Colonial and Antebellum America Era
Enslaved people’s economic interest during the colonial and antebellum America era mainly prompted the motivation for the cries and calls of self-emancipation. In the course of industrial development, the financial stake in the South (antebellum America) was, in no doubt, primarily based on slave labor. These sectors were especially so in the agricultural one, which was principally driven by the enslaved free work. The slaves’ contribution to the industry roughly amounted to the entire value of the farmlands and constructions around the same.
The foundation of these southern states’ prosperity was this high valued slave labor the region so heavily relied on. In the light of the reaction by white slave owners to the proposal of limiting slave ownership rights viewing it as a potential threat and catastrophe to the economy of this Confederate states showed the significant input this labor brought forth. They were sternly and unapologetically objected to such an idea ever coming to fruition. Consider the case of New Orleans, for instance, the reality of slave-grown American cotton becoming a cash crop and its dramatic increase in value financially to the point of it being of higher value than rice, sugar, and tobacco economies in terms of demand and importance (Brock, 2015). This labor-intensive trade grew its expansion internationally, feeding supplies to textile enterprises in Great Britain and simultaneously advancing the economics of the two regions vastly.
The plantation owners were making large exports as their business entered the international market, dealing cotton across America and The Atlantic. The American supply of the commodity in the world soon rose two over two thirds in the world, but the enslaved never felt any discernable improvement in their living and social standing. They were deemed inferior to the whites and thus could enjoy any meaningful privileges from this. The enslaved could only cultivate swathes of land they never could own because of being viewed as a lower class of humans. They had no right to resign or protest for the measurable conditions they were being forced to work in and couldn’t demand wages for their sweat and blood. Their children were also subject to the same terms, with their white owners seeing them as an asset for generations and generations. In most states that mass-produced large amounts of commodities, slave numbers totaled to close to half the population, but these many enslaved humans owed next to nothing. The oppression and inhumane treatment contributed to their agitation for freedom and equality. All they sought after was the equitable sharing of these resources that they were at the center of production for and to earn wages for whatever they worked for.
The poor whites felt this inequality as wealth distribution remained on the reins of an elite few who controlled pretty much everything. The over two-billion pounds per year of cotton produced by 1860 made the US a world leader in cotton production that paid huge dividends. It didn’t seem to help the dire situation the enslaved Native and African Americans any tangibly the new wealth that was streaming in when they felt entitled to—this unequal distribution in wealth economically. The industrial revolution that followed was also attributable to these rapidly expanding industries after the eventual establishment of exportation markets, saw about 75% of the total production selling abroad.
With slave conditions worsening by the day, amidst the ever increase in demand, slaves had to demand their stake in the unpaid for contribution inevitably. In their eye, tolerating such conditions further was an injustice they had to fight off. The quest got boosted significantly by the enlistment of black men in the Union’s army, who later came in and introduced their emancipation agenda (Field & Syrett, 2015). The promise of readiness these black enlistees showed to oppose further this atrocity in the battles between the north and the South. It happened alongside the white section of the population (mostly the poor ones) that also stood against ownership of human lives despite race as property, even if it entailed the dear cost of their lives. However, this joining of forces did not mean that these whites had denounced their belief in white supremacy at all. It mattered little how impoverished these whites were when it boiled down to that, fundamentally since they couldn’t quell their fears of a black uprising.
Liberation came at an expensive cost. The collapse of the Northern states’ economies in the 1850s can partly is creditable to the struggle. Regional tensions and divisions emerged as a consequence of robust economic forces in this antebellum period. These were due to the geographical specialization in fiscal terms previously identified as factors of growth and expansion in the region. They are also useful pointers of the critical role economic interests played in the time (Field & Syrett, 2015). The affluent plantation owners wanted to keep slaves and the slave trade going on for the vast benefits they extracted from it. Among the reasons why the Northern supremacists were against segregation was the fear that it would have hugely impacted the expansion of the slave trade.
The then-Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who was strongly opposed to a war between the two sides of the Union, had realized an all-out war was inevitably going to break out by the time of his second inauguration. In an address he made at the event that I quote here, Lincoln observed that: “Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.”
Brock, P. (2015). Radical pacifists in antebellum America. Princeton University Press.
Field, C. T., & Syrett, N. L. (Eds.). (2015). Age in America: The Colonial Era to the Present. NYU Press.