Slavery in the World of Globalization – from 18th Century to the 21st Century Town of Swampscott January 14, 2008


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Slavery in the World of Globalization – from 18th Century to the 21st Century

Town of Swampscott

January 14, 2008

11th Grade U.S History

Primary Source: Understanding U.S Slavery: Context, Comparisons, and Contemporary Forms


  1. Abstract …………….……………………………p.3

  1. Background narrative…………………………..p. 4

  1. Lesson #1: Economics of Slavery……………….p. 6

  1. Lesson #2: The Politics of Slavery………………p.16

  1. Lesson #3: Spiritual Resistance Yesterday and today

.....................p. 28

  1. Assessment piece…………………………………….p. 36

  1. Discussion of Kevin Bales’ Disposable Persons……p.38


  1. Annotated Bibliography……………………………..p.40

  1. Appendix………………………………………………..p.42


Middle Passage document questions

Constitution activity

This unit offers a sample of lessons that explore the economic and political foundations of slavery in our country. I have attempted to connect these lessons to the context of the world both in the 18th and 19th Century, as well as to modern examples of slavery today. The lessons are designed for eleventh graders. My students will study this unit as a prelude to the Civil War.

The following unit attempts to provide students with a more global perspective in viewing slavery in the United States. Most students regard slavery in the United States as a “peculiar institution.” Indeed, even my Advanced Placement textbook alludes to this “peculiar institution.” The goal of this unit is to contextualize this experience so students can see how slavery in the United States was part of a larger system of world-wide slavery that still exists even today in a modern economy.

The first part of the lesson attempts to lay an economic foundation for slavery. In the 21st Century, students often hear key terms like “outsourcing” and the “world is flat.” There is an assumption that globalization is a 21st phenomenon. Yet, as David Davis purports in Inhuman Bondage, the so called “flattening” of labor began in ancient times where victors transported captives of wars to their country where the enslaved would become part of the victor’s labor force. Not only was the Atlantic Slave Trade one of many international trade routes, but it also suggests just how global the 18th Century really was. Europe, the American colonies, the West Indies, and Africa all participated in this world-wide system. For many students, slavery for them has been about the American South. In my first lesson where I try to dispel some of the myths associated with slavery, we discuss the role of slavery in the North. There were more slaves in colonial New York than there were in the Chesapeake. More importantly, perhaps, for my New England students, we discuss the intricate role New England played in supporting the slave market. The cod we take for granted was food for the slaves in the West Indies. While New Englanders may not have owned as many slaves as our Southern brothers and sisters, we certainly profited from slavery immensely.

In laying some of the economic foundations for economic slavery of the 18th Century, it is important to connect to the present. The modern sex slave trade in Thailand or debt peonage in Pakistan, remind us that countries with unstable economies that try to compete in a global world have dire consequences for our most vulnerable – the poor. The same cost-benefit analysis that was employed during the Middle Passage is used today in parts of the world. Perhaps today, though, labor is even more disposable than slaves were back in the 18th Century. No longer directly owned and cared for, slaves today may be treated even worse than slaves of yesterday.

In addition to the economic foundation of slavery today and yesterday, one must consider the political systems that threaten to maintain slavery. The Founding Fathers made a Constitution of compromises to avoid facing slavery. The hope was that slavery would die a natural death over the next several years. The founders did not for see, perhaps, the growth of the slave industry as cotton expanded across the land. With the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Compromise of 1850, the issue of slavery continually threatened to destabilize the Union. At the time of the American Revolution, slavery was losing its purpose in the Chesapeake; however, the amount of slaves in that region had grown immensely because of natural increase. The business of the internal slave trading replaced the need for the external slave trade after 1808. So, while the death of the slave trade may have killed slavery for the colonies of England, the United States no longer depended on the external slave trade. With the growth of slavery, the legal status of slaves became a question – especially to the growing number of abolitionists in the North. William Lloyd Garrison argued that a Constitution that professed liberty and protection of that liberty should not be able to stand by and accept such offenses as the Fugitive Slave Act. In contrast to Garrison, however, southerners maintained that the Constitution protected property and that property could not be taken away without due process. These two interpretations of the Constitution made it impossible to determine where exactly the enslaved stood. The Dred Scott Case, though, showed where the Courts stood. According to Roger Taney, Dred Scott was not even a citizen. In the same manner that Mauritania today treats its slaves and the Afro-Mauritanian as “non citizens” who cannot have access to political rights, our country used the same tactics in 1857. Without protection from the courts, the enslaved were bound to perpetual servitude.

