Southerners often compared slavery favorably to the conditions of free labor in the North?

Oct 2018
2
minnesota
#1
At the end of 18th century, Southerners often compared slavery favorably to the conditions of free labor in the North. Why did a system of free labor develop in the North and slave labor in the South?Why didn’t southern colonies continue to rely on indentured servitude for their labor needs?
 
Oct 2018
306
Adelaide south Australia
#2
I've heard that argument , the latest time was in 1976, when I met a lady from Georgia doing her Phd dissertation on exactly that argument. She argued that a great many slaves were in fact happy to be slaves.She arrived at this conclusion by examining studieos done in the nineteenth century, wherein white people asked slaves if they were happy, and were told ' yes massah'. I kid you not.

Looking at the matter crudely, it can be argued that some slaves were better off than their northern counterparts. EG mine workers and factory workers come to mind. Also nineteenth century domestic servants could be treated very harshly. However, I don't think evidence would support that argument looking at the 3 million odd slaves in the Southern US in 1860

Northern workers would not have been subject to say whipping or being sold as an object and forcibly separated from their families. No northern worker would have have ben violently kidnapped from their home and sent thousands of miles over the sea. At base is the simple fact that Northern workers had the freedom to leave job and freedom to move to another state or country. ( I won't get into a discussion about wage slavery)

Slavery in the US was so well established by 1776, especially in the Southern colonies, that the issue could not be realistically challenged. Hence, "All men are created equal" has an implicit corollary; "except black people".The US census counted a black slave as 3/5 of a person. This attitude persisted well into the twentieth century, well illustrated by the infamous'Jim Crow laws."

The use of slaves was very different in North and d South US, pretty much from the beginning. The hotter southern states used slaves to grow and harvest cotton. This was back breaking, intensive work a free man simply would not do. Cotton production was innately inefficient. This changed from 1774 with the introduction of the cotton gin. The production of cotton became lucrative, and slavery intensified as the south became trapped by the destructive monoculture of cotton, later also tobacco.

The south was utterly dependent on slavery. This wasn't so bad initially, as slaves were relatively cheap and plentiful. This changed from 1833 when Britain abolished slavery. The US had to produce its own slaves. That meant that the larger slave holders had massive amounts of capital tied up in a diminishing asset. Capital used in the north for secondary industry was simply not available in the south. A comparison between secondary industry production at the start between north and south of the Civil war is stunning.The comparison is between, agrarian society with limited infrastructure and an industrial behemoth.

Perhaps worth looking at:


Difference Between Southern and Northern States before the Civil War | Difference Between

This week, I have begun rewatching a splendid documentary series on Netflix; Ken Burns' 'The Civil War'. A lot of time is spent on slavery, with some very interesting statistics.
 
Jun 2017
2,380
Connecticut
#3
When you want to defend immoral behavior that you know as wrong for economic gain it's easy to come up with such "well look at what they are doing" justifications for your actions. I actually do think there is a case for free labor(and sharecropping) being very similar to slavery during the Gilded Age(the way some of these company towns worked meant that workers were only paid in theory not practice), however most of this came after the Civil War and I am under the general impression that in the aftermath of Reconstruction the Southern masses switched mindset from trying to justify an institution they knew was wrong to hating the new freedman and scapegoating them for what had happened. At the time of the Civil War and the preceding decades when slavery was actually being debated there was no comparison. Later on the industrial North was reintroduced the same economic incentives to mistreat people the South had faced in earlier centuries with the main difference being the lack of a racial and legal component(which I must point out is a gigantic difference).

The North did have slavery earlier on but it was easier defeat there because their economy wasn't dependent on it. Without the invention of the cotton gin this was on the way towards happening in the south as well(their agreement to the phasing out of the slave trade was the legacy of this) but the cotton gin made the institution considerably more profitable to the point where the South was willing to go to such extreme lengths to try and make the institution permanent.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,061
Dispargum
#4
Some appologists for the ante-bellum South liked to say that the only difference between North and South was that in the North they hired their workers by the hour while in the South they hired their workers for life. While true, that statement conceals a world of difference. A worker's greatest leverage against his employer is the threat or actual deed of quitting and going to work for someone else. Slaves were kept in a permanent state of disadvantage by their inability to change employers. Curious that employers of company towns and share croppers employed the same tactic - by keeping workers hopelessly in debt they took away the worker's right to quit and go work for someone else.
 
Likes: Rovi

Viperlord

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
8,062
VA
#5
This was indeed a line of argument that elite Southerners would sometimes throw out; it's not one that inherently needs to be taken at face value however. Aside from the factual problems with it, the real attitude of the Southern elite on the matter was more aptly summed up with the flip side of the argument by Senator James Hammond; namely, that there was a necessity for an underclass of workers in society to do the drudge work while their betters were left free to rule them in an enlightened manner, and the genius of the Southern system was that it made this "mudsill" class exclusively of black slaves and thus uplifted whites, while the North erred by actually granting their "mudsills" real political power which they might use to overthrow their betters. This mudsill theory is explicitly what people like Lincoln, who really believed in the ideology of free labor, were pushing back against.

Africans in America/Part 4/Mudsill Theory
 
Oct 2018
306
Adelaide south Australia
#6
At the time, and after, apologists for slavery turned to the bible for justification; to the Book Of Genesis, where we find Noah's son HAM getting the old man drunk. (no, really) His descendants, were 'the children of Ham",who of course were latter day black people. (Genesis 9: 20-27)

The necessity of an underclass argument is an old one. Back to the Bible again; slavery apologists often mentioned the fact that nowhere in the bible, old or new testament ,is slavery condemned. Jesus allegedly DID say "the workman is worthy of his hire" (1 Timothy 15-18) . As for an underclass, he also apparently said "the poor you will always have with you" (Matthew 26:11)

The bible has been used to justify all kinds of horrors, just as has the Q'uran. I guess that's one of the wonderful things of being human being; we can rationalise any behaviour, especially after the fact.
 

Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
4,975
US
#7
They weren't free. That cannot be emphasized enough. Some slaves may have had a more comfortable life than a free man in the north, but they weren't free and, in my opinion, you can't put a value of that.
 
Sep 2014
1,098
Queens, NYC
#8
In fairness, we must note that the Bible, Genesis, chapter 9, lines 20-27, doesn't say Ham's descendants are black. It simply says Canaan, Ham's son, will be slave of his brothers.

The attribution of descent of the black peoples from Ham is a much later (than the Bible's writing) phenomenon.
 

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
2,386
Las Vegas, NV USA
#10
I've heard that argument , the latest time was in 1976, when I met a lady from Georgia doing her Phd dissertation on exactly that argument. She argued that a great many slaves were in fact happy to be slaves.She arrived at this conclusion by examining studieos done in the nineteenth century, wherein white people asked slaves if they were happy, and were told ' yes massah'. I kid you not.
Yes. Any day they weren't whipped was a good day.
 

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