Essay on Slavery in America

Published: 2021/11/22
Number of words: 1576

Following the said discovery of the new world by European explorer Christopher Columbus, European powers at the time were quick to rush and establish colonies. They aimed at controlling trade in the Americas and settling of their surplus population. With the industrial revolution taking shape in Europe, the colonialists were in search of raw materials for their factories back home. The native Americans were less in number and had crude weapons compared to those possessed by the Europeans. They were thus easily overrun, and annexation of their land took place. With large tracts of land at their disposal, the colonialists opted for slavery as a method of labor, to minimize production cost and maximize profits. Slavery was based on race. This way, it was not oppression of those they deemed as their own. They enslaved the natives, but a large number would die due to overworking and exposure to new diseases that came with the colonialists.

The European powers would later settle on using African slaves as they were deemed hardier compared to the indigenous people of the Americas[1]. Thus the trans-Atlantic trade was conceived: shipping of slaves to from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean to the colonies, shipping of goods produced using slave labor from the colonies back to Europe, and the voyage from Europe to the shores of West Africa to get more slaves and repeat the cycle. Enslavement of Africans to work on in colonial and post-colonial America was done solely for the economic benefit of the white people involved, and it leads to rapid growth of the American economy.

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Effects of slavery on the American economy

Slavery played a great role in the growth of the American economy. Slave owners would make way more money than they would if the Africans were servants and not slaves. Slaves had no rights. They were treated cruelly and unjustly, with no say in the matter whatsoever. They could not protest or refuse to work due to poor working and living conditions. Those that dared act against their owners would be punished severely to serve as a lesson to the others. With their work on the several plantations, they would bolster the exports of America to Europe. In the 19th century, half of the exports from the United States would consist of cotton grown by the slaves’ over the first six decades of the century. Ripple effects of the slave economy established by the southern states enriched the merchants of New York and Boston who played a role in organizing the trade of the commodities grown by the slaves.

Individual businesses did well due to the slave trade. This resulted in a wider economic development. An economist by the name John Elliott clearly stated that the economy of South was significantly impacted by slavery. The African Americans working on the plantations of the whites in the south had a great impact on the American economy. Since the source of labor was cheap for the southerners, it means they could produce products with paying for the labor. In this regard, there was a positive impact of the slaves on the entire American economy. Those who owned large farms and plantations cultivated crops for sale as well as for domestic use. Cotton was one of the crop which was highly regarded for sale. The entire American nation relied on cotton as a cash crop. Through the export of cotton to the Northern ports, the country was able to earn a lot hence boasting its economy since many bales of cotton were produced annually as exported.

According to John Meyer and Alfred Conrad, there were many returns after investing in slaves. Investment in capital would earn almost same returns like any other form of capital investment. Earnings on slaves were as high as thirteen percent when you compare it to six-eight percent found on the railroads. Due to the increased flocking of slaves in the South, many people started working in the plantations and hence there was increased production which after that resulted in increasing in exports.

Slavery was deemed indispensable in the national economic development in the years between the America Revolution and the Civil war that happened in the mid-19th century. The production of immense tons of raw materials produced would help steer the American industrial revolution. It gave rise to the establishment of cotton mills and tobacco processing firms. These would, in turn, employ the American population living around them[2]. Wealth created would also boost the growth of the banking sector in cities such as New York. The southern states would also yield many millionaires who happened to be slave owners.

Slavery, though widely practiced in the plantations of the southern states, was not used on in the agricultural sector. The slaves were used in urban areas too. About 10 percent of the enslaved population was distributed across some cities on the eastern seaboard[3]. Here, slave occupations included fishing, pottery, tailoring, bricklaying, blacksmiths, and bakers. The result of all this was decreasing production cost for whatever product the slave owners were intent on producing. The slaves’ work was distributed according to gender; the men are taking to the fields while women worked around the house. According to law, any child born to a slave woman would automatically be a slave too[4]. Slave owners would rape their female slaves giving rise to biracial children. The man of the house would usually be the father to the biracial slaves. Due to this, and their lighter complexion compared to the other African slaves, the biracial ones would usually be house slaves; tending to housework rather than be in the fields.

The slaves were also used in the construction of infrastructure that would bring economic benefit — construction of railway lines and roads that would ease transport of people and slave-grown commodities from the farms to the factories and shipping ports. Infrastructure would go on to grow the American economy long after slavery was abolished. Eventually, slavery of Africans in America would come to an end to end following the northern states winning the American civil war. Abraham Lincoln, the American president at that time called for the release of all slaves and making it illegal to import or own slaves within the borders of the United States of America. The Africans would then be free of forced labor but would then have to live as second-class citizens in the nations because as much as they were free, they were still black; the color of their skin which had played a role in their enslavement in the first place. Even as free men, they would not get to enjoy the fruits of the hard work they put in to help the upward spiral of the country’s economy as they would be segregated from those of European heritage[5]. They would continue to work to make a living, but the system would always find a way to keep them down. Slavery was evil, archaic, inhumane and a disgusting thing to have done, but it has played a significant role in making the United States of America the economic juggernaut that it is today.

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Negative impacts of slavery in the American Economy

In the South, capitalism development was greatly hindered by the slavery. According to Eugene Genovese, the antebellum South did not use slaves to seek profit. They did not see slavery as profit making. Those who owned slaves simply, “were keener on flaunting their vast plantations and huge profits and investments. Rational economic decisions were sacrificed for pomp and circumstance.” In America, the economy which relied on slavery at long last was highly disadvantaged. After the abolition of slavery, those businesses which were purely reliant on slaves drastically depreciated.

There was a problem of diversification in the United States. Slavery made trading in the south to be hectic. Slavery hindered slavery in the South, and as a result, the towns and the villages faced development crisis. Those who owned slaves considered producing things by themselves instead of buying. As a result, it was difficult for the South to develop as far as the manufacturing company is concerned. Hence, South had to be over-reliance on the imports from the North. Therefore, the economy in the south was stifled.


Acharya, Avidit, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen. “The political legacy of American slavery.” The Journal of Politics 78, no. 3 (2016): 621-641.

Campbell, Ciara, ed. Slavery in America. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2015.

Kamma, Anne. If you lived when there was slavery in America. Scholastic Inc., 2014.

Schneider, Dorothy, and Carl J. Schneider. Slavery in america. Infobase Publishing, 2014.

Wingmore, Gregory. “Linking the Histories of Slavery: North America and Its Borderlands.” (2017): 479-480.

[1] Acharya, Avidit, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen. “The political legacy of American slavery.” The Journal of Politics 78, no. 3 (2016): 621-641.

[2] Schneider, Dorothy, and Carl J. Schneider. Slavery in america. Infobase Publishing, 2014

[3] Wingmore, Gregory. “Linking the Histories of Slavery: North America and Its Borderlands.” (2017): 479-480.

[4] Kamma, Anne. If you lived when there was slavery in America. Scholastic Inc., 2014.

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