Slavery and Civil Rights

Slavery and the Abolitionist Movement

Slavery continued until 1865, when abolitionists argued against its conditions as violating Christian principals and rights to equality.

Learning Objectives

Describe the history of slavery in the United States and early efforts at abolition

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • By 1860, four million people lived in slavery in the US. Most were people who had been brought from Africa and their descendants.
  • Most people living as slaves worked in agriculture, including in the cotton industry, which was a key industry in the southern states. Enslaved people had few rights and were often subjected to harsh and violent living conditions.
  • Abolitionists argued against slavery because of its harsh conditions, and through claims that slavery violated Christian principals and the natural rights of all people for equality.
  • Most Northern states moved to end slavery by 1804.
  • Freed slaves often continued to face racial segregation and discrimination.
  • The conflict over slavery became a key catalyst for the Civil War.

Key Terms

  • chattel slavery: people are treated as the personal property, chattels, of an owner and are bought and sold as commodities
  • Underground Railway: a network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th-century black slaves in the United States to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause
  • manumission: release from slavery, freedom, the act of manumitting

Slavery in the US

While the US was founded on principles of representation, due process and universal rights, slavery remained one of the most persistent and visible exceptions to these ideals.

Slavery, including chattel slavery, was a legal institution in the US from the colonial period until the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) and Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution (1865). Most slaves in the US were people brought from Africa and their descendants, and this racial dimension of US slavery continues to impact US civil rights debates. By 1860, four million people lived as slaves in the US, and most worked in the agriculture sector. The rise in the southern cotton industry after 1800 also led to a steady increase in slavery, which then became a major catalyst for the Civil War.

Conditions of Slavery

The conditions of slavery were harsh, starting with the “middle passage” where Africans were stuffed into the hulls of ships like cargo. Some fifteen percent of enslaved people are estimated to have died during travel from Africa. In the US the conditions of slavery acted to dehumanize enslaved people denying them even basic rights. The use of native languages was banned, and it was illegal to learn or teach reading and writing. Marriages were banned, and children were often taken away from parents to be sold. It was also common for slave owners to sexually assault enslaved women. Finally, working conditions were long and hard, especially for field workers, and violence was an ever present part of life.

Abolition

Throughout this period many people worked to end slavery. Early abolitionist legislation included Congress prohibiting slavery in the Northwest Territory (1787), and a ban on the import or export of slaves (1808) in the US and Britain. Resistance to slavery also took other forms including institutions such as the Underground Railway that helped escaping slaves make their way to freedom.

Abolitionists came from various communities including religious groups such as the Quakers, white anti-slavery activists such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, and former slaves and free people of color such as Frederick Douglass, Robert Purvis and James Forten. While some abolitionists called for an immediate end to slavery, others favored more gradual approaches. These included the banning of slavery in the territories, and manumission campaigns encouraging individual owners to free slaves.

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Frederick Douglass: Frederick Douglass was a freed slave prominent abolitionist and rights advocate.

Arguments against Slavery

Abolitionists used several arguments against slavery. As early as 1688, Quakers in Germantown, Pennsylvania presented a petition to end slavery based on religious obligation and natural rights to equality. In 1774, a group of enslaved people in Massachusetts petitioned the governor against slavery used similar arguments including the natural rights of all people, the demands of Christian brotherhood, and the harsh conditions of slavery. By the 1830s, evangelical groups became quite active in the abolitionist movement including the formation of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. These groups often also supported other reform movements such as temperance movements and supports for public schools.

Early politicians and constitutional authors including Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson also had reservations about slavery because of their commitment to equal rights. However, many of these same politicians also owned slaves.

Gradual Abolition and Conflict

By 1804, most of the northern states had moved towards the abolition of slavery. although this process was quite gradual, and freed slaves were often subject to racial segregation and discrimination. Manumission campaigns in the Upper South were also successful in increasing the number of free people of color in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware where, by 1810, three-quarters of Black people in Delaware were free.

Support for slavery remained the strongest in the southern states where slavery was an important economic institution for cotton and other agricultural industries strongest in the South. The conflict over slavery became a key catalyst for the Civil War that divided northern and southern states.

