Dred Scott – a summary

Dred Scott was a slave who, through the courts, tried to obtain his and his family’s freedom. Eventually, in 1857, after eleven years of fighting, the US Supreme Court found against him, declaring that as an African descendent he was not an American citizen and therefore could not use the courts to sue for freedom. The decision further widened the gulf between the pro and anti-slavery movements. Less than three years after the decision, the US was at war.

Born in Virginia about 1799, Dred Scott was born a slave and brought up on the St Louis estate of his master, Peter Blow. In 1832, Blow died and Scott was purchased by an army surgeon, Dr John Emerson. In the course of his work, Emerson was posted to various different posts, and each time he took Scott with him. From Missouri, Emerson was posted to Illinois, a free state, then, after a stay of two and a half years, to the Wisconsin Territory, a free territory. It was in Wisconsin that Scott met fellow-slave, Harriet Robinson. Upon their marriage, Robinson also became the property of Dr Emerson. The Scotts were to have two children.

Dred ScottAfter several years away, Emerson, and his new wife, Irene, returned to Missouri, a slave state. Dr Emerson died in 1843, and Scott attempted to buy his freedom from Emerson’s widow, offering her the princely sum of $300. She refused.

Scott v Emerson

Not to be thwarted, in 1847, Dred and Harriet Scott took their case to court, arguing that as they had resided in two free states they, and their children, should be rendered freed from the bonds of servitude. The Scotts lost the case on a technicality but, in 1851, they were allowed a re-trial within the lower court. This time, the court agreed with the Scotts and granted them their freedom. But in 1852, the higher court, the Missouri Supreme Court, overturned the decision. Mrs Emerson moved away from Missouri, leaving her late husband’s estate, including its slaves, to her brother, John F A Sanford.

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William Lloyd Garrison – a summary

Abolitonist, journalist, and social reformer, William Lloyd Garrison was born 12 December 1805 in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  His parents, Abijah Garrison and Frances Maria Lloyd Garrison, immigrated to the United States from New Brunswick, Canada.  His father abandoned the family in 1808 and young Garrison sold lemonade and candy to help support the family.

William Lloyd GarrisonAt the age of 13, Garrison was apprenticed to the Newbury Herald, where he began writing newspaper articles.  He later owned his own paper, Free Press.  It was a short-lived enterprise, but it was the first of several papers that he would own.  Garrison kept writing, began speaking and publishing his work.  In 1828, he became editor of the National Philanthropist in Boston, Massachusetts.

He joined the abolition movement at the age of 25 and associated himself, for a time, with the American Colonization Society, which promoted the relocation of African Americans to colonies in Africa.  Garrison later rejected the concept of colonization, which was intended to reduce the number of freed slaves in the United States.  He apologized for his ‘error,’ and began to censure others for making the same ‘mistake.’

The Black List

William Lloyd Garrison became co-editor of Genius of Universal Emancipation, a Quaker newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland.  While working for the Genius, Garrison moved from the gradualist concept of ending slavery to the immediatist viewpoint.  He began to include a column in the Genius called the ‘Black List’ which passed along stories of abuse and injustice against slaves.  He ran a story on the list of a ship owner who was involved in the slave trade.  After being sued, fined, and arrested for not paying the fine, Garrison and the Genuis parted ways.

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The Missouri Compromise – a summary

Slavery in the newly-established United States did encounter a decline shortly after the end of the American Revolution.  It has been argued that slavery might have eventually died out from lack of necessity.  At this crucial time, however, a young man from Massachusetts named Eli Whitney was on his way to South Carolina to accept a position as a tutor.  Instead, he accepted an invitation from Catherine Greene to visit her Georgia plantation.  While there, Whitney invented the cotton gin.  The year was 1793, and the cotton gin was a key invention in the industrial revolution.  It made the production of short staple cotton profitable and invigorated the need for slave labor to produce it.

North vs South

As the new nation spread westward, the balance of power between slave state and free state became of major concern.  The industrialized North had different needs than the agrarian South, which meant that legislation intended to benefit one side was sometimes detrimental to the other.  Both sides were acutely aware of how important it was to have as much or more power in government than the other in order to safeguard their interests.

