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Slavery was introduced to the American colonies in the 1620s. By 1700 the slave population, located primarily in the southern colonies, had grown dramatically. After independence, the United States debated whether slavery should be allowed to continue. Though the NORTHWEST ORDINANCE of 1787 banned slavery in the western territories, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution did not outlaw it. For the most part the Constitution ignored the issue, but the Three-fifths Compromise permitted southern states to count each slave as three-fifths of a white person for legislative APPORTIONMENT.

The invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney, which revolutionized cotton processing and vastly increased the profitability of cotton growing, and the LOUISIANA PURCHASE of 1803 forced the United States to consider whether slavery should be confined to the Southern states or extended to the new states carved out of the territory west of the Mississippi River. Legislative compromises succeeded in holding the Union together until mid-century. The Dred Scott case (DRED SCOTT V. SANDFORD, 60 U.S. [19 How.] 393, 15 L. Ed. 691 [1857]), however, destroyed the legal basis for compromise by holding that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories.

Abolitionist opposition to slavery increased after Dred Scott. ABRAHAM LINCOLN's hostility to slavery, expressed in his "House Divided" speech, frightened the Southern states. His election as president in 1860 led to the secession of the Southern states and the U.S. CIVIL WAR. Though Lincoln saw the preservation of the Union as his main goal, he recognized that slavery had to be ended. The EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION of January 1, 1863, decreed the freedom of slaves in Southern territories, but it took the THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT, ratified in December 1865, to abolish slavery in the United States.

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