The Europeans introduced slaves in America as a source of cheap labor. However, by the time of the American Revolution and the adoption of the new constitution in 1787, the aspect of importing new slaves from Africa was dying out (Digital History). In 1808, and as part of compromises that had enabled the constitution to be written, the founding fathers deemed it necessary to formally end importation of slaves into the United States and the northern states outlawed slavery in that region (Kolchin 97). However, the internal slave trade boomed in the southern states where demand for cheap farm labor had increased significantly. By 1860, the South's slave trade was inextricably tied to the region's economy and society. However, the outbreak of the civil war forever changed the fate of black people in the United States, and during the reconstruction period, more slaves were granted freedom, and their contribution in the making of the united states became more recognized.
It is important to remember that African Americans were not neutral during the American Revolution. Most slaves were enlisted to fight in the United States army, and while some obtained their freedom by running away from their masters, most were taken back to bondage after the war. Moreover, the experience gained as the result of the revolution also inspired African Americans to develop resistance against slavery (Digital History). Therefore in the years after the revolution, the black people had developed a notion of natural rights, a philosophy that would guide them in the civil war (Ayres). When the civil war finally came, the black people had experiences in fighting and quickly realigned with the northern states to fight for their freedom. After the war, and the reconstruction period began, a significant proportion of southern slaves were freed, and some migrated to the northern states.
Despite the victory which was brought about by the civil war, the southern states under the administration of President Andrew Johnson in 1865 and 1866 passed restrictive "black codes" which were aimed at controlling the behavior of the freed slaves. The passage of these laws sparked outrage in the north, and a more radical wing in the republic party was formed to oppose the reconstruction approach (Kolchin 115). Nonetheless, in this fundamental reconstruction period of 1857, the black people gained representatives in the American government by winning election to the southern state legislature and even into the United States Congress. These positive changes would be later reversed through violence by the Ku Klux Klan and restore the white dominance in the south (Digital History).
Perhaps one of the significant development regarding African American rights was the question about citizens. After the American Revolution and despite the numerous contribution the black people had made to secure American freedom, the white population seemed to ignore their sacrifices (Ayres). Before the civil war, the African Americans were denied the right to be citizens of the United States, and in the Supreme Court ruling in Dred Scott case, it was determined that people of African descent whether free or slaves could never be citizens in the United States (Digital History). However, in 1865, many white Republicans started pushing for the prospect that extended full citizenship to former slaves, and on July 9, 1968, Louisiana and South Carolina voted to ratify the 14th amendment. The 14th amendment defined the united citizen as all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the constitution is a citizen of the United States and the state where they live. This amendment gave the black people citizenship and the right to vote (Ayres).
In conclusion, the rights of the black slaves in the United States significantly improved from the revolution to the reconstruction period. The revolution planted the seed of freedom and desire for equal rights in the hearts of the African Americans, and through the civil war and revolutionary changes in the constitutions, more slaves attained independence, and their rights became recognized in the law. The reconstruction period marked a new starting point for the rights of African Americans and would inspire generations to come to fight against institutional oppression and racism.
Ayres, Edward. "African Americans and the American Revolution." History Is Fun, www.historyisfun.org/learn/learning-center/colonial-america-american-revolution-learning-resources/american-revolution-essays-timelines-images/african-americans-and-the-american-revolution/.
Digital History. "Digital History." UH - Digital History, www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=4571.
Kolchin, Peter. "Slavery and the American Revolution." Slavery and Emancipation, pp. 87-122.
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