A Population History of the United States


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These federal agency programs collect, analyze, and disseminate statistical data and information:. Find the U. State and local government agencies also compile and maintain statistical information. Contact a state or local government for more information:. Ask us any question about the U. We'll get you the answer or tell you where to find it.

About the U. Close Search Search. American Flag Branches of the U. Government Budget of the U. Government Data and Statistics about the U. Presidents, Vice Presidents, and First Ladies. Share This Page:. The proportion there never got much above 5 percent of the total population. Scholars have speculated as to why, without coming to a definite conclusion.

Some surmise that indentured servants were fundamentally better suited to the Northern climate, crops, and tasks at hand; some claim that anti-slavery sentiment provided the explanation. At the time of the American Revolution, fewer than 10 percent of the half million slaves in the thirteen colonies resided in the North, working primarily in agriculture. New York had the greatest number, with just over 20, New Jersey had close to 12, slaves. Vermont was the first Northern region to abolish slavery when it became an independent republic in Most of the original Northern colonies implemented a process of gradual emancipation in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, requiring the children of slave mothers to remain in servitude for a set period, typically 28 years.

Other regions above the Mason-Dixon line ended slavery upon statehood early in the nineteenth century — Ohio in and Indiana in , for instance. Throughout colonial and antebellum history, U. Slaves comprised less than a tenth of the total Southern population in but grew to a third by At that date, , slaves lived in Virginia alone, making up 42 percent of all slaves in the U. South Carolina, North Carolina, and Maryland each had over , slaves. After the American Revolution, the Southern slave population exploded, reaching about 1.

Despite their numbers, slaves typically comprised a minority of the local population. Only in antebellum South Carolina and Mississippi did slaves outnumber free persons. Most Southerners owned no slaves and most slaves lived in small groups rather than on large plantations. Less than one-quarter of white Southerners held slaves, with half of these holding fewer than five and fewer than 1 percent owning more than one hundred.

In , the average number of slaves residing together was about ten. How did the U. They enjoyed an exceptional rate of natural increase. Unlike elsewhere in the New World, the South did not require constant infusions of immigrant slaves to keep its slave population intact. In fact, by , 36 percent of the slaves in the Western hemisphere lived in the U. This was partly due to higher birth rates, which were in turn due to a more equal ratio of female to male slaves in the U. Lower mortality rates also figured prominently.

Climate was one cause; crops were another. This work was relatively less grueling than the tasks on the sugar plantations of the West Indies and in the mines and fields of South America. Southern slaves worked in industry, did domestic work, and grew a variety of other food crops as well, mostly under less abusive conditions than their counterparts elsewhere.


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For example, the South grew half to three-quarters of the corn crop harvested between and Central to the success of slavery are political and legal institutions that validate the ownership of other persons. A Kentucky court acknowledged the dual character of slaves in Turner v.

But they are human beings, with like passions, sympathies, and affections with ourselves. The outcome was a set of doctrines that supported the Southern way of life. The English common law of property formed a foundation for U. The French and Spanish influence in Louisiana — and, to a lesser extent, Texas — meant that Roman or civil law offered building blocks there as well. Despite certain formal distinctions, slave law as practiced differed little from common-law to civil-law states. Federal law and laws in various Northern states also dealt with matters of interstate commerce, travel, and fugitive slaves.

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Interestingly enough, just as slave law combined elements of other sorts of law, so too did it yield principles that eventually applied elsewhere. Lawmakers had to consider the intelligence and volition of slaves as they crafted laws to preserve property rights. Slavery therefore created legal rules that could potentially apply to free persons as well as to those in bondage. Many legal principles we now consider standard in fact had their origins in slave law.

By the end of the seventeenth century, the status of blacks — slave or free — tended to follow the status of their mothers. One odd case was the offspring of a free white woman and a slave: the law often bound these people to servitude for thirty-one years. Conversion to Christianity could set a slave free in the early colonial period, but this practice quickly disappeared. Southern law largely identified skin color with status. Those who appeared African or of African descent were generally presumed to be slaves.

