Free at last! In this episode, Brian & Lyman discuss the final push of slavery into Texas and the American West, Bleeding Kansas, and the moment we've all been waiting for: emancipation. Also, listen to the end for a little-known story about the true end of slavery in the United States (Hint: It's significantly after 1865).
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B: You’re listening to the Episode 8 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 are finally going to finish up the story of enslaved migration. It’s been a long road, but we’re reaching the end.
B: So to finally finish this topic, we’ll take a look at the spread of slavery in Texas, and then the remaining western territories. After that we’ll offer some brief discussion of emancipation and reconstruction-era migration, and then that’ll be it for our enslaved migration segment. L: Thanks to all of you who have followed along through this journey. We’ll have one more episode where we wrap up this segment and talk about some key themes, and then we’ll be on to the next topic: the Northwest Ordinance!
B: So the next phase of slavery’s westward expansion is one of the most interesting, I think. L: Which one is that? B: Texas! L: Oh, right, absolutely. B: But we should also note that we’re gonna do a whole episode on ante-bellum Texas. The history here is really unique and interesting, so we’ll zoom in and consider it in more detail. That means our coverage here will be kind of cursory. L: Well and actually, we should probably start the story of Texas for today in the 18-teens, when it was Spanish. B: Yeah, because it’s slavery that drives Spanish governance of Texas to the brink, and slavery that brings it back. L: So in 1810, Spanish Texas had probably around 4,000 or 5,000 residents, pretty much all free Spanish Tejanos concentrated in a couple of towns, especially San Antonio. Basically they survived by ranching, but faced chronic economic problems due to poor support from the Spanish government, and lack of any real appeal for migrants. B: Then in the 1810s, things got even worse. American settlers arrived in Louisiana and Arkansas in large numbers. And those settlers needed horses, which they offered to buy from the Native Americans. L: And those native Americans got those horses by breaking their treaties with the Spanish, and stealing the Spanish ranchers’ horses, decimating their economy and leaving Spanish settlements in a state of constant siege. B: Then in 1815 there’s a flood that wipes out a lot of San Antonio. Oh, and they run out of food and are basically starving. L: Not good times to be in Texas. B: Uh, no. L: But they soldier on through difficulties. B: Now everyone in Spanish Texas agreed that the key to economic success was to encourage immigration to boost the population. A bigger population could fend off Native attacks, build vital infrastructure, and start to lead to a real economy getting going. Maybe they could even get a real port eventually, since Spanish colonial authorities only allowed sea trade to pass through Veracruz, far to the south. L: There were lots of strategies for this, but the most promising seemed to be allowing Americans to move in and settle the area in order to grow cotton. Texas had great soil and climate for cotton, and, something that may surprise some listeners, even today Texas is by far the largest cotton-producing state. B: Surprised me when you told me. L: I know, right? But cotton was the whole plan for Texas--- make a profitable crop that could draw in Americans to settle. B: But those Americans had concerns. L: No kidding. I mean San Antonio was literally a flooded, starving wreck. Moving to Texas was high risk. Stephen Austin got the first “empresario” grant to settle 300 families there in 1819, but it was gonna be an uphill struggle. B: But a struggle with real rewards: a major expansion of the slavery and plantation economy westwards. Once it got going, Texas could be really profitable, especially if its cotton got preferential access to Spain and Spanish allies. L: But there was a problem. Mexicans were kind of fed up with Spain. The first struggles for independence came in 1810, but 1820 and 1821 saw the really key battles that won Mexico is freedom from Spanish colonial overlordship. B: And, unlike in the United States, the Mexican revolution was led by people who wanted to launch a real social revolution, reshuffling established hierarchies of class and race, dethroning the colonial elites. And that meant getting rid of one of the most offensive colonial practices: slavery.
