Which U.S. States Had The Most Slaves At The Start Of The Civil War?

Slavery was legal in Southern states before the Civil War.
Slavery was legal in Southern states before the Civil War.

Preceding the Civil War, the US was divided between the North and South over issues like states rights, taxes and slavery. The disagreements were so fierce that seven southern states actually seceded from the United States to form the Confederate States. The southern states were particularly disgruntled over the possibility that new Western Territories would not permit slavery which would give abolitionists the necessary power in the country to prohibit slavery. The two sides could not agree if slavery were to be regulated by the new federal constitution or if that could be a state issue. They argued over whether or not slaves should be counted toward state population to determine congressional representation and over whether or not to continue international slave imports. These disagreements were compromised by agreeing to count one slave as ⅗ of a person and by delaying the ban on international slave imports until 1808.

Abolitionist Movement

The abolitionist movement existed long before the Civil War but started to gain ground in the 1830’s and 40’s. One of the many drivers behind this movement was “The Second Great Awakening”, a religious revival that stressed change in humans through discipline and restraint. Slavery was criticized as a lack of control over one’s personal labor. There were individuals who called for the immediate abolition of slavery, those who wanted a gradual movement to freedom of slaves, and those who opposed the spread of slavery. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 led to the hunting down and return of runaway slaves even if they had made it to freedom in the north. These events increased the strains between the North and South.

Distribution of Slaves

Slave owners were heavily concentrated in the South as their economic activity, namely the agricultural production of cash crops like tobacco and cotton, was sustained and made profitable through the use of slave labor. There were five states with over 400,000 slaves just before the beginning of the Civil War. Virginia with 490,867 slaves took the lead and was followed by Georgia (462,198), Mississippi (436,631), Alabama (435,080), and South Carolina (402,406).

Slavery was just as important to the economy in other states as well. Several relied on the free labor of over 100,000 slaves. Those states include: Louisiana (331,726), North Carolina (331,059), Tennessee (275,719), Kentucky (225,483), Texas (182,566), Missouri (114,931), and Arkansas (111,115). This does not conclude the states with slaves. There were six others, some were not considered southern states and would not go on to form the Confederate States. The remaining states with slaves were: Maryland (87,189), Florida (61,745), Delaware (1,798), New Jersey (18), Nebraska (15), and Kansas (2).

The Civil War

After all of the arguing between sides, the Republican Party (which held different values than the Republican Party today) won the presidential election, putting Abraham Lincoln, a known abolitionist, into office in 1860. Before he swore the oath, seven states took action and voted to secede from the US to form the Confederated States. This event happened in January of 1861 and war officially began in April of the same year when the Confederate States attacked Fort Sumter. Their popularity grew and soon the seceded union had expanded to 11 states and a few western territories. Four years of battling left an estimated 620,000 to 750,000 soldiers dead and destroyed the south. The Confederate States had failed, and slavery was abolished.

Which U.S. States Had The Most Slaves At The Start Of The Civil War?

State Slaves in 1860
Virginia 490,865
Georgia 462,198
Mississippi 436,631
Alabama 435,080
South Carolina 402,406
Louisiana 331,726
North Carolina 331,059
Tennessee 275,719
Kentucky 225,483
Texas 182,566
Missouri 114,931
Arkansas 111,115
Maryland 87,189
Florida 61,745
Delaware 1,798
New Jersey 18
Nebraska 15
Kansas 2

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