If any slave resists his master. . . correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction. . . the master shall be free of all punishment. . . as if such accident never happened.
– Virginia General Assembly declaration, 1705
Since the beginning of America, slave labour has been an essential commodity for prosperity. As I have touched on in my previous post, Americans were generally conditioned in such a way that made them view slavery as a necessity, and anyone who proclaimed against this, was seen as a threat to the American society and Republic. To the Americans, slavery was essential to social order, and helped many attain millions.
With the rise of Africans being imported to the New World, those who had servants, began to prefer to own slaves instead because a slave held there position permanently. They often invested in female slaves as well because any children they bore followed the condition of the mother. Many Americans began to invest in slaves for this reason. This investment in slaves brought a lifetime of free labor and wealth. Not only that, but the offspring of the slaves were passed down to the next generation of slaveholders where they too would gain profit off of slave labour.
Slavery originally began in America due to the labour shortage in the large fields where landholders grew sugar, coffee, tobacco, rice and cotton – “it assumed enormous proportions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and helped propel the economic transformation of the leading colonial powers, especially Great Britian.” (Kolchin 5). American land owners could only grow as much commodity as they could afford labourers. The rise of slavery caused the rich to get richer as they exploited the poor. Slavery truly became the “heart of the economic and social system” (27). The slaveholders used whipping and brutal punishment to demand obedience to the slaves, and generation after generation thought it perfectly normal as they were born into this cruel system of slavery. This gave birth to a world where cruelty and misuse of inequality was routine, “in short, it was a world with few ideological constraints against the use of forced labour” (7).
Kolchin’s book, “American Slavery 1619-1877” explains the per capita income of the south due to slavery. The exported goods and services divided by the total population was so high, that it made the southern states in to the “fourth most prosperous nation of the world in 1860” (174). Since there was an abundance of African-American slaves available for labour, many Americans began speculating inland and creating farms and crops out of the wilderness. The Southern states ultimately “produced more by putting more land into cultivation; quantitative growth did not lead to qualitative development” (174). Frederick Law Olmstead, a landscape architect who spent over a year in the South researching for articles for The New York Times, noted that though the South was prosperous in one way, it also has high levels of “illiteracy, ignorance, inefficiency and lethargy in which slavery impeded economic development while corroding everyone’s manner and morals” (174). All of this, as well as neglected roads, town and exhausted soil, is due to the effects of slavery. In 1860, the South began to lag in all other areas of population, education and industrialization.
Once the slaves started to make their way to the city, they had much less supervision and control by their masters. They began to grasp the idea and hope of being free as they often encounter other free black men in the city. The slaves began to have freedom of laborers to contract for wages. Many white slave-holders were then forced to sell their slaves in order to pay off large debts. This opposition to slavery did not follow through very quickly as many saw no place for the black community in a white world. Olmstead records the thoughts from a white southerner, “But it wouldn’t never do to free ‘em and leave ‘em here. I don’t know anybody, hardly, in favor of that. Make ‘em free and leave ‘em here and they’d steal every thing we made. Nobody couldn’t live here then” (181).
Finally, I have included this video on the division of the North and Southern states and the outbreak of the Civil War. This video gives a very interesting summary of the fight between the North and Southern states that provoked the Civil War. The caption for this video explains, “Slavery caused the war, but the war did not begin to free the enslaved. Throughout the 1850s, slavery had kept the free North and the slaveholding South on a collision course that could end in dissolution of the Union or a war to preserve it” (Youtube, An American Turning Point).
Kolchin, Peter. “American Slavery 1619-1877”. Hill and Wang. New York: 1993. Print.