Slavery was a very unstable, fluctuating part of history. From 1775 to 1830, slavery was booming, while at the same time, plenty of slaves were freed. Although this statement seems paradoxical, it is entirely accurate. The reasons for this happening range from political manipulation to social typecasting. Not only are these reasons imperative, but understanding how enslaved and freed African Americans responded to what was happening around them is also important. The expanding need and growth of slavery depended on a number of factors.
With the growing numbers of large tobacco, indigo, and cotton plantations, particularly in the South, it was apparent that plantation owners needed a helping hand. Because of their strong bodies and immune system, plantation owners thought Africans would handle the laborious work well. Yet, to diminish this need of African slaves, Eli Whitney created the cotton gin to lighten the workload of picking cotton. To his dismay, the plan backfired, doing the opposite of what he had initially intended.
Expanding westward also contributed to the advancement of slavery.
After the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, which brought in more land that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains for the colonists to farm on, there was a higher demand for slaves. The three-fifths compromise didn’t help much either. After farmers was informed that their slaves counted as part of a person, which means more votes for that state, they saw an opportunity to run the government. The situation wasn’t all bad for the African Americans. Looking at the brighter side of things, there were a lot of slaves that were freed!
This is due to the North being too preoccupied with other occupations like shipbuilding, fishing, and all that other fun stuff. There was a minimal need for slaves. More importantly, during the American Revolutionary War, Lord Dunmore made a proclamation that stated that slaves who fought for Britain would be emancipated. This way, the king would have willing troops and the slaves would see freedom. It was a win-win situation, except for the Americans. Yet, for some Americans who opposed slavery, freedom wasn’t enough.
The Vermont Colonization Society decided it would be best to send the African Americans back to their “homeland” in Africa. Although it seems a little extreme, their intentions were innocent. With all this going on, both enslaved and freed African Americans outwardly responded to what was happening to them, instead of cowering in a corner. Enslaved African Americans took the initiative to get their own freed. This was achieved in numerous ways. As stated before, slaves volunteered to fight for the British in order to get emancipated.
Also, freed was gained through money. Venture Smith asked his master if he could purchase his freedom with the money he saved. A rebellion, also known as Gabriel’s Rebellion, was supposed to get slaves to Richmond, but it was rain checked due to inclement weather. Similarly, freed slaves spoke up when treated less than morally correct. Once freed, African Americans went to faith for thanks and showed gratitude by getting on the ground and giving thanks, like the people of the Negro Methodist Church in Philadelphia.
When treated unfairly, African Americans, like Paul Cuffe, petitioned the government. They attempted to fight for their rights as people, not as objects that were let go. Freed slaves, particularly David Walker, also challenged the Enlightenment. How could people, who know what it’s like to be controlled by a higher authority, claim to live for liberty and freedom when they enslave others? This is the question many free slaves wanted an answer to.
By making Americans realize how hypocritical they were being, maybe the African Americans could make the white Americans relate slavery to being under the rule of the king. Generalizing the point, even though slavery was shaky and unpredictable, both enslaved and freed African Americans found a voice to sound their opinions, ideas, and frustrations. Contrary to popular belief, why slavery was popular among some areas and not in others, wasn’t based solely on the economy; and both slaves and free men alike didn’t take the disrespect without some retaliation.
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