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Slavery's Capitalism

Slavery's Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development

Sven Beckert
Seth Rockman
Copyright Date: 2016
Pages: 416
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    Slavery's Capitalism
    Book Description:

    During the nineteenth century, the United States entered the ranks of the world's most advanced and dynamic economies. At the same time, the nation sustained an expansive and brutal system of human bondage. This was no mere coincidence.Slavery's Capitalismargues for slavery's centrality to the emergence of American capitalism in the decades between the Revolution and the Civil War. According to editors Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, the issue is not whether slavery itself was or was not capitalist but, rather, the impossibility of understanding the nation's spectacular pattern of economic development without situating slavery front and center. American capitalism-renowned for its celebration of market competition, private property, and the self-made man-has its origins in an American slavery predicated on the abhorrent notion that human beings could be legally owned and compelled to work under force of violence.

    Drawing on the expertise of sixteen scholars who are at the forefront of rewriting the history of American economic development,Slavery's Capitalismidentifies slavery as the primary force driving key innovations in entrepreneurship, finance, accounting, management, and political economy that are too often attributed to the so-called free market. Approaching the study of slavery as the originating catalyst for the Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism casts new light on American credit markets, practices of offshore investment, and understandings of human capital. Rather than seeing slavery as outside the institutional structures of capitalism, the essayists recover slavery's importance to the American economic past and prompt enduring questions about the relationship of market freedom to human freedom.

    Contributors: Edward E. Baptist, Sven Beckert, Daina Ramey Berry, Kathryn Boodry, Alfred L. Brophy, Stephen Chambers, Eric Kimball, John Majewski, Bonnie Martin, Seth Rockman, Daniel B. Rood, Caitlin Rosenthal, Joshua D. Rothman, Calvin Schermerhorn, Andrew Shankman, Craig Steven Wilder.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9309-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction. Slavery’s Capitalism (pp. 1-28)

    During the eighty years between the American Revolution and the Civil War, slavery was indispensable to the economic development of the United States. Such a claim is at once self-evidently true and empirically obscure. A scholarly revolution over the past two decades, which brought mainstream historical accounts into line with long-standing positions in Africana and Black Studies, has recognized slavery as the foundational American institution, organizing the nation’s politics, legal structures, and cultural practices with remarkable power to determine the life chances of those moving through society as black or white. An outpouring of scholarship on nineteenth-century public health, criminal...

    • CHAPTER 1 Toward a Political Economy of Slave Labor: Hands, Whipping-Machines, and Modern Power (pp. 31-61)

      Charles Ball had been a family man, a skilled worker. From his cabin on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, he had seen a brighter future. True, he was enslaved, like his wife and children. Yet in 1805, men with his intelligence and drive were finding ways to buy their freedom from enslavers in Mary land’s tobacco districts. But on this morning, when a blaring horn jerked him out of sleep before dawn, he sat up in a loft bed at the top of a cabin 500 miles to the south-west, and he was no longer who he had been. In fact, he...

    • CHAPTER 2 Slavery’s Scientific Management: Masters and Managers (pp. 62-86)

      On Monday, October 10, 1842—“A beautiful day” on Pleasant Hill Plantation in Amite County, Mississippi—Eli J. Capell noted the precise amount of cotton picked by each of his fifteen slaves. Every hand, including the enslaved overseer, Tone, picked at least 100 pounds, and Capell’s top pickers, Terry, Isaac, and Peter, exceeded 200 pounds apiece. All told, they had brought in 2,545 pounds, “the best ever done here in one day.”¹ Capell knew that the day was remarkable because he was in the habit of keeping diligent records. He kept a yearly plantation journal that tracked his output, and...