Virginia was the only state to pass a statute that actually classified people by race: essentially, it considered those with one quarter or more black ancestry as black. Other states used informal tests in addition to visual inspection: one-quarter, one-eighth, or one-sixteenth black ancestry might categorize a person as black. Even if blacks proved their freedom, they enjoyed little higher status than slaves except, to some extent, in Louisiana. Many Southern states forbade free persons of color from becoming preachers, selling certain goods, tending bar, staying out past a certain time of night, or owning dogs, among other things.

Federal law denied black persons citizenship under the Dred Scott decision In this case, Chief Justice Roger Taney also determined that visiting a free state did not free a slave who returned to a slave state, nor did traveling to a free territory ensure emancipation. Southern masters enjoyed great freedom in their dealings with slaves. In part, the differences in allowable punishment had to do with the substitutability of other means of persuasion. Instead of physical coercion, antebellum employers could legally withhold all wages if a worker did not complete all agreed-upon services.

No such alternate mechanism existed for slaves. Despite the respect Southerners held for the power of masters, the law — particularly in the thirty years before the Civil War — limited owners somewhat. Southerners feared that unchecked slave abuse could lead to theft, public beatings, and insurrection. People also thought that hungry slaves would steal produce and livestock.

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But masters who treated slaves too well, or gave them freedom, caused consternation as well. Still, prosecuting masters was extremely difficult, because often the only witnesses were slaves or wives, neither of whom could testify against male heads of household. One area that changed dramatically over time was the law of manumission.

The South initially allowed masters to set their slaves free because this was an inherent right of property ownership. During the Revolutionary period, some Southern leaders also believed that manumission was consistent with the ideology of the new nation. Manumission occurred only rarely in colonial times, increased dramatically during the Revolution, then diminished after the early s.

By the s, most Southern states had begun to limit manumission. Allowing masters to free their slaves at will created incentives to emancipate only unproductive slaves. Consequently, the community at large bore the costs of young, old, and disabled former slaves. The public might also run the risk of having rebellious former slaves in its midst.

Antebellum U. Southern states worried considerably about these problems and eventually enacted restrictions on the age at which slaves could be free, the number freed by any one master, and the number manumitted by last will. Some required former masters to file indemnifying bonds with state treasurers so governments would not have to support indigent former slaves. Many states limited manumissions to slaves of a certain age who were capable of earning a living. A few states made masters emancipate their slaves out of state or encouraged slaveowners to bequeath slaves to the Colonization Society, which would then send the freed slaves to Liberia.

Former slaves sometimes paid fees on the way out of town to make up for lost property tax revenue; they often encountered hostility and residential fees on the other end as well. By , most Southern states had banned in-state and post-mortem manumissions, and some had enacted procedures by which free blacks could voluntarily become slaves.

In addition to constraints on manumission, laws restricted other actions of masters and, by extension, slaves. Masters generally had to maintain a certain ratio of white to black residents upon plantations. Some laws barred slaves from owning musical instruments or bearing firearms. All states refused to allow slaves to make contracts or testify in court against whites.


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About half of Southern states prohibited masters from teaching slaves to read and write although some of these permitted slaves to learn rudimentary mathematics. Masters could use slaves for some tasks and responsibilities, but they typically could not order slaves to compel payment, beat white men, or sample cotton.

Nor could slaves officially hire themselves out to others, although such prohibitions were often ignored by masters, slaves, hirers, and public officials. Owners faced fines and sometimes damages if their slaves stole from others or caused injuries. Southern law did encourage benevolence, at least if it tended to supplement the lash and shackle. Court opinions in particular indicate the belief that good treatment of slaves could enhance labor productivity, increase plantation profits, and reinforce sentimental ties. Allowing slaves to control small amounts of property, even if statutes prohibited it, was an oft-sanctioned practice.

