Rapid growth of slavery in the 1800’s


Louisiana Purchase 1803

The acquisition of the Louisiana territories, known as the Louisiana Purchase, in 1803 by the Jefferson administration doubled the size of the American territory and therefore its availability to the spread of slavery. The north and south had opposing views. The south supported the spread of the institution of slavery to the new territories while the north strongly opposed it. The Louisiana Purchase brought heated political debate to Congress.

Louisiana Purchase 1803


The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States in 1803. Click on map to enlarge.

Missouri Compromise 1820

The first state to be organized from the Louisiana territory was Missouri. In 1820 it requested admission to the Union as a slave state disrupting the balance of free and slave states which were 11 of each at the time. The Missouri Compromise provided a temporary solution by admitting Maine as a free state and restoring the balance. It also drew an imaginary line on the 36° 30′ latitude, north of which slavery would not be allowed.

Missouri Compromise 1820 map


The Missouri Compromise of 1820 limited the spread of slavery north of the 36°30′ line. Click on map to enlarge.

The invention of cotton gin

Slaves provided free labor to those who owned them. The increased demand and prices for cotton led to plantations owners to search for land in the west. The invention of cotton gin in 1793 allowed for much greater productivity than the manual separation of cotton. The result was an explosive growth in demand of slaves for cotton cultivation.

Slave trade had become a major economic activity in the south. French Louisiana already had sugar cane plantations and after the 1803 purchase, Americans rushed to establish their own plantations and profit from free labor that slaves provided. The slave population increased from around 10,000 to 45,000 from 1810 to 1830.

New Orleans became the nation’s largest slave market shipping slaves to plantations on the Mississippi River.


Other laws before the Civil War

In 1846 the United States won the Mexican-American American War which expanded the country by a third. Again, as with the Louisiana Purchase, it opened territory to slavery and conflict started to escalate. Abolitionist groups had started to seek more power in politics and to influence popular opinion in the north of the country. Most of these groups were financed by free African Americans. The Fugitive Slave Act, a provision of the Compromise of 1850, sparked a sense of urgency within abolitionists to terminate slavery.

The Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act temporarily prevented the inevitable, civil war.


Next – Frederick Douglass’ abolitionist activities >>


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