    • CHAPTER 3 An International Harvest: The Second Slavery, the Virginia-Brazil Connection, and the Development of the McCormick Reaper (pp. 87-104)

      A memorable image from one of America’s most frequently rendered patriotic songs, “amber waves of grain” holds a special place in the nation’s understanding of itself. The planting of the prairies after 1850, the story goes, benefited American citizens as well as the people of the world, ushering in modernity and providing a livelihood for countless impoverished European immigrants. As the labor-saving device that enabled the settlement and cultivation of millions of acres, the McCormick reaper plays a starring role in the story of freedom’s dominion spreading west. Yet this most successful of automatic harvesters was invented on a slave...

    • CHAPTER 4 Neighbor-to-Neighbor Capitalism: Local Credit Networks and the Mortgaging of Slaves (pp. 107-121)

      On July 11, 1803, Armand Duplantier sold three enslaved women to Juan Bautista Massi, a free mulatto, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They were Helena and her daughter, Marieta, and Clara, an unrelated thirteen-year-old girl. The price quoted was 1,800 hard pesos—the silver coins minted in Mexico and a premier form of currency—but no cash changed hands. It was a credit sale, 100 percent leveraged. Massi did provide collateral. He gave Duplantier two mortgages, one on the three slaves being purchased and a second on five slaves he already owned, two men, Pedro and Francisco, one woman, Mary, and...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Contours of Cotton Capitalism: Speculation, Slavery, and Economic Panic in Mississippi, 1832–1841 (pp. 122-145)

      As a young man, Jesse Mabry showed an enterprising spirit but little tendency toward extravagance. Born in South Carolina in 1791 or 1792, by 1810 Mabry had married a woman named Nancy and the couple had established an independent household in Union County, situated in the northwestern Piedmont section of the state. They did not own much and likely brought in some income by selling cloth that Nancy wove herself, but they amassed wealth slowly and steadily over time. Sometime around 1820, they left South Carolina to pursue new economic opportunities in Mississippi, and by 1830 Jesse Mabry had become...

    • CHAPTER 6 “Broad is de Road dat Leads ter Death”: Human Capital and Enslaved Mortality (pp. 146-162)

      In December 1800, Jacob, “a valuable Waterman” and “an honest inoffensive negro,” committed suicide by “stab[bing] himself.” Because he was considered valuable, his enslaver, William Wilson, submitted a petition to the Virginia governor’s office seeking compensation for the loss of Jacob, whom he referred to as his “chief support.”¹ It might seem unusual to contemporary readers that a slaveholder would file for compensation on the death of his bondman, but this was common in the late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century United States. Today we think of compensation for the enslaved as reparations, but rarely do we think about payments being made...

    • CHAPTER 7 August Belmont and the World the Slaves Made (pp. 163-178)

      Recent work on the financial history of slavery has focused on the creation of slave-backed securities and the entangled relationship of state-chartered banks, government-issued bonds, and remote investors in Europe and the northern United States. Such scholars as Edward Baptist and Richard Kilbourne have recovered the precarious schemes of the Consolidated Association of the Planters of Louisiana (a bank that took slaves as collateral for loans issued to purchase additional slaves) and the United States Bank of Philadelphia (Nicholas Biddle’s post–Bank War enterprise that invested heavily in upstart southern banks). It is crucial, however, to remember that the most...

    • CHAPTER 8 “What have we to do with slavery?” New Englanders and the Slave Economies of the West Indies (pp. 181-194)

      Frederick Douglass wrote that before the American Civil War, “The people of the North had been accustomed to ask, in a tone of cruel indifference, ‘What have we to do with slavery?’”¹ This remains an important question today. Recent scholarly attention has refocused on the direct, nineteenth-century linkages between the American North and South—what Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts decried as the “unhallowed alliance between the lords of the lash and the lords of the loom.”² However, an earlier economic relationship had tied New England’s commercial fortunes to the very epicenter of the Atlantic slave economy. The first “Deep...

