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Causes of the Expansion of Slavery

Info: 1883 words (8 pages) Essay
Published: 18th May 2020 in History

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Looking back on American history, specifically the time period where slavery was prominent,  different influences can cause a person to come up with different philosophies that can either approve or disapprove with what took place in history.  American history is a topic that covers and represents different parts of life and different cultural traditions that can stimulate different viewpoints in regards to the influence of how American culture has effected society.  One factor that is misrepresented in American culture is slavery.  Prior to the Civil War, slavery was never even thought of or taken into account as being uncalled for because the majority population were the ones that encouraged slavery. 

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Throughout American history there have been wars off and on with other countries and historians have reported on those wars and the aggression that took place.  Historians have even reported on the civil war that was detrimental and took the lives of many individuals so that citizens of the United States could have their freedoms.  What most historians forget to talk about, are the individuals that did not gain their freedom right away and had to wait almost another 100 years before their freedoms were granted.  The book, The Half Has Never Been Told:  Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, describes in great detail what these individuals had to endure due to the control of slavery.   The author, Edward E. Baptist goes into great detail how slavery was a factor in how capitalism was operated throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by violence from their slave owners.  The relationship between slavery and capitalism is essential to comprehending the roots of the modern world.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Baptist discusses that slavery and capitalism were linked, “The interlinked expansion of both slavery and financial capitalism was now the driving force in an emerging national economic system that benefited elites and others up and down the Atlantic coast as well as throughout the backcountry.”[1]  At the very beginning of the book, Baptist provides a concise summary of the American history that most American’s have never heard or been taught before. Baptist gives a lot of information that accurately details how America really began and how it is today.  Baptist even mentions that slavery and the history of America are still not changed to this day. [2] One theory is the economic system, the way America still produces and trades commodities and how American slavery was essentially not the same as the rest of the modern economy and detached from it.[3]   In essence, there were always stories about industrialization where they placed emphasis on white immigrants and how knowledgeable they were for their inventions, but never mention the cotton fields and slave labor.[4]  The slave owners made money off their slaves and treating them in a way that should be considered a crime and this side of the story is never talked about in American history. 

One thing that allowed for the expansion of slavery in the south was cotton.  Cotton was very valuable during this era and it was more than just a crop.  The American government would attempt to stay out of the way of the plantation owners. Slavery expansion almost immediately generated a more unified government and an economy that was stronger due to the new nationwide capital markets.[5] “In fact, instead of finding slavery’s expansion to be something that they just had to accept, to avoid ushering in a kind of conflict that could break the infant bonds of nationhood, white Americans soon found in it the basis for a more perfect union.”[6]  Capitalism started to expand because cotton was discovered.  Cotton was produced on plantations that were privately owned, Baptist discusses how it brought economic change during that era and is an example of American Capitalism.  The plantation owners did not want the government involved because they did not want to be told how to operate their business and what money they made.  The plantation owners wanted all the control.  One of the big time slave owners Wade Hampton started moving his slaves over into cotton.[7]  Eventually Hampton believed that each “hand” could manage and make sure the cotton would be free from weed for five acres of cotton per a year.[8]  Slave owners eventually figured out that cotton expands slavery, they continued to assume more plantations all over the world so that they could grow more cotton to sell.  Once the cotton gin was developed this made it so the slaves could pick cotton much easier, which also made it easier for the expansion of cotton and slavery to increase.

 Slaves during this era were not treated right, as slaves were moved around America, while being moved around most would walked miles, days, and even weeks, when being shifted around while carrying twenty pounds of iron that strapped them all together.[9]  Slaves were considered property, they had not rights, permanent outsiders (even if they were Christians), they could be beaten to labor, could be sold and moved, and anyone of the African decent was presumed a slave.[10]  This goes to show the mistreatment that the slaves had to endure from their slave owners and it shows how business took place in the early part of American history.  Slave families could be separated from one another and there was a good chance they would never see one another again, just so some slave owner could earn a living or get wealthy off of one individual person. 

Slaves, as mentioned above, definitely were not treated right, but they were what supported the American economy.  Slaves were treated disrespectfully, hatefully, and were extremely abused and that resulted in the slave owners not giving a care in the world how hard the slaves worked.  Some slaves would be so extremely upset about the way they were being treated and being worked into the ground that they would get tired of it and fight back, which would get them beaten to where they would start complying or hung to die.   In chapter 4, the chapter is titled “Left Hand,” the title represent the slaves and how they had to adapt to the many changes that would take place over and over again.  Slave owners were constantly demanding more and it was only getting worse as time went on. Slave owners were in it for the business and so they would have to meet quotas, if quotas were not met, then the wrath would come down on the slaves through a beating.  Slaves, “learn that they had to adapt to pushing or face unpredictable but potentially extreme violence.”[11]  Pushing meant to get the most work out of a slave, even if it had to be done in violence.  This is definitely capitalism at its finest and slavery was at the forefront in the United States because production had to be completed in order to produce a product and production was done by manual slave labor even if it mean inflicting violence.

Baptist throughout the whole book uses explicit descriptions that creates an image that points in the direction that he is wanting those that read his book to see.  Every chapter that one reads, would dig a little bit deeper into how slaves were treated so that white men could benefit.  Slavery in the United States influenced the economy in a way that has not been seen in present times, probably because the economy in that time era believe that slaves were to do the work for free.  Slaves began to even get bought from northern families so that they could be taken to the south so that they could sell them at a higher price.  Baptists noted that the slaves looks like cattle because they would move them in group to head south, “just like a pack of mules.”[12]  This is one of the examples that were very common during this time frame because men were abusing the capitalistic efforts that were permitted in the United States.

In conclusion, slavery was a horrible thing, but Baptist did a very good job explaining and giving very good detail of what really happened.  America does not like to tell what really happened, only wants to give bits and pieces, but one must know so that we know how our country got to where it is today.  Many African Americans lives were taken so that the economy could thrive and grow, while this is not something they wanted to do because they were forced and were placed in horrible working environments where they were taken advantage of and mistreated badly, through acts of violence.  What is even worse if that most slaves died due to the Civil War, which was an outcome of capitalism, selfishness, and greediness that was allowed to take place in America.  Baptist portrayed an image that allowed for his readers to understand how slavery and capitalism were linked together and how the United States produced into a more modern, capitalistic, and wealthy country.

[1] Baptist, Edward, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Boulder: Basic Books, 2012), 51.

[2] Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told:  Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, 17.

[3] Baptist, 17.

[4] Baptist, 17.

[5]  Baptist, 33.

[6] Baptist, Edward, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Boulder: Basic Books, 2012), 33.

[7] Baptist, Edward, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, 54.

[8] Baptist, 116.

[9] Baptist, 25.

[10] Baptist, 27.

[11] Baptist, Edward, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Boulder: Basic Books, 2012), 117.

[12] Baptist, Edward, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Boulder: Basic Books, 2012), 159.


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