Abolitionism and the Women’s Rights Movement

Many women involved in the early abolitionist movement went on to be important leaders in the early women’s rights and suffrage movements.

Learning Objectives

Describe the relationship between the women’s rights and anti-slavery movements

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • There were many progressive movements active in the pre-civil war era. The abolition and women’s rights movement were two of the most important.
  • The two movements tied together as many women involved in early abolition became leaders in the women’s rights and suffrage movements.
  • The women’s rights movement applied the arguments for human rights and equality used in the abolition movement to their own lives and demanded equal consideration for women.
  • There were divisions within the abolition movement over the role of women, and whether they should be subordinate, or if it was appropriate for women to take more public or leadership roles in the movement.
  • While the pre-civil war women’s rights movement had few major victories it set the ground work for the suffrage campaigns that would occur in the early 20th century, along with women’s rights, feminist and women of color movements that continue today.

Key Terms

  • women’s rights movement: the political and social actions of individuals and organizations focused on the empowerment and equal treatment of women
  • suffrage: The right or chance to vote, express an opinion, or participate in a decision.

Progressive Pre-War Period

A wide variety of progressive movements grew up during the decades leading up to the US Civil War. The activists involved hoped to make significant changes in society, including expanding rights and freedoms to a larger group of people living in the US.

Two of the most influential were the anti- slavery or abolitionist movement, and the women’s rights movement. These were also closely related as many of the women who would go on to be leaders in the women’s rights movement got their political start in the abolitionist movement.

While many women were active in the abolitionist movement they were often kept out of public, leadership and decision making positions. For example only two women attended the Agents ‘ Convention of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1836. Women began to form their own abolition groups, organizing events such as the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women held in 1837. This convention brought 200 women to New York City, where they called for the immediate abolition of slavery in the US. The delegates argued for an end to slavery based on the often brutal conditions of slavery, as well as the ways in which slavery violated christian principals and basic human right to equality.

Women’s Rights Movement

Women involved in the early abolitionists movement also began to connect demands for equal right to their own lives and experiences, advocating for expanded education, employment and political rights including suffrage.

The 1848 Seneca Falls convention is one of the key early moments in the suffrage and women’s rights movement in the US. The convention was organized primarily by a group of Quaker women during a visit by Lucretia Mott, a Quaker woman well known for her role in the abolition movement and advocacy for women’s rights. The convention brought together 300 people, men and women, and produced a strong Declaration of Sentiments advocating for women’s equality including the right to vote.

The Intersection of Race and Gender

As progressive movements grew, several divisions developed often over questions of identity and especially over the role women and people of color in the movements. In terms of Abolition more incremental groups preferred advocating against the expansion of slavery, but would often stop short of calling for full or immediate abolition. Supporters of this strategy often also advocated for colonization for freed slaves, a strategy that would see emancipated people sent to colonies established in Africa, such as Liberia.

Many advocates of incremental abolition and colonization also held more traditional views on the role of women, claiming that women should play a supporting role in both the abolitionist movement and in society more generally.

A more progressive and radical strain of abolition maintained that rights and moral standing were universal, and that whether people were of African or European decent, men or women they were all due to equal treatment and rights.

A well-known exchange between Catherine Beecher and Angelina Grimké two prominent women activists and writers highlighted these two perspectives. Beecher argued women should remain subordinate by divine law in her Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism with Reference to the Duty of American Females. While Grimké asserts the rights of women to engage in all political institutions that impact their lives.

The role of Black women in the suffrage movement was also sometimes problematic. For example, both emancipated women who had been slaves and free women of color were active in the abolitionist movement, but as the women’s movement grew there was often resistance on the part of the increasingly middle class, educated, white leadership to include Black women. For example while Sojourner Truth spoke to the Women’s Convention in Akron Ohio in 1851 there were conflicting reports over how the speech was received. Some claimed delegates welcomed both the speaker and message, and others claimed that delegates were hostile to having a Black speaker address them.

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Sojourner Truth: Sojourner Truth who had been bom into slavery won her own freedom and became a prominent abolitionist and women’s rights advocate.