    • CHAPTER 9 “No country but their counting-houses”: The U.S.-Cuba-Baltic Circuit, 1809–1812 (pp. 195-208)

      Cuban slavery impacted early American capitalism through Russia. In the early nineteenth century, as the U.S.–West Indies trade increasingly centered on the Spanish colony of Cuba, a small nexus of elite Americans—particularly New Englanders—became owners of Cuban plantations.¹ Intensive American participation in the Cuban slave regime both reinforces and complicates scholars’ recognition of slavery as a national rather than sectional bedrock of U.S. state formation. When convenient or profitable, the character of U.S. slavery was also transnational.² At the very moment of the continued expansion of the North American plantation frontier and the formation of the U.S....

    • CHAPTER 10 The Coastwise Slave Trade and a Mercantile Community of Interest (pp. 209-224)

      What is a slave ship? Such vessels are among the most emblematic features of slavery’s Atlantic history. Transatlantic slaving vessels were floating dungeons whose names evoke a “way of death,” illustrated by the iconicBrooks, theZongmassacre, and theAmistaduprising. That “vast machine” was a race-making technology, a site of demonic cruelty, and an instrument of violence. Yet the slave ship looks different when viewed in its coastal U.S. configuration. Like their transatlantic and riverine counter parts, U.S. coastal slave ships were “floating engines of capitalism,” but in the 1810s and 1820s most ships plying the domestic saltwater...

    • CHAPTER 11 War and Priests: Catholic Colleges and Slavery in the Age of Revolution (pp. 227-242)

      In August 1797, shortly after the end of his final term in office, President George Washington rode horse back to the Catholic college in Georgetown, a settlement that the state of Maryland had ceded six years earlier to the federal district. In 1789 John Carroll had founded the college. Carroll was the nation’s first Catholic bishop and a former Jesuit—Pope Clement XIV had suppressed the Society of Jesus in 1773, a proscription that lasted forty-one years. Georgetown president Louis Guillaume Valentin DuBourg and a small faculty of French and Creole Sulpicians (Order of St. Sulpice) and ex-Jesuits from the...

    • CHAPTER 12 Capitalism, Slavery, and the New Epoch: Mathew Carey’s 1819 (pp. 243-261)

      Looking back at the collapse of Napoleon’s dream to forge a “universal empire,” the Philadelphia printer, political economist, and staunch Jeffersonian Mathew Carey had no doubt that the end of Bonaparte had ushered in “a new epoch.”¹ In this new epoch a British-dominated peace would end ready access to foreign markets, produce disastrous quantities of unmarketable agricultural surpluses, and place enormous, possibly unendurable, strains on republican institutions. Beginning during the frightening period of 1814–1815, between Napoleon’s first and second exiles, Carey began to pull together his concerns regarding potential national disintegration and the limitations of republican institutions and political...

    • CHAPTER 13 The Market, Utility, and Slavery in Southern Legal Thought (pp. 262-276)

      Pre–Civil War Americans turned to all sorts of technology, from canals, steam power, and the telegraph to more obscure forms such as the daguerreotype and mining lamps, to hasten the pace of economic and moral progress. Law was another key technology they used. The law worked in favor of economic growth in several ways. First, judicial decisions self-consciously molded the law to promote economic efficiency. Second, legislatures used statutes to streamline credit markets, market transactions, and the formation of corporations. For the last several decades, scholars have often invoked Morton J. Horwitz’s apt insight that there was an “instrumental...

    • CHAPTER 14 Why Did Northerners Oppose the Expansion of Slavery? Economic Development and Education in the Limestone South (pp. 277-298)

      The recent literature on slavery has unexpectedly brought to light a new historical problem: why did the Republican Party oppose the expansion of slavery? Historians have commonly understood that most mainstream Republicans, whatever their moral objections to slavery, opposed the institution’s expansion because of economic reasons. Slavery, in the minds of many Republicans, was incompatible with a flourishing free-labor economy. As the historian John Ashworth has put it, “It is no exaggeration to say that Republicans fought the Civil War primarily because they deplored the economic effects of slavery.”¹ If slavery were allowed to expand, Republicans believed, lazy and indolent...

  8. NOTES (pp. 299-384)
  9. CONTRIBUTORS (pp. 385-388)
  10. INDEX (pp. 389-404)
  11. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. 405-408)