Antebellum Slavery/Economics

Economics of Internal Slave Trade and Northern Slavery

The long painful history of black slavery in North America began with the 15th century interaction between Europeans and African tribes. The Portuguese, in the 16th century were the first to introduce slaves to Europe. Slaves taken from the West African coast were taken in Portuguese ships to Spain. As the New World developed, the slaves were brought to Haiti and the Spanish colonies. The Spaniards had attempted to use local Indians to work the mines and plantations but the Indians were not adapted for such labor and most soon died.

Soon many European nations got involved in the slave trade and slave ships traveled frequently between West Africa and the New World. The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) insured that England became the sole supplier of black slaves to the Spanish and eventually North America. The majority of slaves were used for labor on plantations although some were used as house servants.

As the nature of the hardships that slaves had to endure, became known to the Europeans, protests began to occur against the practice of slavery. In The United States opposition against slavery developed earlier in the North compared to the South. The Quakers were one of the many religious groups, which loudly protested against the trade. Denmark abolished the slave trade first in 1792, followed by England in 1807 and The United States in 1808. In 1842, Britain and The United States agreed to keep a naval squadron off the African coast to prevent any further shipment of slaves. Although most European countries soon abolished the practice of slavery, in The United States slaves were not freed until decades of political strife and the bloody civil war.

After the slave trade with Africa was abolished in 1808, an internal slave trade developed within the South. Originally three out of every four Southerners lived in the coastal states of Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina. The largest concentration of slaves was therefore initially in these states. With the growth of the cotton industry in the lower Southern states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas, the need for slave labor in these areas developed. Farmers in the Upper South found it profitable to sell their slaves to the planters in the Lower South. The sale of slaves from the areas with declining plantations of the Upper South to those with booming economies of the Lower South, became a huge business. Both the Upper South and the Lower South depended economically on slavery. The Upper South benefited from the sale of their slaves via the internal slave trade. The Lower South needed these slaves as a work force for their thriving plantations.

In contrast to the situation in the South, the North developed socially and economically quite differently. The abolition of the slave trade with Africa in 1808, coincided with the beginning of a massive immigration of nearly 5 million people from Europe to North America. At the same time, partially as a result of the War of 1812, American economic dependency on Europe decreased. This led to an increase of domestic manufacturing and eventual industrialization of northern society. The new factories that developed in the North were manned primarily by the recent waves of European immigrants as well as domestic labor. There was little economic need to employ slave labor in the new factories of the North. The combination of New England religious background, the abolition of the international slave trade, and the lack of economic need for slave labor allowed the North to develop an anti-slavery position.

Of all the reasons for the existence of slavery in the South and the absence of it in the North, economic motives were probably most instrumental. Religious and moral values of the people of these two areas probably had less to do with their position towards slavery. While slavery essentially disappeared from the North after 1820, the South continued to grow ever more dependent on it. With the onset of cotton as the king cash-crop in the South, and sugar as a close second, both of which required intensive labor forces, slavery became crucial to the survival of the Southern way of life. Although the Missouri Compromise of 1820-1821 allowed for an equal number of free states and slave holding states to exist, this temporary truce only postponed the eventual conflict between the North and South. This led Lincoln to state that the nation would not be able to continue as half free states and half slave states but would have to choose one way or another. The path that he chose for the nation was one of the main reasons for the onset of the Civil War.



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