The import of slavery for the South

The South’s enormous economic stake in slavery far outweighed the impact of protective tariffs on its income.  In 1860, the aggregate value of slaves as property was $3 billion, nearly 20 percent of the nation’s wealth.  The value of slaves was more than 50 percent greater than the capital invested in railroads and manufacturing combined, a calculation that excludes the value of land in southern plantations.  Slavery generated a stream of income that enable overall white per capita income in the south to approximate that of northern whites.  In the seven cotton states, nearly a third of white income came from slave labor.

That is from the new Douglas A. Irwin book on trade policy, Clashing Over Commerce: A History of US Trade Policy.


I'm going off memory here, but slave agriculture itself amounted to about 6% of national GDP, and disproportionately high percentage of exports (~50%).

This book sounds right up my alley. I'm sorry to hear it's not coming out until November, and only in hardback so far.

So the crops yielded 6% of GDP, the labor component of costs was, what, 50%, maybe less, so that's 3% of GDP and yet it was worth 20% of national wealth? Doesn't sound like it adds up.

"and yet it was worth 20% of national wealth? "

I think the 20% or "national" wealth is actually referring to the South.

"The South’s enormous economic stake in slavery far outweighed the impact of protective tariffs on its income. In 1860, the aggregate value of slaves as property was $3 billion, nearly 20 percent of the nation’s wealth. "

The South was roughly 1/7th (from memory) of the national economy at the time. IE 20% of the US South GDP, but only 3% of the US Total GDP.

I thought $15BN for the nation's wealth in 1960 sounded very low, but I found a GDP estimate of $4.4 BN (not sure how credible). Current GDP is about $19.2TN and wealth is about $93 TN about 5:1 so maybe not so far off.

It's weird how much smaller the numbers were back then, but in 1860 $1 was a lot of money.

"a calculation that excludes the value of land in southern plantations"

I think this is the key phrase. It probably excludes all land value for the country which would have been the main asset and source of wealth. Not including that makes the percentage much bigger.

I would add that without a government-backed currency, pre-civil war economic transactions tended towards barter or accepting the risks involved in using private banknotes or foreign currency (like Spanish doubloons), both of which were frequently counterfeited and rarely policed by law enforcement. What are the stores of value in 1860? Gold, land and slaves?

"Wealth" and "Income" are not synonyms.

True and good point.

someone needs to do present day american ruling class and their latino domestics

Just a question, 50 WHAT greater than the capital? % or times or?

So, a quick read of this post reveals....from an economic viewpoint, slavery was good?

I think Tyler is trying to imply that slavery was more important to the south than tariff policy, and as such slavery is more likely to be a cause of the Civil War than disputes over tariffs.

Wait, what?

The civil war was about slavery?

Tyler should publish a paper about this!

Economist Thomas DiLorenzo is the most prominent proponent of tariffs as the primary Civil War cause. He addresses the issue in two books about Abraham Lincoln-- “The Real Lincoln” and “Lincoln Unmasked”.

@Hadur - yes, my post was about Poe's law (irony); I think the many causes of the Civil war have slavery as a central issue, followed by "our way of life" (state's rights) and then economic causes (tariff policy), that seems to be the consensus. Remember, this is about 'averages'; most Northerners including the early Lincoln did not believe against slavery that much, and in fact when Blacks started moving to the North, the northerners were against them.

There had been blacks in the North since colonial times-- in fact the Northern states originally had slavery too. The first person accused of witchcraft at Salem was an African slave, Tituba. When the Northern slaves were freed (a process not complete until the 1840s) the freed Northern slaves generally stayed in the North.

Just as the American Revolution was a later chapter in the English Civil War, so too was the War Between the States a conflict between the Puritan Northeast and the Cavalier South. Slavery was ostensibly the causus belli but the reality is that the Hub City Protestants had an insane hatred for the southern Catholics. Slavery was just an excuse. After all, it had been common in the north not many years earlier. Much has changed since but the Protestant world-view, vividly displayed in the immensely popular Pilgrim's Progress, survives to this day, even in the South itself.