L: So there’s a ton of back and forth on this we’ll cover in more detail in our future Texas episode, but basically Mexico didn’t quite abolish slavery nationally, but it was a close call, and they did abolish it in most of the Mexican states except Coahuilla-Texas. But even in that state, slavery barely survived. B: But access to the news was spotty in those days. So throughout the period from 1821 to 1845, pro- and anti-Texas newspapers in the US would make competing announcements that Mexico was abolishing slavery, or no, it wasn’t, it was promising to protect slavery, or no, actually it abolished slavery but you could keep multi-generational debt contracts equivalent to slavery… and so on. L: So the anti- or pro-Texas thing is interesting. Many southerners though emigration to Texas was great: their way of life could be extended, it would be profitable, and the increasing prevalence of enslavement-based cotton production in other countries would shield the US from criticism by countries that disliked mass slavery, like Great Britain. B: But on the other hand, anti-Texas southerners saw Texan production as competition. Spain permitted the ongoing purchase of enslaved people brought from Africa, so Texan producers could potentially get a big leg up. Even after Mexico banned it, there was virtually no enforcement of the ban. L: And by the way, my estimate in the last episode of illegal forced immigration of enslaved people actually included the Texas slave trade. Technically it was legal in some cases, but it would have been illegal had Texas been a US state. That accounts for a significant number. B: Plus, Mexico had different tariff rules. It was possible that Yankee preferences for higher tariffs could shut American cotton out of the market, while letting Texan cotton move freely. L: And then of course northerners worried that Americans in Texas would lead to calls for war and annexation to protect slavery. B: Spoiler alert: that’s what happened. L: So during the years of the Mexican Republic, the status of slavery in Texas was highly debatable. Even so, a lot of people did move there to practice slave-based cotton agriculture. In 1820, Texas had about 3,000 residents. By 1830, it had 40,000. Between 50,000 and 60,000 people lived in Texas in 1836 when they broke away from Mexico, and between 110,000 and 130,000 in 1845, when the Texas Republic finally collapsed under the load of its failed wars, economic depression, and crushing debt. B: Which we’ll talk about more later. But in 1845, with the Texas Republic basically an abject failure, Texan interests finally convinced the United States to officially annex them, guaranteeing both the survival and continuation of slavery in Texas, and the extension of American slavery further west. L: Which of course seriously ticked off northerners, especially since Florida joined the union at the same time. That’s 2 more slave states! B: Now, to balance this out, Iowa was admitted to the union in 1846. And also in 1846, President Polk secured the Oregon Territory via a treaty with Great Britain. This territory was brought in as free territory, but wouldn’t actually become a state until Oregon got statehood in 1859, and Washington in 1889. L: So the slave states got a leg up here. B: Yeah; I mean at this point, the slave states are kind of outflanking the free states in terms of territorial expansion and the addition of new states. L: And then we fight a war with Mexico. B: (laughing) Oh uh, yeah, that was abrupt, but yes. So in 1848, we go to war with Mexico. We’ll cover the details later, but for now it’s enough that we went to war more-or-less to solve a dispute about Texas’ southern border: was it the Nueces or the Rio Grande river? We said the Rio Grande… L: And Mexico said the Nueces. But hadn’t we claimed the Rio Grande as a southern border before? B: Yup, aaaaall the way back with the Louisiana Purchase. L: So this is like Round 2 at trying to make the Rio Grande our southern border. B: Pretty much, yeah. Except this time, we send in the army, and beat the Mexican army in fairly short order. L: Which, again, we’d love to give details on, but this is a migration podcast, not a military history podcast. B: Yeah. So after that war we won’t give you the story of is over, we sign a treaty with Mexico getting us, well, pretty much the rest of the west: California, Nevada, Utah, parts of Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Lots of territory. L: Which promptly becomes recognized as… B: Well, actually, there’s no prompt recognition. The debate over what to do about all this new territory is contentious. Finally in 1850 they reach the “Compromise of 1850,” which shrinks Texas to its current borders in exchange for paying off a lot of those debts I mentioned earlier, admits California as a free state, but opens up the area of Arizona and New Mexico to slavery. L: So with Wisconsin added in 1848 and California in 1850, we’ve got an end of the brief ascension of slave states in the Senate. B: Yeah. But the opening of New Mexico for slavery was a big deal; northerners had been trying hard to get slavery banned in any territories gained from the war with Mexico. So this “compromise” really was a compromise here: northerners got a free state, and got some parts of the territory declared as free soil, while southerners got some parts of the territory, the most fertile and populated parts, made open to slavery. L: Okay. So then that solves the territories, right? We’ve gone from sea to shining sea, all the land is accounted for, the slavery question is settled. B: Well… you might think so… but that’s not what happened.
