The Dichotomies of Slavery in America

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America would not be a renowned, diverse country without the differences in ideals betwixt its people. It is that very trait that would cause disagreements and questions of the need for slavery in the United States. Slavery provided the colonies with the economy it needed to become self-sufficient enough to gain its independence and disembark from England. One of the major reasons as to why slavery was beneficial to colonialism is that it provided 'free" manual labor. Although, overtime the labor proved to be slow, costly, and the product cheap, for Southerners the demand for cotton was all too profitable not to benefit. Alternatively, individuals outside of the south would begin to question the validity of this labor system and argued that slavery should be abolished. Unfortunately, the slave voice would not be a central contributor in this debate. The issue of slavery is it multifaceted. Due to varying religious beliefs, political shifts, strategies of economic success, and environmental conditions slavery would dissolve, but not without the destruction of a race in America.

Agricultural and Economic Positions on Slavery

Slavery provided the United States a seemingly endless supply of farm hands. Across the Americas cotton, sugar, rice, and tobacco were grown in the fertile soil of states like South Carolina and Georgia, as well as colonies in the West Indies. The need for slavery is often linked as a necessity to the south where farming was typically more prevalent, although slaves were in northern colonies as well. In an important paper, Gavin Wright delves into the relationship between agriculture and slavery: 'Evidently it is the information that 90 percent of the North American slaves in 1770 were located in colonies that later became slave states, which has led scholars to conclude that slavery did not ?fit' northern agricultural crops and conditions." It is apparent that slavery was more abundant in the south not because the south's economy depended on farming, but because the condition of the environments allowed for prosperous agriculture. The greater the value of farmland was directly correlated to the larger number of slaves on a plantation, which leads one to believe that the landowners were able to obtain a large number of slaves because their land was profitable. Given the desire for people to build extreme wealth, owning slaves appeared to be the right choice for southerners. Having low cost workers that were easily distinguishable from freemen, and resilient to diseases was a reasonable option. Others residing in different regions where lands were not as fertile, depended less on slavery for success and ultimately had a different perspective on its necessity.

The demand for cotton was high in European countries. More than 80 percent of the cotton imported into England was coming from America, while very few was imported from India or other regions. The materialist desires of Europeans and Americans alike continued to drive the need for the production of cotton. This meant that slaveholders would achieve more economic success and be able to support plantations with a higher number of slaves in the Southern states. Whether or not there was a possibility for the abolition of slavery, the world would be affected by the transition. Despite the criticisms received by the south from those living in less agricultural climates, the desire for cotton continued to increase. Slaveholders of the south would be among the richest in America due to their views.

Interestingly, the increase in cotton's prices before 1835 would be directly correlated to the price of cotton, whereas after 1835 (when the Whig Party was established, and southerners supported anti-Jacksonian policies) the price of cotton had no direct effect on the cost of slaves. During Andrew Jackson's presidency he instated tariffs that taxed importation of goods from Europe causing the south to pay higher prices for goods from the north. The party excited southerners although the Whig party had varying views on slavery. There was a shift in the beliefs of some of the southerners in the wake of the new political party, which led to a reduction for the demands of slaves in the south.

Slaves were losing monetary value as time progressed. A New York Times' correspondent proclaimed in 1861, 'The truth is that slaves are worth less than half of what was freely paid for them a year ago, and if the war last six months, they will be reduced to one-fourth the value." Many southerners saw this as an opportunity for obtaining low cost slaves and disregarded the reasons, but the importance was all too prevalent for them to ignore. The demand for slaves was decreasing as the morality of slavery was called into question. Although, before the abolitionist movements the costs of slaves were on the rise. Jeffrey D. Grynaviski and Michael Munger would analyze the peculiar relationship between the cost of slaves and slave revolts: A surprising finding is the positive and statistically significant relationship between slave revolts and the value of slaves. This is in contrast to our expectations that slave insurrections would increase the planters' subjective assessments of the probability that their slaves would successfully escape the plantation, thereby decreasing the lifetime expected expropriated wages that determined the price of a slave in the marketplace.

With slavery in question in southern territory slave revolts were likely to follow. It appears that the slave revolts, although harmful to plantations, were not successful in depreciating the value of future slave trades. Although slaves would attempt to run away, they were very likely to be captured; the slaveholder would almost never lose his capital. If he did then the cost of slaves would probably decrease. However, the increasing number revolts would turn the eyes of the north and of other nations towards the south because of their treatment of runaway slaves. It was easier for them to question slavery because their income was not dependent upon it.

Slave labor although cost efficient at times was not the best option for quality of certain products or time. This is another reason why slave labor was divided between the north and the south. The northerners wanted skilled and motivated individuals for certain jobs. Slaves were a better option for manual labor. A northerner writing for the New York Times addresses the work produced by the slaves:
The negroes are a degraded people; degraded not merely by position, but actually immoral, low-lived; without healthy ambition, but little influenced by high moral considerations, and in regard to labor not all affected by regard for duty. This is not always recognized, and debasing fear, not cheering hope is in general allowed to be the only stimulant to exertion.

