For Global Peace with Social Justice in a Sustainable Environment
Slavery in the United States began soon after English colonists first settled Virginia in 1607 and lasted as a legal institution until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865. It continues illegally to this day.
Before the widespread establishment of chattel slavery, much labor was organized under a system of bonded labor known as indentured servitude. This typically lasted for several years for white and black alike, and it was a means of using labor to pay the costs of transporting people to the colonies. By the 18th century, court rulings established the racial basis of the American incarnation of slavery to apply chiefly to Black Africans and people of African descent, and occasionally to Native Americans. A 1705 Virginia law stated slavery would apply to those peoples from nations that were not Christian. In part because of the success of tobacco as a cash crop in the Southern colonies, its labor-intensive character caused planters to import more slaves for labor by the end of the 17th century than did the northern colonies. The South had a significantly higher number and proportion of slaves in the population. Religious differences contributed to this geographic disparity as well.
From 1654 until 1865, slavery for life was legal within the boundaries of much of the present United States. Most slaves were black and were held by whites, although some Native Americans and free blacks also held slaves; there were a small number of white slaves as well. The majority of slave holding was in the southern United States where most slaves were engaged in an efficient machine-like gang system of agriculture. According to the 1860 U.S. census, nearly four million slaves were held in a total population of just over 12 million in the 15 states in which slavery was legal. Of all 8,289,782 free persons in the 15 slave states, 393,967 people (4.8%) held slaves, with the average number of slaves held by any single owner being 10. The majority of slaves were held by planters, defined by historians as those who held 20 or more slaves. Ninety-five percent of black people lived in the South, comprising one-third of the population there, as opposed to 2% of the population of the North. The wealth of the United States in the first half of the 19th century was greatly enhanced by the labor of African Americans.
But with the Union victory in the American Civil War, the slave-labor system was abolished in the South. This contributed to the decline of the postbellum Southern economy, but it was most affected by the continuing decline in the price of cotton through the end of the century. That made it difficult for the region to recover from the war, as did its comparative lack of infrastructure, which kept products from markets. The South faced significant new competition from foreign cotton producers such as India and Egypt. Northern industry, which had expanded rapidly before and during the war, surged even further ahead of the South's agricultural economy. Industrialists from northeastern states came to dominate many aspects of the nation's life, including social and some aspects of political affairs. The planter class of the South lost power temporarily. The rapid economic development following the Civil War accelerated the development of the modern U.S. industrial economy.
Twelve million Africans were shipped to the Americas from the 16th to the 19th centuries Of these, an estimated 645,000 were brought to what is now the United States. The largest number were shipped to Brazil. The slave population in the United States had grown to four million by the 1860 Census.
Illegal slavery continues in the United States today. Modern slavery is often discussed in the framework of human trafficking.