The history of slavery in the United States began several years after the English colonists first settled in Virginia and lasted until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Before the widespread establishment of chattel slavery, much labor was organized under a system of bonded labor known as indentured servitude. This typically lasted for several years for white and black alike, and it was a means of using labor to pay the costs of transporting people to the colonies. By the 1700's court rulings established the racial basis of the American incarnation of slavery to apply chiefly to Africans and people of African descent, and occasionally to Native Americans. In part because of the Southern colonies' devotion of resources to tobacco culture, which was labor intensive, by the end of the 17th century they had a higher number and proportion of slaves than in the North. While the south undoubtedly had more slaves than the north, that is not to say the north didn't have any at all, as is commonly believed.

In the 19th century, proponents of slavery often defended the institution as a "necessary evil". It was feared that emancipation would have more harmful social and economic consequences than the continuation of slavery. In 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter that with slavery:
          "We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other."

Robert E. Lee wrote in 1856:
           "There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race. While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things. How long their servitude may be necessary is known and ordered by a merciful Providence."

Slavery came to an end in 1865 when the United Stated defeated the seceding Confederate States in the Civil War, and President Abraham Lincoln enacted the Emancipation Proclaimation. What many people do not know is that the second part of the president's plan was to send all the freed slaves back to Africa. Before he enacted this plan, he was killed by John Wilkes Booth while he watched a play with his wife.


This is a web page for students designed by students to inform and educate the viewer about Minnesota's rich history.