Slavery During the Revolution and Post-Revolution

During the Revolutionary War, there were obviously many issues in the new United States.  One issue that wasn’t frequently discussed was slavery.  Slavery began to change during this period for many reasons.  After the Revolutionary War, opinions about slavery continued to diverge, and this country began to be divided into North and South.

In the Revolutionary war, slaves were often torn on whom to side with.  The colonies had enslaved them, but the British were far away and unknown to them.  Even so, Britain offered the slaves better incentives to fight for their side, namely freedom.  Britain recruited slaves more actively than the colonies did, so more ended up fighting for them.  Many ended up dying, too; around 100,000 (

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The reason that the white owners began to question slavery during this period is because of the war.  The colonies were vastly outnumbered by the British armies, and needed to recruit any men they could.  Slaves were men, too; men who were used to a hard day’s work and might make good soldiers.  On the other hand, slaves were seen as feeble minded, and possibly not capable of following orders.  George Washington forbade the recruitment of black men once he took control of the army; at the same time, the British were still actively recruiting them.   It was said that Washington was ‘ambivalent’ about black men, which was probably how many leaders in the colonies felt at the time (

Before Washington’s decree about not recruiting blacks, several were recruited, and they fought in the battles of Lexington and Concord.   One black man, Crispus Attucks, was in the middle of the Boston Massacre, and lost his life for the Patriots (

Post-revolution, Washington and the other founding fathers were still ambivalent about slavery.  Those in the North did not have much use for slavery, as their business didn’t include large plantations as it did in the South.  Slavery was allowed to continue because the founding fathers did nothing to abolish it.  They did not write it in the Constitution, and they did not take any kind of strong national stand.  A historian from UCLA claims that had the Founding Fathers taken a strong stance against slavery, they could have abolished it at the outset (Nash).

Further critics show that Washington owned many slaves himself, and so did other leaders at that time.  With the leaders saying one thing (“slavery should be abolished”) and doing another, the country was confused on the issue, and slavery continued as it had over the last several decades and even expanded (The Thistle).

The original Constitution had a section that prevented anyone from interfering with the slave trade, which allowed those who wanted to own slaves to have them.  By 1808, Congress had made the slave trade illegal, but because the South had been able to have slaves since the beginning, they had begun to rely on them for their large plantation farming techniques.  The Congress did not actually enforce the anti-slavery proclamations for several more decades, by which time the North was filled with anti-slavery activist groups, while the South was even more dependent on slave labor to keep their farms running (

Had the Founding Fathers taken a stronger stance against slavery at the outset, and had they not held slaves themselves, slavery may have been abolished at the beginning of the new country.  Instead, the North and South were set up on a great divide over slavery that ultimately tore the country apart in the late 1800’s.  Slavery was a prime issue through the 1700’s and 1800’s.