Positive And Negative Effects Of The Us Slavery: Economic Growth And Racism

Living in the country that is concordant with the words freedom and choice, it is hard to believe that less than two hundred years ago men, women, and children were treated like cattle there. Slavery took the lives of millions of people, who, actually, were not worse than their masters and who did not deserve such a cruel attitude. Slavery, as one of the most terrible phenomena, must be considered a global problem and associated with the world history apart from being called a purely American issue. The paper deals with a slavery regime in America, starting in 1619 and ending in 1877. The topic is quite grapping as the problem of slavery seems to have infinite issues that are not studied enough. Nevertheless, slavery, being a major engine of the economic progress as well as a striking example of race discrimination, is an important part of American history.

The influence of slavery institution on the enslaved and the economic system of the US during the mentioned time frames is a hot topic for discussions even nowadays. Stanley Engerman studies the problem of slavery globally as well as paying much attention to the American history. In the work Slavery, Emancipation, & Freedom: Comparative Perspectives, he emphasizes the economic vitality of American slavery. The author is ambiguous in terms of deterrence of cities and industries’ growth as the system hardly experienced the crisis at the beginning of the Civil War. Defining slaves as the outsiders, he underlines that people were grouped according to the racial differences. Highlighting the cruelty of slavery system, he notices that the mentioned outsiders were not only enslaved but “also could be discriminated, imprisoned, isolated, punished, and even killed.”1

The author also puts an emphasis on the fact that the US had a different position when speaking about the issue of slavery ending compared to other countries– slavery continued even after the legal ban. Thus, when it comes to racial discrimination, there is no doubt this problem is actual even nowadays.2 The book deserves the highest praise for its focus on slaves as not just victims of the whites, but as people with their captivity achievements that helped to boost the American economy. The author uses works of Smith, Young, Bodin and speeches of Lincoln in order to create a historical picture.

American Slavery: 1619-1877, written by Peter Kolchin, is another book that deserves one’s attention. Everyone should read it. The book breaks the image of the ideal America, providing the reader with bright picture of racial discrimination and bloody slavery system. The author uses the works of Fields, Anderson, Drescher and others in order to support his positions. The work highlights three basic directions in the agriculture that contributed to slavery and economic development of America. They include south coast rice and indigo, mid Atlantic tobacco and deep south cotton.3 The author underlines how valuable the king cotton was as an export commodity and how strict the requirements of the slaveholders to the workers were. Kolchin uncovers the issue of the white-black interaction, underlining the negative attitude of both white slaveholders and non-slaveholders to the slaves. Moreover, the author presents the information concerning the population of slaves and how the ruthlessness of people negatively influenced African-Americans’ life expectancy.

“Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox,” written by Edmund S. Morgan, uncovers many issues connected with slavery. Nevertheless, the issue of infinite bloody labor of black people and economic growth of the country is a central theme of the work. The author uses the works of Watkins, Fogel, Enderman and other writers to support his claims. Describing the life in Virginia, a heart of slavery, he highlights that the number of suffering African-Americans and slaves exceeded forty percent during the period surveyed.4 Morgan considers that slavery and freedom in the United States come in parallel. He states that many historians avoid writing about American freedom rise because it was formed with the appearance of slavery. Morgan pays attention to the tobacco production as one of the major forces of economy development or, in other words, economic freedom. The author claims that slaves were not treated like people, as they were not even considered to be a lower class. In this way, Morgan describes America as the country that was too obsessed with a desire to become free, so it forgot about the key human liberty dogmas, considering slavery and racism to be a norm.5 Speaking about economic development, Virginia soil was fertile owing to enslaved blacks, while whites kept on satisfying their liberty. Together with accusations of inhumane attitude to African-Americans, the author justifies it, describing slavery as an unthinking decision as it was the source of the cheapest labor. The labor of slaves was much more profitable than contributions to the free labor that also is one of the economic merits of slavery. Morgan’s work is the integration of two sides of slavery, economic growth and racism that makes it irreplaceable in studying American history.