Any excuse, Chuck?

How did this become a Protestant v Catholic thing? If anything, more Catholics would have ended up fighting for the North, I think, given that the Irish immigrants were being conscripted in high numbers.

Hub City Protestants had an insane hatred for the southern Catholics

There were hardly any Southern Catholics in 1860. Maryland, Louisiana, and Florida had significant Catholic populations, not the other slave states (in Maryland, around 10%).

In which Ray presumes he would be an owner.

Wouldn't it be likely that Southern GDP/wealth would be higher if the slaves were paid laborers?

Yes but not per capita

The South didn't threaten industrial Europe: the South supplied the raw materials (mainly cotton) for industrial Europe to make finished goods. The industrial North, on the other hand, threatened industrial Europe. America was essentially two countries, and that applied up until post-WWII economic development in the South. Of course, the two countries of America fought an open war in the 19th century and continue to fight a cold war today. Labor in the South was just beginning to experience the kind of economic prosperity that had become expected in the North when the new wave of globalization vanquished labor in both North and South. One might expect peace in the two countries of America as a result (since their fates are now tied), but such is not the case. At least not as of today. Labor in the North blames China and Mexico, while labor in the South blames everybody not in the South. Hope for a future without conflict among nations will depend on the world being flat, wages in America the same as wages in China. On the other hand, flat wages across countries will likely restore the labor/capital conflict predicted by Marx: no, we are not all in this together.

"...we are not all in this together..."

Correct. My elite friends like to squash compalints with the "we are all in this together" bromide. I say, "No! We are not in this together!". They live in quiet, safe, clean, and beautiful apartheid neighborhoods, their kids go to plush, richly financed public STEM high schools and summer robotics camps, they fo on exotic vacations, their kids take on free, reaume enhancing and personally enriching summer internships instead of menial summer jobs, and more ...

No, we are not in this together.

You are not included in the "We"

Rabble rouser rayward? The only people in the south against the north are racist IMO. Having been there several times.

"Of course, the two countries of America fought an open war in the 19th century and continue to fight a cold war today."

There's no Cold war today. There's a minor culture clash. Trump is a New Yorker that's President that won to a large degree on his Southern support. There's no "violence" along the "border". For that matter most Americans probably couldn't agree on where such a hypothetical border would lie.

Indeed, the only talk of succession that's prominent in current news is Calexit. I guess you could make a better argument, ( though still extremely weak), that there's a Cold war between California and the rest of the US.

"There’s a minor culture clash."

It's not minor. Carl Bernstin was just quoted as saying we have a "cold civil war" going on this country right now. I believe him.

What are the hallmarks of a cold civil war? Facebook posts, angry twitter rants or actual weapons development?

The US is in a Cold War with North Korea, they are developing ballistic missiles and we are developing anti-ballistic missiles and coordinating with regional allies. What is the metric to call this a cold war?

"It’s more urban vs rural. With suburbs being the battleground."

I think that's more accurate than a purely regional vs regional attribution.

Yes, but I don't think it's correct to say that civil war is between "North" and "South".
Much of Trump's support comes from the mid-west, from the traditional bastions of industry and labor, not from some agrarian South that harkens back to the era of slavery and Jim Crow.

It's more urban vs rural. With suburbs being the battleground.

I think it's more manufacturing vs. tech.
Blue collar vs. white collar.

Blue collar vs white collar?

So, a kind of class war? (I believe it. Trump has achieved a takeover of the working classes, but the question is, what will he do for them?)

Wait, that's a question? Not really, the answer is he will do nothing for them. Why should he? And even if he wanted to, there's not much he can do for them.

I'm thinking more "new economy" vs. old. We need more different colors of collars. There should be a separate color for tech vs. management and finance. Actually tech doesn't even wear a collar. They wear T-shirts and sweaters. How do you classify people working in startups and the gig economy? White collar seems like a slightly odd label.