Finally, the beginning of protest and rebellion is often told through the eyes of white abolitionists. In my unit, however, I have included a lesson on slave resistance as the beginning of pushing for change. The agency the Brazilian slaves showed after rebelling against their master Manoel Da Silva Ferrieira, is the type of agency that many American slaves had as well. American slaves resisted slavery in a number of ways and ultimately worked to free themselves from the bounds of slavery. In my lesson, I have students examine the role of religion as a force in uniting and inciting both free and enslaved African Americans. In the same manner that the second Great Awakening really inspired the British to end their slave trade, it inspired both black and some white abolitionists to question slavery. Slavery was the expected; the Great Awakening reframed the debate over slavery. No longer was religion a justification for slavery. Students will also examine the role of slave spirituals in this resistance.

Lesson 1: The Economics of Slavery
Sources: Bagwell, Orlando (Executive Producer). Africans in America: Americans Journey through Slavery. . WGBH Education Foundation, 1998. Teacher support materials available at

Websites where I found images and documents are listed next to the documents.

Essential Questions:

  1. To what degree was slavery in the 18th and early 19th United States merely a manifestation of the world economy of slavery?
  2. In what ways were we already living in a world of “globalization” by the end of the 18th Century? How does the institution of slavery reflect or detract from that answer?

  3. Was slavery profitable? Or, was, slavery merely representative of a backwards economic system in the American South by the 19th Century?

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

  1. Trace the role of globalization on slavery in the New World through the Atlantic Slave Trade.

  2. Discuss the role of the Middle Passage in the Global Economy.

There are many ways I start a unit on slavery. Usually before I get into the “economics” of slavery, I may have spent an entire lesson accessing student’s prior knowledge. I use images and true or false inventories to see what students already know and where the “myths” lie. In this set of lessons, I have tried to include some prior accessing of knowledge within this economic lesson. We have 90 minute classes at Swampscott High School – so understand that my so called “three lessons” are actually more like six lessons. I had an opportunity to field test this lesson. It worked well with all classes – from Advanced Placement to my general United States History class.


In small groups students will engage in a short “silent discussion” (strategy adopted from Facing History and Ourselves workshops) over different historical perspectives of the role of slavery on the economy. I photocopy a small packet for each group. Each packet contains the different historical perspective.

  1. Students are invited to unclip or unstaple the packet so they can respond in writing on the document or next to the document. After a student completes his/her response, he/she passes the document to the next student in the group. I have attached the excerpts from Digital History

  2. Students spend about 5-10 minutes reading and writing silently. Then, I have them look at the whiteboard where I have written the following:

Discuss which historian you think makes the most valid argument. Why.

Discuss which historian’s argument makes you the most uncomfortable. Why?

I ask students to engage now in an oral discussion within their groups for about 5 minutes or so to address the prompts. I walk around to the groups and record statements students make so we can “flesh out” our assumptions about slavery from the beginning as we come together as a class.

3. We address the prompt as a class for a few minutes. By this time, students are eager to share their thoughts. Usually students remember pieces of the slave experience from their other classes. We “clear the air” of our assumptions and we pose questions that I write down on the board that we will address in the unit. I find that this activity allows us to show students (instead of merely talking about it) the difference between secondary sources and primary sources. In my Advanced Placement class, I take the few minutes to redefine for them “historiography” and the role it plays in our understanding of history. After this activity, we spend the rest of our lesson dealing with primary sources. I usually dovetail this activity with a quick inventory of true or false which I have taken from Digital History on Slavery --

These true and false questions help question the validity of historians arguments. Depending on the level of the class, I either read them out loud, or I place them on the board for my more visual students. (15min at least – depending on interest of class).

True or False:
1. Slaves did little productive work
2. Slavery was incompatible with urban life and factory technology
3. Slaves engaged in unskilled and brutish field labor

SUBJECT of Lesson – Examining primary sources to discuss the economic causes of slavery.

