A Research Portal for UA Libraries Special Collections

By Kate Matheny, Reference Services and Outreach Coordinator

Brief Introduction

While we think of the question of slavery coming to a head with the Civil War, in reality it was already being contested as the United States became its own sovereign nation. The international slave trade was abolished through the Slave Trade Acts of 1794 and 1800 and the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves (1807), although the domestic trade was still legal, and there were no prohibitions against owning slaves.

During the decades leading up to the war, abolitionists encouraged manumission (voluntary freeing of slaves) and agitated for outright emancipation, preferably immediate, sometimes with the idea of repatriating blacks to Africa. In the meantime, the issue of slavery shaped the growth of the nation, with legislation like the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) attempting to keep a balance between “slave states” and “free states” as new territories entered the union. As the balance tipped toward “free states,” the “slave states” gained ground with the Fugitive Slave Act (1850) and the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision (1857).

During the Civil War, enslaved people in the South were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 abolished slavery for the whole country. From 1865-1872, the Freedman’s Bureau aided formerly enslaved people in the South in becoming self-sustaining members of society; it was part of the much larger program of federal Reconstruction (1863-1877). By the end of the Reconstruction period, most Southern states had begun to enact Jim Crow laws, which made it very difficult for African Americans to truly achieve equality.

The guide does not seek to provide in-depth history or commentary on such a complex topic. In addition to the brief introduction above, these short descriptive essays, from databases accessible to UA Students, may be helpful in providing a more detailed big picture view:

Using this Portal

This guide is designed to give an overview of our holdings on the subject of the slavery debate and emancipation, with commentary to put various categories of resources into perspective. It offers a robust list of resources reflecting the history of and discourse surrounding domestic slavery in the United States, as well as advice on how to find more such items and collections.

The guide is divided into two main sections — published sources and archival (unpublished) sources — as these two types of materials are searched for and requested in different ways.

  • Published sources: Items are classed as part of the general debate (further subdivided into defense or opposition) or as part of a special topic. Items are list alphabetically in bibliography format. The collection name and call number (necessary for requesting the item in the reading room) have also been included.
  • Archival sources: Collections are classed either by format or topic. Collections are listed alphabetically; for larger collections, notes indicate what box (necessary for requesting the item in the reading room) and folder contains the pertinent resources. A link to the Finding Aid online is provided, where one exists.

Go to Published Sources page | Archival Sources page