Slavery is an indispensable chapter of world history – it was actively practiced all around the globe in such countries as Greece or Rome. Generally, slaves were used in a broad range of different spheres: agriculture, construction, culture (actors, painters), services (servants, cleaners, cooks), education (teachers, professors), and international relations (interpreters). Slaves were mostly acquired during the military conquests by big and powerful nations. The scope of slavery, even at the beginning, was truly huge. For example, there were approximately 2-3 million of slaves, who constituted a third of the 7.5 million population of the Roman metropolis (Rosenstein, 2013). A new period in the development of slave trade happened as a consequence of great geographical discoveries in the late XV – early XVII centuries. Colonization and development of new lands required much cheap labor. Therefore, due to the geopolitical situation of the time, Africa became a major source of slaves for several centuries. Records suggest that nearly 472,000 African people who varied in nationalities and religions unwillingly took part in migration to the British colonies now known as the United States of America. Eighteen percent of the above-mentioned number (83,000 people) died on the long and difficult journey to the United States (The New York Public Library, 2012). Consequently, only 389 000 Africans managed to survive and arrive to the territories of the modern USA between the middle of the 17th century and 1860 (Colley, 2011). In other words, slavery was a legal economic system existed in the United States in one form or another for many years and held a significant impact (direct or indirect) on all the spheres of people’s life. The question of slavery is very important even today in 2016, even though more than 150 years have passed since its official abolishment in the United States. The analysis of information about the past gives an opportunity to analyze the present and understand the main economic, political, social, and cultural aspects of the country’s life. In these conditions, the main aim of this essay is to examine the history of the U.S. slavery from its emergence in 1619 and up to the end of this horrible practice in 1865 and to evaluate its influence on the contemporary American society.
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The Main Reasons and Perquisites of Slavery Development in the United States
From the very beginning, the main reason for the establishment of slave trade in America was a desire of owners of plantations for quick and grand enrichment. The rapid growth of the plantation economy in America led to a vast need for cheap labor as the work on plantations was very hard. Such work (extremely time-consuming and physically hard) required a significant involvement of human capital to cover the huge scope of work in the wide areas of fields. Up to the middle of 20th century and beginning of industrial mechanization, everything worked this way. The plantations gave more and more products for the European market in general and English market in particular. The biggest demand was for rice, tobacco, Indigofera, and cotton. The last two products were crucial for the growing textile industry in England, as it was the most profitable business in the country, as almost a quarter of the population in one-way or another depended on the cultivation of cotton or fabric production. In other words, by the end of the 19th century, Britain was significantly dependent on cheap cotton from America. However, not only England owed its prosperity and thousands of workplaces to the textile industry. The most successful agricultural industry in the history of the US was based on cotton too. Cotton export to European countries put America on the economic map of the world. Before the Civil War in the US, cotton accounted for 60% of the whole country’s exports (American landowners annually produced nearly 75% of all cotton consumed by the British textile industry, 90% of cotton consumed in France, and 92% of Russian cotton needs) (Dattel, 2006). There were two main factors that allowed America to win the world cotton market: cheap slave labor and large empty fertile lands. American prosperity was based on cotton production, which, in turn, was impossible without slavery. Slavery was so vital for the development of American South that there was even a special saying about that: “Negro slavery is the South and the South is Negro slavery” (Acharya, Blackwell, & Sen, 2014). In other words, once it became clear that it is possible to extract considerable benefits from the cotton fields in the southern states, transatlantic slave traffic increased dramatically. The importance of cotton on the international arena was so big that it was even sometimes used instead of money. For example, merchants could pay for new slaves with cotton instead of money, and it was considered a norm.
