THE WAY IT WAS
DUrInG THe FIrST HaLF of the nineteenth century, the United States was increasingly preoccupied with the institution of slavery. It was part of everyday life everywhere. Northerners sneered at southerners for their treatment of blacks, even while often confining dark-skinned people to ghettos in northern cities. Southerners, most of whom could not afford to own slaves in the first place, defended the institution fiercely. Every issue in Congress seemed to wind up with accusations that involved blacks and their place in America.
The slavery issue had taken a longtime to come to a boil. The first blacks in North America were Africans who were brought on a Dutch ship to the British colony at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. Over the next several decades, more blacks arrived and were introduced into the other colonies. Others came as indentured servants, white and black; they served for a specified number of years and then were given freedom. By the middle of the seventeenth century, however, indentured servitude was at an end for blacks, who became slaves. White servants were generally allowed to work off their terms. So slavery became a matter of race.