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Slavery in the United States - Essay Example

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Historians have long discussed the role of slavery in the agricultural boom of the 1700-1800s in the southern United States. In terms of national history, few disputes have been as hotly contended as the utilization of slavery for economic prosperity and the justifications that utilization entails…
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Slavery in the United States
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Slavery in the United States

Download file to see previous pages... Parish, Ulrich B. Phillips, Gavin Wright, Fogel and Engerman, have concluded their theses as proponents or challengers of slavery as an institution, not on moral grounds, but mainly on principles of economy. The discussion, however, whether slavery was economically profitable, has not concluded in agreement.
Historians have argued over the relative profitability of slavery and the economic factors which must be analysed in order to prove that profitability. It is generally agreed that cotton production propelled the economic growth of the southern United States, which simultaneously spurred the growth of capitalism within the United States.1 But the relative degree of profit the slaveholders themselves gained through the process is questioned. Moreover, the severity of slavery itself, within cotton plantations during the 1700s and 1800s, is an issue where historians have equally not been harmonic. The harshness of the institution is the specific issue whereby historians have debated whether blacks were better off as slaves than freemen. Simply put, the relative profitability of slavery and the harshness of it are intertwined. Featured within profitability is analysis of who profited from the institution of slavery and what their profit was.
Slavery developed for plantation holders to be a profitable tool in the production of cotton, involving the planting, tilling, harvesting, in short, getting the crop to market. As an institution within agriculture, specifically cotton production, slavery became as profitable as it was because of the particular time and place wherein it occurred: cotton plantations in the southern United States during the cotton boom. Slavery would not have been a profitable activity under other circumstances, and minus the lucrative potential of owning slaves, the practise of slaveholding could only be explained as a ruthless, indefensible act of tyranny. Phillips delineates upon the existence of slavery within civilization in terms of economics:
In barbaric society slavery is a normal means of conquering the isolation of workers and assembling them in more productive coordination. Where population is scant and money little used it is almost a necessity in the conduct of large undertakings, and therefore more or less essential for the advancement of civilization.2
Slavery served a definite purpose. The South, with its fertile soils, ideal climate, and long growing season, was the ideal environment to profit within.3
In order to develop that opportunity, large numbers of workers were necessary. In Slavery: History and Historians, Parish expands on Southern agriculture in order to prove that cotton and slavery went hand in hand. Corn was a staple crop of small farmers. However, it did not lead to much profit. Cotton, on the other hand, was profitable, but costly, and ran more risk. Cotton plantation owners, as slaveholders, countered the risk by keeping large numbers of slaves and thereby controlling the allocation of labour according to market activity.4 Gavin Wright calculates that "when output is valued at market prices, cotton comprised about one-quarter of the output of typical slaveless farms, but three-fifths or more for the largest slaveholding cotton plantations." A large quantity of labourers and efficient cotton production went hand in hand to insure market profit.
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