Slavery and American Economic Development, written by Gavin Wright, shows the influence of human enslavement on the economy of antebellum America. He uses the books and articles of Morgan, Spencer, Thrisk and other historians as a background for his book. The author emphasizes the legality of slavery, writing that “these legal aspects of slavery and their economic implications are where we should look in trying to understand the place of slavery in American economic development.”6 Wright acquaints the reader with a deep understanding of slaves’ status, underlying racial discrimination and inhumane attitude. Slaves had no control over the issues related to the work schedule, choice of the crop and other organizational questions. The slaveholder could buy, sell and carry them to any place where slavery was legal. One could punish and even kill the “property” without charge or trial. He also pays attention to the fact that slaveholders did not have gentler attitude even to women and children, highlighting that “women were more appreciated in the cotton work.”7 The author puts slavery into the heart of 18th century development of the Atlantic economic system, explaining the economic success by the fact that slaves easily took up the work on sugar plantations, while free workers were not interested in it.8 In this way, the high level of economic development was reached not through the slaves’ physical and mental exceptionalism, but through the ruthless exploitation of cheap labor.

The Economics of American Negro Slavery, 1830-1860 by Robert Evans is “an investigation of the economics of Negro slavery by estimating the rates of return earned by slave capital in the period 1830 through 1860.”9 Evans provides the reader with the comparison of the mentioned returns with the returns earned by the capital alternative forms and considers whether the industry was really viable during the recent years.10 Statistical data emphasize the positive effect of slavery on the US economy. Apart from statistics, the author mentions the major profitable fields of work taken up by slaves, namely “cotton crops, rice, hemp, sugar cane and tobacco.”11 He mentions the existence of two integral parts of the slave system that is very similar to the owing of livestock. The first part implies owning of slaves in order to carry out agricultural and other tasks (milk, eggs, meat consumption), while the second one is associated with the “capital goodsproduction that deals with new capital goods (cattle ranching). In this way, he presents a heart-rending picture of slaves’ life and black profit during a thirty-year period (1830 -1860), supporting it with the thoughts of such historians and writers as Duff, Moes, Matison, and others.

In conclusion, it must be emphasized that there was a time when there were slaves and slaveholders in America. Slavery was not only an example of racism but also a major means of economic prosperity of the country. The provided sources describe the economic peculiarities of slavery system and the inhumane attitude towards African-Americans. Engerman claims that slavery made a real breakthrough in the American economy. He states that the key to the economic success was the slaves’ captivity achievements. Moreover, he deepens the reader’s understanding of cruel treatment of slaves, underlining the problem of racial discrimination. Konchin broadens reader’s knowledge of the economy development, presenting three basic fields of economic growth: indigo and rice, cotton and tobacco. Moreover, he describes the complexity of human attitude to slaves that does not depend on whether one is a slaveholder or non-slaveholder, uncovering pure racism. Morgan describes Virginia as a center of economic development and slavery, emphasizing that more than forty percent of enslaved were in Virginia. Wright broadens the reader’s understanding of the slaves’ status and emphasizes the ruthless of their exploitation. Evans pays much attention to statistical data that enable readers to see the complete picture of those times. In this way, all the authors successfully present the issue of slavery, taking into account both negative attitude to the slaves and the economic growth.

1 Stanley Lewis Engerman, Slavery, Emancipation, & Freedom: Comparative Perspectives (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007), 7.

2 Ibid., 8.

3 Peter Kolchin, American Slavery: 1619-1877 (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 24.

4 Edmund Sears Morgan, “Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox,” The Journal of American History, 59.1 (1972): 5-29, accessed May 27, 2015, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1888384

5 Ibid., 5-29.

6 Gavin Wright, Slavery and American Economic Development (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006), 7.

7 Ibid., 10.

8 Ibid., 11.

9 Robert Evans, The Economics of American Negro Slavery, 1830-1860 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1959), 120.

10 Ibid., 123.

11 Ibid., 188.

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