Antebellum Slavery/Economics

Economics Section Objectives
Section Objectives

Peter Langley
Kevin Clark
Miguel Vazquez
Arianne Diaz

Once the colonies were established, colonial leaders faced a long-term problem. If they were to become rich, they had to recruit a labor force. Acquiring land was easy for a man of means, since land in America was so plentiful. But acquiring labor was a constant problem. The small farmer could rely on his family but a man with broad acres needed extra hands.

One possible source was obviously the Indian. And colonists repeatedly tried to enslave the Indian. As late as 1708 South Carolina held 1,400 red men in bondage as compared to 4,100 Africans. But colonists found that enslaving the Indian was more trouble than it was worth. In any case, the supply of Indian force was minute compared to the need. So the colonists looked to England and indentured servitude. But it was not until after 1700 that slavery began to displace white servitude as the most significant form of forced labor. Especially in the southern colonies, where large-scale commercial agriculture was the way of life, slaves became the work force on many plantations. Almost before the colonies realized it, they had built a society and economy that was profoundly dependent on human bondage. By 1750, the largest single stream of immigration into British North America was composed of black slaves from Africa. And by 1860, a little more than half of the population of the southern states was composed of black slaves.

The issue of slavery is what began the division between the North and the Old South. The South relied on slavery more than the North mainly because of geographical and economical differences. The northern states’ economies were extremely dependent on the newly emerging manufacturing industry whereas the southern states became more concerned with farming and the possibilities of their extremely fertile soil. With so much land to be cropped, there was a great need for blacks in the South. So when we begin to discuss antebellum slavery and its effects on the American economy, we will focus most of our attention to the southern states. Furthermore, the most profitable effects that slavery had on the American economy came in the areas of slave trading and in the cotton industry.


Diagram of slaveship used during Middle Passage