Sunday, November 18, 2007

Slavery's Influence on American Business

When researching the history of American business, I found it interesting that most articles completely glossed over slavery in their analysis of the American economic model. The absence of one of the most controversial, albeit influential businesses of the 18th and 19th centuries, stood out in my mind and made me realize I needed further research on the topic.

Harold D. Woodman, in his "Profitability of Slavery," writes that slavery was primarily analyzed from a system perspective, rather than a business. Its cruelty and inhumane treatment was much more relevant than whether the plantation owners profited. Regardless, at a time when the South was much more economically backwards and impoverished than the North, many believed slavery to be the one industry that held the promise of wealth for the region. Yet Woodman found that there was a large amount of people who saw slavery as economically crippling to the South: it degraded labor to the point where whites refused to do it, it decreased the value of work so that wages were kept to a minimum, and blocked advances in technology and business when whites were idle and slaves kept ignorant.

Reading both sides of the argument, I believe it can be argued that slavery was detrimental to the Southern economy. The argument can be strengthened through comparison to the North in the same era, which was in the thick of industrialization. We have seen how capitalism has largely contributed to the economic power of the United States, as a free market provides increased opportunity for competition and revenue. Slavery caused the South to be stuck in an agricultural society that provided neither the necessary wages for its citizens to prosper, nor the motivation to change. Consequently, it was the Northern states that encouraged the economy to prosper into modern capitalism.

1 comment:

Morela said...

Interesting to know.