The following excerpt on the relative weakness of slavery in the Kentucky Bluegrass comes from William W. Freehling’s book The Road to Disunion: Secessionists At Bay, 1776-1854:
“At mid-century, a third of Virginia’s population was enslaved, compared with but a fifth of Kentucky’s. Worse, while slaveholders dominated fat black belts in the entire eastern half of Virginia, Kentucky’s slavocracy controlled a far narrower, whiter, and more surrounded black belt, running diagonally northeast to southwest through the center of the state. In this fabled Bluegrass area, slanting from Lexington past Bowling Green, percentages of slaves averaged around 25%, a Middle South average. East of the Bluegrass, a semi-mountainous area three times thicker in geographic width averaged under 5% slaves. West and north, an area half a sthick as the Bluegrass averaged around 15% slaves. Over a third of the state’s counties contained under 10% slaves, over half under 20%.
Kentucky, while not as southern as Virginia, was more western. Kentuckians suffered from the usual western problem: too much land, not enough laborers. Slavery, prime solution to labor shortages deeper in the Southwest, could never be as widespread in Kentucky’s cooler climes. A low percentage of slaves arguably intensified the labor shortage, for potential white settlers preferred free Ohio, immediately to Kentucky’s north. …
A better way, cheered Johnson, was in process. Kentucky’s slowly increasing white population depressed slave values at home. The Lower South’s steadily advancing western frontier increased slave prices abroad. Kentucky masters would slowly move south or gradually sell bondsmen down river. This whitening of Kentucky, achieving “by the unerring wisdom of the Eternal Legislator,” would transpire “without danger, crime, or disturbance of society, by the easy, gradual, and unseen, but imperative action of the law of nature.” If (Cassius) Clay would hush, slavery and blacks “will gradually disappear from Kentucky in 70 years.”
The typical Kentucky “proslavery” position in the debate of 1849 was as little “proslavery” as was Virginia conservatives’ position in the debate of 1832. Once again, an Upper South establishment called whitening the state salutory but legislative interference pernicious, for the “curse” was draining away of its own natural accord. A tobacco kingdom near Yankeeland was yet another time considered, in Thomas R. Dew’s phrase, too far north to remain permanently southern.”
Kentucky was barely enslaved in 1860.
The dominant attitude in Kentucky toward slavery, which was best articulated by Henry Clay, was that it was a curse that the state was being gradually unburdened of by the divine hand of Providence. In the 1850s, Kentucky was becoming a whiter state (24% black in 1830 and 21.5% black in 1850) due to the natural increase of the White population and selling blacks down the river to the Gulf States. The phrase “sold down the river” is a reference to this form of internal migration of slaves.
It was considered a great accomplishment in Kentucky that the state was becoming whiter over time by divesting itself of slavery while recouping its capital. This is why Kentuckians were so supportive of the colonization movement and why they banned free blacks from settling in Kentucky. In 2019, Kentucky is up to 87.3% White and is only 7.98% black and Henry Clay’s age old dream of creating a White ethnostate in Kentucky is closer than ever to being realized. The whole ideal of the White Republic that slavery is a curse and that blacks should go somewhere else and enjoy being free was spawned by Virginians like Thomas Jefferson in the 1790s and historically reached its fullest expression in Kentucky.
Kentuckians saw themselves as sandwiched between on the one hand abolitionist fanatics to their north who wanted to interrupt this process by emancipating the slaves, destroying the economy of the South and unleashing a tidal wave of indolent criminal free blacks in their midst and on the other hand reckless secessionists who wanted to dissolve the Glorious Union in order to perpetuate and extend the empire of slavery. It was much wiser to just sit back and let the “curse” of slavery be drained to the southwest. This was also President Jefferson Davis’s position who was a native Kentuckian by birth.
The most natural place for a de facto White ethnostate in America is still Kentucky and West Virginia. If the millions of Whites who left those states would only go back there and reconnect with their own heritage, the White Nationalist movement might actually go somewhere.