How would African Americans fare in an earlier, peaceful abolition of slavery?

Slavery. One of the darkest marks on American history. In the years leading up to the American Civil War, there were multiple efforts by abolitionists - and even African Americans themselves - to abolish slavery. However, the abolition of slavery was way too late for many African Americans - and even then was succeeded by 100 years of racial segregation in the South and apathy in the North. We are even still seeing the lingering effects of this racism to the modern day.

But what if this never happened? How would Black Americans fare in a world where slavery died out peacefully? For the sake of the scenario (I also have a TL idea similar to the Dominion of Southern America TL where just that happens - but that’s besides the point) let’s say the Nat Turner rebellion never happened and slavery was abolished in Virginia in the 1830s. This causes more states in the Upper South to abolish slavery, and newly-admitted states to be free states - thus confining slavery to the Deep South. Secession would also be effectively impossible without Virginia.

So how would African Americans fare? On one hand, not having a Civil War destroy the South would make White Americans (particularly in the South) more receptive to the idea of racial equality - and the free black population in the Upper South would have time to build lasting generational wealth without being snuffed out by segregationist policies, white supremacist attacks, and later in to the 20th Century and onwards - white flight and the War On Drugs. On the other hand, there was an expectation in 19th Century America that once free - Black Americans would be sent back to Africa (though I’m not sure this would work) - and the lack of 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments (because no Civil War) mean that any Civil Rights Movement would be unrecognizable from OTL (since OTL’s movement relied on a liberal Supreme Court). What do you guys think?
 
The first issue is the colonization question and what is decided there by the states that go for emancipation. I know of extremely few southern gradual emancipationists who thought the races could live together after in at least the same numbers they were meaning that they thought there would be endless divide and conquer race conflict.

There is a reason why Jefferson and Madison wanted the number spread out to the territories and it wasn’t just political power (though it was certainly in part political power). Many colonization schemes were expensive and highly unrealistic.

The second issue is the wealth question. The South has some actual wealth here. Not a lot compared to industrial areas, but enough to do some funding of education and trade programs.
 
Last edited:
So how would African Americans fare? On one hand, not having a Civil War destroy the South would make White Americans (particularly in the South) more receptive to the idea of racial equality - and the free black population in the Upper South would have time to build lasting generational wealth without being snuffed out by segregationist policies, white supremacist attacks, and later in to the 20th Century and onwards - white flight and the War On Drugs. On the other hand, there was an expectation in 19th Century America that once free - Black Americans would be sent back to Africa (though I’m not sure this would work) - and the lack of 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments (because no Civil War) mean that any Civil Rights Movement would be unrecognizable from OTL (since OTL’s movement relied on a liberal Supreme Court). What do you guys think?
Consider the position of Afro-Caribbeans in the British West Indies post-1833. It didn't improve very much (though another century and a half of colonialism certainly didn't help).

Racism is still going to be an issue.
 
I think that when we look at the history of emancipation OTL, popular history often fails to account for just how massive the lives and status of former slaves were improved by the manner of their freedom -- specifically that they were liberated without compensation to their former masters, that there was a subsequent attempt (however subsequently aborted) to build a functioning multiracial democracy with their participation, and that there was state and federal policy (especially in education) looking to achieve this long term. It’s worth noting that even as these things changed, the benefits this aftermath gave to freedmen and their descendants gave strength to the black community that lasted well into the life of Jim Crow.

Had it the abolition of slavery been less hostile to slaveholders, and more cautious not to challenge the white supremacy underpinning society at the time, than the deficit in uplifting freedmen (compared to OTL) would be felt for several generations to come.
 
Had it the abolition of slavery been less hostile to slaveholders, and more cautious not to challenge the white supremacy underpinning society at the time, than the deficit in uplifting freedmen (compared to OTL) would be felt for several generations to come.
So basically it would be a lot harder for Black Americans to climb the social ladder?
 