I don't think this is really the case anymore. Witness the migration back to the South, the growth of Atlanta as a major economic hub, and the increase in manufacturing jobs in the South, after the decline of the Rust Belt. The South is much less agrarian and much more industrial today, I suspect coming into parity with the Mid-west.
IIRC, there was a map posted some time ago showing a higher concentration of racist tweets and google searches coming from the mid-west than the South as well.
Meanwhile, the West, Mountains and Coast represent distinct regions of their own which puts the South on a footing as just one of several different competing regions instead of one side of a binary system. I think only people in the North-east think of America in terms of a dual pole North vs. South dynamic, if that.

"and continue to fight a cold war today."


It's possible once we postulate differences among political blocs in the U.S. to postulate differences among political blocs in the South.

E.g., the vast majority of non-slave owning Southerners may have had different reasons for fighting the Civil War than the plantation owners and the plantation owners from other slave owners.

One parallel might be estate taxes today. Many middle earners oppose multimillionaire estate tax because they are "aspirational millionaires."

Aspirational owners?

One can hate black people and want them to remain at the bottom rungs of society without formally owning them.

Moreover a lot of people who were not, officially, slave owners were members of slave-owning families.

In the books I've read on slaveholding in the South, it said that a large number of slaves were owned singly by families owning smallish farms.

I thought only like 1.5% of whites in the South owned a slave?


No, that's off by an order of magnitude.
Around 10% of Southerners were slave owners, but if you extend that to people who were members of slave holding families it's up to around 40%.
I think the 1% figure may be the number of people who owned more than 100 slaves (i.e., large plantation owners-- the 1% of their time and place)

First, plantation agriculture gets most of the attention whenever people discuss slavery but there were lots of other applications of slavery. Many kept slaves as household servants or assistants for the owner's small business, for instance. Washington, D.C. had a large slave population despite having a notable lack of cotton plantations. The percentage of white southern families who owned slaves seems to have been around 20-30% -- less than a majority but more than the 1.5% figure quoted below and large enough to include a chunk of the white southern bourgeoisie.

Second, some non-slave-owning southern whites (and certainly their slave-owning neighbors) were concerned about what life would be like if slaves were freed or if there was any weakening of the grip of slavery on local laws and institutions. Mississippi and South Carolina were black-majority in states 1860 and some other states were not far behind. Were rebellions such as those led by Nat Turner and John Brown or the successful slave revolution in Haiti a sign of what awaited the South? Much like white South Africans under appartheid, people were scared of revolution or retaliation from the group their institutions had victimized for so long and so double-downed on a system that they might not have even benefited from economically.

The opinions about leaving were not even equally shared between the states themselves. NC, VA, TN, and AR did not secede until the Union asked for them to supply troops to attack their neighbors.

It would be interesting to estimate what the southern states were paying for their manufactured goods "imported" from the North and compare that with the cost of the same goods imported from England or other countries. I seem to remember that at the times of the tariffs of abomination, tariffs approached 90%, and most of manufactured goods in the South were imported.

In general terms, the debate of slavery vs tariffs as the cause of the war has one misleading point: the equivalency of Secession and War. The Secession (at least the first wave) happened for the slavery issue, but the Secession per se didn't have to imply war. Sure, there was the Constitution with the "indissoluble" clause, but it is difficult to imagine that if, for example, California declared secession today, the federal state would be willing to wage war against it, accepting a few millions dead (the equivalent of the 600.000 of the civil war). In the few months after the Secessions was declared and the tariffs were brought down in the South, there was a kind of relief in the main Northern newspapers, something like: "ok, finally it is settled and each part of the country can go ahead with its business". Also, many real abolitionists before the Secession of the South were pushing for the Secession of the North, in order to eliminate the Fugitive Slave Acts and make slavery in the South much more difficult to maintain. The position in the newspapers changed radically after the Southern states brought radically down the tariffs. After all, the War started at Fort Sumter.

There would be war if California seceded.

And the main Northern newspapers you refer to were Democratic newspapers like the New York Herald, who changed their tune in the face of violent riots against their position. And that was in New York City, a majority of whom were against Republicans. The firing on Fort Sumter galvanized opposition. Most of your post shows broad familiarity with pro-Southern revisionist history, as if one or two abolitionists or one or two newspapers reflect broad trends, and are not simply cherry-picking.

