In this continuation of a series on slavery and migration, Brian & Lyman discuss the massive expansion of American slavery, in terms of both geography and sheer numbers. Topics include the Louisiana Purchase, the Adams-Onis Treaty, the Missouri Compromise, and the Trail of Tears.
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B: You’re listening to Episode 7 of Migration Nation with Lyman Stone and Brian Hudson, a Podcast about the history of migration in America.
L: I’m an economist and Brian’s a social studies teacher. For today’s episode, we’re gonna enter into the final stages of our discussion of enslaved migration. We’ve been on this topic for a while, but are nearing the end.
B: So to do that, we’re going to talk about the territorial expansion of slavery. Because that’s really what provokes anti-slavery activism: not just anger over slavery in South Carolina or Virginia, but frustration over constant attempts to expand slavery over more and more territory.
L: So we’ll talk about slave and free states joining the union, and the Adams-Onis Treaty, and Bleeding Kansas, and even the Trail of Tears. Because these are all pieces of the story of slavery’s march west.
B: Also, we were hoping this episode would be short, sweet, and to the point, since our focus isn’t on political history per se.
L: But then it grew into one monumentally big episode, and then into two… and it’s about that time we realized we couldn’t do enslaved migration in 2 or even 3 episodes, but needed 5 episodes, plus a wrap-up like we had for bourbon.
B: In the meantime, trust that this episode’s time will be well spent.
L: Also, we’ve got a few episodes planned in the future that will zoom in even closer on some of the topics we’ll briefly cover today. We’ll have a whole episode about Texas, and a whole episode, or maybe two, about Native American migrations, forced or otherwise.
B: Yeah so really what we’re doing here is just giving you a sense of geographic perspective. How and when did slavery get to each place, and how fast did enslaved people arrive?
B: So aside from some digressions about the legal details of the slave trade, we ended the last episode by talking about how the domestic slave trade resulted in hundreds of thousands of enslaved people being sold across state lines, usually westward and southward. This westward and southward flow wasn’t an accident.
L: No, it was a product of a series of legal and territorial arrangements, and climate. But I don’t want to overstate the climate point too much-- had it been legal, slavery could have spread elsewhere.
B: Oh? You think we would have seen plantations in Illinois?
L: Um, yeah. I mean southern Indiana and Illinois was deeply sympathetic to the south, and the old French settlers there did keep slaves for agriculture. Plus, southern Illinois actually grew and exported cotton and tobacco, especially during the civil war. Cotton was, and still is, grown in northern Missouri where slavery was legal. So yeah, I think slavery would have spread wherever it was legal.
B: And, foreshadowing a bit, I think that the story of Texas bears that out.
L: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean--
B: Yeah like, even where it wasn’t legal and there were huge forces aligned against it--
B: They still brought slavery, and made it the norm.
L: Right. So wherever slavery is legal, it’s gonna spread. The whole trick here is about where slavery will be legal; in the long run, that’s gonna basically be identical with where slavery spreads.
B: Well, that brings us to the first expansions after the revolution. We said that the immediate post-revolutionary period brought about a wave of emancipations; that’s true. But it didn’t make a majority of the states free states. If you chart out which states were free and which were slave states, it turns out that slave states numbered as many or more than free states until 1858, with the admission of Minnesota.
L: Right, and that was intentional. Southern Senators could see that the dual impact of northern-centric immigration and the ⅗ compromise would lead to the slave states eventually holding a smaller and smaller share of the House of Representatives but, as long as they had equal to or more Senators, they could fend off any anti-slavery measures.
B: Right. But more than that, states were very nearly admitted in pairs of free and slave from 1790 to 1848. Vermont and Kentucky came in together in 1791 and 1792, a free and a slave state. Then came Tennessee and Ohio, 1796 and 1803. Then Louisiana snuck in in 1812, un paired. But after that, states all entered in pairs. Indiana, Mississippi; then Illinois, Alabama; then Maine, Missouri, and so on.
