The study of history plays a big role in fostering knowledge about people and societies. In particular, learning about the history of slavery is pivotal towards appreciating the significant steps the world has made towards freedom. When people learn about the slavery history of their forefathers, they can test their moral sense against the happenings of the past. With slavery still being present in the contemporary world, understanding how the vice happened in the past could unlock ways to tackle what the current trend. Also, it is important to find out how the current society is impacted by slavery in the past. It is close to a century and a half now since the formal abolishment of slavery. However, the impacts of the vice are still prevalent in the current society. Some scholars have even pointed out to slavery being present in the modern world. Therefore, it is important to understand the aspects that characterized slavery in the past and the efforts of abolitionists in combating it. This essay begins by documenting the significant aspects that characterize the history of slavery in the US. The essay also examines how the history of slavery impacts the political, economic, and educational institutions in the current society. It’s a relation to the inequality present in contemporary society is also examined.
A significant part of US history is characterized by slavery. Before dwelling further on the issue, it is important to note that slavery did not first appear in the US. It has been part of human history as seen in the Bible and Greek history. During this time which is thousands of years before the slave trade in America, the practice existed in the form of conquered people, indentured servants, and serfs. It is thus important to recognize that that slavery had existed before the one experienced in the US. The slavery in the US is different, however, in the sense that race determined who was considered a slave. As informed by History (n.d.), slavery history in America dates back to 1619 when the first slaves were introduced by the Dutch. These were the first African slaves who were brought to Virginia to work in farms producing lucrative crops like tobacco. As such, the early 17th century was characterized by Europeans turning to slaves from Africa for cheap and available labor (History, n.d.). It is imperative to note that before African slaves were brought, indentured servants were the labor source. These indentured servants, according to History (n.d), were made up of Europeans who were poorer than others. However, when Africans were brought, a cheap alternative labor source emerged. After the twenty were Africans were brought to Virginia, there was a spread of slavery across the colonies in America. According to History (n.d), it is estimated that between 6 and 7 million slaves were shipped to the New World in the 18th century alone. As seen, Africa was deprived of its ablest and healthiest people. The 17th and 18th centuries saw African slaves working on rice, and tobacco plantations that were mainly located in the Southern Coast. The colonists in the North began realizing how slavery was unimportant to their economy after the 1775-83 American Revolution (History, n.d.). These colonists thus began calling for the abolishment of slavery as they saw it as similar to the oppression by the British. However, the vice continued since the constitution of the US started acknowledging the institution, where each slave was counted as three-fifths of a human being. As seen, a big part of US history is marked by slavery.
The invention of cotton gin played an immense role in perpetuating slavery in the US. The end of the 18th century came with the exhaustion of the land used to grow tobacco. There was thus an economic crisis in the South, and doubt arose whether continuity of slavery would continue. However, the demand for American cotton in England due to the mechanization of the cotton industry and the cotton gin invention gave hope to farmers in the south. The invention of the cotton gin, a simple device used in the removal of cotton seeds facilitated the transition from tobacco to cotton farming. The painting beside shows slaves working on the machine. It is this machine that increased the demand for slabs as farmers saw an opportunity in cotton farming. According to History (n.d.), the transition to cotton farming reinforced the dependence of the South on labor from slaves. It is important to note that the vice was not widespread in the North; however, some businessmen had made investments in plantations in the South. While the states in the North abolished the vice, those in the South considered it important to their economy. According to History (n.d), by 1804, all the states in the North had abolished slavery but the ones the South still treasured the institution. The outlawing of the African slave trade by the Congress in 1808 did little to reduce the vice as the population of the slaves in the country tripled in the 50 years that followed. Therefore, the cotton gin played a part in the growth of slavery in the Southern states.
The history of slavery in America is also characterized by the rise of the Abolitionist movement. In the period between the 1830s and 1860s, the movement gained momentum as they seek to ensure the country is free of slavery. Frederick Douglas among other free blacks as well as white supporters led the movement. Apart from Douglas, other people that led the fight against slavery are William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Tubman, and Harriet Stowe (the University of California, n.d). Some of the members of the abolitionist movement base their fight on the belief that the act of slavery was a sin. However, others fostered the free labor argument that slavery was inefficient and regressive. The northerners who supported the movement as well as free blacks facilitated to a great extent the escape of slaves into the North. According to History (n.d), the practice helped between 40,000 and 100,000 slaves run off to the North to attain freedom. As seen, the abolitionist moved played a big role in helping slaves attain freedom as shown in the picture below.
Civil War and Emancipation are also part of the slave history in the country. The election of Abraham Lincoln as US president was a big win for the abolitionist movement as he was against the vice. However, after his election, southern states began seceding from the central union. The tensions between the states in the North and those in the South led to the explosion of the Civil War that lasted from 1861 to 1865. As such, there was a war between states. Emancipation Proclamation by Lincoln that was made official in 1863 led to some black slaves being freed. The proclamation helped in putting the international public opinion on the side of the Union. As a result, the Confederacy was deprived of its labor forces. Tens of thousands of blacks joined the union army. The Civil War is regarded as the costliest conflict in the history of the country as it caused about 620,000 deaths (History, n.d.). The picture beside depicts the New York Draft riots of 1863 that erupted after the congress had passed laws to draft men to fight in the Civil War that was going on. It thus depicts one of the aspects that characterized the political temperature during the Civil War.