Courts also permitted slaves small diversions, such as Christmas parties and quilting bees, despite statutes that barred slave assemblies. Slaves were freely bought and sold across the antebellum South. Southern law offered greater protection to slave buyers than to buyers of other goods, in part because slaves were complex commodities with characteristics not easily ascertained by inspection. Slave sellers were responsible for their representations, required to disclose known defects, and often liable for unknown defects, as well as bound by explicit contractual language.

These rules stand in stark contrast to the caveat emptor doctrine applied in antebellum commodity sales cases. In fact, they more closely resemble certain provisions of the modern Uniform Commercial Code. Sales law in two states stands out. South Carolina was extremely pro-buyer, presuming that any slave sold at full price was sound. Louisiana buyers enjoyed extensive legal protection as well. A sold slave who later manifested an incurable disease or vice — such as a tendency to escape frequently — could generate a lawsuit that entitled the purchaser to nullify the sale.

Slaves faced the possibility of being hired out by their masters as well as being sold. Although scholars disagree about the extent of hiring in agriculture, most concur that hired slaves frequently worked in manufacturing, construction, mining, and domestic service. Hired slaves and free persons often labored side by side. Bond and free workers both faced a legal burden to behave responsibly on the job.

Yet the law of the workplace differed significantly for the two: generally speaking, employers were far more culpable in cases of injuries to slaves. The divergent law for slave and free workers does not necessarily imply that free workers suffered. Empirical evidence shows that nineteenth-century free laborers received at least partial compensation for the risks of jobs.

Indeed, the tripartite nature of slave-hiring arrangements suggests why antebellum laws appeared as they did. Whereas free persons had direct work and contractual relations with their bosses, slaves worked under terms designed by others. Free workers arguably could have walked out or insisted on different conditions or wages. Slaves could not. The law therefore offered substitute protections. Still, the powerful interests of slaveowners also may mean that they simply were more successful at shaping the law. Postbellum developments in employment law — North and South — in fact paralleled earlier slave-hiring law, at times relying upon slave cases as legal precedents.

Public transportation also figured into slave law: slaves suffered death and injury aboard common carriers as well as traveled as legitimate passengers and fugitives. As elsewhere, slave-common carrier law both borrowed from and established precedents for other areas of law. Slaveowner plaintiffs won several cases in the decade before the Civil War when engineers failed to warn slaves off railroad tracks. Postbellum courts used slave cases as precedents to entrench the last-clear-chance doctrine. Society at large shared in maintaining the machinery of slavery.

In place of a standing police force, Southern states passed legislation to establish and regulate county-wide citizen patrols. County courts had local administrative authority; court officials appointed three to five men per patrol from a pool of white male citizens to serve for a specified period.

Typical patrol duty ranged from one night per week for a year to twelve hours per month for three months. Not all white men had to serve: judges, magistrates, ministers, and sometimes millers and blacksmiths enjoyed exemptions. So did those in the higher ranks of the state militia. In many states, courts had to select from adult males under a certain age, usually 45, 50, or Some states allowed only slaveowners or householders to join patrols. Patrollers typically earned fees for captured fugitive slaves and exemption from road or militia duty, as well as hourly wages.

Statutes set guidelines for appropriate treatment of slaves and often imposed fines for unlawful beatings. In rare instances, patrollers had to compensate masters for injured slaves.

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For the most part, however, patrollers enjoyed quasi-judicial or quasi-executive powers in their dealings with slaves. Overseers commanded considerable control as well. The Southern overseer was the linchpin of the large slave plantation. He ran daily operations and served as a first line of defense in safeguarding whites. The vigorous protests against drafting overseers into military service during the Civil War reveal their significance to the South.

Yet slaves were too valuable to be left to the whims of frustrated, angry overseers. Overseers occasionally confronted criminal charges as well. Brutality by overseers naturally generated responses by their victims; at times, courts reduced murder charges to manslaughter when slaves killed abusive overseers. Whether they liked it or not, many Southerners dealt daily with slaves. Southern law shaped these interactions among strangers, awarding damages more often for injuries to slaves than injuries to other property or persons, shielding slaves more than free persons from brutality, and generating convictions more frequently in slave-stealing cases than in other criminal cases.

