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Slavery in Kentucky


Henry Clay
Henry Clay

Slavery was one of the most divisive issues in national politics in the 19th century. Politicians of the Northern states pressed to end it, both because they considered it immoral and because white labor could not compete with unpaid black labor. Politicians of the cotton-growing Southern states felt that slavery was necessary to their agricultural system and that the North was trying to dominate the country economically. Many in the influential slaveholding class in the South favored secession from the Union and formation of a separate Southern nation. Kentucky’s statesman Henry Clay became known in Congress as the Great Pacificator for his ability to keep the slavery issue under control. He engineered the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise Measures of 1850, both of which solved apparent impasses over extension of slavery to the new territories of the United States.

By the mid-1850s, however, Clay had died, the South had become a minority section, and its leaders viewed the actions of Congress, which they no longer controlled, with growing concern. The North demanded for its industrial growth a protective tariff, federal subsidies for shipping and internal improvements, and a sound banking and currency system. The West looked to Congress for free homesteads and aid for its roads and waterways. The South regarded such measures as discriminatory, favoring Northern commercial interests, and it found intolerable the rise of antislavery agitation in the North. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president as the candidate of the Republican Party, which opposed the spread of slavery. The cotton state of South Carolina had threatened to secede if the Republicans won, and in December 1860 it did so.

Other slavery states followed in quick succession, and in February 1861 they formed a confederacy, the Confederate States of America.

Kentucky, although a slavery state, grew little cotton. Like the other so-called border states, it maintained close economic ties with both the North and South. Still, the 225,000 slaves in Kentucky in 1860 were a major portion of the state’s labor force and nearly 20 percent of the total population. Most of the Kentucky slaveholders were, of course, ardent supporters of slavery. However, a considerable number of Kentuckians were actively opposed to slavery and had little interest in or sympathy for the South.

U.S. Senator John Jordan Crittenden of Kentucky, a prominent supporter of the Union, proposed a compromise in December 1860 to avert secession. Crittenden and others hoped that a further concession might appease the South. His proposals were designed to provide that slavery would be prohibited in territories north of latitude 36°30’ N, the line established by the Missouri Compromise, but protected south of that line.

Under his plan, slavery could not be abolished in any state where it existed unless that state consented, and the federal government would compensate owners of fugitive slaves if it was established that the slaves had escaped with outside assistance. Lincoln disapproved of the Crittenden Compromise, which contributed to its rejection in Congress by the House of Representatives in January 1861 and by the United States Senate in March. "Kentucky" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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