The history of slavery impacts modern society to a great extent. As noted by some scholars, even after a century and a half after the abolishment of slavery, there are still echoes of the vice in the contemporary world. The political, economic, and educational institutions are the ones still experiencing the impacts of slavery that happened in the past. Also, inequalities present in American society have its roots in the history of slavery. With there being incidences of slavery in the modern world, although different in characteristics with old slavery, lessons from the past can help it combating it.
The history of slavery has had a significant impact on the political institution in the contemporary world. According to Acemoglu & Robinson (2008), while British politics democratization led to the formulation of important policies, the end of slavery in America had limited consequences. At the end of the Civil War, there was the abolishment of slavery in the U.S. While the North made significant steps in regards to freedom of enslaved members of the society, the same cannot be said of the South. As informed by Acemoglu & Robinson (2008), the pre-Civil War conditions continued in the South because of the agriculture that supported the economy of the states in the region. Low wages, as well as labor repression, continued to be experienced in the South. Acemoglu & Robinson (2008) point out that the continuity of the labor repression in the South is consistent with the adjustments in the political environment in the country. The policies created by the political system were designed to limit the mobility of labor and promote violence and lynching (Acemoglu & Robinson, 2008). The argument extended by the authors is that the investment of the elite in political power makes it difficult for the system to change. After the slavery abolishment, it is evident that oppression continued in the South. As noted by Acemoglu & Robinson (2008), the blacks, even after attaining freedom, they were still intimidated, and their wages remained low. Therefore, it is established that once a political institution is in place, it can only persist in the future through its agents. With inequalities still being experienced in the current political environment, it is deducible that there are still aspects of slavery in the political institution.
The history of slavery also impacts the economic and educational institutions in the contemporary world to a great extent. In the journal article by Bertocchi & Dimico (2014), the authors sought to examine how the history of slavery has influenced the current economic conditions in the U.S. Although the authors found no significant impact on income per capita, the history of slavery was found to have contributed to income inequality in the society. In regions that had high slavery prevalence, income inequality is prevalent. Racial inequality was also to be a factor in the current income inequality being experienced. The unequal structure present in the society has resulted in political institutions that are meant to take care of the elites’ privileges. This act of the political institution preserving the interests of the elites has persistent implications on the economic outcomes in the country. It is important to recognize that these sentiments are supported by Acemoglu & Robinson (2008), who noted that despite the change in political regimes, there was the persistence of economic conditions because of the investment by the elite members of the society. Income and racial inequality are prevalent in states in the South. There is also a high proportion of people below the poverty line in these regions compared to others. The conclusion of the journal article by Bertocchi & Dimico (2014) shows that slavery has had a significant impact on racial and income inequality present in the contemporary world. Also, the authors point out that slavery history has resulted in profound educational gaps in society. This educational gap has partly contributed to income inequality (Bertocchi & Dimico, 2014). Therefore, it is deducible that the effects of slavery history are still felt in the contemporary economy.
Gross (2008) is another scholar that has written on how contemporary society is impacted by slavery history. The author begins by pointing out the significance of the history of slavery to legal and political discussions in the current world. The emphasis on the story of freedom from slavery means that we can celebrate the steps made. This celebration, however, means that glossing over some the segregation, violence, and political and economic exclusion that was present during the Jim Crow regime. The author notes that glossing over the Jim Crow regime means considering other problems as the causes of the racial inequality present in contemporary society (Gross, 2008). In this case, it becomes difficult to link the inequality present today to the history of slavery. An interesting point made by the author is that racism did not result in slavery. Slavery came about due to the demand for labor. This was the case at first, but the racial inequality which is prevalent even in the current society emanated from the degradation of African Americans as slaves. Therefore, from the assertions of the author, the racial inequality which came about as a result of the degradation of African Americans in the past is still present today.
It essential also to look at modern-day slavery and compare it to the happenings in the past. Significant steps have been made towards freedom since the abolition of slavery after the civil war. However, slavery continues to be reported in the contemporary world. Slavery in today’s world is different than in the past in that it is characterized by sexual exploitation and forced labor. As noted by Hernandez & Rudolph (2015), there has been an escalation in migratory flows in the last few decades a result of a decline in the costs of transportation and communication. People are willing to move to prosperous regions. However, with strict border regulations and inadequate opportunities for foreigners to work, organized crime organizations have found an opening to explore as they perpetuate illegal migration. This has led to human rights exploitation as adults and children become victims of sexual servitude and forced labor. Lessons from the Civil War can be applied to fight the slavery present today. Civil society organizations, as well as citizens of the world, can rise against the vice.
In conclusion, the history of slavery is still significant in the contemporary world. While significant steps towards freedom can be celebrated, there is still a lot that can be done to reduce its impact on the political, economic, and educational institutions. Lessons from the history of slavery can also be used to deal with modern-day slavery.
- Acemoglu, D., & Robinson, J. A. (2008). Persistence of power, elites, and institutions. The American Economic Review, 98 (1), 267-293.
- Bertocchi, G., & Dimico., A. (2014). Slavery, education, and inequality. European Economic Review, 70, 197-209.
- Gross, A. (2008). When Is the Time of Slavery? The History of Slavery in Contemporary Legal and Political Argument. California Law Review, 96 (1), California Law Review.
- Hernandez, D., & Rudolph, A. (2015). Modern-day slavery: What drives human trafficking in Europe? European Journal of Political Economy, 38, 118-139.
- History. (n.d.). Slavery in America. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from History: http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/slavery
- The University of California, (n.d). History of Slavery in America. Retrieved May 15, 2017, from University of California, Berkeley: https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~arihuang/academic/abg/slavery/history.html