L: But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves, right? Missouri’s pretty far west.
B: Well then for that, we’ll have to step back to 1803.
B: So when Thomas Jefferson bought French Louisiana, he got way more than he expected.
L: Right, because he just wanted New Orleans right?
B: Yeah, but beyond that, the purchase really goes back to our bourbon episodes, and James Wilkinson. Remember how important the Mississippi was, and how vitally western Americans needed access to the port of New Orleans?
L: Right; without that access the western states were economically dead in the water, with nowhere to export their goods.
B: Well in 1795, Spain and the US sign a treaty giving the US full access to the river.
B: But then they cancel the deal in 1798.
B: But then in 1801, a new Spanish governor restores access rights.
B: Just in time for Jefferson learn that the Spanish secretly gave Louisiana back to the French, and that Napoleon was outfitting an army to come to America.
L: Okay, this is getting exhausting. Can’t we just decide whether the situation in New Orleans is good or bad, and keep it that way?
B: That’s pretty much what Jefferson wanted too.
L: Smart man.
B: Well, so in 1801 he sends a diplomat to Napoleon to basically say, hey, I hear you secretly took Louisiana back from Spain and are sending an army. And Napoleon says, No man, you got it all wrong, they just gave it to me, I don’t care about it one way or another, and the army is so I can go back to my rebelling colony in Saint Domingue, and re-impose slavery. When Jefferson, a slaveowner, hears about this, he’s happy, because having Napoleon go and crush a slave republic sounds like a way better outcome than having Napoleon land an army in New Orleans to free all the slaves.
L: Oh yeah, I remember the Revolutions Podcast has several episodes about this expedition to Haiti; it covers the politics really well, so listeners should check it out. But really, it seems odd to me that Jefferson would be worried about a French slave-liberation army landing in Louisiana.
B: That can be explained. Revolutionary France had abolished slavery, so there was some worry that French re-acquisition would lead to abolition in Louisiana. Most slaveowners saw that as a serious problem, as it meant there would be a large free black population controlling the major western port… and they could see in the rebellion in Saint Domingue that it turns out enslaved people aren’t always fond of their masters.
L: Makes sense. But how does this get us Louisiana?
B: Well, Jefferson had authorized his diplomat to buy New Orleans, but Napoleon turned him down. So that had to make Jefferson wonder: you say you’re not building an American empire, but you won’t sell the province you claim to not care about and that you took pains to re-acquire in secret. Hmmm….
L: Surprise, Napoleon’s a sneaky guy.
B: So when push comes to shove, Jefferson actually refuses to allow French supplies to use American ports, but does allow contraband intended for the slave rebels to get through. So slave-owning Jefferson, who initially supported Napoleon’s violent re-imposition of slavery, ends up permitting the arming of the largest slave revolt in history.
L: Politics makes strange bedfellows.
B: Yeah well, after ⅔ of the French army dies and they have to abandon the war effort and head home, Napoleon decides that fighting in the Americas is just not worth it. Plus, the Spanish kept dragging their feet, and didn’t turn over control to the French until 1802, and then never turned over Florida which made Louisiana hard to defend. So Napoleon realized he had this territory that the Americans wanted to pay for in cash that he desperately needed, and he realized that trying to hold the territory was going to be way more trouble than it was worth. So he sold it to the U.S. for a great price.
L: Complete with, like, 20,000 or more enslaved people.
B: And lethal sugar plantations.
L: But more than that: controlling the Mississippi meant that western cotton growers could move goods to market tons more easily. So if the cotton gin makes cotton production theoretically mobile, the Louisiana Purchase actually made western production economically viable.
B: Of course, nobody was quite sure what the boundaries of this territory would be.
L: So they sent Lewis and Clark.
B: Sure, to settle the western border. But that’s not all. Nobody had ever officially designated any of the boundaries of Louisiana. So Jefferson maintained that he’d purchased everything from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains, as far south as the Rio Grande.
L: Wait like all of Texas?