  1. Teacher directed – I have several overhead transparencies from my textbook as well as good maps in my room that show the slave trade and the Middle Passage. I included a mediocre electronic copy here. I use this opportunity to discuss the globalization of the world economy in the 18th Century. The map helps tell the story. Students are able to define:

    1. Triangle Trade

    2. Role of New England in the slave trade – West Indies and role of Cod

    3. Role of European and African nations in the Slave Trade

On my room map, I have the numbers of enslaved who came to the different regions of the New World. These numbers allow us to have a discussion on why so many more slaves went to Brazil than to mainland North America.

Africans in America series
Part II: Middle Passage -- Student based inquiry activity

Teacher question: Thomas Friedman, in The World is Flat, claims that one of the ten forces that “flatten” the world in the 21st Century is the “outsourcing” of labor. To what degree does the “Middle Passage” and the Atlantic Slave Trade “flatten” the world back in the 18th Century?

Film Excerpt from PBS–in “The Terrible Transformation” – Show the excerpt entitled “Middle Passage” (10 min)
Student Inquiry

After students watch the clip, I have them work in small groups to analyze images. They have copies of the images at their desks, and I have them on a screen so they can get a better glimpse. They are working with Document 1-4. See attached student handout.

Students will have about 10 minutes to work on this inquiry in their groups, and then we will spend about 10-15 minutes working on it together.
Wrap-up Activities
1. As a way to wrap-up the “Middle Passage” I show on the screen Joseph Turner’s Slave Ship – see at end of pictures. I tell them the story about the diseased crew and how the owner made more money on throwing the slaves overboard and pretending that they were “lost at sea” in an accident, than he would have if he brought diseased slaves into the New World. I think this picture would dovetail rather well with an excerpt from Kevin Bales Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. We discuss Turner’s picture and then the quote from Bales book on Thai sex slave trade so students can connect the past to the present (see quote and picture at bottom) – Students should write for a few minutes in their journal to record their reaction to both the picture and the quote.

2. Ticket to leave – Before students can leave the class, they must write down one fact they learned from class today. We will start the next class examining whether students did indeed write facts or opinions about slavery. (activity adopted from Facing History and Ourselves Workshops)

Document #1

Document #2

Document #3

Document #4

Class discussion – The cost-benefit analysis of the slave trade – How disposable are we?
Joseph Turner’s Slave Ship

Excerpt from Bales, Kevin. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 2004. pp. 57-58

Background: Kevin Bales discusses the sex slave trade in Thailand. Young girls – fifteen years old or younger, are drawn into the sex trade. Often their parents agree to send their girls to the city to work in the sex trade. In some cases, girls are lured to the city with promises of work, only to find out that the work involves being part of a lucrative sex trade. Cost-benefit analysis is used to decide the extent to which girls’ lives are valued. After reading the following excerpt, consider why these girls are “disposable.” How does their status compare and contrast with the American slaves you are currently learning about?

”Girls are so cheap that there is little reason to take care of them over the long term. Expenditure on medical care or prevention is rare in the brothels, since the working life of girls in debt bondage is fairly short – two to five years. After that, most of the profit has been drained from the girl and it is more cost-effective to discard her and replace her with someone fresh. No brothel wants to take on the responsibility of a sick or dying girl.”

Lesson 2: The Politics of Slavery
Essential Questions:

  1. How did slavery become a “permanent” institution in the United States?

  2. Did the Constitution protect slaves or slaveholders in the 18th Century?

Learning Objectives –

Students will be able to:

  1. Give several examples of how slavery became a permanent institution in this country.

  2. Identify the clauses in the Constitution that pertain to slavery.

  3. Read and interpret Justice Taney’s decision in Dred Scott Case.

  4. Debate the impact of the Dred Scott Case on the legality of slavery in this country.

Focus: When students come into the room, have two columns on the board – fact/opinion. Under each column, place the index cards that students gave you at the end of the last class. Give students the first five minutes of class to examine the board to determine whether they agree with the placement of the “fact and opinion” cards. Students can move cards accordingly (5 min)

Teacher directed discussion (5 min) – Which cards do you think needed to be moved? Why? Who should we trust with facts? How do we know that something is a fact? Or is it? In what ways does fact and opinion play a critical role in how we learn about slavery? Who is telling the story? Who is planning the lessons? Why does that matter? Can you imagine learning about slavery through someone else’s eyes? How would the story be different? Discuss the importance of primary sources in teaching slavery. . .

