Why were there slaves in the South and not in the North?

James Brennan, Museum Educator at the National Civil War Museum, explains why there were slaves in the South and not in the North.

Slavery in United States


The enslavement of blacks in the American Colonies began during the 1600's. Slavery flourished in the South, where large plantations grew cotton, tobacco, and other crops. The plantations required many laborers. But slavery was less profitable in the North, where economic activity centered on small farms and industries. By 1860, the slave states had about 4 million slaves. The slaves made up nearly a third of the South's population.

Many Americans turned against slavery during the Revolutionary War in America (1775-1783). These Americans came to believe that slavery had no place in a nation that had been formed to protect natural human rights. Few people in the North owned slaves, and opposition to slavery developed more rapidly there than in the South. Some Southerners, including such leaders as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, spoke out against slavery. Jefferson owned slaves, but he believed slavery was morally wrong and would someday have to end. He took no strong stand in his own state, Virginia, because he felt the people were not ready for such a step. The high profits that resulted from slavery had far greater influence than did any moral arguments.

Support of slavery remained strong throughout the South. But only about a fourth of the region's whites owned slaves or belonged to a family that owned them. About 45,000 planters owned over half the slaves, and these planters controlled the economy and government of the Southern States. Even the many Southerners who did not own slaves accepted the planters' view that the South's economy would collapse without slavery.


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