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PLANTATION

ECONOMY AND
SLAVERY IN AMERICA

Identify the different characteristics of plantation

economy and explain how it generated

resistances from the slaves.

At the time of the American Revolution, slavery was a national

institution; although the number of slaves was small, they lived

and worked in every colony. Even before the Constitution was

ratified, however, states in the North were either abolishing

slavery outright or passing laws providing for gradual

emancipation. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 barred slavery

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from the new territories of that period. Thus, slavery effectively

existed only in the South and became that region's peculiar

institution.

According to Kenneth M. Stampp, the American slavery was a

peculiar institution with its own peculiarities. It developed in

shape and character from 1619 1820s during which slavery

became widespread. Initially its evolution before 1700 was slow

process of gradual growth but the institution became strong,

firm and expansive in the 18th century.

The American revolution of 1776 did not provide political

freedom to blacks. The principle of political philosophy was

limited to whites while to retain the peculiar institution the

humanity of the blacks was downgraded further making post-

revolutionary society of America more white society than its

colonial predecessor.

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Between the first federal census in 1790 and the eve of the Civil

War, the slave population in America increased from

approximately seven hundred thousand to almost 4 million.

The formal end to the foreign slave trade in 1808 had no impact;

the smuggling of slaves was common.

The period also marked the beginning of westward movement

that also led to expansion of slave population and slaveholding

in new territories. It saw the beginning of abolitionist

movement in the northern states. In 1808, ban was imposed on

importation of slaves. In 1820, Missouri compromise banned

slavery from the territories acquired from Louisiana Purchase.

The nationwide distribution of slaves also changed during this

time span. In 1820, slavery was concentrated in the tobacco

growing areas of Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky and

along the coasts of South Carolina and northern Georgia. In

1860, it had significantly expanded into the Deep South,

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particularly Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and

Texas, following the spread of cotton production.

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Cotton Kingdom

Cotton production was originally limited because separating

the seeds from the fibre of the plant variety that grew well

across most of the South was a time - consuming process. The

introduction of the cotton gin resolved this problem and made

the use of large numbers of field hands to work the crop

economical. The cotton generation came into power after 1790

due to demand, technology, land, and labour that came

together to create cotton boom. The demand for cotton came

from Britain, technological advancement through the cotton

gin, development of new strains of cotton, westward expansion

and removal of indigenous tribes brought in new land and War

of 1812 led to expansion of white settlements in westward

region especially in Alabama and Mississippi.

These profound changes led to great forced migration of slaves.

By 1830, southern politicians were talking in terms of

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preserving their distinct slave society. Slavery was now a social

institution, a method of controlling one race by another. It was

now a labour system. It had also become a sectional institution

of the South.

The principal source of slaves for the Cotton Kingdom was the

Upper South, which included the states traditionally

considered to be border statesDelaware, Maryland, and

Kentuckyas well as Missouri, Virginia, North Carolina,

Tennessee, and Arkansas. Agriculture in this part of the South

was diversifying, and although tobacco and rice remained

staple cash crops, more and more land was being devoted to

wheat, corn, rye, and oats for local consumption. Half of the

country's corn was grown in the South. These cereal grains

were not as labour intensive as cotton or tobacco planters in the

region were finding themselves with more slaves than they

needed. Alexandria, Virginia, became a major centre of the

internal slave trade, and according to one estimate, 300,000

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slaves were sold from there into the Deep South in the two

decades before the Civil War.

The use of slave on cotton plantations led to increase in total

output and income which in turn assisted in ability to buy

more land and consequently more slaves by the planters. By the

beginning of 19th century, cotton constituted 50% - 60% of

America's total exports.

The entire institution of slavery was paradoxical in nature.

1. It was racial based on skin colour and bondage was for life

and hereditary with almost no scope for manumission


2. There was a continuous increase in slave population due to

element of paternalism in master-slave relationship.


3. The slaves were a property based on the denial of the slaves

humanity.

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The masters treated their slaves both as humans and property

in their day to day activities which meant that the slave society

was based on double standards.

For the master, there was need for profit paternalism,

economic interest, and social standing.


For slaves, there was resignation, resistance, rebellion, and

accommodation to the slave life.

Slavery was considered as a civilizing institution made

necessary by racial inferiority of Afro-Americans. Plantation

system provided decent living conditions for slaves who were

looked after by their masters from births to deaths. Masters

only gave light punishments and the system was based on give

and take. Therefore, slavery was maintained for racial and

cultural reasons. There was no economic self-interest and it was

believed that it would die peacefully.

According to Kenneth M. Stampp, the plantation system was

evolving an arena of persistent conflict.

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According to Stanely Elkins, it was an oppressive institution

based on inherent internal problems.

There existed significant regional variations in the plantation

economy:

In sugar and rice plantations that required elaborate

irrigation system and machinery for grinding and

threshing that was done only by the planter class. In these

plantations, slaves enjoyed more day-to-day economy as

they worked on their own pace. They all had their

individual kitchen gardens and sold their vegetables in the

market.
In the Upper South, there was shift from tobacco to wheat

production and this led to less supervision on slaves

finally culminating in their manumission. They also

employed agricultural workers and unskilled black labour

who were given food and cash.

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E. D. Genovese

1. American slavery was embedded in the capitalist world

economy.
2. It created a unique form of social relations and new

distinct way of life which made it different from the north.


3. It established a hierarchical society based on paternalism

which linked dominant and subordinate classes in a

complex pattern of mutual responsibilities and obligations

and lacked the spirit of individualism.


4. It was a semi-feudal economic set up in which all

economic activities of the plantation economy were

associated with the slavery.

The South maintained extensive commercial relationship with

the world market and this assisted in the growth of merchant

class and the profit earned flowed back into the plantation

system as the business interest of this class was closely tied up

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with the plantation system. Therefore, they had no interest to

invest their capital profit in industrial expansion.

Banking in the south was a conservative system which

guaranteed the movement of staple crops and extension of

credit to the planter class. Credit was given for land, slave, and

crops. This credit system led to expansion of cotton production

and later overproduction that resulted in the decline of cotton

process and increase in prices of slaves. The banks assisted in

cotton shipment and maintained the value of money. During

the course of time when the plantation economy developed in

the south, it prevented the growth of industries and helped in

consolidation of the plantation system. This, according to

Genovese, meant that the planters were not capitalistic but pre-

capitalistic, quasi-aristocratic landowners who adjusted their

slave economy with the capitalistic world. This also created

southern backwardness as every aspect of southern economy

was tied to slave ownership.

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Result

All the capital was invested in land, crop, and slaves, and not in

industries or urban centres.

Problem (According to Genovese)

1. Slavery concentrated economic and political power in the

planter class who were against wage labour system,

urbanization, industrialization, and high tariff rates.


2. Slavery established the basis of planters position and power

in the southern society based on the system of paternalism

between master and slaves.

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James Ford Rhodes

The plantation economy was an immoral and inhuman

institution based on exploitation of black labour by white men

U. B. Philips

Slavery as a labour system was beneficial to both master and

slave. Blacks were enslaved as they were inferior and

submissive in their behaviour and the institution of slavery

assigned them to become civilized.

Kenneth M. Stampp

Slavery was degrading to both the exploiter and the exploited.

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Stanley Elkins

American slavery is portrayed not only dehumanising but also

a brutal institution that created a sambo personality of slaves

as they became docile, childlike and inferior and compared

slave based plantation system like Nazi concentration camps.

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