 and 1670, through court decisions and legislative actions, African servitude was made permanent and the institution of slavery was born. It was based not only on the need for labor but also on the ideology of white supremacy. The British colonists clearly regarded the Africans as inferior.

By 1700 there were about 27,000 African slaves in British North America, a number which represented approximately 10 percent of the population. South Carolina had the greatest number of slaves, followed by Virginia. The number of slaves was relatively small in North Carolina, the Middle Colonies, and New England. The demand for slaves intensified in the eighteenth century because of the expansion of agriculture. In Virginia, for example, the number of slaves increased from 12,000 in 1708 to 120,000 in 1756. The slave trade also continued to expand and it was estimated that more than five million slaves were imported into all areas of the New World during the eighteenth century.

As the number of slaves increased, fear of uprisings intensified. By 1700 all the colonies had laws known as Slave Codes which governed the status of the slaves. Slaves were considered property, had no rights, and could be killed for misbehavior. There was no legal limit on lashings. These laws also restricted the movement for slaves, for example, under the Virginia Code, no slave could leave the plantation without permission.

Fear of resistance was not unfounded. There was an aborted slave revolt in Virginia in 1687, and a bloody uprising in New York in 1712. There were several outbreaks of violence in South Carolina in the 1720s and 1730s, and in 1741 panic swept New York City when it was rumored that slaves and poor whites were conspiring to seize control of the city. The New York City conspiracy did not materialize but more than 150 people were arrested and many of them were executed.

Anti-slavery sentiment on the part of whites emerged in the late 1600s. The Pennsylvania Quakers issued a formal denunciation of slavery known as the "Germantown Statement" in 1687 and anti-slavery pamphlets began to appear during the eighteenth century. One of the best known of the early pamphleteers was John Woolman. And in 1775 Benjamin Franklin (17061790), Thomas Paine (17371809), and James Otis (17251783) founded the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society.

The American Revolution (17751783) created a paradox with respect to slavery. The Declaration of Independence stated that "all men are created equal," but this was clearly not true in America where, in 1776, there were nearly 500,000 slaves. Moreover many Revolutionary leaders, including George Washington (17321799) and Thomas Jefferson (17431826), owned slaves. Even though they were critical of the institution of slavery they believed Africans to be inferior to whites and freed very few of their slaves during the struggle. Even so there were some changes after the war. Between 1777 and 1786 all of the northern states provided for either the immediate abolition, or gradual emancipation, of slaves. Moreover the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territory (the area that eventually became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin). These changes resulted from a combination of economic and humanitarian forces. Slavery was not profitable in those areas where there were no large plantations and there were those who believed deeply that the practice was immoral.

But, at the same time cotton production was expanding in the South. When Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, cotton farming became more profitable and the demand for slaves in that region suddenly increased. At the same time, southerners began to defend slavery as a virtuous institution rather than a necessary evil. As cotton culture expanded it came to be concentrated in the Lower SouthSouth Carolina, Western Georgia, North Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. By 1840 there were about 2.5 million slaves in the South, most of them concentrated in these states.

Cotton production continued to rise and by 1860 it represented 57 percent of all U.S. exports. This in turn led to an increased demand for slaves. Even though the importation of slaves was illegal after 1808, it is estimated that at least 300,000 were smuggled into the country between 1807 and 1860. Slaves were also bred, like cattle. A vigorous internal slave trade developed in which thousands of human beings were sold at auction.

Both the militant defense of slavery and militant opposition began to appear in the 1820s. Southerners argued that they had a constitutional right to hold property, including slaves. Southern pro-slavery advocates went on to quote Bible passages that mentioned the existence of slavery in Old Testament days. Others argued that a menial class was a requirement upon which to build civilized societyindeed, they held that slavery was the very condition of democracy in the South. And, of course, southern apologists for slavery also propounded the white supremacist doctrine that Blacks were perfectly suited to their subordinate role because they were physically strong and mentally inferior.

The anti-slavery movement evolved from the moderate pipe-dream of re-colonizing emancipated blacks in Liberia, in Africa. The American Colonization Society, founded in 1817, included prominent figures like James Madison and John Marshall. It proposed to free the slaves, compensate the owners, and return the freed slaves to Africa. But the size of the slave population even in 1830 precluded such a solution. Still, by publishing newspapers and pamphlets, the American Colonization Society at least began the process of education and advocacy of freeing the slaves.

A more radical solution was simply the immediate freeing of the slaves. This was the demand of the "abolitionist" movement that grew up around William Lloyd Garrison, of Massachusetts. Beginning in 1831, Garrison and his associates published The Liberator and broadcast the demand that slavery be ended immediately, by force if necessary, and without any compensation to the slave owners. In 1832 Garrison founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society and helped to found the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. These developments evoked fear and hatred in the South. Nonetheless, the abolitionist movement grew rapidly and was very active. It sponsored lectures on the subject. It sent the eloquent former slave, Frederick Douglass to England to spread the abolitionist message there.

