One of my Dutch friends commented on my last post that she didn’t learn all that much about American slavery in high school. I felt that I learned quite a lot–enough to argue viciously with my distant relatives in Bakersfield, California when I visited them at the annoying age of 18, anyway–but perhaps most of my knowledge came from independent study projects I did at my particular school. However, I know I had a picture like the one above in my 9th grade history book.
In any case, let me spend another post, or two, or three–you never know with me–on American slavery. So this post will be mostly for the benefit of my non-American readers, though it never ceases to amaze me how novel and eye-opening a book and TV series like Roots in the 1970’s and just recently the movie 12 Years a Slave are considered to be here in the States. Knowledge of American history clearly isn’t what it could be in many places.
In 1619, a Dutch ship introduced twenty slaves to Jamestown in Virginia, one of the first successful British colonies in North America. It just got worse from there.
Yes, we Dutch have a lot to answer for.
Britain and Europe acquired a taste for American cotton, sugar, rice and tobacco, and the colonies–and later the states–were all too happy to provide said products, especially since free slave labor made growing these crops extremely lucrative.
After America became independent, many people in the North felt that black people should be free from the yoke of slavery just as Americans had freed themselves from the yoke of British rule. From an economic standpoint, this was easily said in the North.
Since tobacco, cotton, rice and sugar cane were Southern crops, the economic benefits of slavery were the greatest for Southern plantation owners; therefore they felt threatened by the growing Abolition movement (the movement to abolish slavery) in the North.
At the same time the United States were still expanding westward and abolitionists and advocates of slavery in the federal (= national) government argued about the newest territories and their status once they were to become states: should they be allowed to have slaves or not?
The two parties couldn’t agree, and this, along with a bunch of other issues, led most of the Southern states to secede–to break off into their own country: the Confederate States of America. President Lincoln didn’t accept this; he insisted that the United States of America stay united. And so the Union army, largely made up of Northerners, fought the Confederate army, mainly consisting of Southerners, during the American Civil War, from 1861 to 1865. The Union Army won and Lincoln immediately abolished slavery throughout the country.
Of course it wasn’t quite this simple. Slavery wasn’t the only issue, just as the two armies weren’t that clear cut between North and South; often members of the same family fought on opposite sides, for various reasons. But I’m trying to stick to slavery here, and I’m trying to keep it basic, so bear with me.
In fact, this is quite enough for one post. See you back here tomorrow.
Oh, by the way, let me reiterate: the Civil War ended in 1865 and the North won. That’s not actually as obvious to everyone here as you’d think it would be. More on that in a later post as well.
The next post in this series is a response to a comment in this post. It’s my view on history and secondary history education.