I think that when we look at the history of emancipation OTL, popular history often fails to account for just how massive the lives and status of former slaves were improved by the manner of their freedom -- specifically that they were liberated without compensation to their former masters, that there was a subsequent attempt (however subsequently aborted) to build a functioning multiracial democracy with their participation, and that there was state and federal policy (especially in education) looking to achieve this long term. It’s worth noting that even as these things changed, the benefits this aftermath gave to freedmen and their descendants gave strength to the black community that lasted well into the life of Jim Crow.

Had it the abolition of slavery been less hostile to slaveholders, and more cautious not to challenge the white supremacy underpinning society at the time, than the deficit in uplifting freedmen (compared to OTL) would be felt for several generations to come.

Honestly I don’t buy this one, just as I don’t buy the comparison to the British Caribbean colonies. A state based emancipation will of course leave the existing elite in a much stronger position, but it will also leave a lot less antagonistic relationship between Black and White people, a lot less antagonistic relations between the Southern states and the federal government, and at last a lot less Solid South. We will likely see greater European and Caribbean immigration to the Southern states, we will see less solid color lines, we may also see a influx of South and South East Asians to some regions of the South (similar the Guyana). Yes there will be a much weaker unified Black community, but as a counter to that the White community will also be less unified.
 
Well if gradual compensated emancipation is implemented in 1830s Virginia, there's probably going to be all kinds of shit with it only starting to affect children of slaves once those children are of age, saddling new freedpeople with "apprenticeship" laws and debts to their owners, a looot of Jim Crow chain-gang carceral systems against "vagrants" and the like, really, slavery wouldn't be properly ended until like the 1860s-1870s anyway. If ever, depending on how you define slavery.
 
Probably better because earlier = a head start compared to OTL, and peaceful means attitudes changed enough for resistance to be a fringe ideology.
 
Well if gradual compensated emancipation is implemented in 1830s Virginia, there's probably going to be all kinds of shit with it only starting to affect children of slaves once those children are of age, saddling new freedpeople with "apprenticeship" laws and debts to their owners, a looot of Jim Crow chain-gang carceral systems against "vagrants" and the like, really, slavery wouldn't be properly ended until like the 1860s-1870s anyway. If ever, depending on how you define slavery.

You would see a growing group of free people of color both in relative and real terms, you would also slowly see a loss of slave work force making continued slavery increasingly unviable as a economic institution.
 
Honestly I don’t buy this one, just as I don’t buy the comparison to the British Caribbean colonies. A state based emancipation will of course leave the existing elite in a much stronger position, but it will also leave a lot less antagonistic relationship between Black and White people, a lot less antagonistic relations between the Southern states and the federal government, and at last a lot less Solid South.

I don’t think modern historiography has an at all accurate version of what the existing elite felt vs that of the middle class. Fear of Freedmen for instance taking their jobs and marrying their daughters was real. But, not for the elite.

The jobs of the elite required long term training and advanced degrees. The daughters of the elite were high maintence meaning if you couldn’t afford your own plantation they weren’t going to marry you.

The Freedmen were not seen a threat to them in the ways that mattered to them. For the poor and middle class that is another very different story.
 
Last edited:
You would see a growing group of free people of color both in relative and real terms, you would also slowly see a loss of slave work force making continued slavery increasingly unviable as a economic institution.
Yeah and the gradual economic contraction of chattel slavery would match its political contradiction as slaveowners squeeze the very last profits they can perpetuating the human misery of the plantation system until Virginians sell their last slaves to Georgians much as New Yorkers sold their own slaves to Virginia under gradual emancipation, and then until at last the planters are reluctantly forced to abandon strict chattel slavery altogether and continue on with ex-slave debtors, poor white sharecroppers, indentured Chinese and Latin American migrant workers, etc... as their fieldhands.

I don't see how what you're saying would counter this, rather than compliment it.
 