B: In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska act opened up these territories to “popular sovereignty.” This meant you couldn’t necessarily bring enslaved people there, but the state would get to vote and decide whether they wanted to be a free state or a slave state. L: Wait but we solved that question. North of Arkansas, no slavery. That’s the Missouri Compromise. It’s… it’s done. B: But it’s not done for southern interests. Look at a map: the area marked out for free states was way bigger than for potential slave states. So the slave states could see that if they didn’t find a way to capture more territory, the writing was on the wall for slavery. L: Ugh. Okay. So now we’re going to re-open free territory to slavery, and gonna let people vote on it. Betrayal of the Missouri Compromise but, whatever, okay, let the people vote. B: Wait, you actually think voting is going to solve this? L: Why not? B: Well, um, the Texans fought a war of independence with Mexico to protect slavery. Southern interests mobilized to bail Texas out when it was bankrupt. Then Southern interests worked together to ensure a war against Mexico, aimed at securing new territory for slavery. What on earth makes you think submitting the question of slavery to a popular referendum out in the frontier where law enforcement is lax would ever be a good idea? L: Well, fair points, but still, on its face, letting people vote makes sense. B: Yeah, but the result is basically a miniature civil war: Bleeding Kansas. Pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces duke it out, with about 100 deaths total. L: Okay. So democracy didn’t work out so well there. B: The ultimate result, of course, is that Kansas applies to become a free state: exactly what would have happened had the Missouri Compromise stood. L: So people died, but the result was the same. B: Right. But that wasn’t enough. In 1857, in the famous Dred Scott Supreme Court case, chief justice Roger Taney made a ruling that took many by surprise. First, he claimed the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction in the case’s substantive question; then he ruled that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional anyways, and the Federal government could not prohibit slavery in the territories at all. L: Weeellll. That’s interesting. So right when free states finally regain parity and really seem to be on the up-and-up, the Supreme Court just announces that slavery has no limits. Faaaantastic. B: Pretty much what northerners thought too. But time was on their side. In 1858, Minnesota became a free state, even as there was no slave state to pair it with. In 1859, Oregon joined as a free state, again unpaired. And on January 29, 1861, three days after Louisiana became the 6th state to secede to the confederacy, Kansas joined the union as a free state. L: So that’s the progress of territorial expansion. But we didn’t mention any actual migration there. So let’s get to that.
L: Okay so the last segment talked about all these territorial debates and changes, all this history stuff. But the migration story is way simpler, and it’s this: other than Texas, there wasn’t any appreciable enslaved migration to all these disputed territories. It’s that simple. B: That… that’s actually even more frustrating to me. L: I know, right? It’s like, there’s all this fuss over where slavery is legal, but no enslaved people migrate there one way or another. B: But didn’t we say earlier slavery would go wherever it was legal? L: Yes we did. And look, had slavery remained legal in New Mexico, it probably eventually would have spread. But as of 1850, New Mexico petitioned to join the union as a free state, especially since, as part of Mexico, New Mexico had abolished African slavery for a long time, and ultimately Native American slavery as well. Probably no more than a dozen or two enslaved people lived in New Mexico, in total. B: Oh. Yeah that’s not many. L: In 1860, Nebraska actually had 15 enslaved people, according to the Census. Utah had 29. B: Wait, wasn’t Utah free territory? L: Well, yes. Until 1852, when Utah voted to become a slave state, hoping that would get southern states on board with them becoming a state. They abolished slavery again in 1861. B: Okay. So, in all these territories, we’re talking about definitely under 1,000 enslaved people total, probably less than 100. L: That’s correct. B: So, similar to the casualty count in Bleeding Kansas. L: Sure, if you want that comparison. For every death in Bleeding Kansas, there was maybe 1 enslaved person out in the territories in 1860. B: And that’s because…? L: Oh, yeah, right, I didn’t say: it’s because of immigration and Texas. See, any planter headed west passed through Texas. And the thing about Texas is that it’s big. And has lots of land that’s good for cotton. So most westward bound planters just stopped in Texas. From 1845 to 1860, Texas’ population rises from under 150,000 to 600,000. Compare that to Mississippi, where the population rose from 470,000 to 790,000; or Alabama, where it rose from 670,000 to 965,000. It’s a much faster relative increase, and even a bigger absolute increase. B: Okay, so Texas was big enough to fully absorb the proslavery westward migrations, meaning they didn’t settle out in the territories as much. L: Yeah, and it occurs to me I haven’t mentioned the enslaved populations of Texas, so now may