Historians of the United States have often described slavery as guided by the chattel principle. Yet in Black Reconstruction, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote, “No matter how degraded the factory hand, he is not real estate.” This article builds upon Du Bois’s description of slavery’s real estate basis and considers real estate as central to both slavery and territorial expansion in the nineteenth-century United States. Real estate formed the basis of slaveholder family stability and also enabled the intergenerational transfer of wealth. The article also considers the continuing influence of real estate after black emancipation. Real estate enabled post-slavery black dispossession and also facilitated the continuation of the United States as a settler empire.

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