Yeah and the gradual economic contraction of chattel slavery would match its political contradiction as slaveowners squeeze the very last profits they can perpetuating the human misery of the plantation system until Virginians sell their last slaves to Georgians much as New Yorkers sold their own slaves to Virginia under gradual emancipation, and then until at last the planters are reluctantly forced to abandon strict chattel slavery altogether and continue on with ex-slave debtors, poor white sharecroppers, indentured Chinese and Latin American migrant workers, etc... as their fieldhands.

I don't see how what you're saying would counter this, rather than compliment it.

Pretty easily as Virginia sells of the slaves to South Carolina or Alabama, Virginia becomes the new New York, and lack interest in upholding these institutions in Alabama and in fact have an interest in disrupting them.
 
I don’t think modern historiography has an at all accurate version of what the existing elite felt vs that of the middle class. Fear of Freedmen for instance taking their jobs and marrying their daughters was real. But, not for the elite.

The jobs of the elite required long term training and advanced degrees. The daughters of the elite were high maintence meaning if you couldn’t afford your own plantation they weren’t going to marry you.

The Freedmen were not seen a threat to them in the ways that mattered to them. For the poor and middle class that is another very different story.

Except that most white men mostly kept their daughters from marrying poorer white men. It’s far more likely we will see mostly unsuccessful white men marry black women and mostly successful black men marry white women. Black, white and biracial becomes a question of appearance instead of official ancestry, white passing child born to biracial parents will be seen as white.
 
Except that most white men mostly kept their daughters from marrying poorer white men. It’s far more likely we will see mostly unsuccessful white men marry black women and mostly successful black men marry white women. Black, white and biracial becomes a question of appearance instead of official ancestry, white passing child born to biracial parents will be seen as white.

Girls used to being with their mom who would do a lot of the running of the day to day affairs of plantations and not cooking tended to not marry men who couldn’t afford to give them the same quality of life white or black.

My point is the nastiness in this timeline is not going to come here from the elite fearing for their station. There was real racial nastiness in the North for over a century after they ended slavery in their states and most of it was coming again not from the old northern aristocracy or the newly wealthy industrialists.

One can read de Tocqueville on the state of racial relations North and South at that time.
 
Last edited:
Girls used to being with their mom who would do a lot of the running of the day to day affairs of plantations and not cooking tended to not marry men who couldn’t afford to give them the same quality of life white or black.

My point is the nastiness in this timeline is not going to come here from the elite fearing for their station. There was real racial nastiness in the North for over a century after they ended slavery in their states and most of it was coming again not from the old northern aristocracy or the newly wealthy industrialists.

One can read de Tocqueville on the state of racial relations North and South at that time.

But here’s the thing in the north Black people was real competition, because it was an economy dominated by manufacturing annd large companies especially the places Black moved to. In the south with its rural Black population and economy based on agriculture and small companies they were not really a competition threat. The reason Black people were kept down in the South was political not economical. Urban populations are also far less able to upkeep social control than rural populations, so on an urban setting people are less able to control who their family members marries or have relationships with unless they self-segregate.
 
Except that most white men mostly kept their daughters from marrying poorer white men. It’s far more likely we will see mostly unsuccessful white men marry black women and mostly successful black men marry white women. Black, white and biracial becomes a question of appearance instead of official ancestry, white passing child born to biracial parents will be seen as white.
This is the Antebellum South given a free hand to officially "end" slavery on its own terms, and continue perpetuating white supremacy in general, and the political dominance of planter families in specific, as much as they can. This isn't the hybrid-racism implemented by a Paraguayan dictator trying to erase the prior political class of colonial Spaniards, this is the achievement of one-drop racism as detached from strict adherence to the plantation economic system. Like, what the fuck are you talking about.
 
This is the Antebellum South given a free hand to officially "end" slavery on its own terms, and continue perpetuating white supremacy in general, and the political dominance of planter families in specific, as much as they can. This isn't the hybrid-racism implemented by a Paraguayan dictator trying to erase the prior political class of colonial Spaniards, this is the achievement of one-drop racism as detached from strict adherence to the plantation economic system. Like, what the fuck are you talking about.

