Mapping slavery and emancipation
In January 1865, after a contentious debate and one failed vote, the House of Representatives narrowly passed the Thirteenth Amendment to end slavery. Sixteen Democrats crossed party lines to vote with the Republicans, passing the amendment by three votes. The map above illustrates how the representatives of different districts voted; blue corresponds to “yeas” and yellow areas are “nays.” Charles O. Paullin created this map for his monumental 1932 Atlas of Historical Geography of the United States, which used maps to trace the physical and social development of the United States.
Paullin’s Thirteenth Amendment map used the smallest unit available in the data of the 1860s, the Congressional district, to visualize the distribution of opinion on slavery in the North. (You can see the map in greater detail here.) The map is striking for many reasons but especially for the way it takes aim at the simple narrative that still dominates much of the telling of American history—that of the enlightened abolitionist North pushing against the slave-holding South.
This narrative is exemplified by the map above, John F. Smith’s 1888 Historical Geography. A tree, representing liberty and God’s blessing, gracefully stretches across the North, rooted in a bible at Plymouth Rock, while a crooked shrub—the curse of slavery—twists through the South. The map’s nineteenth-century moralism feels heavy-handed, but it is not too far off course from how the history of the Civil War and segregation has often been characterized: north vs. south, enlightened vs. racist, free vs. Jim Crow. The overt and extreme forms of racism of the South here function as an exculpatory foil for the North, freeing Northern politicians, who had allowed slavery to spread and flourish, from blame.
Paullin’s data-driven map points to the fallacy of this characterization and the fact that history is always much more complex than the black and white narratives we often craft. There was no abolitionist consensus in the North: The region narrowly passed the Thirteenth Amendment; congressmen far from border or slave-holding states voted against its passage. There was no desire for racial equality in the North: As other maps have shown, a variety of post-emancipation laws and policies, including redlining and housing covenants, extended segregation beyond the Jim Crow South.
Three-fourths of the states ratified the Thirteenth Amendment at the end of 1865, outlawing slavery in the United States, but deep-rooted racism throughout the country ensured that freedom did not mean equality, not in the South and not in the North. We all still have a lot of work to do.
Stanford Libraries has a variety of maps and charts that shed light on the history of American slavery and emancipation. Please see below for more examples.
Charles O. Paullin’s 1932 Atlas of Historical Geography of the United States, described above, included other plates related to slavery:
- A series of nine maps illustrates the percentage of slaves in the population, from 1790 to 1860. The physical copies are here and here. On davidrumsey.com, you can zoom in here and here.
- A series of six maps shows the abolition of slavery, by state, between 1800 and 1865. The physical copies are here and here; zoom in here and here.
- A series of six maps shows the evolution of property qualifications for suffrage, 1775-1920. The physical copies are here, here, and here; zoom in here, here, and here.
Thomas G. Bradford’s A Comprehensive Atlas, Geographical, Historical & Commercial of 1838 includes tables enumerating the number of slaves between 1790 and 1830 across the United States. Physical copy here; zoom in here.
Otto Neurath, the creator of the isotype (or picture language) form of data visualization, designed a graphic in 1930, comparing the population of slaves to white people in the South. Zoom in here.
Edwin Hergesheimer 1861 Map Showing The Distribution Of The Slave Population Of The Southern States uses census data to visualize the concentration of slaves throughout the South. The map included new techniques in statistical cartography and also served as a powerful document, as it was used by President Lincoln to inform his military strategy. The map is included in Francis Bicknell Carpenter’s painting commemorating the First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln (1864) and can be seen in the bottom, right corner. Physical copy here; zoom in here.