The law also recognized more offenses against slaveowners than against other property owners because slaves, unlike other property, succumbed to influence. Just as assaults of slaves generated civil damages and criminal penalties, so did stealing a slave to sell him or help him escape to freedom. Many Southerners considered slave stealing worse than killing fellow citizens. In marked contrast, selling a free black person into slavery carried almost no penalty. The counterpart to helping slaves escape — picking up fugitives — also created laws.

Southern states offered rewards to defray the costs of capture or passed statutes requiring owners to pay fees to those who caught and returned slaves. Some Northern citizens worked hand-in-hand with their Southern counterparts, returning fugitive slaves to masters either with or without the prompting of law. But many Northerners vehemently opposed the peculiar institution. In an attempt to stitch together the young nation, the federal government passed the first fugitive slave act in To circumvent its application, several Northern states passed personal liberty laws in the s.

Stronger federal fugitive slave legislation then passed in This occupation was often highly risky — enough so that such men could not purchase life insurance coverage — and just as often highly lucrative. Southern law governed slaves as well as slaveowners and their adversaries. What few due process protections slaves possessed stemmed from desires to grant rights to masters. Still, slaves faced harsh penalties for their crimes. When slaves stole, rioted, set fires, or killed free people, the law sometimes had to subvert the property rights of masters in order to preserve slavery as a social institution.

Slaves, like other antebellum Southern residents, committed a host of crimes ranging from arson to theft to homicide. Southern states erected numerous punishments for slave crimes, including prison terms, banishment, whipping, castration, and execution. In most states, the criminal law for slaves and blacks generally was noticeably harsher than for free whites; in others, slave law as practiced resembled that governing poorer white citizens.

Particularly harsh punishments applied to slaves who had allegedly killed their masters or who had committed rebellious acts. Southerners considered these acts of treason and resorted to immolation, drawing and quartering, and hanging. Market prices for slaves reflect their substantial economic value. Scholars have gathered slave prices from a variety of sources, including censuses, probate records, plantation and slave-trader accounts, and proceedings of slave auctions.

These data sets reveal that prime field hands went for four to six hundred dollars in the U. Even controlling for inflation, the prices of U. Slavery remained a thriving business on the eve of the Civil War: Fogel and Engerman projected that by slave prices would have increased on average more than 50 percent over their levels.

No wonder the South rose in armed resistance to protect its enormous investment. Slave markets existed across the antebellum U. It has been a famous landmark at this original location for over years. Established dealers like Franklin and Armfield in Virginia, Woolfolk, Saunders, and Overly in Maryland, and Nathan Bedford Forrest in Tennessee prospered alongside itinerant traders who operated in a few counties, buying slaves for cash from their owners, then moving them overland in coffles to the lower South.

Over a million slaves were taken across state lines between and with many more moving within states. Some of these slaves went with their owners; many were sold to new owners. In his monumental study, Michael Tadman found that slaves who lived in the upper South faced a very real chance of being sold for profit. From to , he estimated that an average of , slaves per decade moved from the upper to the lower South, most via sales. A contemporary newspaper, The Virginia Times , calculated that 40, slaves were sold in the year The prices paid for slaves reflected two economic factors: the characteristics of the slave and the conditions of the market.

Important individual features included age, sex, childbearing capacity for females , physical condition, temperament, and skill level. In addition, the supply of slaves, demand for products produced by slaves, and seasonal factors helped determine market conditions and therefore prices. Prices for both male and female slaves tended to follow similar life-cycle patterns. In the U. South, infant slaves sold for a positive price because masters expected them to live long enough to make the initial costs of raising them worthwhile.