Organization and Main Characteristics of the Slave Trade
Transatlantic slave traffic can be considered the biggest deportation of people in the history of the world (Mintz, 2009). It was well organized, perfectly planned and relatively easy in realization. The prices for African slaves were very different and depended on various slaves’ biological and social characteristics (age, sex, skills, and physical conditions). For example, the average price of a slave was $400 ($11, 499 dollars in 2015) in Texas, while the price for a prime slave (18-30 year-old man) was nearly 1200 ($34498 dollars in 2015). The price for a high-skilled slave could reach $2, 000 ($57, 498 dollars in 2015) (Campbell, 2016). Captains and slave dealers overcrowded their ships to transport more Africans at one time with the aim of maximizing their profits. They designed their ships in a special way in order to carry more people and did not pay attention to the appropriate sanitary or living conditions during transportation. For example, one small ship transported from 200 to 500 slaves during one trip, while its capacity for comfortable transportation was only 100 people. African slaves could not move or sleep well as their individual space was very limited and sometimes was less than 5 feet in length and 16 inches in breadth. According to the words of a British activist who fought against the transatlantic slave trade Thomas Clarkson, the slaves were “chained two by two, right leg and left leg, right hand and left hand, each slave had less room than a man in a coffin” (Williams, 1994). Undoubtedly, with limited space and large numbers of people the living conditions were very unhealthy, as there was no appropriate ventilation, no free space, horrible nutrition, no hygienic items, and no medical help. Moreover, slaves had nowhere to go to the toilet, so their place of living was full of “urine, vomit, mucus, and horrific odors” (Mintz, 2009, p. 11). In darkness, a slave ship was easy to distinguish from any other, because of the heavy stench emanating from it. Slave dealers did not consider slaves people and their attitude towards them was similar to that towards objects or cattle. The death rate among slaves was incredibly high and often reached up to 25% of the total number of people transported due to the horrible and inhuman conditions (Mintz, 2009). One of the most known and horrifying cases in the history of the Atlantic Slave trade happened on a slave ship Zong. The ship strayed off the course due to a navigational error and members of the ship crew threw the slaves who were still alive overboard for several days. The main aim of these actions was not to save the provision and water for the rest of crew and other slaves, but to receive a good compensation from the insurance company. Ship-owners from Liverpool would not receive insurance reimbursement in case if the slaves died a natural death. The insurance law was the following:
The insurer takes upon him the risk of the loss, capture, and death of slaves, or any other unavoidable accident to them: but natural death is always understood to be excepted: by natural death is meant, not only when it happens by disease or sickness, but also when the captive destroys himself through despair, which often happens: but when slaves are killed, or thrown into thrown into the sea in order to quell an insurrection on their part, then the insurers must answer (“Zong, 1781,” n. d.).
Therefore, at the end of the trip, only 208 slaves were left out of 470 who boarded the ship. It was a remarkable case, which clearly showed the hatred and disrespect aimed at African-Americans, who slaves’ dealers only considered objects and commodities.
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In 1860, there were nearly 4 million slaves in the US and more than 3.5 of them were located in the Southern states (Eller, 2015). The majority of slaves lived on large plantations and small farms and many slave owners had fewer than 50 slaves. Slave owners wanted to make slaves entirely dependent on them, regulating their lives in every sphere.
Financial Aspects of Slave Trade Development and Explanation of Racist Ideology
Revenues from slavery in general as well as production, cultivation, and sales of cotton in particular grew each year, and the profits from it were contributed to a great number of religious, social, economic, and educational institutions: churches, hospitals, banks, courts, and universities. In these conditions, in the first half of the XIX century, the United States was permeated with slavery and income from it, so it was not surprising that the institutions that were not directly connected to plantations and the inhuman violence perpetuated on them were also involved in the slavery process. The famous American historian Craig Steven Wilder showed how the administration of well – known American universities and colleges (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Rutgers, and others) received donations and financial funds from slave owners and slave traders and promoted the ideology of slavery among students. During different courses, educators explained their theories about the superiority and natural domination of ‘white people.’ For example, Harvard anatomist John Collins Warren in his lectures stated that “in physical development, cultural accomplishment, and intellectual potential, black people sat at the bottom of humanity” (Wilder, 2013).
People used racist ideology to explain and to excuse themselves for creating the slavery system in America. Americans and colonialists equally shared their views about the inferiority of ‘black people’. The peak of American racism was reached in the South states of America. For landowners, African-Americans were only property, and therefore their human rights were not taken into account in the vast majority of cases. In other words, being a property, slaves had a status of cattle and the same rights respectively. To vanquish the slave’s desire for freedom, slave owners used the help of religious figures like preachers who urged ‘black people’ to behave with humility and resignation. They sought to convince African-Americans that for them there is no other choice as to be a slave and that the rebellious slaves would be cursed and go to hell. Only resignation, patience, and only devotion to church would provide an opportunity for slaves to go to heaven, where there are no poor and rich people, no slaves, and no slave owners. By distorting the text of the Bible, racists argued that African-Americans are direct descendants of Ham or Cain and other negative characters from the Scripture. Priests stated that the black color of skin is the main definition of the second-class people, and God created them only for obedience to the ‘white people’ (Horton, & Horton, 2006).
Similarly, it is important to mention that the judicial system of the Southern states in general and its courts in particular functioned in a way that supported the slavery system in America. African-Americans did not have constitutional rights; therefore, they did not have an opportunity to protect themselves in court. All laws and regulations were on the side of ‘white people’ and were created to legalize slavery in America on the official level. For example, an Act signed in 1670 proclaimed that, “All servants not being Christians imported into this country by shipping shall be [sic] slaves for their lives” (Finkelman, 2012, p. 113). Therefore, according to the law, all Africans brought to America were presumptively slaves. That law was also applied to ‘black children’ born in America, because their parents were Africans. Additionally, there were a lot of cases when ‘white’ slave owners raped African women. It was very popular, as there were no legal ramifications for rapists at all. In 1680, the judicial authorities moved even further and proclaimed that the murder of a slave is not a criminal case.