Outcomes and Legacy

While women did not gain the right to vote in all sates until 1920, there were still some victories won for women’s rights in the period leading up to the Civil War. One of the most notable was New York State granting property rights to married women. This period of activism also set the foundation for the suffrage campaigns that would occur in the early 20th century, along with women’s rights, feminist and women of color movements that continue today.

The Civil War Amendments

The Civil War Amendments protected equality for emancipated slaves by banning slavery, defining citizenship, and ensuring voting rights.

Learning Objectives

Identify the key provisions of the three Civil War amendments

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, known collectively as the Civil War Amendments, were designed to ensure equality for recently emancipated slaves.
  • The 13th Amendment banned slavery and all involuntary servitude, except in the case of punishment for a crime.
  • The 14th Amendment defined a citizen as any person born in or naturalized in the United States, overturning the Dred Scott V. Sandford (1857) Supreme Court ruling stating that Black people were not eligible for citizenship.
  • The 15th Amendment prohibited governments from denying U.S. citizens the right to vote based on race, color, or past servitude.

Key Terms

  • Emancipation Proclamation: An executive order issued by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, during the American Civil War. It proclaimed the freedom of slaves in 10 states that were still in rebellion.
  • Jim Crow: Southern United States racist and segregationist policies in the late 1800’s and early to mid 1900’s, taken collectively.
  • Civil War Amendments: The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution.

The Civil War Amendments

The 13th (1865), 14th (1868), and 15th Amendments (1870) were the first amendments made to the U.S. constitution in 60 years. Known collectively as the Civil War Amendments, they were designed to ensure the equality for recently emancipated slaves.

While the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the 10 states that were still in rebellion, many citizens were concerned that the rights granted by war-time legislation would be overturned. The Republican Party controlled congress and pushed for constitutional amendments that would be more permanent and binding. The three amendments prohibited slavery, granted citizenship rights to all people born or naturalized in the United States regardless of race, and prohibited governments from infringing on voting rights based on race or past servitude.

The 13th Amendment

This amendment explicitly banned slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States. An exception was made for punishment of a crime. This amendment also gave Congress the power to enforce the article through legislation.

The 14th Amendment

This amendment set out the definitions and rights of citizenship in the United States. The first clause asserted that anyone born or naturalized in the United States is a citizen of the United States and of the state in which they live. It also confirmed the right to due process, life, liberty, and property. This overturned the Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) Supreme Court ruling that stated that black people were not eligible for citizenship.

The amendment also defined the formula for determining political representation by apportioning representatives among states based on a count of all residents as whole persons. This contrasted with the pre-Civil War compromise that counted enslaved people as three-fifth in representation enumeration. Southern slave owners wanted slaves counted as whole people to increase the representation of southern states in Congress. Even after the 14th Amendment, native people not paying taxes were not counted for representation.

Finally, the amendment dealt with the Union officers, politicians, and debt. It banned any person who had engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States from holding civil or military office. Finally, it declared that no debt undertaken by the Confederacy would be assumed by the United States.

The 15th Amendment

This amendment prohibited governments from denying U.S. citizens the right to vote based on race, color, or past servitude.

While the amendment provided legal protection for voting rights based on race, there were other means that could be used to block black citizens from voting. These included poll taxes and literacy tests. These methods were employed around the country to undermine the Civil War Amendments and set the stage for Jim Crow conditions and for the Civil Rights Movement.

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The First Vote: This image depicts the first black voters going the polls.

The NAACP

The NAACP, which was founded in 1909, advocates for full civil liberties and an end to racial discrimination and violence.

Learning Objectives

Identify the key figures and groups working for racial equality in early twentieth-century America

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Discrimination and violence against people of color and especially Black people continued into the 1900s, and led several groups to organize against discrimination.
  • The NAACP was founded in 1909, and organized around full civil liberties and and end to racial discrimination and violence including lynching.
  • The NAACP focused on local organizing with 300 branches by 1919.
  • The NAACP’s worked continued to evolve and they organized campaigns around voting rights, education and employment.