Prices rose through puberty as productivity and experience increased. In nineteenth-century New Orleans, for example, prices peaked at about age 22 for females and age 25 for males. Girls cost more than boys up to their mid-teens. The genders then switched places in terms of value.

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In the Old South, boys aged 14 sold for 71 percent of the price of year-old men, whereas girls aged 14 sold for 65 percent of the price of year-old men. After the peak age, prices declined slowly for a time, then fell off rapidly as the aging process caused productivity to fall. Compared to full-grown men, women were worth 80 to 90 percent as much. One characteristic in particular set some females apart: their ability to bear children. Fertile females commanded a premium. The mother-child link also proved important for pricing in a different way: people sometimes paid more for intact families.

Source: Fogel and Engerman Skilled workers sold for premiums of percent whereas crippled and chronically ill slaves sold for deep discounts. Slaves who proved troublesome — runaways, thieves, layabouts, drunks, slow learners, and the like — also sold for lower prices. Taller slaves cost more, perhaps because height acts as a proxy for healthiness. In New Orleans, light-skinned females who were often used as concubines sold for a 5 percent premium.

Prices for slaves fluctuated with market conditions as well as with individual characteristics. Less than a decade later, slave prices climbed when the international slave trade was banned, cutting off legal external supplies. Interestingly enough, among those who supported the closing of the trans-Atlantic slave trade were several Southern slaveowners. Why this apparent anomaly? Because the resulting reduction in supply drove up the prices of slaves already living in the U. Demand helped determine prices as well. The demand for slaves derived in part from the demand for the commodities and services that slaves provided.

Changes in slave occupations and variability in prices for slave-produced goods therefore created movements in slave prices. As slaves replaced increasingly expensive indentured servants in the New World, their prices went up. In the period to , slave prices in British America rose nearly 30 percent. As cotton prices fell in the s, Southern slave prices also fell. But, as the demand for cotton and tobacco grew after about , the prices of slaves increased as well. Differences in demand across regions led to transitional regional price differences, which in turn meant large movements of slaves.

Yet because planters experienced greater stability among their workforce when entire plantations moved, 84 percent of slaves were taken to the lower South in this way rather than being sold piecemeal. Demand sometimes had to do with the time of year a sale took place. For example, slave prices in the New Orleans market were 10 to 20 percent higher in January than in September. September was a busy time of year for plantation owners: the opportunity cost of their time was relatively high.

Prices had to be relatively low for them to be willing to travel to New Orleans during harvest time. One additional demand factor loomed large in determining slave prices: the expectation of continued legal slavery. As the American Civil War progressed, prices dropped dramatically because people could not be sure that slavery would survive.

Burgeoning inflation meant that real prices fell considerably more. That slavery was profitable seems almost obvious.

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Yet scholars have argued furiously about this matter. On one side stand antebellum writers such as Hinton Rowan Helper and Frederick Law Olmstead, many antebellum abolitionists, and contemporary scholars like Eugene Genovese at least in his early writings , who speculated that American slavery was unprofitable, inefficient, and incompatible with urban life.

On the other side are scholars who have marshaled masses of data to support their contention that Southern slavery was profitable and efficient relative to free labor and that slavery suited cities as well as farms. These researchers stress the similarity between slave markets and markets for other sorts of capital. This battle has largely been won by those who claim that New World slavery was profitable. Much like other businessmen, New World slaveowners responded to market signals — adjusting crop mixes, reallocating slaves to more profitable tasks, hiring out idle slaves, and selling slaves for profit.

One well-known instance shows that contemporaneous free labor thought that urban slavery may even have worked too well: employees of the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia, went out on their first strike in to protest the use of slave labor at the Works.

A Population History of the United States A Population History of the United States
A Population History of the United States A Population History of the United States
A Population History of the United States A Population History of the United States
A Population History of the United States A Population History of the United States
A Population History of the United States A Population History of the United States
A Population History of the United States A Population History of the United States
A Population History of the United States A Population History of the United States
A Population History of the United States A Population History of the United States

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