Slavery in the United States
Slavery has played a central role in the history of the United States. It existed in all the English mainland colonies and to dominated the South. Most of the Founding Fathers were large-scale slaveholders, as were eight of the first 12 presidents of the United States. Debate over slavery increasingly dominated American politics, leading eventually to the nation's only civil war, which in turn finally brought slavery to an end. After emancipation, overcoming slavery's legacy remained a crucial issue in American history, from the reconstruction following the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement a century later.
The enslavement of blacks in the American Colonies began during the 1600's. Slavery flourished in the South, where large plantations grew cotton, tobacco, and other crops. The plantations in the South required large numbers of labourers, and the cheapest and most efficient way of producing was to acquire slaves. But slavery was less profitable in the North, where economic activity centred on small farms and industries. By 1860, the slave states had about 4 million slaves, these slaves comprised nearly a third of the South's population.
Abolition of slavery in the North, which began in the Revolutionary era and was largely complete by the 1830s, divided the United States into the "slave" South and the "free" North. As this happened, slavery came—both to Northerners and Southerners—to define the essence of the South: to defend slavery was to be "pro-Southern," whereas opposition to slavery was "anti-Southern." In essence, the South believed slavery should not be banned and the North argued many reasons to the contrary. However, although most Southern whites did not own slaves (the proportion of white families that owned slaves declined from 35 percent to 26 percent between 1830 and 1860), slavery more and more set the South apart from the rest of the country—and the Western world. This was particularly so with the addition of the Mason-Dixon Line, which literally divided the country in half between “free states” and “slaves states”, and only ended up adding fuel to the already raging fire. In an era that celebrated "liberty" and "equality," the slave South came to be viewed as backwards and repressive.