Throughout the storied, tumultuous, and often triumphant past of the United States of America, perhaps no single issue has been so persistent, nor left so lasting a legacy, as has slavery. Described as AmericaÆs ôoriginal sinö (because the Founding Fathers refused to ban it when drafting the documents that would ultimately free the newborn United States from British oppression), slavery has never left the collective conscience of the American people (Hayes, 1998, p. 11).
And for good reason. The first slaves were brought to the original American colonies and settlements in the early 1600s, and with them arrived a dehumanizing tradition that would extend well into the 1800s. As slavery in the U.S. evolved, the slave culture expanded, matured and polarized. By the early nineteenth century, slavery was the dominant labor system of the Southern states (Loewen, 1996, p. 138-139). At this time, anti-slavery movements- lobbied most openly in the industrialized North- began to take hold. Technically, the era of slavery in America would draw to an official close with the end of the Civil War and the drafting of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. However, the legacy of slavery would persist, and as a consequence, the United States would continue to evolve as a nation divided.
Although Americans are fond of referring to the United States as a nation conceived in liberty, it is true that from the very beginning this country was heavily dependent upon coerced labor. Throughout most of the 1600s, however, the bulk of the coloniesÆ labor needs were filled by indentured servants. Among these were Native Americans and poor Europeans; it was not until the 1680s that the general population of the mainland colonies began to change in composition. Until this time, the overwhelming majority of non-Natives in the colonies was white(Kolchin, 1993, p. 10).
Peter Kolchin (1993), in his book American Slavery 1619-1877, writes tha...