Slavery is an alien concept to the modern citizens of the United States of America. Since the 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 the Europeans’ conquest of the 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 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 the 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 American businessmen grew rich on the 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 that 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.
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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.
Fields, B. (1990). Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of America. New Left Review, 1(181), 95-118. Web.
Was slavery the engine of economic growth? (2016). Web.