Abolitionism was the culmination of a generation of reform movements: the temperance movement, the "asylum" movement for the humane treatment of the mentally ill, and the protest movement against the forcible relocation of the Cherokee Indian nation. The abolitionist movement was the biggest and most passionate of these reform movements. It was also uncompromising: at one point, Garrison publicly burned a copy of the Constitution because it had made provisions for slavery. By 1840 there were 250,000 abolitionists organized into 2,000 clubs or societies in fifteen states. Meanwhile, however, the institution of slavery continued to grow. By 1860 there were nearly four million slaves in North America.

If there was to be a resolution of the slavery issue, most people expected it to come through the political system. In the end, the political system failed to solve the problem or contain the explosive force of the slavery issue, but for a time it looked as though it might succeed. Political leaders like "the Great Compromiser," Henry Clay, approached the slavery issue optimistically as a series of questions that might be balanced off against one another. Indeed, almost since the founding of the nation, the process of bringing new states into the union had been guided by the unwritten principle of balancing the admission of free and slave states. It was this spirit of patching together a compromise that animated the architects of the Missouri Compromise in 1820, the elements of which were that Missouri was brought in as a slave state; Maine was separated off from Massachusetts and admitted as a free state; and no more slave states were to be carved out of territory north of the southern boundary of Missouri.

The issue of slavery drove politics from 1820 to the Civil War. Throughout this period the pro-slavery southerners demanded that their "property rights" (to own slaves) be protected by the government through measures such as fugitive slave laws. This recalled the words of John Locke, the most influential philosopher for the generation that made the American Revolution. Locke declared that all men, as an essential condition of being human, had the "inalienable" rightin society as in the "state of nature," to defend their "life, liberty, and property." In drafting the "Declaration of Independence" in 1776, Thomas Jefferson had air-brushed that phrase to read "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." But, regardless of that cosmetic change, the slavery issue forced the nation to decide which was the more important ingredient of humanityliberty or property. It was the controversy over Missouri's application to join the union as a slave state that led the aging Thomas Jefferson to declare that the slavery question was like a "fire-bell in the night," waking the nation to the possibility of secession.

Slavery endured because it was profitable to the owners of slaves even though its presence inhibited the diversification of the Southern economy. Thus it was probably inevitable that the institution would be ended only by force. It was not until April 1865, when the Civil War ended, that slavery was declared dead. Its demise was finally promulgated in the U.S. Constitution with the ratification of the thirteenth Amendment in 1866.

See also: Africans Arrive in Virginia, Henry Clay, Indentured Servants, Missouri Compromise,


Curtin, Phillip D. The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969.

Fogel, Robert William. Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery. New York: New York, 1989.

Franklin, John Hope. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Goode, Kenneth G. From Africa to the United States and then . . . A Concise Afro-American History. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1969.

Robinson, Donald L. Slavery in the Structure of American Politics, 17651820. New York: Norton, 1979.

Sorin, Gerald. Abolitionism; A New Perspective. New York: Praeger, 1972.

Stevenson, Brenda E. Life in Black and White: Family and Community in the Slave South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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"Slavery (issue)." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. 2000. 30 May. 2016 <>.

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371. Slavery

See also 68. CAPTIVITY .

the movement for the abolition of slavery, especially Negro slavery in the U.S. abolitionist, n.
the condition or quality of being a helot; serfdom or slavery. Also helotage, helotry .
1. the state or period of being indentured or apprenticed; apprenticeship.
2. the state or period of being a servant bound to service for a specified time in return for passage to a colony.
a doctrine that advocates slavery. servility, n.

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slav·er·y / ˈslāvərē/ • n. the state of being a slave: thousands had been sold into slavery. ∎  the practice or system of owning slaves. ∎  a condition compared to that of a slave in respect of exhausting labor or restricted freedom: female domestic slavery. ∎  excessive dependence on or devotion to something: slavery to tradition.

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"slavery." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. 2009. 30 May. 2016 <>.

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John Whiteclay Chambers II. "Slavery." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. 2000. 30 May. 2016 <>.

