America was built on the backs of Slaves
America was built on the backs of Slaves
The assertion that America was built on the backs of slaves has been a contentious issue for long. While some people believe that the development of America was because of the contribution of all races, others continue to state that the slaves did most work. They believe that America experienced rapid growth during the time when slavery flourished in the country. This assertion has some grounds because America was a prosperous nation at that time. It was a force to reckon with because of the many exports the country sold to other countries, including the Great Britain. Cotton and tobacco were the major exports by America, which was the largest producer of the two throughout the nineteenth century. The major reason for the rapid economic growth was because slavery allowed the whites to reduce the expenses used. Some economists that believe that only a few individuals in America gained from slavery and the others, including the entire country, did not benefit much. They argue that the country lacked important institutions that would have facilitated influential economic growth. This paper aims to elucidate whether the assertion that America was built on the backs of slaves or not.
Slavery did not lead to economic development
Slavery started in America in the 17th century when Dutch settler started to bring Africans to America to work in farms. Many whites deemed it necessary to have people to hoe and weed their lands throughout. There are suggestions that the slaves also did other chores like tending the livestock, poultry, as well as other duties in the homesteads of their masters (Wood 32). Small farm owners benefited from slavery immensely because they had people to work on their farms without any payment. The only thing they had to do was to provide them with shelter and food. With time, slaves have tasked the responsibility of working in industries as laborers, especially in the north where most American industries were at the period. The South, which was mostly uninhabited at the time, had the space needed for plantations. The land had just been acquired by the American government from France. According to Saxe, the new land acquisition attracted the American elites who purchase large tracts of land for plantations (69).
Plantations in the South increased the demand for slaves because farming was now large scale. Slaves worked for long hours in the plantations that were mostly growing tobacco and cotton. The production for these two crops increased significantly throughout the 19th century. America became the largest producer of the two and supplied the entire world. The number of African slaves in Southern American states was more than that of the whites at the time. It makes sense for a white man, and his family would be in charge of hundreds of slaves working in their plantations (Harris 33). South became an important part in America because it allowed the country to get some revenues. The fact that the South was a powerful region at the time has always led to the assertions that it fueled economic growth in America.
According to Sorman, slavery did not contribute to the rapid economic growth of America (40). He believes that capitalism was not the basis of the slavery at the time. Capitalist ideology is based on competitiveness among individuals, it is standardized, and every person has a fair share. During the plantations revolution, only a small proportion of Americans were engaging in large-scale farming. In addition, there was no form of competition among them. The plantation owners collaborated to sell their products uniformly to the foreign nations. Sorman continues to state that the Union was more developed compared to the South at that time (40). To him, this was an indication that slavery did not influence the economic growth. In the north, democratic principles allowed people to compete fairly, which encouraged faster growth compared to the south. The major difference between the two was the fact that there was mechanization and standardization in the North while the southern region remained in the aristocratic state.
America was built on the backs of slaves
Despite the refusal to acknowledge that America developed exponentially because of slavery, research on the subject suggests that this institution was instrumental in American growth and development. During the 19th century, plantations mushroomed in the South where the economic status of the nation changed dramatically. The region was the producing rice, tobacco, sugar, and cotton in large scale. The amount produced was much more than the nation required, which led to the exportation of a large proportion. America became the largest producer and exporter or these agricultural products. The southern plantation owners were making good profits, which directly and indirectly influenced the revenues of the country (Feagin 48). The growing agricultural influence in the United States was a force to reckon with. Although many people in the North were against slavery, the growing production in the South encouraged them to invest in the industry (Fearing 48). Many northerners started small firms they used to buy cotton and other products from the people in the South. Some were even brokering between the south producing region and markets in the North, Canada, and beyond (Baptist 352).
There were people in the north that were capable of investing more money. A few people in this region invested in the financial industry by starting banks and insurance companies. This would become a booming business within a short time. Many people in the north and south required these services. The south was more influential considering that they were exporting large quantities of agricultural produce to foreign lands. For the southerners, they needed the banks to keep the money. The insurance industry allowed the slave owners to safeguard themselves against losses in the event their plantations were compromised. The insurance companies insured even the laborers, which was a good incentive for the plantation owners at the time (Baptist 352). These factors allowed the plantation owners in the South to improve on agricultural production. It was a good thing for the United States because most of the surplus wealth realized there was, directly and indirectly, related to slavery and agriculture in the south (Fearing 48).
The influence of the South in American economic development was realized when cotton farming became the most important export from America. The surplus production of cotton in America at the time necessitated the development of the textiles industry. Fearing states that this was the first industry in America and was depended on the slave labor (48). Many slaves worked in cotton plantations in the South, which would ensure improved production. Many people in the United States including the north were close to the industry. It was the easiest way to make money for the businesses. Apart from the financial sector, the major transport industry of the time, shipping, also associated with the cotton industry. The government also saw an opportunity and focused on developing the region for it to acquire the taxes with ease. The cotton industry brought the North and South States of America together at that time (Fearing 48). As of 1940, the value of a single cotton plantation owner was estimated to be about two billion dollars. Taking into account all plantation owners in the major producing states of Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina, the value of the industry would be hundreds of billions of dollars. According to Fearing, the worth of just one plantation owner was more than the value of all industries in the North combined.
