Slavery is an alien concept to the modern citizens of the United States of America. Since late 19th century, this undemocratic institution has been abolished in the US. However, during the time the colonization of America took place, slavery was the driving force behind Europeans’ conquest of Americas. Millions of African-American slaves played a pivotal role in the economic growth of the colonies and provided the foundation for the economic dominance of the US. The legacy of slavery continued to shape the course of American history decades after slavery was abolished. In this paper, the researcher analyzes the history of slavery in order to identify the impact it had on the development of the US.
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Slavery had a tremendous impact on the economy of the US. In the early 17th century, during the beginning of America’s colonization, English indentured servants were introduced to the British colony of Virginia to work on tobacco fields (Fields, 1990). Seeking to increase profits, the landowners turned to African slaves as a cheaper alternative. From the first days of their introduction, they were offered limited protection by law, served longer terms in comparison to their European counterparts, and were enslaved perpetually, which meant they could be sold and bought like a livestock (Fields, 1990). These factors made African slaves the most convenient labor force and led to the spread of slavery to other colonies. Slavery was established as the most cost efficient way of producing goods and services. By the late 17th century, rural slaves did agricultural labor, “tended stock and raised crops”, and helped develop Northern agriculture (Berlin, 1980).
Urban slaves worked as house servants in cities (Berlin, 1980). Until the middle of 18th century, African slaves enjoyed some level of dignity and freedom; however, the nature of slavery changed when the supply of white servants was reduced by the European wars (1980). The limited supply of slave workers and the increased demand for American cotton led to the new wave of slavery and the large-scale production of cotton by African slaves. By the end of the 17th century, half of the US export earnings were from slave-grown cotton (Was slavery the engine of economic growth? 2016). Thus, slaves were behind manufacturing the major consumer goods which allowed their owners to amass capital and led to the subsequent economic growth. In addition, many of American businessmen grew rich on slave trade, which was banned only in 1807. Eventually, the conflict between South and North on the issue of slavery led to the American Civil War, which completely changed the course of American History.
The institution of slavery continued to influence American history even after it was abolished. Although slaves were granted freedom in the aftermath of the Civil War, they had to overcome new challenges due to their ancestry. Biondi claims that the failure of the government to transfer landowners’ lands to freed slaves, racial stigma, the harm inflicted by slavery, including health and income disparities between white and African-American populations, led to the creating of the civil right and black liberation movement of the 20th century (2003). The rise of this movement started discussions on the important topics of racial inequality, racism, and discrimination which continue to this day.
African slaves have contributed to every aspect of the US development, and the consequences of slavery led to the creation of a democratic America as it is known today.
Slavery is the great bulwark of the colonization of the Americas process from the sixteenth century (Rose, 2016). Far from sticking to a homogeneous form of working relationship, slavery was marked by the most different characterizations throughout the colonial period. In the case of American colonization, the use of slaves was always seen as the most viable alternative to the expensive exploration projects of the African continent.
To work around the growing demand for workforce, American slave masters decided to invest in the coming slave trade directly from the African coast. This option became viable for two main reasons. First, the domain that America already had in parts of Africa and the profit opportunities that the sale of these slaves could bring to the coffers of the American territory were enormous. Second, there was the support of the early Christian missionaries and explorers (Rose, 2016).
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In addition to encouraging the exploration of a new commercial activity, slave trade also promoted the development of other economic activities. For example, the shipbuilding industry grew by expanding the need for vessels that could make the transport of captured black slaves to American land. At the same time, slavery in America enhanced the development of agricultural activities such as growing of tobacco and sugarcane. These agricultural products were usually used as bargaining chips to obtain slaves with much ease.
Acquiring slaves was made from affirmation of trade agreements with some tribes, especially those located in the Atlantic coastal region of the African continent. In fact, slavery was already part of the social and economic practices of Africans even before the colonial process began. In general, slavery was used by local African chiefs as a way of imposing penalties against those who committed some kind of crime or evil in society. Slavery became an essential economic activity. After being brought to the colonial environment, these slaves were usually separated from their friends and family to refrain from any attempt to escape.
The routine work of these slaves was hard and could reach a turn-around of eighteen hours daily. The living conditions were precarious. Besides, those who rebelled against the imposed routine were killed or tortured. Due to the myriad working conditions, the average life of a field slave rarely reached a period of twenty years.
Other types of slaves also made up the colonial atmosphere. Domestic slaves who lived inside the residences had better living conditions and had the relative confidence of their owners. Generally, domestic positions were occupied by slaves responsible for homemaking, taking care of children and even expected to be sexually available to their masters.
Having a strong presence in the historical development of the American society, African slavery brought deep marks that can still be felt to the present day. One of the challenges associated with African slavery in America was the massive process of socio-economic exclusion and especially the issue of racial prejudice. Although slavery was 19th century disposition, it is crucial to mention that the legacy of African slavery and the desire for social and/or racial justice has been immensely echoed in the modern day American constitution.
Historical pundits believe that the economic power of America grew out of slavery. The hard working and sacrificial trends set by the African slaves have continued to this date. Slavery began as a socially destructive process that eventually uplifted the economic powerhouse of America.
After the American Revolution (1775-1783), many settlers (especially in the North, where slavery was relatively unimportant to the economy) began calling the oppression of black slaves to their own oppression by the British, and to call for the abolition of slavery (Joiner, 2005). Hence, it can be argued that the American constitution was greatly shaped due to calls for fair representation. Were it not for slavery, equity in the constitution would have been null and void.
In the late 18th century, the land used for the cultivation of tobacco grew smaller. The South faced an economic crisis while the continued growth of slavery in America was skeptic. In 1793, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin (Joiner, 2005). This was a simple mechanized device that efficiently removed seeds from cotton fibers. Therefore, slavery led to rapid industrialization due to the readily available skilled and non-skilled labor.
Slavery itself was never common in the North. Many of the entrepreneurs who enriched themselves came from the southern region. Between 1774 and 1804, all northern states abolished slavery, but the so-called “peculiar institution” remained absolutely vital to the south (Derby, 1996). Although the US Congress prohibited the African slave trade in 1808, domestic trade flourished and the slave population in the US nearly tripled over the next 50 years. In 1860 had come about 4 million, with more than half living in the producing states of southern cotton. The large number of slaves brought the much needed transformation in the labor sector of the American economy not forgetting the fact that these slaves later became the top notch American professionals.
Berlin, I. (1980). Time, Space, and the Evolution of Afro-American Society on British Mainland North America. The American Historical Review, 85(1), 44-78.
Biondi, M. (2003). The Rise of the Reparations Movement. Radical History Review, 87, 5-18. Web.
Derby, L. (1996). Slavery and Beyond: The African Impact on Latin America and the Caribbean. The Historian, (3), 637.
Fields, B. (1990). Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of America. New Left Review, 1(181), 95-118.
Joiner, L. L. (2005). Slavery: A Pivotal Era in American History. Crisis (15591573), 112(1), 51-52.
Rose, P. I. (2016). Americans From Africa : Slavery and Its Aftermath. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.
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Was slavery the engine of economic growth? (2016). Web.