Slavery in Antebellum America

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The Antebellum era was a period in the history of the Southern United States, from the late 18th century until the start of the American Civil War in 1861, marked by the economic growth of the South.The plantation-era South saw large expansions in agriculture while manufacturing growth remained relatively slow.As slavery began to displace indentured servitude as the principal supply of labor in the plantation systems of the South, the economic nature of the institution of slavery aided in the increased inequality of wealth seen in the antebellum South. The demand for slave labor and the U.S. ban on importing more slaves from Africa drove up prices for slaves, making it profitable for small farmers in older settled areas such as Virginia to sell their slaves further south and west.

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How were slaves treated during this time period?During work and outside of it, slaves suffered physical abuse, since the government allowed it. Treatment was usually harsher on large plantations, which were often managed by overseers and owned by absentee slaveholders. Small slaveholders worked together with their slaves and sometimes treated them more humanely.

The southern economy was characterized by a low level of capital accumulation and a shortage of liquid capital, which, when aggravated by the need to concentrate on the reduction of southern banking, led to a South dependent on export trade.Much of the antebellum South was rural and, in line with the plantation system, largely agricultural. With the exception of New Orleans and Baltimore, the slave states had no large cities, and the urban population of the South could not compare to that of the Northeast or even that of the West. This led to a sharp division in class in the southern states between the landowning, “master” class, poor whites, and slaves, while in the northern and western states, much of the social hierarchy as dominated by a wide range of different laboring classes.While the two largest classes in the South included land- and slave-owners and slaves, various strata of social classes existed within and between the two.

The conclusion that, while both the North and the South were characterized by a high degree of inequality during the plantation era, the wealth distribution was much more unequal in the South than in the North.

The plantation era, while it was in large part the source of the South’s initial economic prosperity, was also the reason why the South lagged in productivity starting in the early- to mid-19th century. Because the plantation system mainly required a large volume of unskilled labor, the South did not have the human capital to succeed when the plantation era was over.Fun Fact Africans made up 40 percent of the South’s population. According to the 1840 United States Census, one out of every four families in Virginia owned slaves. There were over 100 plantation owners who owned over 100 slaves.

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Slavery in Antebellum America. (2021, Mar 04). Retrieved December 4, 2022 , from
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