In total, 10-13 million Africans were abducted (mainly by other Africans and Arabs) and sold as slaves (mostly in the Americas) between 1620 and 1880
Spanish settlements in the territory of the current-day USA owned slaves as early as 1526. Twenty one African chattel slaves were first brought to British North America ( to Jamestown, Virginia) in 1619. They joined white indentured laborers (servants) from all over Europe as well as Indian (Native-American) and Caribbean slaves. All the colonies legalized race-based (black) slavery and introduced "slave codes" by 1670. In total, 10-13 million Africans were abducted (mainly by other Africans and Arabs) and sold as slaves (mostly in the Americas) between 1620 and 1880.
The slaves were transported across the ocean in especially fitted ships. They were kept lying on narrow ledges, chained, but were brought above deck in good weather. Women and children were not shackled. Even these harsh conditions did not prevent the would-be slaves from frequently attempting to rebel, though, usually, unsuccessfully.
Overcrowding, minimal and monotonous diet (two meals per day and a pint of water), poor hygiene, epidemics, and lack of physical activity decimated, on each and every 1-2 months long trip, a whopping one seventh to one fourth of the "cargo" and one sixth to one half of the crew. Another 10% of the slaves died during the process of "seasoning" - getting used to local conditions in their destinations.
Initially, all types of unfree workers, regardless of color, were treated the same way: bought, sold, and worked, sometimes to death. Gradually, starting in the 18th century, light-skinned slaves ("house negroes") and whites were tackled more leniently. Surprisingly, slave rebellions were rather rare - perhaps because cruel slave-owners were socially ostracized and miscegenation (white-black sexual liaisons) was frowned upon.
Most slave-owners regarded themselves as custodians of their slaves. They properly fed the working adults (though children usually went malnourished), allowed them to grow vegetables in their own garden plots, provided them with clothing (four suits) and housing (one wooden cabin per family). In wealthier and larger plantations, the slaves were cared for by qualified physicians. The master felt it his obligation and right to constantly intervene, interfere, and meddle in the lives of his inferiors.
Slave life was richer than portrayed in literature and cinema. Slaves belonged to churches and were ordained as ministers and preachers. A few learned to read and write. Music was a favorite pastime. Understandably, so was drinking. Slaves were allowed to moonlight or work on their own free time.
Actually, only a minority of the white population in the south were slave-owners (347,525 out of 6,000,000 in 1850). Only 1,800 people owned more than 100 slaves. There were 250,000 freed slaves in the south by 1860. The average cotton plantation had only 35 slaves, about 50-60% of them engaged in the production of the immensely profitable crop and its processing.
Still, slaves constituted more than half the population in some southern states (South Carolina, Mississippi) and two fifths of the total southern populace (compared to an average of 5% in the north and 10% in New-York). Of the first 12 Presidents of the USA, 8 were slave-owners. Some slave-owners were themselves black and former slaves.
The Law, even in the Deep South, recognized slaves as both chattel and human beings. Slaves were held responsible for criminal acts they had committed, for instance, and enjoyed many human rights (e.g., the right not to be killed, tortured, or beaten brutally, to be cared for in old age or sickness, to receive religious instruction, to bring suit and give evidence in some cases). Case law and non-binding custom endowed them with additional privileges: the right to marry, own private property (peculium), have free time, enter contracts, and (if female or child) be consigned to lighter labor.
Still, a minority of slave-owners ignored these legal protections and social censure and indulged their sadistic urges and sexual appetites. In some plantations, nutrition was so lopsided or deficient that slaves resorted to eating clay to supplement their diet. In others mutilation, branding, chaining, torture, murder, and rape - all criminal acts prohibited by Law - were common.
But while individual slaves were, at least theoretically, protected by law and social custom - not so the negro family. The owner had the right to sell his slaves separately, regardless of their familial ties. Some states, like Louisiana in 1829, passed legislation prohibiting the sale of children under the age of ten. Others (Alabama and Georgia) forbade the separation of inherited slave families. But these were the exceptions to the widespread practice.
Though not recognized or protected by Law, many slaves accumulated property. A few hundred slaves even purchased their freedom from their white masters. Slave-owners in the USA usually retained ownership of sick, disabled, or infirm slaves and took care of them. Suicide among slaves in the USA was a rarity. Many slaves (especially in the coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina) were free to do as they chose once they had completed their daily assignments (the "task system").
On the eve of the American Revolution, c. 400,000 slaves amounted to one fifth of the population of the rebellious colonies. Slavery in the USA was abolished in stages and decades after it was eliminated in Britain. Rhode Island banned it as early as 1774. Pennsylvania, New-York, and New Jersey followed suit. In 1787, the Continental Congress prohibited the practice in the Midwest. The slave trade - or, more precisely, the importation of slaves into the USA - was banned altogether in 1808. Even so, between 1808 and 1865, traders smuggled 270,000 slaves into the USA.