When the Louisiana Territory was purchased, concern as to whether territories applying for admission to the United States were slave or free grew.  The territory stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to beyond the Canadian border.  It included all or part of what would become fourteen states as well as a small portion of Canada, with the Mississippi River as its eastern boundary.  Both sides of the slavery issue knew that dividing the territory into states, and determining whether each of those states was free or slave was crucial to the balance of political power.

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The Slaves’ Gamble

History is the story of real people, and The Slaves’ Gamble describes how real people struggled to find freedom during the War of 1812.  By using the story of real individuals, this study, by Gene Allen Smith, reveals the contributions that free blacks and slaves as a group made to the British war effort, to American defenses, to the Spanish attempts to preserve their North American empire along the Gulf of Mexico, to Native American communities trying to retain their freedom and sovereignty, and to maroon communities trying to remain outside of white control.

Slaves GambleDuring the years prior to the War of 1812 African Americans had gained increased political, economic, and civic rights; many of these concessions had been won by black participation during the War for Independence and their support for a new political system based on the primacy of the United States.  When the War of 1812 began, they consciously chose the side they would support, and those tenuous choices dramatically impacted their future freedom and opportunity as well as the future of the United States.

Choosing Sides

The Slaves’ Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812 looks at African American combatants during the War of 1812 as a way to understand the War and the evolution of racial relations during the early nineteenth century.  In many instances black participants—slaves and freemen—had to choose sides and these choices ultimately defined their individual and collective identities.

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Slavery and the Causes of the American Civil War

History buffs love to debate the cause of the American Civil War.  The most commonly accepted reason is slavery.  While history buffs love to look to other reasons the country split in half and went to war in 1861, those reasons can usually be traced right back to the same cause – slavery.

For example, many Confederate soldiers who were not slave owners would cite states’ rights as their reason for joining the Confederate cause, rather than protecting slavery.  Many civil war re-enactors make the same claim today.  While the sentiment may be sincere, the issue of states’ rights arose over… slavery.

Louisiana Purchase

In 1803, the United States acquired the Louisiana Territory from the French.  The land stretched from the Gulf of Mexico into Canada, and from the Mississippi River to the crest of the Rocky Mountains.  The territory added 828,000 square miles of land to the United States, including the port city of New Orleans and thousands of acres of farmland.  It would eventually be divided into all or part of fifteen states, with the portions above the 49th parallel becoming part of two Canadian provinces.

The first state to be carved out of the Louisiana Purchase, as it came to known, was Missouri.  Its application for statehood caused a firestorm in the United States legislature for one simple reason—slavery.  The state wished to be admitted as a slave state.  Those who opposed slavery worried that it would allow slavery to spread.  Those who supported slavery worried that if the state was admitted as a free state rather than a slave state, slaveholding states would lose power and influence in Congress.

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Elijah Lovejoy – a summary

Elijah Lovejoy, the son of a Congregational minister, was born November 9, 1802. Lovejoy was not the only one abolitionist who died for what he believed in, but he is one of the better known martyrs of the abolitionist movement.  Lovejoy was murdered by a mob in Alton, Illinois, because he continued to publish abolitionist materials, even after his having press destroyed three times.

In 1826, Elijah Lovejoy moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he established a school and eight years later became the pastor of the Presbyterian Church there. Tensions ran high in Saint Louis, Missouri in the 1830s. The city stood on the banks of the Mississippi River, dividing it from the free state of Illinois.

St Louis

Within this atmosphere, Lovejoy established the St Louis Observer, a religious newspaper, in which he advocated the abolition of slavery. In 1835, pro-slavery supporters warned him to halt his abolitionist preaching but Lovejoy, made of stern stuff, refused. In 1836 Lovejoy wrote an account of how an African American was dragged from jail, where he was being held on the charge of the murder of two white men, and lynched. Lovejoy criticized the local judge because of his failure to indict anyone for the crime. The report angered many St Louis inhabitants and in July 1836, a pro-slavery mob destroyed his press.


