Slavery in British North America and the Caribbean - Essay Example

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The author of this essay "Slavery in British North America and the Caribbean" comments on the slavery institutions in the mentioned countries. It is mentioned that slavery is in many ways the biggest stain on the moral conscience of the western world, and on America especially.  …
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Slavery in British North America and the Caribbean
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 Slavery is in many ways the biggest stain on the moral conscience of the western world, and on America especially. America’s slavery originates in the British system of slavery that permeated its empire, and was imported to the colonies when they were first founded. There is a great amount of debate about the origins and development of slavery. Some argue that slavery was more an institution brought about by economic rather than racial factors, and there were significant differences between the development of slavery in the northern and the southern colonies. While slavery certainly had some significant economic factors, and which were vastly different in the north from the south, the fact remains that slavery was primarily an institution based on race and dehumanization rather than economics.
Slavery in the northern and southern colonies were very different institutions, largely because of the divergent economic development that occurred in those areas. In the northern colonies, cash crops were not the staples of the economy, rather manufacturing and other early industrial practices reigned supreme. These are areas that were not especially suited to the practice of slavery, because they needed highly skilled, willing workers. In this economy slaves usually served either in service professions (maids and so forth) or else as assistants, but were not fundamental to the economy and could easily be changed into low-paid workers. In the south, on the other hand, much of the economy developed around a select group of cash crops, most importantly tobacco and cotton. These crops were both some of the most labor intensive crops to develop – cotton especially took hundreds of hours to pick and process before the development of the cotton gin in the later 19th century. This meant that the southern economy found slavery an especially useful convention, and began building itself more and more around having plentiful unpaid labor. The huge amount of slaves that were involved in the development of the southern colonies also meant that any attempt to move away from the practice of slavery would be especially costly – instead of a business having to pay one or two extra employees, they would have had to pay hundreds, and vastly improve working conditions. This meant that slavery became a much more prolific and important structure in the south than in the north.
This difference in the potency of slavery in the northern and southern colonies, which were based almost exclusively on economic factors, have led many to argue that the slave trade was primarily based on economic need rather than racism per se – it was not that Africans were thought less than human, but that there was such an economic need and they were an exploitable population. There is some defense to this theory, for instance the major differences between slavery that developed in economically dependent places (like the southern colonies) and less so, as well as other institutions such as indentured servitude, which in many ways bore significant similarities to the practice of slavery. An indentured servant, regardless of race, essentially belonged to their master until their debt was paid off, and if they escaped the law could force them to return to their captors. But the practice of slave traders and owners shows that there was a specifically racist mentality to slavery that was very different from all these other institutions. Humans on slave boats were treated as cargo, packed into terribly confined spaces along with hundreds of other slaves, and were overall treated as animals rather than people. Likewise, on slave plantations slaves were treated as animals, for instance being bred rather than choosing to form relationships themselves, and because their children belonged to the slave owner rather than themselves. All of this shows that a main reason slavery was allowed to exist was because the people being used as slaves were thought of as less than human.
There were significant differences between slavery in the north and the south, and a variety of economic and social factors that led to the institution of slavery. The fact remains, however, that slavery could only exist because African peoples were thought of as not human. Read More
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