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Regional attitudes about slavery, 1754-1800

The video explores how slavery evolved in Northern and Southern regions of America between 1754 and 1800. It highlights the economic and ideological factors that led to slavery's decline in the North and its expansion in the South. The video also discusses how these changes influenced attitudes towards slavery.

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Video transcript

- [Kim] This is a chart that shows the percentage of the total population of each of these colonies, and then later, states, that was made up by enslaved Africans. Starting in the year 1754, which we'll show in purple, and comparing that to the year 1800, which we'll show here in green. Now some of these numbers are estimates, since the census didn't exist before 1790, but this can help us get an overall sense of how the institution of slavery changed in these years. Now on the left side here, we have the data from the Northern part of the country. Now in purple you can see the percentage of the population of each colony that was enslaved in 1754, and generally, it wasn't a very large amount, think New York here had the most at about 14%. By 1800, however, you can see that the percent went down considerably. Some, like Massachusetts, outlawed slavery altogether, so they're at 0%, and others like New York or Rhode Island, began a process of gradual emancipation, phasing out slavery. Another thing to note is that new territories in the West that were claimed by the United States either had very small amounts of slavery, like in the Indiana Territory, or none at all, like in the Northwest Territory, where slavery was outlawed. Now let's compare that to the same period in Southern Regions. In most of the South in 1754, enslaved people made up a very significant portion of the population. In some cases, like in South Carolina, outnumbering whites at a rate of more than 60% of the population. And unlike in the North, as you see here in teal, in 1800, enslaved people remained a really quite large percentage of the population. In some cases, the percent of people who were enslaved grew considerably, like in Delaware or in Georgia, and in other places stayed about the same. In places like Virginia and South Carolina, the percent of the population that was enslaved actually dropped over this time period, but not because there were fewer slaves, but rather because the white population had grown faster than the enslaved population in the same time period. And unlike in the Northern Territories, the percentage of enslaved people in the new Southern Territories claimed by the United States, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, was quite significant as well. So what's happening here? Why, over this 50 year period, did slavery begin to die out in the North, while surviving, and even expanding West, in the South? How much change was there over this time period in the regional attitudes about slavery? And how would we even go about figuring that out? One way that we can attempt to measure the extent of change is by identifying the things that stayed the same during this time period, which we call Continuities, or aspects of society that continued on being the same as they were before, and Changes, aspects of society that were different than before. There are many different aspects of society that historians can trace changes and continuities in over time, like changes in politics or art or gender roles, but for this video, I'm gonna choose Economics and Ideas. Why am I choosing those two? Well, first and foremost, because slavery was an economic practice. It was a source of labor that supported the production of agricultural products. Second, I know that in this time period, the American Revolution introduced radical changes in ideas about Liberty and Equality, which stand in stark contrast to the institution of slavery. So let's compare the Economic systems and Ideas about slavery in each of these Regions, in 1754 and 1800, to see what changed and what stayed the same. So first, let's look at the Economic systems. In the North, where the climate and the soil was not suited for large scale plantation agriculture, the economy centered around family farms in 1754. Proximity to the coast facilitated fishing and shipping, and the people who actually did this work tended to be either the owners of the farms or the boats, or indentured servants, and a small number of enslaved laborers who worked for them. None of these activities really required the labor of a large number of enslaved people. All right, well, what about in 1800? Farming and fishing and shipping were still going strong, but as the first Industrial Revolution began to take off in the late 1700s, factories began to spring up in the North, and the cheapest labor source for these factories was immigrant laborers, not slaves, not indentured servants. Now let's look at the Economic systems of the South in 1754 and 1800. In 1754, plantation agriculture based on enslaved labor was the central economic system, and it was also the central economic system in 1800. But unlike in the North, where the technological innovations of the Industrial Revolution made indentured servants or enslaved laborers unnecessary, the major technological innovation of the cotton gin made cotton easier to process, and therefore, saved it as a profitable crop, which made slave owners eager to expand the institution of slavery, rather than phase it out. Next, let's take a look at the ideas about slavery, which were commonly held in each of the regions. In 1754 in the North, I would say a few people questioned the existence of slavery. Northern Shipping was involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade. The idea that masters deserve to rule slaves was as natural as the idea that kings deserve to rule their subjects. Even free people of color were rarely considered full British citizens, the way people of English descent were. How did things change in 1800? The Revolutionary War had a strong effect on the ideas about slavery in the North. Northerners apply the Revolutionary ideals of Liberty and Equality to long-standing ideas about social rules, and they found that slavery was incompatible with them. So after the Revolution, Northern States either abolished slavery or began to phase it out with gradual emancipation. But I wanna caution you into thinking that this turned the North into a racial utopia. People of African descent were still not permitted to become American citizens, even though the immigrants, who were beginning to flood in from Europe were. So I think it would be fair to say overall, that the North had never really needed slavery, and therefore, when the Revolution led many to question the institution of slavery, it was pretty easy to abolish it. How does that compare to the South's transition in this time period? Well, by 1754, the notion that slavery was natural and enslaved Africans were property was pretty well-ingrained. But the ideas of the Revolution didn't have quite the same effect on the South as they did in the North. If anything, by 1800, white Southerners were determined to enact harsher slave codes than ever because they feared uprisings, since the ideals of the American Revolution had inspired the Haitians to overthrow the French. So why did these changes in continuities over time matter? Well, because by 1800, you start to see attitudes around slavery crystallizing in the United States, creating a North where slavery was rare and considered a perversion of the ideals of the Revolution, and a South where slavery was central and considered natural and perhaps even a desirable way to organize society. And as white settlers from each of these regions moved farther and farther West, into territories that were opened up by the American victory in the Revolutionary War and by Indian removal, both Northerners and Southerners would export their Economic systems and their ideas about slavery into these adjacent Western lands. By 1820, this gradual process would erupt into Sectional crisis over slavery.