Well, I hope there will not be war in case New Hampshire secedes because of the Free-staters, and frankly, I can't see how the people of the US would accept the shooting of ordinary citizens in passive resistance.

Regarding "Pro-southern revisionist History", I am amused by this Manichaeism, usually on the Left, but sometimes on the Right too. 'Oh, you are critizing Trump, so you must be for Clinton". 'Oh, you think that Lincoln was the worst President in the US history and a war criminal, so you are a white supremacist". The fact that I think Trump and Lincoln are two assholes doesn't imply that I like the other two assholes, Clinton and, say, Jefferson Davis. Try to read Lysander Spooner, a radical abolitionist that was against the War. He can hardly be a "contemporary revisionist".

I did not suggest that there were not abolitionists with peculiar views, just that people that ascribe to such isolated individuals great importance in the causes and reasons for the war have peculiar revisionist views themselves.

Look, PD, everybody is necessarily speculating at least a bit, after all there was no Gallup back then. Yes, I probably have an agenda, I am a market anarchist and as such I would love the US to go back at least to the Articles of Confederation, and Lincoln (with Hamilton and Jackson you can probably say) is the individual that most advanced the supremacy of the federal state over the States and the supremacy of the Executive over the other branches in the XIX century.

However, IMHO you can hardly buy the official history with most of the population of the North willingly going to a horrorific war to free their fellow black human beings in the South. Racism in the North was pervasive (just as an example look at the "sundown cities" with their official signs of "ni*++, don't let you be found in the city limits after dark"). Also, freedom of blacks in the south would have meant a massive emigration to the North and lower wages for unskilled labour due to higher competition. You might say that the riots were "isolated incidents", but the need for conscription speaks volumes.

The war (as any offensive war) would not have happened if there was not an elite pushing for it through politics and public rethorics. Maybe this elite was moved by modern ideology about human rights. I consider it more likely that it was for money, and the key fact was the impending loss of the captive Southern market for the tariffs issue.

The Republican Party platform was clear: limit slavery, not abolish it. The reasons for its popularity are set in motion by a series of events (Mexican-American War; Compromise of 1850; Kansas-Nebraska Act; and Dredd Scott) where slavery continuously expanded beyond the previous agreed status-quo, ultimately reaching the Supreme Court crescendo that property in man must be recognized in all states, such as that there are no free states. Within the background of these events, being opposed to slavery does not mean that one necessarily has egalitarian racial views or even a moral imperative to free some distant luckless people. It means that they don't want to live in a slave society. That's what brings the Republicans to power, a conservative desire for free institutions and traditional marketplace arrangements.

Given your ideological priors, I recommend Richard Franklin Bensel's "Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority -- 1859-1877." The Confederacy was relatively more willing, based upon tradition and war-making necessity, to embrace statism:

Re: I seem to remember that at the times of the tariffs of abomination, tariffs approached 90%, and most of manufactured goods in the South were imported.

Bear in mind that would have only affected a small fraction of the population in any major way. Most goods in the those days were produced in or near the home. A few general consumption goods, like quinine for malaria, molasses, coffee and tea, did come from abroad, but only the wealthy imported a lot of things, mainly luxuries.

Re: The Secession (at least the first wave) happened for the slavery issue, but the Secession per se didn’t have to imply war.

True, but the secessionists fired the first shots (quite literally-- fiery secessionist orator Edward Ruffin was given the honor of firing the first canon against Fort Sumter .)

I don't know the figures of importing from outside the US and from the North, Jon. Also, I don't know if there were still export tariffs on cotton or tobacco. I understand that there was virtually no metallurgy nor textile industry in the South. But I think an estimate of what was the extra-cost on the Southerners due to protectionist tariffs would be interesting to compare with the estimate of the value of slaves provided in this post.

I can find no references to export tariffs in US history.
As I noted above import tariffs were unlikely to be an issue to the majority of non-wealthy Southerners. But then, it was the wealthy who ran things in the South-- quite literally in some cases as there were still property qualifications for voting in some parts of the South right up until the Civil war.

