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Essay: The Impact of Slavery on US Economy & Society Today

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The United States of America was built on the institution of slavery. The economic system of the United States of America and some of the moral standings that are still enforced to this day were built on and spread due to the institution of slavery. For this paper, I will mainly focus on how the institution of slavery in the United States of America has influenced our country economically and socially.

  During the time before and of the American Revolution, slavery, instead of free laborers working for pay, was the standard form of mass labor. The rise of slave plantations and the demand for goods such as coffee, rice, sugar, and tobacco in international trade fed into the rapid growing Atlantic slave trade, and heavily contributed to the development of the British economy. Though the Deep South profited from slavery, areas where slavery was a minor institution, such as New England, profited as well. Merchants in Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island were active participants in slave trade, shipping African slaves to the Caribbean and the southern United States. Overall, the Atlantic commerce in the 18th century consisted primarily of crops produced by slaves, goods for slave societies, and slaves.

  During this time, some black people living in the United States of America lived as free people. Free black people did not have the right to vote, bear arms, or to employ white people. Free black people were to pay special taxes, could not represent themselves in court, and could be punished for hurting or striking a white person, regardless of who started the brawl or the cause of the fight. Many white people defended their racist beliefs and laws with the Bible, using the fact the Abraham and many other Jewish prophets had slaves, and that the old Jewish law tells the servant of slave to obey his master. Olaudah Equiano, a former slave and later a published author in London, questioned the beliefs of racist white people in his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789), saying, “O, ye nominal Christians! Might not an African ask you, learned you this from your God? Who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you?” (The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, 1789).

  During the time before and of the Civil War, slavery was abolished in most of Europe, the United Kingdom, and Northern states of the United States of America. Slavery and slave plantations though were rampant in the Deep South. These slave plantations mainly produced cotton, which replaced sugar as the main crop produced by slave labor.  By the 19th century, over 75% of the world’s cotton was produced by slaves in the South. Cotton represented over half of American exports and exceeded the value of all of America’s banks, factories, and railroads combined.

  Though cotton produced by slaves was the main source of American revenue, only about one-quarter of white families in the South owned slaves and even less owned plantations that produced cotton. About three-quarters of white families in the South were small farmers and did not own any slaves. These families relied on family labor alone and produced crops to survive. A majority of the one-quarter of white families in the South that did own slaves were only rich families that required help. These families usually owned less than twenty slaves to cook, clean, serve and to take care of the white family’s children.

  By the time of the Civil War, many black people became free either by escaping slavery or inheriting freedom. Though there were many more free black people living in America during the time of the Civil War than during the time of the American Revolution, laws and regulations did not change much. Free blacks living in the South still could not vote, own alcohol and dogs, did not have the right to bear arms, and still could not strike a white person, regardless of who started the brawl or what cause the fight, or defend themselves in court. White people in the South still used the Bible to defend their racist beliefs and laws saying, “From the earliest period of time down to the present moment, slavery has existed…Abraham, the chosen servant of God, had his bondservants…both the Old and New Testaments speak of slavery – that they do not condemn the relation…” (Slavery and the Bible, 1850).

  It is important that we, citizens of the United States of America, know that our history of slavery in the United States is a terrible and that we should learn from it so that our country, and many other countries, do not repeat the same mistakes. I hope that from this knowledge and past experience, that the United States of America will fight to end racism, especially the systematic racism experienced by many black people today, in our American society. The only thing holding our country back from inequality is ourselves and our unwillingness to improve our society.

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