be a good time. In 1821, there were definitely under 100 enslaved people in Texas. By 1836, when Texas secedes from Mexico, there are about 4,000, or 7% of the local population. B: That’s not so high actually. L: No, but that’s because the native Tejano population remained a significant share of total population, and because the Mexican government’s waffling had discouraged some enslaved immigration. By the time it joins the union in 1845, Texas is about one quarter enslaved, which means 25,000 or more enslaved people. And by 1860, about 30% of the population is enslaved, or 180,000. B: Wow. So yeah, Texas was drawing slave-owning migrants. L: Heck yes it was. And meanwhile, the territories were drawing different groups. Utah drew the Mormons, the mountainous states like California, Colorado, and Nevada drew would-be gold miners and speculators, the great plains drew ranchers and farmers, New Mexico and Arizona drew a mixed group, but also already had substantial Hispanic populations. And fueling all these migrations west was immigration. B: What do you mean by that? L: Well, first in 1832, but again in 1845, immigration into the US took a massive jump up. We’ll talk about why in a different episode, but the result was the highest rate of immigration the United States has ever seen happened during the late 1840s and early 1850s. B: Oh right, the Irish and the Germans. L: Right. The Irish and the Germans. The Irish mostly stayed in cities, unless they worked on transportation projects, which often took them west. But the Germans rapidly spread out over the continent, especially the midwest. But really, they moved all over: a large group even settled in Texas, which is why there are German cultural enclaves in Texas to this day. The overall result was that this northern-biased immigration of Europeans, many of whom found slavery morally repugnant, tended to create a steady flow of migration westward as well, of immigrants and natives seeking less crowded country. B: Elbow room! L: Sure, and again, we’ll discuss this more later. But the result was that the more northerly territories got settled faster, and were settled by more anti-slavery people, than the southern territories, largely due to differences in immigration, and the huge absorptive capacity of Texas. B: Okay. So that’s the enslaved movement westward. Which means we’re pretty much done with enslaved migration. L: And, historically, the nation is about to be done with slavery.
L: So we’re coming to the end of our segment on enslaved migration. And we debated what to do with the civil war. The path of the war had a measurable and discernible effect on enslaved people escaping to freedom, while freed people often followed the union armies in tent camps, which is itself an act of migration. B: But again, we’re not military historians, and tracing out the blow-by-blow of the civil war is beyond the scope of this podcast. So instead, we’re going to make some brief notes about emancipation, then finish with an odd anecdote about Hawaii. L: Many enslaved people escaped to freedom during the war even without any formal emancipation. And some military emancipations occurred before 1863, such as in Louisiana’s sugar parishes. Then general emancipation was proclaimed for areas in revolt in 1863, then finally slavery was abolished with the 13th amendment in 1865. B: So slavery was defeated. But it wasn’t that simple. L: No, it wasn’t. Because going back all the way to the first emancipations after the American Revolution, there was a big problem: what do we do with all these formerly enslaved people? B: And so you get Reconstruction and all of that. But that’s not what you’re getting at. L: No, I mean something simpler. I mean what is everybody going to do? Without slavery, what is the south’s economy? It turns out: it’s still an economy of cotton, sugar, rice, and other plantation crops. When freedom comes to southern Louisiana in 1862, there’s immediately concern about how to continue producing sugar. It takes 2 years just to work out that yeah, I guess we’ll pay workers wages. In areas that grew cotton and rice, the new arrangement is sharecropping. B: For those that don’t know, sharecropping is a system where a landowner lets someone work their land in exchange for a share of the crop; usually there’s more intensive supervision and more associated debts and restrictions than under a system of rent and tenancy. L: And this all goes to hit a point I mentioned briefly a while back. There’s a trend among some migration scholars to suggest that the reason newly freed people didn’t migrate north in larger numbers after the civil war is that the legacy of the slave trade just really made them dislike the idea of migration. And maybe there’s truth to that. But I suspect the real reason is sharecropping. Sharecropping at its worst was practically debt peonage, and continued to bind black Americans to the land, if not technically to their former masters. We don’t see major outmigration until the early 20th century because, hello, that’s when there started to be restrictions on sharecropping and when sharecroppers started to get organized. B: So then, when we think about enslaved migration, we should remember that one migration which did not happen, the post-emancipation move to the north, probably didn’t happen because new laws were created that continued to restrict black Americans’ mobility.
