The United States as we know it is the 'land of the free.' With so many freedoms, it’s hard to believe that there was a time in history when a group of people did not have any freedom. These people could not own land, they could not vote, and they worked for no pay and were frequently mistreated. These people – slaves – did not enjoy the freedom and the opportunities of the United States until after the American Civil War.
In America’s early history, all of the British colonies initially allowed slavery. When the original Thirteen Colonies of the United States were established, each permitted slavery. It wasn’t until the mid-18th century when political and social movements were created to speak out against slavery. During the American Revolution, thousands of black Americans fought. Many fought against the British in hopes that they would be freed. Others fought with the British army after being offered freedom in exchange for serving in the military.
It was during the late 17th century that black Americans began petitioning legislatures to abolish slavery. Five northern states agreed to gradually abolish slavery, with Pennsylvania being the first state to approve, followed by New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. By the early 1800s, the northern states had all abolished slavery completely, or they were in the process of gradually eradicating it.
By the early 1800s, there was an equal number of slave and free states. These states were divided by what became known as the Mason-Dixon line. In 1808, international slave importing was banned but domestic trade will still legal.
As the United States continued to grow, so did the number of slave states. In 1836, there were 13 slave states and 13 free states. States that allowed slavery included:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- Florida at the time was still a territory, and slavery was allowed.
About ten years later, the number of slave states rose to 15, outnumbering the 14 free states. The newly added slave states were:
In the late 1850s, the free states finally began to outnumber the 15 slave states. This continued through the early 1860s, when the number of free states rose to 19, while there were still just 15 slave states.
At the beginning of the Civil War, there were 34 total states in the U.S. Of these states, 15 still allowed slavery. Slavery was the key driver behind the Civil War, with states seceding from the Union and forming the Confederacy. Many states including Maryland, Tennessee, and Missouri abolished slavery before the end of the Civil War. However, some states still allowed slavery until the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was put into place, entirely abolishing slavery in the nation in 1865.