Slave owners were convinced of their own civilizing mission. They thought that they would create a better and more educated people. One of the leading ideologues of slavery Robert E. Lee of Virginia stated that, “the blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things” (DeBonis, 2015).
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Slavery as a Basement of Nowadays Capitalism
It is not known exactly whether the cotton industry was the only way to a modern industrial world, but it can be stated that it led to global capitalism. Industrial capitalism and social inequality emerged from the mix of slavery, colonialism, and expropriation of land. In the first 300 years of capitalism expansion, especially after 1780, when it finally entered in its industrial phase, the economic situation of the United States certainly depended on the small plantations of New England. It was contingent on unpaid drudgery slaves’ work in areas such as South Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama.
A famous American historian and 1993 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences Robert William Fogel showed that from the economic point of view, slave labor in the United States was more effective than free labor in the first half of the XIX century. Fogel’s study showed that in 1860 the Southern slave-based agriculture was 35% more effective (in terms of output for an equal amount of inputs) than the one based on free-labor agriculture functioning in the North of America (Fogel & Engerman, 1995). He argued that the system of slavery was beneficial for slave owners, as they organized work on their plantations very “rationally” to increase their profits. According to the information presented in this study, the correct and rational usage of slaves made southern slave-labor plantations more efficient than southern free-labor farms by 28% and 40% more efficient than northern states’ free-labor plantations (Fogel & Engerman, 1995).
Anti-Slave Resistance of African-Americans
The brutal exploitation of slave labor by plantation owners highly stimulated the resistance of African-Americans. Obviously, many slaves were unsatisfied with their hard life without rights and prospects. The desire for freedom caused many slaves to rebel. There were more than 300 documented slave riots and revolts on American plantations. Plantation owners ferociously stopped most of them. Catching runaway rebels was similar to hunting with dogs and guns. All methods were good to stop the revolt at the beginning. Slave rebels were killed or tortured while other slaves, including relatives, were watching. The main aim of these punishments was to instill fear in others. However, there was a number of important revolts that significantly influenced the future of slavery in the United States (Stono Rebellion, the New York City Conspiracy, Gabriel’s Conspiracy, Nat Turner’s Rebellion and many others).
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Fierce repression did not break the determination of the slaves to seek their freedom. Anti-slavery pamphlet ‘An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World’, published by a free African – American and anti – slavery activist David Walker in 1829, raised a new wave of movement for equally and freedom. Abolitionist movement to protect slaves took place from 1830 to 1860 in the Northern states of America. Its main leaders were Fredrik Douglas, William Lloyd Garrison, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. There were two views on slavery among abolitionists. Supporters of the first view believed that slavery is forbidden in real Christianity, and it was a big sin, while the supporters of the second view believed that slavery was not economically viable and was a very repressive system. However, people of both views contributed to the creation of a system of the Underground Railroad that helped to save approximately 40 – 100 thousands of slaves.
Rapid economic growth of the U.S. in the first half of the 19th century led to discussions about limiting or even abolishing slavery. More and more states were against the practice of slavery. The tension between slave and slave-free states reached a critical point in 1860, when the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln became a president. Within three months, seven southern states withdrew from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America. Although Lincoln opposed slavery, he did not want to immediately split the nation for the sake of this crucial problem. Only later, in connection with military necessity (approximately 186000 of African-Americans fought on the side of the army of the Union by the end of the war and nearly 36000 of them died for the ideals of freedom) and the growing abolitionist movement in the Northern states, Lincoln dared to take that historical step (Ruef, 2016). On September 1862, Lincoln issued a preliminary version of the proclamation of the abolition of slavery, and on January 1, 1863, he proclaimed officially that, “All persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free” (Green, 2006, p. 122). This Proclamation freed more than 3000000 of ‘black slaves’ and allowed the Union to get support from the international community in the final stage of the Civil War. The adoption of the 13th Amendment formally abolished slavery at the end of 1865. However, the provisions of former slaves were still very tense, especially during the Reconstruction Era.
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In conclusion, it is necessary to state that slavery is an intricate and complicated historical, economic, political, social, racial, and cultural problem that is deeply and significantly connected with the past, present, and future of the United States. Nowadays, the young generation should analyze, evaluate, and understand the events of this horrible period of American history in order to avoid similar social mistakes in the future and to live in a prosperous community where equality, human rights, and democracy occupy the central place. In other words, the period of slavery was a significant lesson in the history of the world in general and the history of the United States of America in particular that everyone should remember and respect.