Subject: Legal System of Slavery

1. Film ExcerptAfricans in America: Terrible Transformation – excerpt on “permanent institution” (5-10 min)

2. After the film, place students in small groups of about 4. Each group will receive a copy of the changing laws in Virginia on slavery. Students need to read through table and determine which law they believe did the most to make slavery a permanent institution. Each group chooses its answer and prepares a defense of it. (8 min). Each group should select a spokesperson to defend answer. – You can also number students 1,2,3, and 4. At the end of the group work you might say, “Ok, all number “4s” stand-up. You will be presenting your group’s answer.” This method allows a safe way for students who would not normally participate in a larger group, participate (See Research for Better Teaching, Sapphire). (10 min)

Slavery and the Law in Virginia



Negro women's children to serve accounting to the condition of the mother. 


An act declaring the baptism of slaves doth not exempt them from bondage. 


An act about the casual killing of slaves....If any slaves resist his master (or other by his master's order correcting him) and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be attempted felony. 


No Negroes nor Indians to buy Christian servants. 


An act for the apprehension and suppression of runaways, Negroes and slaves....If any Negroe, mulatto, Indian slave, or servant for life, runaway and shall be pursued by the warrant or hue and cry, it shall and may be lawful for any person who shall endeavour to take them, upon the resistance of such Negro, mulatto, Indian slave, or servant for life, to kill or wound him or them so resisting....And if it happen that such Negroe, mulatto, Indian slave, or servants for life doe dye of any wound in such their resistance received the master or owner of such shall receive satisfaction from the public.... 


An act for preventing Negroes' Insurrections. Whereas the frequent meeting of considerable numbers of Negroe slaves under pretence of feasts and burials is judged of dangerous shall not be lawful for any Negroe or other slave to carry or arm himself with any club, staff, gun, sword, or any other weapon of defense or offense, not to goe or depart from his master's ground without a certificate from his master...and such permission not to be granted but upon particular and necessary operations; and every Negroe or slave so offending not having a certificate...[will receive] twenty lashes on his bare back well laid....If any Negroe or other slave shall absent himself from his master's service and lie hid and lurking in obscure shall be kill the said Negroe or slave.... 


An additional act for the better preventing insurrections by Negroes....No master or overseer knowingly permit or suffer...any Negroe or slave not properly belonging to him or them, to remain or be upon his or their plantation above the space of four hours at any one time.... 


Virginia voted to banish any white man or woman who married a black, mulatto, or Indian. Any white woman who gave birth to a mulatto child was required to pay a heavy fine or be sold for a five year term of servitude. 

  1. Role of Slavery in Constitution

    1. Students will read over key passages in the Constitution that allude to slavery. I have attached a document that includes these excerpts with questions to direct students. Students should work on this exercise as individuals for about 10 min. and then have them check in with a buddy for a pair-share activity.

    2. Teacher directed –I will address the founder’s intentions on slavery. See Davis, David Brion. “The Problems of Slavery in the American Revolution” Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World. New York: Oxford Press, 2006. (pp. 154-156 are most helpful).

For my more advanced students, I might copy these pages and have students consider Davis’ argument about the founders’ intentions. These intentions are critical to establish – or at least hypothesize over – because the next part of the lesson is a primary source from Roger Taney who claimed he knew what the founders’ intentions were. His reading of the founders is very different from Davis’ interpretation.

  1. Legal realities: Dred Scott Case

Teacher background – I give the story of the background of the Dred Scott Case so the students know who the major players are and what the issues are.

Then I give students an excerpt from Taney’s opinion:


Here is an excerpt from I have included a large portion of it. I generally take a smaller excerpt – but I’ll let teachers decide what part(s) they want to use.


The plaintiff [Dred Scott]... was, with his wife and children, held as slaves by the defendant [Sanford], in the State of Missouri; and he brought this action in the Circuit Court of the United States for [Missouri], to assert the title of himself and his family to freedom.

The declaration is . . . that he and the defendant are citizens of different States; that... he is a citizen of Missouri, and the defendant a citizen of New York.


