Slavery in the north and south

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The era of Atlantic slave trade witnessed the forceful immigration of over two million slaves who were settled in America mostly in the southern part. This large number comprised of 20% of the whole population in the south. The southern states had taken 90% of all the African Americans in the United States. The history of America remains forever tainted by the issue of slavery, an issue that has played a central role in shaping the destiny of the modern day America.

The south has had a unique experience with slavery creating a state of interdependence that would leave most southerners opposed to any idea leading to granting of any political and civil rights to the blacks. The south region is filled with conservatives embroiled in the backward belief in white supremacy thus having a low opinion of the African American population. The north on the other hand was not predominantly enthusiastic about slavery, a fact seen in their spearheading of abolitionism and Free states.

The main reason why the north had fewer slaves stems from its economic alignment. The northern states were more industrial with the concentration of labor being in the factories. The south on the other hand was predominantly agricultural centering on plantations. These required huge and constant flow of slave labor (Berlin, Ira, 68). By the time of the American Revolution, almost each of the colonies had a considerable number of slaves. Slaves would increase greatly towards the end of the 18th century up to the onset of the civil war.

While the south maintained its increments in slaves, the northern states were passing the emancipation acts. The reduction of the number of slaves in the north greatly coincided with the invigorated calls for the abolition of slavery. Slavery in itself was unethical but the huge profits and its ability to fuel economic growth had been noted and most were ready to turn a blind eye towards it. The abolitionists, both blacks and whites, were mainly driven by ethical and religious considerations; there are others however who were driven by economic considerations.

A new school of thought was cropping up that posited that forced labor was not that all productive. Slave labor was seen as gradually losing its tenacity especially as the north became increasingly industrialized. There grew a need to shift from slave labor to wage labor (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 29). The shift from the agrarian economy to rapid industrialization in the north changed the dynamics of slavery. It was no longer a necessity. There was a growing need for a semi skilled and the slave labor was not particularly suited for this.

This is where indentured labor came in. Indentured labor was a form of labor supplied by many immigrants possessing the required skills; they would enter into a contract with their employers to provide labor for a certain period of time for some limited earnings. The debate has raged on for years over what had preceded the other; the knowledge that slave labor was no longer feasible in the north or the abolitionist considerations. There are those who claim that discovery of the inappropriateness of slave labor may have led to abolition calls.

Others hold that abolition calls had been there but a bit muted until the change in the dominant thought disputing the long held notion about slavery led to intensification of abolitionism. Whatever the case, it had become clear to most northern states that slavery was no longer feasible in such a highly capitalistic and industrializing society. This however does not mean that the potency of slave labor in promoting the economic growth witnessed before was not recognized (Berlin, Ira, 63). There is unanimity amongst most scholars that slave labor played a great role in forming solid bedrock for the American economy to sky rocket.

In his book, Capitalism and Slavery, (1944, 169) Eric Williams is of the opinion that the process from slavery including slave labor in the plantations formed a strong basis along which industrial revolution in northern America would take place. The considerable contribution of slavery to the earlier development is undeniable but it was doubted in the new world and this was the line along which most states in the north treaded. The factories coming up in the north required manual and skilled labor, to get skilled labor required the education and training of the populace and bringing in a fusion of new ideas.

This created a condition that was not conducive for slavery especially when coupled with the abolitionist calls (Clayton E. Jewett and John O. Allen, 14). On the contrary, the south had grown dependent to slavery. Most southern states had a great attachment to slavery. Most southerners had identified an undeniable link between slavery and their economic well being. Slavery in the south was considered to be the drive behind the economic engine as there had been a great demand for cheap labor in the 18th century. This had almost come to change as the production could not be sustained for long due to the depletion of the soil.

Slavery however was reinvigorated by the invention of a new way through which cotton could be processed. Eli Whitney in 1792 discovered the cotton gin. The process of separation of cotton from its seed became less tedious and an insurmountable amount of clean cotton could be produce more than a hundred times what a single slave could produce in a day. Cotton exports to the north and to the increasing factories in England grew rapidly and the southern economy was back on track. Cotton was regarded as a king and more of it was needed to feed the growing demand.

This necessitated the additional flow of labor for that matter. Slaves were the perfect source for this. While almost all states in the north moved away from slavery citing its economic unfeasibility, the south was intensifying its demand for slaves. Cotton was becoming the key product in the south with an ability of sustaining a high level of economic growth. The north on the other hand was rapidly becoming urbanized and industrialized, moving away from the traditional methods of production and forming a solid basis of modernity (David Brion Davis, 26).

A look at the structure of the economy and the institution of slavery gives a glimpse into why slaves were required in large numbers in the south more than in the north. An insignificant portion of slaves in the south were working as domestic workers or craftsmen. The bulk of the slaves were in the plantations mostly picking cotton or doing other menial jobs like harvesting tobacco. The southern states were predominantly rural with no prospects of urbanization and industrialization that had become a common spectacle in the north (Fogel, Robert W, 39).

Most of the southerners had come to recognize the economic potency that lay in slavery and hence could not detach from it. The overhead expenses of feeding and housing the slaves could not surpass the income they generated. Though this profit had been on the decline due to depletion, it picked up steadily especially in the nineteenth century. The demand and prices for most crops in the south were on the increase but the cost of maintaining slaves remained unchanged. The south considered the business of maintaining slaves to be a well paying venture and so did those who sold the slaves themselves (Genovese, Eugene D,33).

The widely held notion that everyone in the south was a slave holder is but an ill advised myth. Majority of the southerners did not own slaves. Slaves were costly to buy and maintain and only the elites afforded to keep them in large numbers. These were the agrarian businessmen well placed in the society unlike the small time farmers who worked with the slaves in the farm. These are the ones who fought tooth and nail against the growing idea that slavery was immoral. They perpetuated the culture of slavery in the south and fuelled the start of the civil war against the Free states in the north (Blassingame, John W, 19).

A comparison of slave ownership between the north and the south might be misconstrued to mean that the northern states had no use for slaves. Slavery was still much alive in the north though not at a level that existed in the south. The process of emancipation began earlier in the north than in the south and with much less opposition. The concept of indentured servants had become a perfect balance between the immoral aspect of slavery and the economic benefits to be reaped from cheap labor (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 18).

The main difference in the needs for slaves between the south and the north stemmed from the nature of their economies. The type of skills and labor required in the rapidly industrializing and urbanizing south could not be met fully through slave labor. South on the other hand was agricultural and required a large supply of labor to support the growing demand of cotton and other produces in the plantations. Slave labor was cheap and unskilled, perfectly suited for the southern states whose economies had become dependent on slave labor.

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