A capitalist was having a building erected in Petersburg, and his slaves were employed in carrying up the brick and mortar for the masons on their heads; a Norther man standing near remarked to him that they moved so indolently it seemed as if they were tiring to see how long the could be in mounting the ladder without actually stopping. The builder stated to reprove them, but after moving a step turned back and said, 'It would only make them move more slowly still when I am not looking at them...I am sure if I was in their place I shouldn't move as fast as they do." Although the sentiments concerning why the slaves work at such a lazy pace was well understood by the builder would still employ slave labor.

Some northerners suggested slavery to be harmful to both the economy and the slaves, but the retaliating argument from the south was often that abolishment meant owner's rights were violated. Freedom in the south was associated with the ability to own fertile land and to also own slaves. One of the reasons why colonists settled in the United States was to obtain land and wealth that they would be able to maintain in their families. Without this regional symbol of status southerners would lose the lifestyle that they have grown accustomed to, regardless of the treatment of slaves. Talk of slavery would become political, particularly in areas such as the Ohio Territory where slavery was prohibited but slaves were brought into the territory and not freed. As more territories were explored westward, the question of slavery became more pronounced between the southerners and the northerners.

Religious Views

Evangelical Christians from Geneva, Switzerland would also participate in the debates over slavery. They called on American believers to direct their attention to the Bible and implement a change in their agricultural labor. However, the southerners would respond with the belief that the burden of fixing the degenerate race was on them and them alone. Blacks were believed to be a lazy, wild, and barbarous group of people. Slaveholders understood their role as masters to be shepherds to an incapable people. This perspective of self-righteousness would conflict the many views of believers throughout the states as well as the rest of the world. Because slaveholders were typically more religious than northerners they used the bible to justify their means. They often taught messages to the slaves that support their view that the slaves were disobedient and that their position as slaves was necessary to make them a better race.

The Effects on Slaves

A necessary paper written by professor Terri L. Snyder, delves into the effects of slavery pre and post antebellum America, 'Early on, North American courts consistently recognized that slaves killed themselves because of ?cruel and improper treatment.'" American slaves over the course of history committed individual and mass suicides. For some this was an honorable form of death and for others it was disgraceful but a natural response in the face of bondage, what is clear is that life was not worth living for many under the captivity of slaveholders. Unfortunately, because Christian societies looked down on suicide, masters tried to hide these horrific events to prevent their communities from speaking ill of them, causing the data for slave suicides to be severely lacking. This would be another reason as to why American slaveholders would come to view blacks as a barbarous group that needed to be saved. In 1971 the British House of Commons investigated the slave trade and received information from merchants, ship crew, and plantation owners that slave self-destruction was common. These frequent accounts are also reflected in some of the works of slaves: Fredrick Douglass, Mattie J. Jackson, and Olaudah Equiano.

Many slaves chose not to end their lives but to revolt against slavery. When the cotton gin was invented by Eli Whitney, it decreased the number of slaves needed for removing seeds and simultaneously increased the number of slaves needed for cultivating and harvesting cotton as demand began to grow. Plantations would flourish to exceedingly large numbers and massive slave uprisings would soon take place. This would catch the attention of the northerners to support abolishment and simultaneously create uneasiness in southerners, which would push harden slave laws like the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This would continue to create a large divide in ideology between southerners and the rest of the world as southerners would create harsh manhunts for their runaway slaves.

The Complacent Slave

Freedom that followed as a result for many in the north, appeared not to change the inferior lifestyle of the former slave. Accustomed to the dependent lifestyle of slavery, and unknowledgeable of the acquisition of wealth began to force former slaves into a lavish lifestyle beyond their means. An article by a northerner tells of the unfortunate disadvantage of free blacks. '[They] look upon the people of their race as naturally unfitted to provide for themselves far ahead. Accustomed like children to have all their necessary wants provided for, their whole energies and powers of mind are habitually given to obtaining the means of temporary ease and enjoyment." The majority of black Americans were stripped of the ability or desires to provide for themselves due to generations of violent slavery, this would lead to tendencies as a peoples to make 'poor decisions" after retrieving their freedom. But most discouraging was the fact that they perceived themselves and their race as a whole to be unable to achieve more for themselves. Racism shows its undertones in this article. Race is associated with negative attributes possible by any race that could have been subjected to the same disadvantages and brainwashing as free black Americans.

The beauty about America is that it is a melting pot. Unfortunately, the successes of the country have been achieved by deplorable actions of all types of people who decided to reside here. The differences of each group in America is a direct correlation to the lives that they are able to live. The north was unaffected by the enormous need for crops globally and looked down on the southerners for their way of life. The south was too immersed in slave owning for too long to realize that their behaviors went against Christianity. Other nations looked down on the south for their behaviors as well but with the understanding that they too were contributing to slavery in America. Ultimately, blacks suffered the most economically and socially as they were employed as slaves to be complacent, lazy, and weak minded. In the end America has managed to industrialize and maintain its prosperity despite the continued differences between its people.

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The Dichotomies of Slavery in America. (2021, Mar 04). Retrieved June 24, 2024 , from

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