If I'm not mistaken, property qualifications were in force in South Carolina, not the other states.

There is no "indissoluble" clause in the U.S. Constitution. Really.

The "more perfect" reference, supposed to reinforce the "perpetual union" of the XIII in the Articles of confederation, formally translated in "indissoluble" by Scotus in Texas vs White, 1869.
If your point is that all this is bullshit, and wars happen usually for concrete interests and not for legalistic interpretations, I fully agree with you.

There is also no reference to "Secession".

Just as there are speculators in stocks and real estate today, there were speculators in slaves back then. Of course, the most successful speculators understood basic economic principles, including supply and demand, and often manipulated both in order to maximize speculative profits from trading in slaves. For example, making new states slave states affected demand and, thereby, the price of slaves. Anybody who has visited Charleston and seen the size of the slave market will appreciate the importance of the slave market in the South.

There was a global Cotton Bubble in the late 1850s that inflated the amour propre of white slaveholders in the South: "Cotton is king!" When the Confederates embargoed the export of cotton in 1861 to force British support, Manchester mill owners quickly found other warm weather places that could grow cotton such as Brazil, Egypt, and India. (They'd already been stockpiling raw cotton in case of American civil war, which boosted prices.) After the Civil War, the South could much less afford to be haughty because the cotton market was less inflated.

I've never seen any informed speculation about what would have happened if, say, President Stephen Douglas had peacefully held the Union together through political guile until the inevitable fall in cotton prices. Perhaps Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina (tobacco states that were less obsessed with ideologically defending slavery) would have led a compromise that involved the chastened cotton states submitting to union in return for a federal buyout of slaves, while fire-eating South Carolina was expelled as a bad apple or militarily defeated in a small war.

The notion that a giant civil war killing 750,000 Americans was historically inevitable seems mostly like an excuse for not mentioning Lincoln's incompetence and passivity early in his Presidency, which he devoted largely to interviewing local postmaster candidates. This led his Secretary of State Seward to attempt a cabinet coup early in Lincoln's presidency. Lincoln swatted aside Seward and his plan for uniting America over the growing foreign policy crisis of European violation of the Monroe Doctrine in Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Because Lincoln personally dominated Seward in a Trump-like manner in the encounter, it's assumed that Seward didn't have a point in trying to head off America's worst disaster.

What are your views on the cotton gin SS?

It's impossible to read the rhetoric of the 1850s and envision any course of action that could have peacefully induced the Southerners to end slavery. That ship had sailed long before. Probably the last chance was shortly after US independence when slavery was forbidden in the old Northwest Territories-- had that ban been made general in all territories the slavery boom of the 1820-1850s would have been averted and slavery would have been limited to stretch of states from Georgia up to Maryland. The interests of the newer Southern states to the west would have patterned more with the Western states to their north.

Douglas lacked the political guile to keep the Democratic Party together.

The upswing in cotton prices, coupled with a recession in the North, probably boosted Southern confidence in their institutions and chances of success in seceding, but I think you are arguing against a largely accepted economic history originating from Fogel's Time on the Cross, that slavery was a highly successful institution that was growing and there is no reason to think (as once was common) that it would whither on the vine.

In Douglas' defense, when Chief Justice Taney decided the slavery issue once and for all, he destroyed Douglas' popular sovereignty position and left Douglas no political position that was acceptable to both flanks of the Democratic Party.

The Dred Scott decision did not overturn state laws against slavery. It did state that the United States could not ban slavery in the territories. However when a territory became a state it was free to ban slavery (as Kansas did in 1861).

No. Dred Scott allowed any Southern slaveholder to import slaves into a free state.

Only on a temporary basis-- while traveling through or vacationing there. which was already true de facto-- wealthy Southerners vacationing at Saratoga Springs in New York routinely brought their maids and valets with them without fear they would walk away free. If a Southerner became a resident of the state then the state's laws on slavery applied to him.
The more crucial issue however was that slaves were defined as non-persons under the laws-- they had no rights under the Federal Constitution the Courts were bound to respect at all. In effect, they could not sue for freedom themselves.

