The Growth of Slavery & the Change in Slave Population Discussion

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This lesson focuses on the growth of slavery in the period 1790-1820. In the American Constitution, the Founders specified that an accurate count of the number of citizens in the country had to be made every 10 years. This was to ensure that the number of congressional districts kept up with population growth and, thus, the House of Representatives would truly represent all citizens. Generally, white men of a certain age with some property were able to vote in these congressional districts and in their states, yet congressional representation was based on the total number of all people, including women, children, slaves, and indentured servants.

In the case of slaves, including them in the census count was a problem, as they were considered property rather than human beings; yet the southern states feared a loss of legislative power if slaves were not included in the count. The Founders, therefore, crafted a compromise in the Constitution to appease slave states: the new republic would count all slaves but only include three-fifths of their number when formulating congressional districts.

The official census bureau was not founded until 1840; before then, marshals of the state courts were supposed to conduct a census every 10 years, a much less accurate process than the one later conducted by the federal government. In fact, the 1800 census was particularly poorly done and presents problems when we do a decade-by-decade comparison. Therefore, this exercise will measure the growth of slavery using these two data points — 1790 and 1820.


For this activity, Source and Analyze the Evidence sections are combined. Please continue to Analyze the Evidence.

Analyze the Evidence


According to Winterer, as the US gained territory in the early Southwest (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, etc.), slaves began to be sold from the old slave states of Virginia and Maryland to the new slave states in these territories. What was the percentage population of slaves to total population in the states in 1790 compared to the percentage population in 1820?

Instructions: Fill out the white boxes in the chart below using these calculation instructions.

First, note that some of the states did not report census figures for slaves or total population in a year, so you will not be able to do the calculations in grayed out boxes. Please complete the calculations in the white boxes. In the first column of white boxes (1790) and the second column (1820), you will make the same calculation: the percentage of the state’s population that was slave. Let us take Connecticut as an example.

In 1790 in Connecticut, there were 2,764 slaves out of a total population of 237,946. To determine the percentage of slaves, divide the slave population by the total population using this formula. You will note that the slave population was very small at 1.16%.

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