SAQs for APUSH Topic 4.12 — African Americans in the Early Republic
Seven short answer questions designed to help students review for the annual exam and that relate to the two-to-three million blacks, both the enslaved and the free, living throughout the country from 1800–1848.
- Before 1800, nearly all of the northern states had abolished slavery, though the institution of slavery remained absolutely vital to the South. What ultimately abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime, throughout the country, including the southern states?
- Between 1800–1848, enslaved blacks created strategies to protect their dignity and family structures. Name and briefly describe one strategy that enslaved blacks created to protect their dignity and family structure.
- Between 1800–1848, free African Americans joined political efforts aimed at changing their status. Name and briefly describe any one of the following: The American Anti-slavery Society; William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator; the Liberty Party of 1840; and Frederick Douglass’ North Star.
- Between 1800–1848, over-cultivation depleted arable land in the Southeast resulting in slaveholders seeking to relocate their plantations to more fertile lands west of the Appalachians. Name and briefly describe one historical event that occurred between 1800–1848 that resulted in a significant increase in the growth of the institution of slavery west of the Appalachians.
- Between 1800–1848, enslaved Africans developed overt means to resist the dehumanizing aspects of slavery and maintain their family and gender systems, culture, and religion. Name and briefly describe one overt mean that Africans developed between 1800–1844 to resist the dehumanizing aspects of slavery and maintain their family and gender systems, culture, and religion.
- Between 1800–1848, enslaved Africans developed covert means to resist the dehumanizing aspects of slavery and maintain their family and gender systems, culture, and religion. One piece of evidence in support of this claim is Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion. Briefly describe one similarity and one difference between Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion and the Stono Slave Rebellion.
- Between 1800–1848, freed Africans developed covert means to resist the dehumanizing aspects of slavery and maintain their family and gender systems, culture, and religion. Harriet Tubman and her work related to the underground railroad are often offered as evidence in support of this claim. Briefly describe.
- Between 1800–1848, abolitionist and anti-slavery movements gradually achieved emancipation in the North, contributing to the growth of the free African American population, even as many state governments restricted African Americans’ rights. Briefly describe one way that many state governments, from 1800–1848, restricted the rights of free African Americans.
Slaves resisted their treatment in innumerable ways. They slowed down their work pace, disabled machinery, feigned sickness, destroyed crops. They argued and fought with their masters and overseers. Many stole livestock, other food, or valuables. Some learned to read and write, a practice forbidden by law. Some burned forests and buildings. Others killed their masters outright — some by using weapons, others by putting poison in their food. Some slaves committed suicide or mutilated themselves to ruin their property value. Subtly or overtly, enslaved African Americans found ways to sabotage the system in which they lived.
Thousands of slaves ran away. Some left the plantation for days or weeks at a time and lived in hiding. Others formed maroon communities in mountains, forests or swamps. Many escaped to the North. There were also numerous instances of slave revolts throughout the history of the institution. (For one white interpretation of slave resistance, see Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race) Even when slaves acted in a subservient manner, they were often practicing a type of resistance. By fooling the master or overseer with their behavior, they resisted additional ill-treatment.
Enslaved African Americans also resisted by forming a community within the plantation setting. This was a tremendous undertaking for people whose lives were ruled by domination and forced labor. Slaves married, had children, and worked hard to keep their families together. In their quarters they were able to let down the masks they had to wear for whites. There, black men, women, and children developed an underground culture through which they affirmed their humanity. They gathered in the evenings to tell stories, sing, and make secret plans. House servants would come down from the “big house” and give news of the master and mistress, or keep people laughing with their imitations of the whites.
It was in their quarters that many enslaved people developed and passed down skills that allowed them to supplement their poor diet and inadequate medical care with hunting, fishing, gathering wild food, and herbal medicines. There, the adults taught their children how to hide their feelings to escape punishment and to be skeptical of anything a white person said. Many slave parents told their children that blacks were superior to white people, who were lazy and incapable of running things properly.
Many slaves turned to religion for inspiration and solace. Some practiced African religions, including Islam, others practiced Christianity. Many practiced a brand of Christianity that included strong African elements. Most rejected the Christianity of their masters, which justified slavery. The slaves held their own meetings in secret, where they spoke of the New Testament promises of the day of reckoning and of justice and a better life after death, as well as the Old Testament story of Moses leading his people out of slavery in Egypt. The religion of enslaved African Americans helped them resist the degradation of bondage.