Slavery, Race, and Rights in American Society

Slavery was common in the United States as early as the 17th century. However, in 1790, there was a discovery of the cotton gin machinery, which led to extensive slavery to cater to the cotton industry. Other plantations also saw the need for slaves to cater to their needs, including rice and tobacco plantation. Furthermore, the onset of the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom led to increased demand for slaves. The southern states of America were the most affected place compared to the northern part. The northern slaves were better off than their fellows in the south as they were involved in servants, rural ironworks, and small farms. The conditions under which slaves worked were determined by variables such as the period (colonial or antebellum), size of the plantation, location, and slave owner. In the antebellum period, free blacks were very outspoken about the slavery injustice. Slavery enabled people of color to identify their rights and join hands with whites and other groups that focused on ending the injustice.

Passing laws and sanctions provided different treatment for freed servants. They conscripted poor whites into the category of free men. African Americans and African and American Indians were forced into separate classes from the whites. The Virginia assembly promoted contempt on whites against blacks and passed laws that bound Africans and their children permanently as servants and slaves. White slaves had the protection of English laws, unlike black slaves1. By 1723, free African Americans were prohibited from voting and exercising their civil rights. Racial stereotyping of Africans heightened in the Haitian rebellion of 1791, in which blacks and Indians were publicized and loathed for fear of retaliation. Colonial leaders used physical differences among the population to structure an egalitarian society.

The British pro-slavery movement opposed the abolition of the slave trade from 1783 until 1817. Most of the advocates of slavery economically benefited from the continuation of slavery. In the USA, pro-slavery arose in the antebellum period due to the antislavery movements. They published doctrines that slaves could not take care of themselves, and it was their duty to do so. Political enthusiasts asserted that slavery eliminated the problem of elevating free men to citizens and removed them from the political process. In economic self-interest, they saw the abolition of slavery as a threat to the economy since the black slaves supported the entire plantation system2. Political leaders asserted that blacks were inferior and only suitable for slavery. At this time, the term race became widely used to denote the ranking and inequality of people.

Freed African Americans, specifically those in the North, were active participants in American society even though their lives were circumscribed by many discriminatory laws even in the colonial period. Some black men enrolled as soldiers, fought in the American Revolution, owned businesses, homes, land, and pad taxes, and black property owners voted for a brief period in some Northern cities. Some free blacks also owned slaves, who were relatives they purchased and later manumitted them3. Blacks were outspoken in print since the first black-owned newspaper, the freedom’s journal, appeared in 1827. The attack against racist and slavery conceptions about the intellectual inferiority of African Americans was powered by the freedom’s journal and other early writings.

In the early and mid-19th centuries, the black and white abolitionists undermined biracial slavery through assault. The strategy employed was effective as they focused on the slaves’ rights which made it impossible for them to be ignored. They focused on ending slavery as it threatened the peace-building within the nation. Despite some abolitionists being slaveholders, they were among the pioneers in ending the African slave trade. They focus on bonding the captives whose family members had been sold to various people. As time passed, many slave trade abolitionists formed organizations and societies that aimed to end the slave trade. The groups used petitions with thousands of signatures, leading to slave abolition conferences and meetings that boycotted products manufactured through slave labor. They expanded their efforts through literature, printings, and speeches that portrayed slavery as an injustice to people of color. Some of the individual abolitionists used violent methods to end slavery4. The white and black abolitionists worked together, although the whites were focused mainly on ending slavery. In contrast, the black abolitionists focused on justice demands, the end of slavery, and racial equality.

The African Americans play a significant role in aiding the freedom of fellow blacks. The task was very challenging as it involved planning flight strategies and escape routes. They were aware of the consequences of assisting slave runaway, yet they took the chances to help. The network of hiding places and trails was known as the “underground railroad” even though they were not merchandised or subterranean travel means. Some free blacks harbored runaways in their homes, and others were active “conductors” on the railroad. Free black people earned themselves national reputations by organizing, speaking, writing, and agitating on behalf of their enslaved compatriots. With the help of interested whites and the American Colonization Society, thousands of freed blacks returned and colonized what eventually became Liberia5. The majority of African Americans felt themselves to be Americans and focused their efforts on attaining equality within America, even though some African Americans decided to take this option.

The day-to-day life of the slavehood was significantly impacted resistance from the black Americans. Despite being denied freedom by the law, the African Americans had several ways of contesting with their lords, giving them the right to manage their lives. The slaves used strategies such as slow work performance and absenteeism to negotiate when they felt mistreated. They used such opportunities because the slaveholders depended on the involuntary labor that kept their businesses operating. Many blacks defied the laws and left the working posts voluntarily. Some attempted escape was dangerous as the slaveholders often posted enormous rewards for their capture. However, as time passed, most of the slaves escaped and moved to freed states with the aid of their fellow enslaved African and European Americans6. By around 1860, approximately more than 400,000 slaves had escaped. The slaveholders feared the slave resistance where they became violent and took arms. The slaves used to take armory and fight violently against their captors.

Black laws were reformed only fragmentary; most black laws remained in place. As much as penalties were reduced, the in-migration of black people was still prohibited. Black people could no longer be sold as slaves; and instead, they were imprisoned or whipped. Under the laws related to slavery, an effort to release all the blacks failed to a tie vote. The legislature inaugurated nationwide public education, yet no provisions were made for black pupils. The marriages of former slaves were recognized by law, and the prohibitions against interracial marriages were dropped7. However, certain restrictions such as spreading incendiary punishment were not abolished. The long-standing limits on black testimony against white parties remained unchanged as the courthouse remained unchanging to a significant degree. Grice was one step ahead of the federal and state lawmakers in 1862 when he appeared to apply for a US passport in New York City.

