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A Staple Interpretation of Slavery and Free Labor

Carville V. Earle
Geographical Review
Vol. 68, No. 1 (Jan., 1978), pp. 51-65
DOI: 10.2307/213510
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/213510
Page Count: 15
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A Staple Interpretation of Slavery and Free Labor
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Abstract

The geography of slavery and free labor in the pre-1860 United States is interpreted as a rational economic response to the prevailing regional staples and the costs and returns of slave and free labor. Northern farmers rejected slavery because slaves were more expensive than hired day labor in producing the wheat staple, not on grounds of moral-ideological repugnance, as some have suggested. Regions of staple change invited pressures for labor adjustment. Free labor displaced slaves in the colonial Chesapeake, and slavery threatened free labor in the antebellum Midwest. The imminence of slavery in the 1850's Midwest sheds new light on regional politics and on the urgency of the Civil War.

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