B: All of Texas. And the US continued asserting this claim until the Adams-Onis Treaty in 1819, which gave the US Florida, but led to the US officially abandoning claim on Texas, just in time for Mexico to declare independence from Spain.
L: Wow. Okay.
B: But there was a key difference between the Louisiana Purchase and, say, the Northwest Territories. The Northwest Territories were made Federal lands before becoming states, through a procedure defined by the Northwest Ordinance. The southwestern territories, like Alabama and Tennessee, were only very briefly ceded to the Federal government before becoming states, and previously were claimed by the southern states. The Northwest Territory was, obviously, also free state territory.
L: Oh, so then the logical conclusion would be that…
B: That the Federal government might declare the Louisiana Purchase to be free soil. Needless to say, southerners lobbied hard against that, since the threat of abolition in Louisiana was, after all, exactly what they’d been afraid of to begin with.
L: Yeah, no kidding.
B: The debate over what to do about slavery in the Louisiana TERRitory was intractable. The southern sliver of the territory became the state of Louisiana in 1812, practically a decade after it became a territory, and despite having had more than sufficient population to justify statehood for quite some time. And it becomes a slave state, obviously.
L: And then there’s The War of 1812, which clears out many of the Native Americans from Alabama and Mississippi, opening new lands for cotton, and easing migration westward. So this is when they become states, and pretty much immediately have 40% of their population enslaved.
B: Right. But over time, pressure builds to keep going west. The best land gets bought up in Mississippi and Alabama. Pretty soon, Missouri has enough people to petition for statehood… and it does so as a slave state. The only problem is, there’s no free state on hand to pair it with.
L: Ruh roh.
B: So they pull a clever move. Northern Massachusetts had wanted to break away and form its own state for a while. So while there was no new western free state, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 allowed northern Massachusetts to break away and form Maine, a free state, while Missouri entered as a slave state. The so-called “Missouri Compromise” also established that there could be slavery in the southern parts of the Louisiana Purchase, essentially Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, but nobody would be enslaved in the Kansas territory or further north. So, a compromise.
L: Okay. So by 1820, we’ve solved the Louisiana Purchase: people can be enslaved in the southern parts and in Missouri, but not in the much larger, but lightly populated, northern parts.
B: Oh and it’s worth noting, we also picked up Florida in 1819 from Spain. Basically because Andrew Jackson invaded it and just sort of… took it. And the reason he did that is because the Seminole native Americans were raiding into American territory… and also because many enslaved people escaped from plantations to join the Seminole. As the number of enslaved people in the western states grew, the presence of native peoples who could compete for land, and who threatened the security of the slave system, threatened southern interests.
L: So we invaded Florida because they were letting enslaved people be free. I’m assuming the only reason we didn’t do the same to Canada is because--- wait. We did invade Canada in 1812…
B: Yeah, but that wasn’t over slavery.
L: Fair enough.
B: Okay. So that wraps up the territorial expansion to the 1820s.
L: Brian just walked us through 20 years or so of the expansion of slave-state territory. But here’s the thing: after 1821, it’ll be 15 years before another state joins the union, and 24 years until any new territory is acquired, with the annexation of Texas.
B: But this period from the 1820s to the 1830s is still important for the territorial growth of slavery.
L: Right, it’s a period of “internal expansion,” when the population had to catch up with the territory. So for example, from 1800 to 1820, the American population of Alabama grew from around 2,000 to over 125,000: a lot, right?
B: Sure, that seems fast.
L: Well, from 1820 to 1840, it grew to 600,000. Technically a lower rate of growth, but the population quadrupled in 20 years.
B: And is that what we see in other parts of the south?
L: Mississippi grows from around 7,000 to 75,000 from 1800 to 1820… and then to about 400,000 by 1840. Louisiana had over 45,000 residents in 1800, but triples by 1820. But then more than doubles again by 1840. Arkansas: under 2,000 residents in 1800, about 15,000 by 1820, then 100,000 by 1840.
B: So this is all over the south then.