The question is simply this: Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied by that instrument to the citizen? One of which rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the United States in the cases specified in the Constitution....

The words "people of the United States" and "citizens" are synonymous terms, and mean the same thing. They both describe the political body who ... form the sovereignty, and who hold the power and conduct the Government through their representatives.... The question before us is, whether the class of persons described in the plea in abatement [people of Aftican ancestry] compose a portion of this people, and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word "citizens" in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them.


The court think the affirmative of these propositions cannot be maintained. And if it cannot, [Dred Scott] could not be a citizen of the State of Missouri, within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States, and, consequently, was not entitled to sue in its courts.

It is true, every person, and every class and description of persons, who were at the time of the adoption of the Constitution recognized as citizens in the several States, became also citizens of this new political body; but none other; it was formed by them, and for them and their posterity, but for no one else. And the personal rights and privileges guarantied to citizens of this new sovereignty were intended to embrace those only who were then members of the several State communities, or who should afterwards by birthright or otherwise become members, according to the provisions of the Constitution and the principles on which it was founded....


It becomes necessary, therefore, to determine who were citizens of the several States when the Constitution was adopted....

... [T]he legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.

It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in relation to that unfortunate race, which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted....

They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery. . . . He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it. This opinion was at that time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race. It was regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics, which no one thought of disputing, or supposed to be open to dispute; and men in every grade and position in society daily and habitually acted upon it in their private pursuits, as well as in matters of public concern, without doubting for a moment the correctness of this opinion.

And in no nation was this opinion more firmly fixed or more uniformly acted upon than by the English Government and English people. They not only seized them on the coast of Africa, and sold them or held them in slavery for their own use; but they took them as ordinary articles of merchandise to every country where they could make a profit on them, and were far more extensively engaged in this commerce than any other nation in the world.

The opinion thus entertained and acted upon in England was naturally impressed upon the colonies they founded on this side of the Atlantic. And, accordingly, a negro of the African race was regarded by them as an article of property, and held, and bought and sold as such, in every one of the thirteen colonies which united in the Declaration of Independence, and afterwards formed the Constitution of the United States. The slaves were more or less numerous in the different colonies, as slave labor was found more or less profitable. But no one seems to have doubted the correctness of the prevailing opinion of the


The legislation of the different colonies furnishes positive and indisputable proof of this fact....

The province of Maryland, in 1717, passed a law declaring "that if any free negro or mulatto intermarry with any white woman, or if any white man shall intermarry with any negro or mulatto woman, such negro or mulatto shall become a slave during life, excepting mulattoes bom of white women, who, for such intermarriage, shall only become servants

for seven years. . . ."

The other colonial law to which we refer was passed by Massachusetts in 1705. It is entitled "An act for the better preventing of a spurious and mixed issue," &c.; and it provides, that "if any negro or mulatto shall presume to smite or strike any person of the English or other Christian nation, such negro or mulatto shall be severely whipped......

... [T]hese laws ... show, too plainly to be misunderstood, the degraded condition of this unhappy race. They were still in force when the Revolution began, and are a faithful index to the state of feeling towards the class of persons of whom they speak, and of the position they occupied throughout the thirteen colonies, in the eyes and thoughts of the men who framed the Declaration of Independence and established the State Constitutions and Governments. They show that a perpetual and impassable barrier was intended to be erected between the white race and the one which they had reduced to slavery, and governed as subjects with absolute and despotic power, and which they then looked upon as so far below them in the scale of created beings, that intermarriages between white persons and negroes or mulattoes were regarded as unnatural and immoral, and punished as crimes, not only in the parties, but in the person who joined them in marriage. And no distinction in this respect was made between the free negro or mulatto and the slave, but this stigma, of the deepest degradation, was fixed upon the whole race.

We refer to these historical facts for the purpose of showing the fixed opinions concerning that race, upon which the statesmen of that day spoke and acted ... in order to determine whether the general terms used in the Constitution of the United States, as to the rights of man and the rights of the people, was intended to include them, or to give to them or their posterity the benefit of any of its provisions.

The language of the Declaration of Independence is equally Conclusive: ...