Slavery grew as long as the United States was adding new territory that was practical for slave-based agriculture (and the residents were willing to vote to allow slavery). That came to a stop in the 1850s.

Of course, the "new territory" that you mention was "old home" for its native inhabitants, removed by swindle, murder or disease to achieve manifest destiny. Lincoln himself was a volunteer militia man during the so-called Black Hawk War in 1832 so he had no problem killing and dispossessing members of one race while ostensibly coming to the rescue of another.

its native inhabitants, removed by swindle, murder or disease

"Native inhabitants" = the people who ejected the previous generation of 'native inhabitants".

War certainly could have been avoided and slavery would eventually have been abolished one way or another.

However, anyone who has watched the Ken Burns documentary would understand why it happened. Americans wanted to fight. It was a grand adventure that we still enjoy mythologizing to this day.

I'm sure Democratic Party press agent Femme Burns is an absolutely reliable reporter of American history.

"The notion that a giant civil war killing 750,000 Americans was historically inevitable seems mostly like an excuse for not mentioning Lincoln’s incompetence and passivity early in his Presidency, which he devoted largely to interviewing local postmaster candidates."

Lincoln sworn in: March 4, 1861
Fort Sumter attacked: April 24, 1861

The notion that a giant civil war killing 750,000 Americans was historically inevitable seems mostly like an excuse for not mentioning Lincoln’s incompetence and passivity early in his Presidency,

You've been paying to much attention to the peddlers of neo-Confederate historiography at von Mises. Compensated manumission was attempted in Delaware, a state with a small slave population. It was a complete failure.

"In 1860, the aggregate value of slaves as property was $3 billion"

How much did the Civil War wind up costing? I bet it was more than even the peak cotton/slave Bubble value of $3 billion.

How much did the federal government's Western lands end up being worth when developed in peacetime?

Ralph Waldo Emerson had suggested a $2 billion buyout of slave-owners.

"How much did the Civil War wind up costing? I bet it was more than even the peak cotton/slave Bubble value of $3 billion"

This data would imply that the Civil War cost significantly more than $3 billion. The US deficit went from around $90 million in 1861 to $2.8 billion in 1866. It looks likely that the Federal government spent more than $3 billion alone and that was just one side.


And that was just the monetary cost. Too bad the bailout idea didn't happen, although there was probably no way to avoid the War short of allowing Secession to take place. "Way of life" (culture) is a thing as the 2016 election proved. I doubt the South would have acquiesced to a bailout. Also, once the owners are paid for the slaves, how do the newly freed millions live? Do they stay put and just get paid now by their former masters? War was probably necessary.

The Southern slave owners had no desire to accept a bailout.

Union slaveowners in the four slave states that stayed with the North didn't even seem to have any interest in a bailout when Lincoln brought up the idea a few times around 1862.

The biggest issue with a buyout was what to do with the newly freedmen. Leaving them in place was not considered a viable option by many.

Most abolitionists coupled support for compensated emancipation schemes with colonization.

Seymour Drescher places the cost of the Civil War at more than three times the value of slaves in 1860. (Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery)

How much would not fighting the Civil War have cost, in lives and money and misery?

And along the plains of Nebraska, Augustine admired a vast, green-speckled checkerboard. Until Lorenzo’s groans woke him from the parallax, and Now, somewhere around Fort Collins, as he placed the bottle down and swallowed the remnants left, a single raindrop splashed. The apparition sprinted forth and hurdled the sun, bending its scales like a manifold trout.

Would be interesting to see a comparison with serfs in Europe, which were still prevalent in the 1800s.

In Russia for example about 1/3 of the people were serfs under private (not state) landlords until abolition in 1861. While slavery officially ended in the late 1700s, a huge share of the population was still being bought and sold with the land up till the American civil war. Over 20 million Russian serfs compared with 3-4 million US slaves on the eve of the war.

And that's just Russia. Serfdom was the norm throughout Europe.