Yes, and the American South was far different from how it would look 30 year later and even more different than it would look 60 years later. The increasing harder line on racial mixing and marriage developed over the 19th century. Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson recognized thevtwo daughter of his slave concubine as his and they both married white men. The surviving daughter at his death didn’t inherit his estate, but that was because of her illegitimacy and his fully white illegitimate daughter didn’t inherit either. Johnson was ridiculed for all this, but again it didn’t keep his daughters from marrying white men.
 
Yes, and the American South was far different from how it would look 30 year later and even more different than it would look 60 years later. The increasing harder line on racial mixing and marriage developed over the 19th century. Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson recognized thevtwo daughter of his slave concubine as his and they both married white men. The surviving daughter at his death didn’t inherit his estate, but that was because of her illegitimacy and his fully white illegitimate daughter didn’t inherit either. Johnson was ridiculed for all this, but again it didn’t keep his daughters from marrying white men.

Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Harriet did want to marry a man of similar economic means to her father. By many historical accounts including that of her brother that happened, but was only made possible by her becoming part of white society and agreeing to move North after some kind of background arrangement was made.

The overseer said he was ordered by Jefferson give her 50 dollars and procure a stagecoach for her taking a long trip North. That is the last history knows of her.

Jefferson probably could have arranged marriage for her to a middle class white Virginian. Not an upper class one though.
 
Last edited:
Jefferson’s daughter Harriet did want to marry a man of similar economic means to her father. By many historical accounts including that of her brother that happened, but was only made possible by her becoming part of white society and agreeing to move North after some kind of background arrangement was made.

The overseer said he was ordered by Jefferson give her 50 dollars and procure a stagecoach for her taking a long trip North. That is the last history knows of her.

Jefferson probably could have arranged marriage for her to a middle class white Virginian. Not an upper class one though.

The point is that the South radicalized up to the civil war, under the civil war and afterward. A South which end slavery on it own will still incredible racist, but that racism will look different and the color line blurrier. Of course that will also have consequences for black people as a community, in that a unified Black community won’t exist, instead you will have Georgians or Virginians who just happen to be black or “mulatto”. A ”mulatto“ grandparent will be a slight embarrassment but not something which destroy your standing in the community if discovered. A self made black or “mulatto” man will often marry a very light skinned ”mulatto” or a poorer white woman from a good Christian family. It still won’t be Brazil, because most white people will be very white with no or little admixture, but in some regions some black admixture will be common among white peoples, something the Northerners likely ridicule them over.
 
The point is that the South radicalized up to the civil war, under the civil war and afterward. A South which end slavery on it own will still incredible racist, but that racism will look different and the color line blurrier. Of course that will also have consequences for black people as a community, in that a unified Black community won’t exist, instead you will have Georgians or Virginians who just happen to be black or “mulatto”. A ”mulatto“ grandparent will be a slight embarrassment but not something which destroy your standing in the community if discovered. A self made black or “mulatto” man will often marry a very light skinned ”mulatto” or a poorer white woman from a good Christian family. It still won’t be Brazil, because most white people will be very white with no or little admixture, but in some regions some black admixture will be common among white peoples, something the Northerners likely ridicule them over.

Perhaps. I will say in my reading of post war Virginia newspapers the heavy eugenicist stuff was really a 1890s-1930s thing. The one drop rule was voted down by the legislature when it was proposed in the 1850s, but was approved in 1924.

My sense from reading the VA papers of the 1850s thru 1880s was a ‘loyal Virginian and Christian’ middle class freedman could get away with cohabitating with a lower class (not middle class) white woman if he didn’t advertise it much. That really went out the window during the rise of eugenicism as well as the second Klan more then after Turner. It certainly might have been different in other states.
 
Last edited:
Top