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among them is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

The general words above quoted would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day would be so understood. But it is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration; for if the language, as understood in that day, would embrace them, the conduct of the distinguished men who framed the Declaration of Independence would have been utterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted; and instead of the sympathy of mankind, to which they so confidently appeared, they would have deserved and received universal rebuke and reprobation.

Yet the men who framed this declaration were great men -- high in literary acquirements -- high in their sense of honor, and incapable of asserting principles inconsistent with those on which they were acting. They perfectly understood the meaning of the language they used, and how it would be understood by others; and they knew that it would not in any part of the civilized world be supposed to embrace the negro race, which, by common consent, had been excluded from civilized Governments and the family of nations, and doomed to slavery. They spoke and acted according to the then established doctrines and principles, and in the ordinary language of the day, no one misunderstood them. The unhappy black race were separate from white by indelible marks, and laws long before established, and were never thought of or spoken of except as property, and when the claims of the owner or the profit of the trader were supposed to need protection.

This state of public opinion had undergone no change when the Constitution was adopted, as is equally evident from its provisions and language....


[There] are two clauses in the Constitution which point directly and specifically to the negro race as a separate class of persons, and show clearly that they were not regarded as a portion of the people or citizens of the Government then formed.

One of these clauses reserves to each of the thirteen States the right to import slaves until the year 1808.... And by the other provision the States pledge themselves to each other to maintain the fight of property of the master, by delivering up to him any slave who may have escaped from his service, and be found within their respective territories.... And these two provisions show, conclusively, that neither the description of persons therein referred to, nor their descendants, were embraced in any of the other provisions of the Constitution; for certainly these two clauses were not intended to confer on them or their posterity the blessings of liberty, or any of the personal rights so carefully provided for the citizen.

No one of that race had ever migrated to the United States voluntarily; all of them had been brought here as articles of merchandise. The number that had been emancipated at that time were but few in comparison with those held in slavery; and they were identified in the public mind with the race to which they belonged, and regarded as a part of the slave population rather than the free. It is obvious that they were not even in the minds of the framers of the Constitution when they were conferring special rights and privileges upon the citizens of a State in every other part of the Union.


It would be impossible to enumerate ... the various laws, marking the condition of this race, which were passed from time to time after the Revolution, and before and since the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. In addition to those already referred to, it is sufficient to say, that Chancellor Kent, whose accuracy and research no one will question, states in ... his Commentaries ... that in no part of the country except Maine, did the African race, in point of fact, participate equally with the whites in the exercise of civil and political rights.

The legislation of the States therefore shows, in a manner not to be mistaken, the inferior and subject condition of that race at the time the Constitution was adopted, and long afterwards, . . . and it is hardly consistent with the respect due to these States, to suppose that they regarded at that time, as fellow-citizens and members of the sovereignty, a class of beings whom they had thus stigmatized; ... and upon whom they had impressed such deep and enduring marks of inferiority and degradation; or, that when they met in convention to form the Constitution, they looked upon them as a portion of their constituents, or designed to include them in the provisions so carefully inserted for the security and protection of the liberties and rights of their citizens. It cannot be supposed that they intended to secure to them rights, and privileges, and rank, in the new political body throughout the Union, which every one of them denied within the limits of its own dominion. More especially, it cannot be believed that the large slaveholding States regarded them as included in the word citizens, or would have consented to a Constitution which might compel them to receive them in that character from another State. For if they were so received, and entitled to the privileges and immunities of citizens, it would exempt them from the operation of the special laws and from the police regulations which they considered to be necessary for their own safety. It would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognized as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, singly or in companies, without pass or passport, and without obstruction, to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night without molestation, unless they committed some violation of law for which a white man would be punished; and it would give them the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went. And all of this would be done in the face of the subject race of the same color, both free and slaves, and inevitably producing discontent and insubordination among them, and endangering the peace and safety of the State.

It is impossible, it would seem, to believe that the great men of the slaveholding States, who took so large a share in framing the Constitution of the United States, and exercised so much influence in procuring its adoption, could have been so forgetful or regardless of their own safety and the safety of those who trusted and confided in them....

To all this mass of proof we have still to add, that Congress has repeatedly legislated upon the same construction of the Constitution that we have given....

The first of these acts is the naturalization law ... [of] March 26, 1790, [which] confines the right of becoming citizens "to aliens being free white persons." . . .

