Slavery, Henry Clay proclaimed in 1816, “forms an exception... to the general liberty prevailing in the United States.” But Clay, like many of his contemporaries, underestimated slavery’s impact on the entire nation. The “free states” had ended slavery, but they were hardly unaffected by it. The Constitution, as we have seen, enhanced the power of the South in the House of Representatives and electoral college and required all states to return fugitives from bondage. Slavery shaped the lives of all Americans, white as well as black. It helped to determine where they lived, how they worked, and under what conditions they could exercise their freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press.

Northern merchants and manufacturers participated in the slave economy and shared in its profits. Money earned in the cotton trade helped to finance industrial development and internal improvements in the North. Northern ships carried cotton to New York and Europe, northern bankers financed cotton plantations, northern companies insured slave property, and northern factories turned cotton into cloth. New York City’s rise to commercial prominence depended as much on the establishment of shipping lines that gathered the South’s cotton and transported it to Europe, as on the Erie Canal. The Lords of the Loom (New England’s early factory owners) relied on cotton supplied by the Lords of the Lash (southern slaveowners). Northern manufacturers like Brooks Brothers supplied cheap fabrics (called “Negro cloth”) to clothe the South’s slaves.

An advertisement by a slave trader seeking owners wishing to sell slaves. Dealers like Griggs played a crucial role in moving slaves from the Upper South to the burgeoning Cotton Kingdom of the Gulf Coast states.

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