Slave state

From Academic Kids

A slave state is a U.S. state that had legal slavery (overwhelmingly the enslavement of African-Americans, although historically also the enslavement of Native Americans, and whites through indentured servitude) in the period before the American Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. The 15 slave states at the time of the Civil War were Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. (The District of Columbia also had slavery prior to the Civil War.) The last state to abolish slavery before the war was New Jersey in 1846, although the laws of that state retained slaves over a certain age as "apprentices for life" until the 13th Amendment.

All but four of these states seceded in 1860 and 1861 to form the Confederate States of America; Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri did not leave the Union. (The District of Columbia also remained part of the Union.)


Original state-based abolition efforts

Prior to the Revolution, all of the British North American colonies had slavery, but the Revolutionary War gave impetus to a general antislavery sentiment. The Northwest Territory, now known as the Midwest, was organized under the Northwest Ordinance with a prohibition on slavery in 1787. Massachusetts accepted that its 1780 Constitution effectively abolished slavery, and several other northern States adopted statutes requiring gradual emancipation. In 1804, New Jersey became the last State to embark on the course of gradual emancipation, a process which had still not quite entirely eliminated slavery as late as 1860.

Northern slave states

European settlement16661638162016231633163616241620
First record of slaveryc.1760?16391629?16451639165216261626?
Official end of slavery17771780178317831784178417991804
Actual end of slavery1777?c.1845?1783c.1845?1848184218271865

Conflict over new territories

By the end of the War of 1812, the momentum for antislavery reform, state by state, appeared to run out of steam, with half of the States having already abolished slavery (Northeast), prohibited from the start (Midwest) or committed to eliminating slavery (New Jersey etc), and half committed to continuing the institution indefinitely (South). The potential for political conflict over slavery at a federal level led politicians to be concerned about the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, where each State was represented by two Senators. With an equal number of slave States and free States, the Senate was equally divided. As the population of the free States began to outstrip the population of the slave States, the Senate became the preoccupation of Slave state politicians, interested in maintaining a veto over federal policy in regard to slavery. As a result of this preoccupation, slave states and free states were often admitted into the Union in pairs, so as to maintain the existing balance between slave and free.

The admission of Missouri and the Missouri Compromise

Controversy over whether Missouri should be admitted as a slave State, resulted in the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which specified that Louisiana Purchase territory north of latitude 36 30', which described Missouri's southern boundary, would be organized as free States and territory south of that line would be reserved for organization as Slave states. As part of that Compromise, the admission of Maine was secured to balance Missouri's admission as a slave State.

Status of Texas and the Mexican Cession states

The admission of Texas and the acquisition of vast new western territories in the Mexican-American War, further excited controversy. Although the settled portion of Texas was an area rich in cotton plantations and dependent on slavery, the territory acquired in the Mountain West did not seem hospitable to cotton or slavery. In 1850, California was admitted as a free State, without an additional Slave state as balance. This would have created a free State majority in the Senate, except for the fact that California agreeably sent one pro-slavery and one anti-slavery Senator to Washington. Thus, the admission of California increased the anxiety of pro-slavery politicians, but did not change the balance in the Senate.

The last battles

The difficulty of identifying any territory, which could be organized into additional Slave states stalled the process of opening the western territories to settlement, while Slave state politicians sought a solution. Efforts were made to acquire Cuba, and even to annex Nicaragua. In 1854, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was repealed, and an effort was initiated to organize Kansas, as a Slave state. Kansas was paired with Minnesota, for admission, but the admission of Kansas as a Slave state was blocked, over the legitimacy of its Slave state constitution. When the admission of Minnesota proceeded unimpeded, the balance in the Senate was lost, a loss compounded by the subsequent admission of Oregon.

Slave and free state pairs

Before 1812 the concern about balancing slave-states and free states was not profound. This is how the states lined up in 1812.

Slave StatesYearFree StatesYear
Delaware1787New Jersey1787slave until 1804
South Carolina1788Massachusettes1788
Virginia1788New Hampshire1788
North Carolina1789New York1788slave until 1799
Rhode Island1790

Following 1812 and until the American Civil War, maintaining the balance of free and slave states within the federal legislature was considered of paramount importance if the Union was to be preserved, and states were admitted in pairs.

Slave StatesYearFree StatesYear
California18501 Senator pro-slavery
Kansas (blocked)Minnesota1858

The end of slave states

Maryland and the pro-Union government of Missouri abolished slavery during the Civil War. West Virginia split from Virginia and entered the Union as a free state in 1863.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified December 6, 1865, abolished slavery throughout the United States, ending the distinction. Ratification of the 13th Amendment was a condition of the return of local rule to those states that had seceded.

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