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49 ost likely Jessie thought she had left the world of active politics behind when her husband’s senate term ended. If so, she was wrong. In 1856, John Charles Frémont would be a candidate for the office of president of the United States. The attempt to attain America’s highest office required tough campaigning —something Jessie did not shirk. However, it also created a situation she abhorred: a rift with her father. By 1856, America was moving toward Civil War and the Frémonts would each play an important role in the coming hostilities . The central issue in that conflict was slavery—a problem that began in 1619 when the first slave ship, a Dutch vessel, docked in Jamestown, Virginia, with a cargo of Africans who were sold to the highest bidder. Historically, it is not known whether this first shipment of Africans became slaves or indentured servants—people who sold their services in return for passage to the new world. What is known is that it was the first time Africans were sold into servitude in the colonies. By the 1640s regulations were imposed on Africans entering the colony of Virginia, and permanent restrictions known as slave codes were in place by the 1660s. So began the tortuous history of black slavery in the United States. As Americans moved westward across the continent, they took all their belongings with them— including those enslaved by the “peculiar institution.” The settlement movement to the South presented no major political problem relating to slavery, despite the fact that abolitionists were present in the colonies, and subsequently in the CHAPTER 6 “Fair Jessie” m M states, almost from the time slavery was established in America. By the mid-1830s the movement gained strong national attention and political concerns began when settlers started moving into the midwestern section of America. In places such as Missouri , Kansas, and Nebraska, the debate over “free soil” versus slave territory became heated and at times violent. While there was not a widespread economic base or need for slavery in these regions as there was in the Deep South, such as the Mississippi delta area with its plantation-based society, the practice did exist in America’s heartland. Slavery became a political issue in any region that slaveholders moved to because they wanted to take all of their “property” with them—especially their “chattel,” the legal term for slaves. To use the term slavery only in relation to agricultural pursuits would be misleading. Slavery found its way into cities, into businesses , into a nascent industrialized country. In Agriculture and Slavery in Missouri’s Little Dixie, R. Douglas Hurt covers this topic well. Missourians utilized their slaves in the traditional agricultural way, to be sure, working them on farms that cultivated a variety of crops, including tobacco and hemp. However, because there were not enough people to meet the demand for farm workers, because there was a need for labor in homes and towns, and because the supply of white labor was almost nonexistent , slaves were also hired out. Hurt explains: “[F]armers often did not own slaves, but they supported the institution and hired slaves from masters who had an excess labor supply.” He adds: “Masters . . . customarily advertised in the local newspapers, noting that their servants were good farm and domestic workers. These masters could substantially supplement their annual incomes in this manner.” This custom often led owners to the realization that it was more profitable to find employment for their slaves than to maintain their property themselves. Thus, slavery became a business unto itself. To regulate this arrangement of hiring out, a contract system was devised. Hurt writes: 50 / JESSIE BENTON FRÉMONT 50 / JESSIE BENTON FRÉMONT These contracts detailed the obligations of the employer regarding the provision of summer and winter clothing and the payment of all taxes and doctor’s bills for the slave. Restrictions often included prohibiting the employer from taking the bondsman out of the county or from hiring him or her to a third party. If the slave was not returned to his master on the date due, the hiring party became obligated to pay “legal interest” on the total fee until the slave was returned. The “liberal wages” that were paid of course went to the owner and not the slaves. Slaves who were hired for agricultural work or factory production “could be easily exploited by employers who drove them beyond reasonable expectations.” No matter what the type of...


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