Friday, June 04, 2010

Greed and Slavery in Virginia

The development of slavery in Virginia set the pattern for the development of slavery throughout the South and laid the foundations for the development of race relations in America.

The population of England rose from three million in 1500 to four-and-one half million in 1650 without any corresponding growth in the capacity of the island’s economy to support the people. Colonization efforts were, among other things, an effort to alleviate demographic pressures in England.

At first, Virginia absorbed the new immigrants and appeared to be successfully creating a New World community on the English model. An emerging planter class, speculating in land, however, constrained access to good land in Virginia by the many.

The high price of free labor was incompatible with the profitable running of large plantations. The great landowners turned to slave labor, encouraging the first massive introduction of slaves from Africa. There was no precedence in England for enslaving a class of people for life and making that status inevitable, but non-Christian Africans were not thought to be naturally guaranteed the “rights of Englishmen”. A slave labor force without rights could be more easily controlled by brute force than a free labor force which was raised to believe it had “rights”

In pre-Civil War America two competing models for economic development emerged: (1) the plantation economy in which a few wealthy men and a mass of slaves produced raw materials for Europe, and (2) the independent producer mode with many small, independent farmers and artisans, all of whom were generally self-sufficient.

Link to: Why the South Fought the Civil War

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