Another of the early laws of which we have spoken, is the first militia law, which was passed in 1792, at the first session of the second Congress. The language of this law is equally plain and significant.... It directs that every "free able-bodied white male citizen" shall be enrolled in the militia. The word white is evidently used to exclude the African race, and the word citizen to exclude unnaturalized foreigners; the latter forming no part of the sovereignty, owing it no allegiance, and therefore under no obligation to defend it. The African race, however, born in the country, did owe allegiance to the Government, whether they were slave or free; but it is repudiated, and rejected from the duties and obligations of citizenship in marked language.

The third act to which we have alluded is even still more decisive; it was passed as late as 1813, (2 Stat., 809) and it provides: "That from and after the termination of the war in which the United States are now engaged with Great Britain, it shall not be lawful to employ, on board of any public or private vessels of the United States, any person or persons except citizens of the United States, or persons of color, natives of the United States."

Here the line of distinction is drawn in express words. Persons of color, in the judgment of Congress, were not included in the word citizens, and they are described as another and different class of persons, and authorized to be employed, if born in the United States....

The conduct of the Executive Department of the Government has been in perfect harmony upon this subject with this course of legislation. The question was brought officially before the late William Wirt, when he was the Attorney General of the United States, in 1821, and he decided that the words "citizens of the United States" were used in the acts of Congress in the same sense as in the Constitution; and that free persons of color were not citizens, within the meaning of the Constitution and laws; and this opinion has been confirmed by that of the late Attorney General, Caleb Cushing, in a recent case, and acted upon by the Secretary of State, who refused to grant passports to them as "citizens of the United States....

No one, we presume, supposes that any change in public opinion or feeling, in relation to this unfortunate race, in the civilized nations of Europe or in this country, should induce the court to give to the words of the Constitution a more liberal construction in their favor than they were intended to bear when the instrument was framed and adopted. Such an argument would be altogether inadmissible in any tribunal called on to interpret it. If any of its provisions are deemed unjust, there is a mode prescribed in the instrument itself by which it may be amended; but while it remains unaltered, it must be construed now as it was understood at the time of its adoption. It is not only the same in words, but the same in meaning, and delegates the same powers to the Government, and reserves and secures the same rights and privileges to the citizen; and as long as it continues to exist in its present form, it speaks not only in the same words, but with the same meaning and intent with which it spoke when it came from the hands of its framers, and was voted on and adopted by the people of the United States. Any other rule of construction would abrogate the judicial character of this court, and make it the mere reflex of the popular opinion or passion of the day. This court was not created by the Constitution for such purposes. Higher and graver trusts have been confided to it, and it must not falter in the path of duty....


And upon a full and careful consideration of the subject, the court is of opinion, that.... Dred Scott was not a citizen of Missouri within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States, and not entitled as such to sue in its courts; and, consequently, that the Circuit Court had no jurisdiction of the case, and that the judgment on the plea in abatement is erroneous....

... [I]t appears affirmatively on the record that he is not a citizen, and consequently his suit against Sandford was not a suit between citizens of different States, and the court had no authority to pass any judgment between the parties. The suit ought, in this view of it, to have been dismissed by the Circuit Court, and its judgment in favor of Sandford is erroneous, and must be reversed.

It is true that the result either way, by dismissal or by a judgment for the defendant, makes very little, if any, difference in a pecuniary or personal point of view to either party. But the fact that the result would be very nearly the same to the parties in either form of judgment, would not justify this court in sanctioning an error in the judgment which is patent on the record, and which, if sanctioned, might be drawn into precedent, and lead to serious mischief and injustice in some future suit.

We proceed, therefore, to inquire whether the facts relied on by the plaintiff entitled him to his freedom.


But there is another point in the case which depends on State power and State law. And it is contended, on the part of the plaintiff, that he is made free by being taken to Rock Island, in the Sate of Illinois, independently of his residence in the territory of the United States; and being so made free, he was not again reduced to a state of slavery by being brought back to Missouri.