Citizenship was expressed in loud voices more often, military service, black men, and firearms converged on Baltimore streets with George Hackett in the lead. When newly discharged African American soldiers returned to the city, the earliest postwar confrontations between black and white Baltimoreans arose8. They were confronted by local officials who sought to deny them those badges of citizenship bearing government-issued firearms. Black Marylanders were still not allowed admission to the state militia in 1865, the issue came up in the state legislature, but no action was taken. Therefore, they began to form their organizations; they adopted uniforms, established armories, secured equipment- muskets bought by the US army and paraded through the streets of the city. Among them was the Butler Guard, first appearing as an honor guard for a public celebration sponsored by the church of Bethel AME.

The local courthouse continued to be a site for proper claims, and it was possible to challenge black laws like those that imposed apprenticeships in light of a new constitution that provided for the abolition of slavery. As local courts continued to arbitrate the relationships between indenture holders, black children, and their parents, apprenticeship continued to be a fraught practice. However, bringing their grievances to the criminal court, black parents now started to use the writ of habeas corpus in an unorthodox way. Judge Henry Stump had been removed or unseated there, and Radical Republican Hugh Lennox Bond, an ally to the free black license and permit seekers, took his place9. He started to hear challenges to apprenticeship arrangements even though the court of Bond did not have the jurisdiction. He reasoned that the new constitution of 1864 of the state extinguished all legal distinctions between races when it abolished slavery. Bond, therefore, concluded that the apprenticeship laws of the state that differentiated black children from white children were invalid.

The building of new institutions such as schools was included in Baltimore’s Reconstruction agenda. Much as the building of black churches had before the war, awkward alliances with the civic leaders needed careful negotiations. The modest tax dollars of the black Baltimoreans were not enough to build an entire system, yet schools demanded unprecedented resources. With Judge Hugh Lennox at the front, support came from local philanthropists. The collection of funds was done by the city council, white and black donors, and northern benefactors10. The funds were used to improve the education and moral status of people of color, which led to the creation of twenty-five schools during the first period. The federal freedmen’s bureau assumed much of the responsibility for the association’s schools by 1867. Bond still toured the state, enlarging or expanding support and enthusiasm for the education of black children. Baltimore’s council was calling to establish a far-reaching system of public schools for the city’s black children by the summer of that year.

Baltimore’s Monument square was the site for a national celebration of the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment’s in 1870. The threat of radical colonization removal fell away with the guarantee of birthright citizenship from the Fourteenth Amendment was already in place11. Thorny questions about civil and political rights arose in its place though. Black Baltimoreans came out to see one of the most distinguished sons of the city, Fredrick Douglas, chair over a ceremony that celebrated a constitutional revolution boldly that put African Americans free and on a new footing before the law that was enslaved formerly. In 1870, the blacks were allowed to participate in the local election when the rights to engage in politics were restored.

The customary rights were mostly prevalent in production fields as the customs highlighted the day-to-day work routine rules and ratio distribution. Whenever the masters were increasing the workload or punishing the salves severely, they responded by lowering the production rate through flight, faking illness, tool breaking, slowing work, and sabotaging the production process12. If slaves were caught in any act of defiance, they would be punished by whipping, branding, and even severing the Achilles tendon.

Free slaves, according to Yates, were denied the status of citizenship. They were not secure in their life, liberty, and their property. They were always poverty-stricken and often died due to diseases. Even though they were outspoken about the injustice of slavery, their ability to speak was determined by their locations. Yate claimed that “Free black Americans could not be removed, banished, excluded, or colonized from the borders of the individual states or the United States” (4) as they deserve protection from injustices13. In the southern part, free blacks still lived under the shadows of slavery. Colonial laws denied them participation in society; they were denied military positions and could not own property or businesses, unlike those in the North. Free slaves were also at the risk of being sold again to slavery. The American colonization society (ACS) aimed to free the blacks and migrate them to Africa to get independence and evade poverty and slavery.

In conclusion, slavery played a crucial role in enabling color to fight for their rights during the antebellum period. Slaves were segregated, making them join hands with the other groups that perceived slavery as injustice. The laws passed segregated the blacks and other races from the whites, separating them from society. These laws were bonded to slavery as several laws protected the whites. Racial discrimination perpetrated the American society, and by 1723, the blacks were prohibited from voting and exercising other civil rights. The British pro-slavery movement opposed slavery abolition in the US from 1783 to 1817. They majored in spreading information propaganda, such as the blacks being unable to care for themselves. They also argued from the economic perspective where the abolition of slavery threatens the stability of the American economy. However, the freed African Americans in North America who were crucial participants in the development of American society were circumscribed within discriminatory laws. The black and white slave abolitionists play an essential role in ending slavery. Furthermore, the court challenged black laws, which led to the abolition of slavery. By 1870, laws were reformed in fragments that allowed the Blacks to participate in local elections.


Jones, Martha S. Birthright Citizens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

Locke, Joseph L, and Ben Wright. The American Yawp. California: Stanford University Press, 2019.


  1. Martha S Jones, Birthright Citizens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 23.
  2. Joseph L Locke and Ben Wright, The American Yawp (California: Stanford University Press, 2019), 206.
  3. Jones, Birthright Citizens, 13.
  4. Locke and Wright, The American Yawp, 171.
  5. Jones, Birthright Citizens, 131.
  6. Jones, Birthright Citizens, 139.
  7. Jones, Birthright Citizens, 149.
  8. Jones, Birthright Citizens, 149.
  9. Jones, Birthright Citizens, 150.
  10. Jones, Birthright Citizens, 151.
  11. Jones, Birthright Citizens, 151.
  12. Locke and Wright, The American Yawp, 198.
  13. Jones, Birthright Citizens, 4.
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