Slavery in the United States  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Slavery in the United States was the legal institution of human chattel enslavement, primarily of Africans and African Americans, that existed in the United States of America from the beginning of the nation in 1776 until passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. Slavery had been practiced in British America from early colonial days, and was legal in all thirteen colonies at the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Under the law, an enslaved person was treated as property and could be bought, sold, or given away. Slavery lasted in about half of U.S. states until 1865. As an economic system, slavery was largely replaced by sharecropping and convict leasing.

By the time of the American Revolution (1775–1783), the status of enslaved people had been institutionalized as a racial caste associated with African ancestry. The role of slavery under the U.S. Constitution (1789) was the most contentious issue during its drafting. Although the creators of the Constitution never used the word "slavery", the final document, through the three-fifths clause, gave slave-owners disproportionate political power.

During and immediately following the War, abolitionist laws were passed in most Northern states and a movement developed to abolish slavery. All Northern states had abolished slavery in some way by 1805; sometimes, abolition was a gradual process, and hundreds of people were still enslaved in the Northern states as late as the 1840 Census. Some slaveowners—primarily in the Upper South—freed the people they had enslaved, and philanthropists and charitable groups bought and freed other enslaved people. The Atlantic slave trade was outlawed by individual states beginning during the American Revolution. The import-trade was banned by Congress in 1808, although smuggling was common thereafter.

The rapid expansion of the cotton industry in the Deep South after the invention of the cotton gin greatly increased demand for the labor of enslaved people, and the Southern states continued as slave societies. Those states attempted to extend slavery into the new western territories to keep their share of political power in the nation. The United States became ever more polarized over the issue of slavery, split into slave and free states. Driven by labor demands from new cotton plantations in the Deep South, the northern slave states sold over a million enslaved people who were taken to the Deep South in a forced migration. The total population of enslaved people in the South eventually reached four million. As the United States expanded, the Southern states wanted newly-formed states to allow slavery; this would allow pro-slavery forces to maintain their power in the U.S. Senate. The new territories acquired via the Louisiana purchase and the Mexican cession were the subject of major political crises and compromises. By 1850, the newly-rich, cotton-growing South was threatening to secede from the Union, and tensions continued to rise. Slavery was defended in the South as a "positive good", and large Protestant denominations split over the slavery issue into regional organizations of the North and South.

When Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 election on a platform of halting the expansion of slavery, seven states broke away to form the Confederacy. Shortly afterward, the Civil War began when Confederate forces attacked the US Army's Fort Sumter. Four additional slave states then seceded after Lincoln requested arms from them to make a retaliatory strike. Due to Union measures such as the Confiscation Acts and the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the war effectively ended slavery even before the institution was banned by constitutional amendment. Following the Union victory in the Civil War, slavery was made illegal in the United States upon the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865. Slavery briefly returned to US territory when the US federal government allowed the Sultanate of Sulu in the Philippines (a US possession during the first half of the twentieth century) to continue to practice slavery.

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