B: Okay so this is the end, but we wanted to end this with the actual end of slavery in the United States. And that is emphatically not in 1865. L: For one thing, the Native American tribes in Oklahoma insisted that the 13th amendment didn’t apply to them. Slavery wasn’t abolished in Oklahoma, therefore, until 1866, a year after the 13th amendment. But that’s a technicality, right? B: Yeah, and anyways, it’s still the 13th amendment that ended that slavery. But there’s another state where something like slavery persisted for a long time. L: We’re talking, of course, about Hawaii. B: Now the Kingdom of Hawaii actually abolished the formal caste of slave in 1819, then, in 1852, prohibited slavery generally. So, okay, they abolished slavery in 1852. L: Except! In 1841, sugarcane was introduced to Hawaii… B: Seriously? This never ends well. L: So instead of slavery to run the sugar plantations, the “Master and Servant Relations Law” of 1850 creates a system of very restrictive indenturehood. Which, by the way,was by this time also super illegal in the United States because, yeah, it’s basically slavery. In the 1890s, Booker T. Washington allegedly visited and declared the conditions far worse than anything faced by blacks on the mainland. B: So we annex Hawaii in 1898. When does indenturehood end? L: In 1900, the “Organic Act” applying US laws in Hawaii ends indenturehood, which was also sometimes called contract servitude or contract slavery. And that marks the honest-to-goodness true end of slavery, or anything like it, in the United States, although 1866 and abolition in Oklahoma marks the end of fully inheritable slavery. The last person to have been enslaved in the United States died, depending on whose claim you believe, sometime between 1971 and 1984.
B: Well, that’s it for the eighth episode of Migration Nation. You’ve stuck with us now through 160 years of slavery and migration. L: I think a fair question could be asked, like, what’s the point of all this? What are you trying to say? B: Of course, we’re not trying to say anything, at least not how people mean. Our goal wasn’t to get to the end of this and show that, surprise, we’ve been secretly arguing for reparations the whole time! L: No, but really, the goal is what we always said: give us a sense of how we got here, and what migration has meant. And give a sense of scale, and how these migrations shaped the context for the high points of history. B: But as far as offering a sort of thousand-foot assessment and analysis… that’s going to be the topic of the next episode. Just as we did for early trans-Appalachian migration, the next episode will be an unscripted conversation between Lyman and me about what this whole story of enslaved migration actually means. L: Thanks for listening in, and we hope you’ll join us again. 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 Brian and me, and even a look ahead at episodes we have in the works. B: For our next set of episodes after slavery, we’re going to take a turn north, and then even Northwest. L: Because we’re going to talk about the Yankee Diaspora, and then the Northwest Ordinance and how the founding generation invented the Midwest. And if that sounds bland, well, trust me, look beneath that mild-mannered midwestern exterior, and you’ll find some pretty crazy stories. B: We hope you’ve appreciated learning about the history of enslaved migration with us! Until next time, this is Brian and Lyman at Migration Nation, saying “Make America Migrate Again!”
RUTH’S SUMMARY JINGLE