The plantation owners in the South were leading a good life, which helped in the economic development of the region and the north one. These individuals needed many things and had the money to purchase them. Their wealth was critical in creating the demand for the manufactured goods that were produced in the north. The plantation owners from the south helped in improving trade in America, which was an important factor in the economic growth of the country. Trade, buying and selling goods and services, is the cornerstone of any economy. Many people, including influential American politicians like George Washington, became wealthy through this. He owned about 36,000 acres of land, 216 slaves, and had equities and investments in banks and land companies of the time (Fearing 49).
From these factors, it is clear that America was built on the backs of slaves. Slavery created the factors necessary for the growth of America. It was the reason cotton became the most important commodity in America. American businessmen, the government, and the public appreciated this commodity for it helped in making America better. The government was earning revenues through taxes while the businessmen were earning profits from their investments in different sectors of the economy at the time. For the public, the southern agricultural economy led to the development of the nation on many fronts. Firstly, the people of the south were wealthy and created a demand for the American manufactured goods and services. The industries producing this merchandise needed more employees, which created employment. Many Americans started to lead a better life at that time.
The slave trade of the South also created a conducive environment for capitalist ideologies. Manufacturers in the North started to compete against each other to remain in business. In addition, the wealthy individuals from the south encouraged investment from those in the north. The major investments that foster economic growth include the financial sector, which grew exponentially during that time. There were many banks and insurance firms that were started at that time. These institutions encouraged the many economic activities that involved buying and selling of products and services. Trade was influential in ensuring the development of America at that time. In fact, America was prosperous during the slave trade period than any other time. Considering the amount of money transacted in the country at the time, it is clear that it was doing well.
Another important thing that slave trade influenced was industrialization. At the height of cotton farming in America, the textiles industry in the country grew dramatically. The industry played an important role in changing the landscape of America. It employed many people, which encouraged the Americans to appreciate the importance of the industry. Being the first industry in America, the textiles industry set the pace for the other industries to follow in the nation. The industrialization that followed in the country in the following years was because of the strong foundation set by the textiles one. Although the Civil War slowed industrialization in the United States, it is clear that it picked up immediately after. The progressive period that followed after the Civil War is an indication that industrialization was picking. Although many people fail to credit slavery as the initiator of industrialization in the United States, the process would not have been possible were it not for the success of the textiles industry.
Industrialization and capitalism have been the backbone of the United States for two centuries now. The country keeps on flourishing because of these two factors, which would not have been possible if slavery did not exist. Though not directly, slavery created these perceptions and practices in the country. Baptist states that entrepreneurial capitalism that started slowly during the slavery times was an important factor in industrialization, development, and the growth of the United States to one of the richest and most influential nations on earth (33). This is a position the country has held for two decades now, and it seems that it will continue leading other nations in the foreseeable future.
In summary, it is clear that America was built on the backs of the slaves. Many people contest this by stating that slavery institution did not do much to America. To them, there was no capitalism at the time of slavery, which is the founding principle of the development and industrialization of the country. What these people fail to notice is that American capitalism grew from the conducive factors created by slavery in the 18th and 19th century. Slavery encouraged business that attracted all individuals, including those from the north and the government. By the dawn of the 19th century, every person in America wanted to be associated with the booming business in the south. It is these factors that led to the development of the first industry in America, textiles. This initiative created employment for many individuals, thereby changing their lives. It also set the pace of industrialization in America, which was critical for its growth and development. These events were critical in shaping modern America because its principles are the same as those of that time. It with no doubt that slavery is the reason America is where it is today. Were it not for this institution, the events that took place would never have happened and the country would have adopted other ideologies. In that case, there are chances that the country would not have been the same. As Bob Dylan stated, it is important to appreciate the role slavery played in the development of America as a formidable economic powerhouse. Although the debate persists, it is clear that the institution of slavery was critical to the development of modern America and the country cannot escape from that fact.
Baptist, Edward. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. New York, N.Y.: Basic Books.
Feagin, Joe R. Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations. Routledge, 2014. Print.
Harris, J William. The Making of the American South: A Short History, 1500-1877. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2008. Print.
Saxe, David W. Land and Liberty I: A Chronology of Traditional American History. Boca Raton, FL: Brown Walker Press, 2006. Print.
Sorman, Guy. Economics Does Not Lie. New York, N.Y.: Encounter Books.
Wood, Betty. Slavery in Colonial America, 1619-1776. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. Print.
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