But the major engine of growth of the slave population was reproduction. Twenty thousand slaves were born every year during the 1790s - and 70,000 annually in the 1840s. As a result, the ratio between the sexes was equal and the slave population skyrocketed from 1.2 million in 1810 to 4 million in 1860. Some slave-owners even established "breeding farms" and sold the off-spring in the markets of "deficit" states.
Gradually, all the states north of the Ohio River and the Mason-Dixon line became slave-free. Northerners resented the presence of fugitive slaves (about 1000 per year) who crossed the Ohio River in what was known as the Underground Railroad, but they often clashed with federal authorities when the latter tried to extend their jurisdiction to the escapees under the Fugitive Slave Laws.
Most abolitionists - as well as President Abraham Lincoln (who was never one) - wanted to repatriate the blacks (return them to Africa) and, in any case, expel all free blacks from northern and, later, southern territories. The African nation-state of Liberia was established specifically to accommodate former North American slaves.
It was widely acknowledged that slave-owners should be compensated for the loss of their property. Not a single abolitionist supported or even discussed reparations (compensating the slaves for their free labor, denial of freedom, brutal treatment, and hardships). It was accepted wisdom that blacks - both slaves and free - should never be allowed to carry arms.
Slaves in the South (the Confederacy) were finally emancipated in 1863, during the Civil War. But, even then, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to some states within the Union. These other slaves remained in slavery until December 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was adopted.
The Republicans did not intend to abolish slavery - just to "contain" it, i.e., limit it to the 15 states where it had already existed. Most of the Democrats accepted this solution.
This led to a schism in the Democratic party. The "fire eaters" left it and established their own pro-secession political organization. Growing constituencies in the south - such as urban immigrants and mountain farmers - opposed slavery as a form of unfair competition. Less than one quarter of southern families owned slaves in 1861. Slave-based, mainly cotton raising, enterprises, were so profitable that slave prices almost doubled in the 1850s. This rendered slaves - as well as land - out of the reach of everyone but the wealthiest citizens.
Cotton represented three fifths of all United States exports in 1860. Southerners, dependent on industrial imports as they were, supported free trade. Northerners were vehement trade protectionists. The federal government derived most of its income from custom duties. Income tax and corporate profit tax were yet to be invented.
The states seceded one by one, following secession conventions and state-wide votes. The Confederacy (Confederate States of America) was born only later. Not all the constituents of the Confederacy seceded at once. Seven - the "core" - seceded between December 20, 1860 and February 1, 1861. They were: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.
Another four - Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas - joined them only after the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861. Two - Kentucky and Missouri - seceded but were controlled by the Union's army throughout the war. Maryland and Delaware were slave states but did not secede.
President James Buchanan who preceded Abraham Lincoln, made clear that the federal government would not use force to prevent secession. Secession was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court only in 1869 (in Texas vs. White) - four years after the Civil War ended. New England almost seceded in 1812, during the Anglo-American conflict, in order to protect its trade with Britain.
The constitution of the Confederacy prohibited African slave trade (buying slaves from Africa), though it allowed interstate trade in slaves. The first Confederate capital was in Montgomery, Alabama - not in Richmond, Virginia. The term of office of the Confederate president - Jefferson Davis was the first elected - was six years, not four as was the case in the Union.
Fort Sumter was not the first attack of the Confederacy on the Union. It was preceded by attacks on 11 forts and military installations on Confederate territory.
Lincoln won only 40 percent of the popular vote in 1860. Hence the South's fierce resistance to his abolitionist agenda. In 1864, the Republicans became so unpopular, they had to change their name to the Union Party. Lincoln's vice-president, Johnson, actually was a Democrat and hailed from Tennessee, a seceding state.
He was the only senator from a seceded state to remain in the Senate.
Reconstruction started long before the war ended, in Union-occupied Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Slave tax was an important source of state revenue in the South (up to 60 percent in South Carolina). Emancipation led to near bankruptcy.
The Union states of Connecticut, Minnesota, and Wisconsin refused to pass constitutional amendments to confer suffrage on black males. The Union army consigned black labor gangs to work on the plantations of loyal Southerners and forcibly separated the black workers from their families.
Contrary to myth, nearly two thirds of black families were headed by both parents. Slave marriages were legally meaningless in the antebellum South, though. But nearly 90 percent of slave households remained intact till death or forced separation. The average age of childbirth for women was 20.
Segregation was initiated by blacks. The freedmen lobbied hard and long for separate black churches and educational facilities. Nor was lynching confined to blacks. For instance, a white mob lynched, in September 1862, forty four Union supporters in Gainesville, Texas. Similar events took place in Shelton Laurel, North Carolina. The Ku Klux Klan was the paramilitary arm of the Democratic Party in the South, though never officially endorsed by it. It was used to "discipline" the workforce in the plantations - but also targeted Republicans.
The Democrats changed their name after the war to the Conservative Party. By 1877 they have regained power in all formerly Confederate states.