Our notice of this part of the case will be very brief; for the principle on which it depends was decided in this court, upon much consideration, in the case of Strader et al. v. Graham [1850]. In that case, the slave had been taken from Kentucky to Ohio, with the consent of the owner, and aftewards brought back to Kentucky. And this court held that their status or condition, as free or slave, depended upon the laws of Kentucky, when they were bourght back into that State, and not of Ohio; and that this court had no jurisdiction to revise the judgement of a State court upon its own laws. This was the point directly before the court, and the decision that this court had no jurisdiction turned upon it, as will be seen by the report of the case.

So in this case. As Scott was a slave when taken into the State of Illinois by his owner, and was there held as such, and brought back in that charcter, his staus, as free or slave, depended on the laws of Missouri, and not of Illinois....

Upon the whole, therefore, it is the judgment of this court, that it appears by the record before us that the plaintiff in error is not a citizen of Missouri, in the sense in which that word is used in the Constitution; and that the Circuit Court of the United States, for that reason, had no jurisdiction in the case, and could give no judgment in it. Its judgment for the defendant must, consequently, be reversed, and a mandate issued, directing the suit to be dismissed for want of jurisdiction. . . .


  1. Students read part or all of the above opinion. In pairs they can discuss and write answers for a few key questions:

a. . How did Taney view the founders’ philosophy on slavery?
b. What is Taney saying about all black Americans? How is race and racism part of his decision?
c. What impact do you imagine this opinion had on Northerners and Southerners?

  1. Larger class discussion --When discussing this question with the class, teacher could play the excerpt from Ken Burns Civil War Series – Disc 1 – “House Divided” which shows Lincoln reacting to the Court’s decision. It is a powerful quote.

Wrap-Up/Extension Activities:

  • Students could prepare a debate on the founder’s intensions –

  • For homework, students might write a letter to Roger Taney from a founding father that either agrees or disagrees with Taney’s decision.


After students participate in an analysis of the legal foundation and support of slavery in this country, it would be interesting for them to engage in reading and discussion of the situation in Mauritania where the government’s unwillingness to counter the “White Moors” with any real legislation is as dangerous as simply asserting slavery is legal. “Slaves are effectively non-citizens, systematically denied all political rights” (Bales, p. 113).

Lesson #3: SPIRITUAL RESISTANCE – Yesterday and Today
Essential Questions:
1. What does resistance to slavery look like?

2. What role does religion play in African American lives in the 18th and 19th Century? How does it both pacify and incite?

  1. How does music reveal the layers of resistance and promise in the African American community?

  2. How does rap music today reveal the legacy of slavery?

Learning objectives

Students will be able to:

  1. Discuss the role of religion in African American communities in the 18th and 19th Century.

  2. Evaluate the role of the 1st and 2nd Great Awakening on slave rebellion and resistance.

  3. Analyze the purpose of music as part of a spiritual resistance.

  4. Connect the rap music of today with the legacy of slavery.

On the board write, What are all the ways an enslaved person can resist the system of slavery?

Give students an opportunity to record answers in their journal and then offer time for a brief discussion of the ways an enslaved person could revolt:

Work stoppages open revolt

Breaking tools slow down

Running away etc.

Poisoning master



How did both white masters and slaves use religion to suit their own ends? Was religion an “opiate of the masses” as Karl Marx had suggested or was it a vehicle for political and social freedom?

  1. Film Excerpt – Africans in America – Brotherly Love (part III) excerpt on “African Church” (10-15 min)

Students will watch film and then answer the following questions:

1. How did Richard Allen use the Church to help his fellow African Americans? 2. Why was the church such a center of life for African Americans?

3. In what manner does racism exist in the North? To what degree are Northern blacks and whites more segregated in the North than in the South?

4. How was the Yellow Fever outbreak supposed to help members of Allen’s church? What actually happened?

Excerpt 2 and 3– from Africans in America – Gabriel Prosser and Denmark Vesey –

Key Question: What role did the Church play in inciting these rebellions? How did the African Church become a center of activity? What did whites in South Carolina do to Vesey’s church as a result of the conspiracy?

Connecting to today – What role did the Church have in the Civil Rights Movement?

Wrap-up – I would show the students a map of the number of documented rebellions in the South. This might lead to a discussion on why it was documented or how. If I have time, I may have students in pairs make a list of questions about the map. We would then discuss the other types of resistance we have on the board – running away, working slower, etc. This discussion will act as a segue to part two of the lesson in a long block – or the next day.

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