Key Terms

  • lynching: Execution of a person by mob action without due process of law, especially hanging.

Organizing for Equality: The NAACP

At the beginning of the 1900s the conditions for people of color, and particularly Black people in the US were incredibly unequal. Most Black people in the US were descendants of people who had lived in slavery in the US, and particularly in the South they experienced legal segregation, limitations on civil rights and liberties, and high rates of violence including lynching. During this period several groups began organizing, particularly around defending rights won under the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) was one of these groups.

W.E.B. Du Bois and the Niagara Movement

W.E.B. Du Bois was a scholar and activist committed to full civil rights for all people. His worked extended beyond the US, and he was also a Pan-Africanist and supported anti-colonial actions in Africa and Asia.

In 1905 Du Bois along with William Monroe Trotter convened the first meeting of the Niagara Movement in Niagara Falls in Ontario. This group of Black activists and scholars called for full civil liberties and an end to racial discrimination. Their approach contrasted with other groups at the time calling for more gradual reform.

The NAACPimage

In 1909 the NAACP formed, the fist call for a meeting was send out by a group of white liberals appalled by the continued violence committed against Black people in the US. W.E.B. Du Bois was one of a small group of Black participants in the first meeting, and his focus on defending the rights granted in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments and eliminate race prejudice were adopted by the group.

The NAACP: W.E.B. Du Bois and Mary White Ovington were two of the founding officers of the NAACP.

The NAACP focused on recruiting members and local organizing. Branch offices were established in cities such as Washington DC, Kansas City MO, Detroit MI, and Boston MA. by 1919 they had tens of thousands of members and hundreds of local chapters.

In the early years the NAACP campaigned vigorously against lynching, voter suppression laws, for education rights, and blocked the nomination of a segregationist Supreme Court Judge. During the great depression the NAACP moved to organizing around the disproportionate impact of the depression on Black workers, and worked with willing unions to help secure jobs.

Litigating for Equality After World War II

Post-WWI civil rights were expanded through court rulings such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which helped integrate public schools.

Learning Objectives

Describe the decision in Brown v. Board of Education

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The period after World War II saw a great expansion in Civil Rights. This was achieved through a diversity of tactics including ongoing litigation.
  • The best know case from this period is Brown v. Board of Education (1954), a Supreme Court case in which justices unanimously decided to reverse the principle of separate but equal. The decision led to the legal integration of public schools.
  • While Brown v. Board of Education paved the way for integration in schools and other spheres of life, not everyone supported this decision. Many white people in southern states protested against integration and legislators thought up creative ways to get around the ruling.

Key Terms

  • Brown v. Board of Education:
  • “Separate but Equal”: A legal doctrine in United States constitutional law that justified systems of segregation. Under this doctrine, services, facilities and public accommodations were allowed to be separated by race, on the condition that the quality of each group’s public facilities was to remain equal.

Litigating for Equality after World War II

The period after World War II saw a great expansion in civil rights. This was achieved through a diversity of tactics including ongoing litigation.

The best know case from this period is Brown v. Board of Education (1954), a Supreme Court case in which justices unanimously decided to reverse the principle of separate but equal. The decision led to the legal integration of public schools.

Brown v. Board of Education was a collection of cases that had been filed on the issue of school segregation from Delaware, Kansas, South Carolina and Washington DC. Each case was brought forward through NAACP local chapters. In each case except for Delaware, local courts had upheld the legality of segregation. The states represented a diversity of situations ranging from required school segregation to optional school segregation.

Segregation as Unconstitutional

Rather than focusing on whether or not segregated schools were equal, the Supreme Court ruling focused on the question of whether a doctrine of separate could ever be said to be equal. The judges ‘ ruling hinged on an interpretation that took separate as unconstitutional particularly because “Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. ”

School Integration and Resistance

Brown v. Board of Education paved the way for integration in schools and other spheres of life, but not everyone supported this decision. Many white people in southern states protested integration, and legislators thought up creative ways to get around the ruling. This case was just one step on the road to providing full civil liberties for all people living in the United States.

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Anti-Integration Protest: A 1959 rally in Little Rock AK protests the integration of the high school.