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Slavery as a Reason for Civil War

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When people think of black slavery before the Civil War, they would say that those in the south were slaves, while those in the North were free. Blacks in the south were treated cruelly, being whipped for learning, traveling, or anything the master did not approve of. Despite being considered free, blacks who lived in the North still faced discrimination in their rights.

Between 1619 and 1820, most African Americans were enslaved and worked in plantations or mines in the southern United States. However, those in the North still faced heavy discrimination and restrictions in their privileges. All blacks were treated inferior to white people, regardless of talent, character, or skill, meaning that they would always have very little opportunities to succeed in their society.

Blacks in the North were free to a certain extent in the years before the Civil War because their political, economic, and social rights were heavily limited compared to the rights of white people.

Black people in the north did not have the same political freedom as white people. They were counted for the total population of cities and the number of delegates, but they could not vote in most states, and therefore had no voice in choosing the representatives of the state. Voting for black men was illegal in six of the sixteen northern states, and extensively limited in five states. Women could not vote at all (Document A). This constraint on black voting meant that the opinions of black people were not valued or considered in the same way as those of whites. Blacks also lacked the right to serve in juries or the government. These rights, like voting, were exclusive to white males until 1860, where the state of Massachusetts allowed black men to serve on juries (Document A). The freedom of representation in the legislature was also reserved for white men (Document B). This meant that blacks could not express their concerns to white representatives to make fair laws.

Economic opportunities were limited for all blacks. Even with an education, they would struggle to find a job other than servitude because no one wanted to work with them. An African American who had graduated first in his class gave a speech where he questioned why he had worked so hard to be nothing but inferior to white people. He said, “Where are my prospects? To where shall I turn my hand? (Document C)” Because of the racial discrimination in America, hard work and education did not give African Americans an advantage over others in getting skilled jobs. The graduate said that he couldn’t be a mechanic because no one will employ him, and he couldn’t become a merchant because white people wouldn’t associate with him (Document C). This reluctance to work with black people made it difficult to find a job for them other than hard, monotonous labor.

Northern Blacks had some freedom in their social rights. They were not allowed to have the luxuries of white people, but they could attend events at black churches. White people could attend concerts, lectures, and theaters, unlike the blacks, who were inferior (Document B). Northern Whites did not sell or enslave blacks, but they still ridiculed them to show racial superiority. Although they could not have the luxuries that whites had, blacks held churches, where they would worship, discuss, and learn together (Document D). In these churches, they would fight for their rights and abolition. They would also hide fugitive slaves to support their endeavors traveling north. This freedom allowed blacks to meet in large groups and publicly voice their opinions, which were important in opposing slavery.

In the years that lead up to the Civil War, Northern African Americans had limited political, economic, and social freedom, which were poor compared to the rights of white people. Their rights to choose their leaders were taken away, and their opportunities to work non-laboring jobs were very little. Even with these limited rights, blacks formed a separate church from the whites to worship, learn, and communicate between themselves.

This question makes us consider how “free” blacks were treated. They did indeed have some rights, compared to the none that slaves had, but many people often ignore how they were treated and how having such limited rights affected the way these African Americans lived. When we understand the views of both the slaves in the south and the blacks in the north, we can analyze how the unjust limitation of rights resulted in controversy, fights, and the Civil War in America. It is also important to us today because it was the foundation of the United States. Having a past of racial discrimination leads to how we structure our lives and our laws to govern the country. 

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