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Ending of Slavery in the U.S. North
by   Richard   Rieben
Written – 1976
 
Considering the chief characteristics of slavery in the North United States, one would have to consider, briefly, its roots. Slavery in the North was an extension of two systems of labor. The first was the system of indentured servitude which was an across-the-board, non-racial, means of supplying a needed labor force to the New World ... this was no longer a part of the scene in the nineteenth century, but had been the means by which the concept of servitude was introduced to the United States. Secondly, in the South, the use of Blacks out-moded the need for the indentured servants and the raising of crops requiring a heavy labor force consolidated the slave system. "The great planters [of the South] took as their [social] model the English country gentry."'

The prime characteristic of the North was its political and sociological state of flux. There existed no rigid social or governmental structure. The social stigmatism toward the Blacks had been acquired predominantly by association with the solidifying social structure of the South - a structure which represented order, as had the structure of the Old World, and was therefore imitated in certain respects in the North. But, inherent to the North itself, there did not exist a fully developed sense of social order. Given this situation, slavery in the North can be seen as being an extension of the indentured servant concept and a striving toward some sembalance of social order, emulating the Southern social structure insofar as this seemed to fit northern priorities.

Emancipation in the North came as a result of the awareness of the Whites of their own classless society ... and of the fact that in the New World they were unable to re-impose the class structure as it had existed in the Old World. "As the population dispersed, all social connections weakened; the occasions for common actions declined; and men grew accustomed to going their own way alone."2 The Whites were thereby afforded the opportunity of questioning the essential validity of the class structure ... and though they might long for the social order of the Old World or the South, they had an awareness of some degree of success in a social order based on individual merit and ability. Therefore, by questioning the validity of the very concept of class divisions, they were more apt to question the validity of the social institution of slavery ... and were more open to the possibility of finding it wanting.

The rejection of slavery qua institution, however, did not necessitate a lack of prejudice in racial considerations. Furthermore, the Black had been stigmatized by strong association with the institution of slavery. A period of education for the Blacks and education of the Whites (in respect to their pre-conceived notions as to the nature of the Blacks) occurred following emancipation, prolonging the actual implementation of the concept of legal and social equality between the races - the proximity of the South with a fully developed slave system also did much to retard the acceptance and implementation of equality.

"As the colonial crisis became more intense and headed for a showdown, many New Englanders felt even more conscious of the inconsistency of opposing English tyranny and practicing slavery."(3) "The rapid growth of Abolitionist sentiment during the 1830's was not merely the result of effective propaganda. Many Americans were seeing clearly that there was evidentity of struggle for Negro freedom and for freedom for all people, and that the democratic rights of all people were threatened by the same power which kept millions of slaves in chains. There was a growing conviction among many people that to preserve their own civil and political liberties they had to support the struggle for the democratic rights of the Abolitionists to fight slavery."(4) "Two months after the Declaration of Independence, the state house of representatives climaxed this growing sentiment by resolving that human bondage violated the natural rights of man and was utterly inconsistent with the avowed principle in which this and other states have carried on their struggle for liberty.' Meanwhile, several Massachusetts towns did not wait for legislative or judicial action by simply voting to have no slaves in their midst and to bear any expense that might arise from the emancipated Negroes' old age, infirmities, or inability to support themselves. By the end of 1776, one observer wrote, public opinion had virtually extripated slavery."(5) "In Massachusetts, unlike Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, court action legally ended slavery. Prior to 1783, several slaves collected money among themselves and successfully sued for their freedom.... Successful court action encouraged the voluntary liberation of other slaves. To avoid court litigation, some slaves simply took the new constitution at its word when it affirmed the freedom and equality of all men."(6)

"In several states, religious organizations played an active and sometimes decisive role in the work of emancipation."(7) "The Quaker antislavery stand was not limited to any one state.... After completing their work of emancipation, Quakers shifted their attention to improving the educational and economic level of the free Negro population."(8) Later, following emancipation, Frederick Douglass had occasion to comment in the course of his Farewell Speech to the British People that "the free Negroes in Philadelphia, 25,000 in number, not only support their own poor, by their own benevolent societies, but actually pay 500 dollars perannum for the support of the white paupers in the state."(9)

"By 1830, whether by legislative, judicial, or constitutional action, Negro slavery had been virtually abolished in the North."(10) "Emancipation, although enthusiastically welcomed by the northern slave, had its limitations."(11) "After the elimination of bondage, the Massachusetts legislature voted to bar interracial marriages and to expell all Negroes who were not citizens of one of the states."(12) "In New York and Pennsylvania, for example, instead of a gradual liberalization of his rights, the Negro faced a long period of political disfranchisement, economic discrimination and social ostracism."(13)

Socially, the "Northerners drew the Negro stereotype in the image of his political, economic and social degradation and constantly reminded him of his inferiority ... the minstrel shows, newspapers, and magazines combined to produce a Negro stereotype that hardly induced northerners to accord this clownish race equal political and social rights."(14) "Anti-Negro sentiment did not confine itself to popular ridicule and petty harassment. It frequently took the forms of mob action and violence, expecially in the large centers of Negro population."(15) - circa 1849, the mob was the equivalent of the South's later K.K.K. "Possession of suffrage, then, did not automatically open the doors of white society."(16)


1 Oscar Handlin, The Americans (Boston: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1963), p. 99
2 Ibid., P. 100
3 Leon F. Litwack, North of Slavery (1961) p. 9
4 Philip S. Foner, ed., The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass (New York: International Publishers, 1950-55). 1. p. 36
5 Litwack, op. cit., p. 9
6 Ibid., p. 9-10
7 Ibid., p. 12
8 Ibid.. p. 13
9 Foner, op. cit., p. 221
10 Litwack, op. cit., p. 14
11 Ibid., p. 15
12 Ibid., p. 16
13 Ibid., p. 17
14 Ibid.. p. 99
15 Ibid., P. 100
16 Ibid., p. 104

 

copyright © 2005 by Richard G. Rieben