Lovejoy moved his family and his press to Alton, Illinois and there established the Alton Observer.  Even though Alton was in the free state of Illinois, it was still a focal point for slave catchers and slavery supporters because of its proximity to the slave state of Missouri. Again, his printing press became the focal point of violence and on three occasions, white mobs seized it and threw it into the Mississippi River. Lovejoy remained defiant, writing, “We distinctly avow it to be our settled purpose, never, while life lasts, to yield to this new system of attempting to destroy, by means of mob violence, the right of conscience, the freedom of opinion, and of the press.”

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Henry Clay – a summary

Henry Clay was known throughout his life as an orator, statesman and peacekeeper.  Born 12 April 1777, the son of a Virginian farmer, his father died and left him heir to two slaves of his own when Henry was only four.  His stepfather moved the family to Richmond, Virginia, where Henry went to work as a shop assistant, and later in the Court of Chancery.  He showed an aptitude for law and received his legal education at the College of William and Mary.  After being accepted to the bar, he set up a law practice in Lexington, Kentucky in 1797.

Henry ClayHenry Clay became known for his legal skills, which led to a lengthy career in politics.  In 1803, he was elected to the Kentucky General Assembly and advocated the state’s gradual emancipation of slavery.

It was the beginning of a long career in politics.  Clay would be appointed to various seats and elected three times to the United States House of Representatives where he served as Speaker of the House.  He was the ninth United States Secretary of State and served four times as a United States Senator.

The Missouri Compromise

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John Brown and the Raid on the Harpers Ferry Armoury

John Brown, the radical abolitionist, ensured his place in US history when on 16 October 1859 he led a group of 21 men on a raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. The raid failed and Brown, wounded, was tried, convicted and hanged. But by his action, John Brown deepened further still the chasm between the anti and pro-slavery camps and by his death became a martyr for the abolitionist cause.

Pottawatomie Massacre

Brown’s raid on the Harpers Ferry arsenal was not his first. During a spell in Kansas, Brown was involved in more than one attack on pro-slavery supporters. After a group of pro-slavery supporters attacked the anti-slavery town of Lawrence in Kansas, Brown, who believed it was his divine mission to extract revenge, retaliated and led a nighttime attack on a proslavery settlement at Pottawatomie Creek on 24/25 May 1856.  Among his group of seven men were four of his sons and one son-in-law.  Three pro-slavery supporters were dragged from their homes and hacked to death.  Two more were killed before the sun rose.  Brown escaped the pursuing peace-keeping troops of the US Army.

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Harriet Tubman – a summary

As the concept of banning slavery within the United States grew, so did the number of people who were willing to risk their safety and security to help runaway slaves.  One such person was Harriet Tubman. Here, Kat Smutz summarizes her life.

Harriet Tubman was a fugitive slave with a high price on her head in the American South.  Born Araminta Ross in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman, the eleventh child, was often called Minty. Harriet was a name she chose for herself as an adult.

“I felt like I was in heaven”

In 1844, aged about 25, Harriet sought permission from her owners to marry. She married John Tubman, a freeman, and lived with him in his cabin, but was obliged to continue working for her master. She once confided in her husband her dreams of running away and obtaining freedom. John Tubman threatened to denounce her if she ever tried it.

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Frederick Douglass – a summary

The title of Renaissance man would not be inaccurate in describing Frederick Douglass.  Born a slave in about February 1818, Douglass, originally called Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, was raised by his grandmother. Denied even the most basic education, Douglass rose beyond life in bondage to a man of intelligence, principles, and influence.

Douglass’ mother was a slave named Harriet Bailey.  The identity of his father is uncertain, but is believed to be his mother’s owner, Anthony Bailey. Like most slave children, Douglass was taken from his mother at birth and fostered by an older slave woman.  He later said that he saw his mother no more than five times in his life.

At the age of 12, he went to live with a relative of his owner whose wife began teaching Douglass to read.  When her husband learned of it, he demanded his wife desist.  Not only was it illegal to educate a slave, but it was believed that if a slave learned to read, he might become dissatisfied with his lot in life and attempt to rise above it.

But Douglass had already obtained the rudimentary skills of reading and continued to teach himself using the Bible and newspapers.

Slave breaker

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