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Slavery in the South: Definite or Indefinite?


It is important to understand the original notions that made slavery acceptable in a just and democratic society such as the United States even when it was still a young nation. Likewise, it is important to establish the origins of the Civil War to properly link it with slavery.

The early United States leaders such as Adam Smith did not favor slavery and all forms of servitude but what made him accept slavery was “individual economic self-interest” (Net Industries, 2010, P 3). This paper will try to explore what doomed slavery in the South by the eve of the Civil War. It will try to discuss whether the institution could have been maintained indefinitely.


There are always two sides of an argument and in the case of slavery and its end in the South, the same may be claimed. In previous works of literature about slavery, the protagonists almost always include the race that had control over the situation: that same race that perpetuated it in the first place. This brought conflict amongst whites – the perpetrators of slavery. The two sides were the anti-slavery whites and pro-slavery whites. It was only in the wake of finding the slaves’ voice did the literature of slavery changed – there exists their side, bringing the argument into three sides.

The origins of slavery have various theories: as an economic necessity, effect of racism, rise of agricultural needs, drying up of white servants, and other reasons unique on the needs of the colonies (Berlin, 2000). Slavery in the South resulted in the production of the world’s three-quarters of cotton, half of world tobacco exports, and the dramatic rise in rice, sugar, wheat, and foodstuffs production (Engerman, 1986). The price, too of slaves, increased.

In the virtue of the slavery debate, it was acknowledged that the role of the slaves themselves, the Blacks, was not appreciated for quite some time. It is to be emphasized that as early as 1712, Black protests were staged. Blacks not only ran away in groups and alarmed their masters but also brought freedom suits (Net Industries, 2010). They have cried protests of “Liberty” during the 1765 Stamp Act crisis. The anti-slavery African-Americans themselves are the force behind the abolition movement and the end of slavery in the South by the eve of the Civil War.

Potter (1977) pointed out that slavery is the main cause of the US Civil War. The South, which was engaged in slavery and trade of slaves, opposed the encroachment of the Northern Abolitionists. Northeast by that time was less economically dependent on slaves, with its booming cities, commerce, farms, transport, and mining industries. The influx of European migrants also contributed to the prosperity at that time. Politics added to the conflict as the less wealthy South became overpowered by the North in national influence (Potter, 1977). National unity controlled the solid formation of anti-slavery movements (Fehrenbacher, 2002).

The founding of the American Colonisation Society in 1817 aimed at relocating Blacks to Africa. This was seen as racist and much criticized by the Blacks themselves and this was marked with the publication of the Freedom’s Journal in 1827 (Net Industries, 2010). Black pamphleteer David Walker also wrote his “Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World” and considered “the founding document of black abolitionism” (Net Industries, 2010, P 9). Walker criticized the claims of Republicans and Christians who championed equality and freedom (Net industries, 2010). As Harper (2003) noted that “The spirit of liberty in 1776 and the rhetoric of rebellion against tyranny made many Americans conscious of the hypocrisy of claiming natural human rights for themselves, while at the same time denying them to Africans,” (P 13). With the support of many whites such as the Quakers and individuals like William Lloyd Garrison, abolitionism formed its solid foundations. Harper (2003), however, wrote that “The North failed to develop large-scale agrarian slavery, such as later arose in the Deep South, but that had little to do with morality and much to do with climate and economy,” (P 10).

Eltis (1983) suggested that there are about four to five Africans per European migrant during that period of history that also meant the US received about two-fifths of all-white transcontinental migrants. Moue Blacks were migrated to the South than to the North but the more dominant white immigrants in the North introduced the free-wage labor that widened industries (Potter, 1977). Recent debates, however, view capitalism more on the South than in the North for the period in question. The North emphasized and clamored for “communal, non-market attitudes and a desire for independence rather than material welfare” (Engerman, 1986, p 321).

There is no denying the evils of slavery socially and economically. However, a new argument was forwarded that economically, slavery is “one of the stages through which civilization would proceed-a necessary stage but one that would be superseded, somehow, by a more desirable system of freedom with free labor once population density grew sufficient to eliminate the necessity of slave labor,” (Engerman, 1986, p 323). This proposal then becomes the basis that the institution of slavery could not have been maintained indefinitely as it is only a part or stage of a process. A process in the economic or business sense may be definite or indefinite, a fixed or continuing system that becomes part of the expansion or development of establishments. But since slavery is only a portion and not a fixed whole of the process, I, therefore, suggest that slavery did have its doom no matter how much the South tried to keep it even in a growing capitalist economy.


Slavery was the main cause of the Civil War. It was made into a forceful political movement as Abolitionism. Slavery itself was seen as part of many societies in the old and new world eras. Whilst capitalism was identified in the South which favored and fought for slavery, slavery’s role in capitalism was temporary as it was seen to be just a societal and economic stage that would soon be merged with or replaced by a better system. Humanity works towards the development of its various aspects – from personal, social, economic to political ends. As long as there will be individuals who would be conscious and treasure their selves, all forms of oppression and inequality will be fought against, economic-wise or not. Whilst capitalism’s characteristic to be profit-driven may remain one of its strongest identity then and in the future, the recent crisis of capital markets strongly indicate there is something wrong with the system that needs to be replaced. Sooner or later, humanity will find and replace or repair it.


Berlin, I. (2000). Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

Eltis, D. (1983). “Free and Coerced Transatlantic Migration: Some Comparisons,” American Historical Review, 88 (1983), 251-80.

Engerman, S.L. (1986). “Slavery and Emancipation in Comparative Perspective: A Look at Some Recent Debates.” The Journal of Economic History 46(2). 317-339

Fehrenbacher, D. E. (2002). The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery. Oxford University Press.

Harper, D. (2003). Slavery in the North. Web.

Net Industries. (2010). “Abolition Movement.” JRank Encyclopedia. Web.

Potter, D. (1977). The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861. Harper Perennial.


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