During the early national period, slavery was as normal as breathing. It was legal, popular and was expanding every day. In his book, “American expansion and the origins of Deep South”, Adam Rothman argues that we must understand the origin of the Deep South if we are to understand the expansion of slavery during the early national period.
It is a fact that slavery was becoming more acceptable because in the southern states, the number of slaves was growing bigger. More slaves meant more manpower hence development of Southern economies would accelerate ahead of the rest. A good percentage of every household ensured they have a slave.
The slaves themselves were reproducing naturally. This means their numbers over the years were increasing more than the rate of importation of new slaves from Africa. It was hard controlling the growing population, especially taking into account that the slaves were contributing massively to the then required rapid growth in the economy. An attempt to reverse the status quo would equally reverse the economic gains achieved over time by for example reducing the amount of export.
In North America however, most of whites were opposed to slavery even though they wanted them to be given their own freedom where they lived. But in the southern states, those who owned slaves were a respected lot since they had acquired a lot of property, thanks to the free labor that was readily available.
In the North, the few slave owners only gained by having free transport of their agricultural products to markets abroad. As elites and politicians continued to criticize slave trade, Southerners who benefited from slave trade had their economies growing fast, hence the development of famous states such as Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi (Rothman 6)
In South Carolina and Georgia for example, the beneficiaries of slave trade strongly defended slavery. Political debates over the abolition of slave trade led to other states threatening to withdraw from the union, especially by the delegates from the Deep South. They not only hated the idea of emancipating slaves but also argued strongly that if given freedom, they were doomed to fail.
In the upper South, those who owned slaves were for the idea of stopping importation of more slaves since their population was already increasing yet those in the lower South did not hold a similar view. So the Deep South continued to benefit from free labor offered by the slaves and developed a stronger economy than the rest of the States (Rothman 13).
Following sustained wars that prompted the expansion of the geographical frontiers of the North America, the Deep South (the present states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi) was accommodated into being part of the United States since they had a larger and more powerful economy.
Availability of good agricultural land, opportunity to get rich plus ready free labor made the Deep South gain more status and reputation among the other states. There was expansion of trade, improved livelihood and renewed hopes and all this was attributed to expansion of slavery.
In fact at some point, whites in areas like Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee were envying the rate of development in the southern border. Meanwhile, the slave owners were proud of the gains they had achieved and openly said that their economies will get better and the slaves will be in more demand than before (Rothman 18).
During the American Revolution, slave owners began to realize that owning a slave was becoming extremely dangerous. Many of the slaves ran away to the British while others turned against their own masters. This revolution did not necessarily end slavery in the Deep South but it sent a clear message to the slave owners that a major change was in the offing (Rothman 21).
There was a universal call for the end of slave trade and the slaves themselves had become conscious of how they were being misused and were also ready to fight for a change. The rebellion resulted in creation of new exclusively black states like Haiti.
The people in the Deep South needed the services of the slaves more than they needed the slaves. In the struggle, some states made it a capital offence to involve oneself in slave trade. There was also a plan of moving the proponents of slave trade to a land of their own but it was realized that this would solve one problem but create another.
Those who were against continued slave trade argued that it would be a disservice to the entire United States to spread the number of blacks over a large space and that it might not be good for the safety of Americans. In Louisiana, the question of slavery was considered on a broader aspect in terms of it’s impact on the economic development as well as the safety of the people, especially now that the slaves themselves were beginning to rebel.
On the political front, others looked at the possibility of imposing politically viable options so as to expand slavery. Even the law makers were divided on whether to allow for interstate movement of slaves since not all the states were keen on stopping the slave trade.
Senators in the North supported the idea while those in the South did not and this was seen as lack of genuine intention to stop expansion of slavery. But by 1804, legislations had been made to stop further importation of new slaves. This move was viewed by the southerners as a serious blow to agricultural development as well as trade.
They argued that the labor provided by the Africans could not find appropriate replacement. They even accused the United States Congress of violating the rights of their inhabitants and emphasized that the move to close slave trade would threaten their economy. Most farmers, even those in areas opposed to slave trade associated presence of slaves with progress. The proponents of expansion of slave trade were however criticized from all quarters even by poets.
Following the rise in slavery expansion between 1790 and 1812, the slave owners benefited because when America began to extend and mark its territory, the region that became the Deep South had better economy, based on the free labor they obtained within the period of expansion of slavery.
When importation of slaves was banned, the Southern slave owners refused to sell their slaves to the Northerners who wanted them. The demand was such that legislation had to be made so that if a slave owner from the South migrated and settled in the South, he was allowed to move with his slaves rather than import new ones.
This was also orchestrated by the fact that British merchants were equally dominating the North Atlantic slave trade and benefiting from the same. Each slave owner was therefore strongly attached to his slave and was even entitled to punish him upon disobedience.
There was a patriarchal attitude that a slave was under obligation to work hard and give the returns to their owners without question. Poor performance was not tolerated. With that patriarchal attitude, the slave owners strongly objected to interstate movement of slaves when laws enacted did not favor the further expansion of slavery. During the age of revolution, the slave owners had to domesticate their slaves. (Rothman 30)
Despite their demand, when the new United States was formed, the whites did not want to officially recognize the black slave. This was probably due to the fact that the slaves were mistreated and thus it was obvious that granted liberty, they would avenge on their masters. Furthermore, the top authorities believed that they would not be patriotic.
By 1790, cases of black rebellion were on the rise and this was sending cold shivers down the spine of white Americans. During this uprising, the news spread like bushfire all over the Atlantic World. This was just the beginning of a universal quest for freedom.
This revolt elicited mixed reactions from North Americans as some were intrigued while others were just astonished. Unfortunately, it took time for them to learn a lesson from the same.
However, with time and upon a distant look into the future, the then political leaders began to realize the futility of maintaining a rise in the population of the slaves who had then become furiously rebellious. A keen analysis of the socio-political implications of the same also made reality to dawn on the leaders hence the enactment of the laws that ultimately abolished slave trade.
Rothman, Adam. Slave Country: American expansion and the origins of Deep South. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2005.