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slaverybeery, bleary, cheery, dearie, dreary, Dun Laoghaire, eerie, eyrie (US aerie), Kashmiri, leery, peri, praemunire, query, smeary, teary, theory, weary •Deirdre • incendiary • intermediary •subsidiary •auxiliary, ciliary, domiciliary •apiary • topiary • farriery • furriery •justiciary •bestiary, vestiary •breviary • aviary • hosiery •diary, enquiry, expiry, fiery, friary, inquiry, miry, priory, spiry, wiry •podiatry, psychiatry •dowry, floury, flowery, loury, showery, towery •brewery • jewellery (US jewelry) •curie, de jure, fioriture, fury, houri, Jewry, jury, Manipuri, Missouri, moory, Newry, tandoori, Urey •statuary • actuary • sanctuary •obituary • sumptuary • voluptuary •January • electuary • ossuary •mortuary •Bradbury, Cadbury •blackberry, hackberry •cranberry • waxberry •Barbary, barberry •Shaftesbury • raspberry •bayberry, blaeberry •Avebury • Aylesbury • Sainsbury •bilberry, tilbury •bribery •corroboree, jobbery, robbery, slobbery, snobbery •dogberry • Roddenberry • Fosbury •strawberry • Salisbury •crowberry, snowberry •chokeberry •Rosebery, Shrewsbury •blueberry, dewberry •Dewsbury • Bloomsbury • gooseberry •blubbery, rubbery, shrubbery •Sudbury • mulberry • huckleberry •Bunbury • husbandry • loganberry •Canterbury • Glastonbury •Burberry, turbary •hatchery • archery •lechery, treachery •stitchery, witchery •debauchery • butchery • camaraderie •cindery, tindery •industry • dromedary • lapidary •spidery • bindery • doddery •quandary • powdery • boundary •bouldery • embroidery •prudery, rudery •do-goodery • shuddery • thundery •prebendary • legendary • secondary •amphorae • wafery •midwifery, periphery •infantry • housewifery • spoofery •puffery • sulphury (US sulfury) •Calgary •beggary, Gregory •vagary •piggery, priggery, whiggery •brigandry • bigotry • allegory •vinegary • category • subcategory •hoggery, toggery •pettifoggery • demagoguery •roguery • sugary •buggery, skulduggery, snuggery, thuggery •Hungary • humbuggery •ironmongery • lingerie • treasury •usury • menagerie • pageantry •Marjorie • kedgeree • gingery •imagery • orangery • savagery •forgery • soldiery • drudgery •perjury, surgery •microsurgery •hackery, quackery, Thackeray, Zachary •mountebankery • knick-knackery •gimcrackery • peccary • grotesquerie •bakery, fakery, jacquerie •chickaree, chicory, hickory, Terpsichore, trickery •whiskery • apothecary •crockery, mockery, rockery •falconry • jiggery-pokery •cookery, crookery, rookery •brusquerie •puckery, succory •cuckoldry •calorie, gallery, Malory, salary, Valerie •saddlery • balladry • gallantry •kilocalorie • diablerie • chandlery •harlotry • celery • pedlary •exemplary •helotry, zealotry •nailery, raillery •Tuileries •ancillary, artillery, capillary, codicillary, distillery, fibrillary, fritillary, Hilary, maxillary, pillory •mamillary • tutelary • corollary •bardolatry, hagiolatry, iconolatry, idolatry •cajolery, drollery •foolery, tomfoolery •constabulary, vocabulary •scapulary • capitulary • formulary •scullery • jugglery • cutlery •chancellery • epistolary • burglary •mammary • fragmentary •passementerie • flimflammery •armory, armoury, gendarmerie •almonry •emery, memory •creamery • shimmery • primary •rosemary • yeomanry •parfumerie, perfumery •flummery, Montgomery, mummery, summary, summery •gossamery • customary • infirmary •cannery, granary, tannery •canonry •antennary, bimillenary, millenary, venery •tenantry • chicanery •beanery, bicentenary, catenary, centenary, deanery, greenery, machinery, plenary, scenery, senary, septenary •disciplinary, interdisciplinary •hymnary • missionary •ordinary, subordinary •valetudinary • imaginary • millinery •culinary • seminary • preliminary •luminary • urinary • veterinary •mercenary • sanguinary •binary, finery, pinery, quinary, vinery, winery •Connery • Conakry • ornery • joinery •buffoonery, poltroonery, sublunary, superlunary •gunnery, nunnery •consuetudinary • visionary •exclusionary • legionary • pulmonary •coronary • reactionary • expansionary •concessionary, confessionary, discretionary •confectionery, insurrectionary, lectionary •deflationary, inflationary, probationary, stationary, stationery •expeditionary, petitionary, prohibitionary, traditionary, transitionary •dictionary • cautionary •ablutionary, counter-revolutionary, devolutionary, elocutionary, evolutionary, revolutionary, substitutionary •functionary •diversionary, reversionary •fernery, quaternary, ternary •peppery • extempore • weaponry •apery, drapery, japery, napery, papery, vapoury (US vapory) •frippery, slippery •coppery, foppery •popery • dupery • trumpery •February • heraldry • knight-errantry •arbitrary • registrary • library •contrary • horary • supernumerary •itinerary • honorary • funerary •contemporary, extemporary, temporary •literary • brasserie • chancery •accessory, intercessory, pessary, possessory, tesserae •dispensary, incensory, ostensory, sensory, suspensory •tracery •pâtisserie, rotisserie •emissary • dimissory •commissary, promissory •janissary • necessary • derisory •glossary • responsory • sorcery •grocery • greengrocery •delusory, illusory •compulsory • vavasory • adversary •anniversary, bursary, cursory, mercery, nursery •haberdashery •evidentiary, penitentiary, plenipotentiary, residentiary •beneficiary, fishery, judiciary •noshery • gaucherie • fiduciary •luxury • tertiary •battery, cattery, chattery, flattery, tattery •factory, manufactory, olfactory, phylactery, refractory, satisfactory •artery, martyry, Tartary •mastery, plastery •directory, ex-directory, interjectory, rectory, refectory, trajectory •peremptory •alimentary, complementary, complimentary, documentary, elementary, parliamentary, rudimentary, sedimentary, supplementary, testamentary •investigatory •adulatory, aleatory, approbatory, celebratory, clarificatory, classificatory, commendatory, congratulatory, consecratory, denigratory, elevatory, gyratory, incantatory, incubatory, intimidatory, modificatory, participatory, placatory, pulsatory, purificatory, reificatory, revelatory, rotatory •natatory • elucidatory • castigatory •mitigatory • justificatory •imprecatory • equivocatory •flagellatory • execratory • innovatory •eatery, excretory •glittery, jittery, skittery, twittery •benedictory, contradictory, maledictory, valedictory, victory •printery, splintery •consistory, history, mystery •presbytery •inhibitory, prohibitory •hereditary • auditory • budgetary •military, paramilitary •solitary • cemetery • limitary •vomitory • dormitory • fumitory •interplanetary, planetary, sanitary •primogenitary • dignitary •admonitory, monitory •unitary • monetary • territory •secretary • undersecretary •plebiscitary • repository • baptistery •transitory •depositary, depository, expository, suppository •niterie •Godwottery, lottery, pottery, tottery •bottomry • watery • psaltery •coterie, notary, protonotary, rotary, votary •upholstery •bijouterie, charcuterie, circumlocutory •persecutory • statutory • salutary •executory •contributory, retributory, tributary •interlocutory •buttery, fluttery •introductory • adultery • effrontery •perfunctory • blustery • mediatory •retaliatory • conciliatory • expiatory •denunciatory, renunciatory •appreciatory, depreciatory •initiatory, propitiatory •dietary, proprietary •extenuatory •mandatary, mandatory •predatory • sedentary • laudatory •prefatory • offertory • negatory •obligatory •derogatory, interrogatory, supererogatory •nugatory •expurgatory, objurgatory, purgatory •precatory •explicatory, indicatory, vindicatory •confiscatory, piscatory •dedicatory • judicatory •qualificatory • pacificatory •supplicatory •communicatory, excommunicatory •masticatory • prognosticatory •invocatory • obfuscatory •revocatory • charlatanry •depilatory, dilatory, oscillatory •assimilatory • consolatory •voluntary • emasculatory •ejaculatory •ambulatory, circumambulatory, perambulatory •regulatory •articulatory, gesticulatory •manipulatory • copulatory •expostulatory • circulatory •amatory, declamatory, defamatory, exclamatory, inflammatory, proclamatory •crematory • segmentary •lachrymatory •commentary, promontory •informatory, reformatory •momentary •affirmatory, confirmatory •explanatory • damnatory •condemnatory •cosignatory, signatory •combinatory •discriminatory, eliminatory, incriminatory, recriminatory •comminatory • exterminatory •hallucinatory • procrastinatory •monastery • repertory •emancipatory • anticipatory •exculpatory, inculpatory •declaratory, preparatory •respiratory • perspiratory •vibratory •migratory, transmigratory •exploratory, laboratory, oratory •inauguratory • adjuratory •corroboratory • reverberatory •refrigeratory • compensatory •desultory • dysentery •exhortatory, hortatory •salutatory • gustatory • lavatory •inventory •conservatory, observatory •improvisatory •accusatory, excusatory •lathery •feathery, heathery, leathery •dithery, slithery •carvery •reverie, severy •Avery, bravery, knavery, quavery, Savery, savory, savoury, slavery, wavery •thievery •livery, quivery, shivery •silvery •ivory, salivary •ovary •discovery, recovery •servery • equerry • reliquary •antiquary • cassowary • stipendiary •colliery • pecuniary • chinoiserie •misery • wizardry • citizenry •advisory, provisory, revisory, supervisory •causerie, rosary

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"slavery." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. 2007. 30 May. 2016 <>.

"slavery." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. 2007. (May 30, 2016).

"slavery." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. 2007. Retrieved May 30, 2016 from

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