L: Well… not quite. Virginia adds less than 100,00 residents from 1820 to 1840, and actually declines from 1830 to 1840. South Carolina adds only about 100,000 residents; North Carolina adds just a bit more. So these old southern states experience much, much slower growth.
B: Because of migration.
L: Right, exactly. Planters moved in family groups, several at a time, with their enslaved laborers in tow, to settle new areas where cotton agriculture would be more profitable and land was cheap. And many other enslaved people were, as we’ve discussed, sold outright. And this was made possible mostly because this period saw greatly diminished resistance from native Americans.
B: That diminished native resistance; that’s mostly because of wars crushing native tribes, right? The War of 1812 sees the Creek Tribe in the south militarily crushed and its lands reduced, the Seminole Wars see the Seminole in Florida reduced, and then we culminate with the Trail of Tears in the late 1830s.
L: Yeah. These powerful tribes had been a serious barrier to the extension of plantation agriculture westward, and it took a series of concerted military actions to remove them.
B: With tragic consequences.
L: Right, as we know. But it also needs to be said: those Native Americans who weren’t driven off the land by war survived by assimilating in many ways. The Cherokee especially were known for being a “civilized” tribe. And what “civilized” meant in this context was slave-owning. The Cherokee kept thousands of enslaved Africans for use as plantation labor, and they farmed some of the better land in the south.
B: I didn’t know that. What happens to their slaves during the Trail of Tears headed to Oklahoma?
L: Some were sold to local whites, some escaped, but many were forced to accompany their masters. The result is that the Cherokee form an integral part of slavery’s westward march: they introduce large-scale slavery into Oklahoma, and perpetuate it until after the civil war.
B: So that’s like… forced migration, squared. Forced migratants force their enslaved laborers to migrate with them.
L: Yeah. It’s a pretty messed up situation on every level. The result of all this, of course, is a more divided country. Remember how I said a few episodes back, for the nation on the whole, that the enslaved share declined every decade from 1790 onwards?
B: Yeah; it had an all-time peak in the 1750s, a lower peak in 1790, then declined.
L: Right. Well, that’s not how it was for the south. The slave states peaked in 1750, then declined until 1770-- then had a rising enslaved share of the population until 1830, almost equal to 1750 levels around 34% of the population.
B: Wow. And meanwhile, the enslaved share in the northern states--
L: Fell from about 1.5% in 1800, to effectively zero after 1830.
B: So the 1830s, then, are when we can really start to talk about a solid slave state block and a solid free state block?
L: Right. But even then, we can actually pick out which states are going to secede pretty easily. Because although the enslaved share of the population did decline after 1830, the entire decline was in border states like Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, the western counties of Virginia, and Missouri. In other words, every state or major area that saw declining enslavement rates stayed in the union, while the states that eventually seceded saw constantly rising enslavement rates. The all-time peak enslavement rate for the future states of the confederacy comes in 1860, at 41% of the population.
B: Wow. So then it’s not just that there were counties here or there with majority enslaved populations… nearly half the population of the confederacy was enslaved.
L: Right. And there was no sign anywhere to be found that these states were going to abandon slavery voluntarily any time in the future.
B: That’s it for episode 7 of Migration Nation. Thanks for listening in, and we hope you’ll join us next time as we finish up the history of enslaved migration, and, ultimately, reach emancipation. If you’d like more information about what we’re doing here, or would like to offer us your support, join us on the web at migrationpodcast.com, where you can find transcripts of our episodes, bonus nerdy materials from Lyman and me, and even a look ahead at episodes we have in the works.
L: Pimp the blog!
B: Also, finally, if you like this podcast, there’s one thing we really need from you: reviews on iTunes. iTunes is the largest Podcast provider, and reviews help us get found by the iTunes store’s algorithm. So please, rate and review!
B: We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the early years of American migration with us! Until next time, this is Brian and Lyman at Migration Nation, saying “Something something something”
RUTH’S SUMMARY JINGLE