A quick perusal of Wiki indicates that serfdom officially disappeared in most of Christian Europe by 1848 (the Austrian Empire). However, the Ottoman Empire didn't eliminate it (de facto) until 1880.

The US Civil War didn't end slavery but it gets all the attention.

Also, there were a few European hold outs: Iceland didn't eliminate serfdom until 1894 and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1918.

In western Europe serfdom disappeared in the generations after the Black Death, though the outmoded legal institutions survived until Napoleonic times.
Eastern Europe recreated serfdom in the calamitous 17th century as (believe it or not) a humanitarian measure-- landowners became responsible for the well being of their tenants; and the tenants had to remain and bring in harvests rather than running away at the first sign of trouble

"In western Europe serfdom disappeared in the generations after the Black Death, though the outmoded legal institutions survived until Napoleonic times"

I'm not sure that's correct.

"The era of the French Revolution (1790s to 1820s) saw serfdom abolished in most of Western Europe, while its practice remained common in Eastern Europe for another century or more. ...In German history the emancipation of the serfs came in 1770-1830,...In sharp contrast to the violence that characterized land reform in the French Revolution, Germany handled it peacefully."

That doesn't seem to match the phrase: "outmoded legal institutions survived until Napoleonic times".

Serfdom qua serfdom disappeared in western Europe in the late Middle Ages due to the demographic dislocations of the Black Death. Any in-depth history of the era should explain that.
Many countries (Britain was an exception) still had serfdom-era laws on the books, and these were used "creatively" by landowners against peasant tenant farmers-- however those peasants were in no sense "serfs".

Although New York State voted for Lincoln, Democratic NYC voted against him becasuse they reaped lots of money from the Southern slave-cotton trade.
I suggest people look into the indentured/convict servant trade that preceded the African slave trade. Runaways and other problems eventually led to the increased African labor who were treated better than the convicts - 10% of the African slave trade came to the U.S.

In 1860, the aggregate value of slaves as property was $3 billion, nearly 20 percent of the nation’s wealth. The value of slaves was more than 50 percent greater than the capital invested in railroads and manufacturing combined,

But notice that freeing the slaves would not have destroyed one penny of that wealth. It would have transferred it to its rightful owners - the freed slaves themselves.

Slavery generated a stream of income that enable overall white per capita income in the south to approximate that of northern whites.

Again, abolition would not have destroyed that income. It would have redirected it - increased by the difference in productivity between slaves and free workers - to its rightful recipients.

What is the net return on a slave? They get sick, injured, and old, they have babies, they require heavy policing, they have practically no positive incentive to work hard or even efficiently. Cheap labor my ass.

Child slaves were worked as soon as they could be. Elderly slaves were worked until they were on their death beds. (Note: child and elder labor was general in those days among free peoples of limited means too). There was fairly little medical care for anyone beyond home remedies. People who fell ill either recovered-- or died.

Presumably the planters preferred slaves, with all those issues, to hiring free workers, so there is that.

Of course widespread slavery makes the economy quite inefficient. Aside from the fact that slaves have every incentive not to work hard, having labor available at below market prices will distort decisions about the best use of resources, and will also discourage industrialization.

The economic effect is to support an oligarchy.

The fears of a slave rebellion like Haiti were a big part of the South's reluctance to just free slaves. In emancipation and repatriation plan combined with some compensation could well have peeled away the upper South states. Especially in the hands of a better politician than Lincoln. Remember, Virginia only voted to go to war after Lincoln raised the militia and when it became clear that if they stayed in the union 500 Virginia boys who waited Harpers Ferry would probably get the noose. Virginia was looking for an excuse to stay in the union.

The fears of a slave rebellion like Haiti were a big part of the South’s reluctance to just free slaves.

I doubt it. I'm sure there were such fears, but "a big part of the South's reluctance?" I'd say the reluctance was primarily economic.

Besides, whose fault was it that the slaves might have wanted to rebel and get vengeance on the slaveowners? Don't own slaves, and you don't have to worry about a slave rebellion.

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