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#2042: Re: #2014: Re: #2007: Economics of Sugar Industry: Cleeg replies to Gill

From: Claude Clegg <cclegg@indiana.edu>

    There is some fallacious, even ahistorical, thinking in Mark Gill's
reply to the anonymous person who stated that "the wealth of the United
States was made possible by the system of slavery and the conquering of
lands belonging to indigenous peoples."  There are a number of points that
Mr. Gill makes that are questionable at best, and glaringly wrong at

    Firstly, one can concede Mr. Gill's point that the United States did
not become wealthy in its current modern sense until after the Industrial
Revolution emerged (late 18th century).  However, to say that slavery had
nothing to do with this revolution, as Mr. Gill suggests, is incorrect.
Slavery and the wealth it produced--in taxes/tariffs, marketable raw
materials, the industries it bolstered like banking, insurance, 
shipbuilding, and later textiles--allowed the mercantile, planter, and
ruling classes (which were sometimes one and the same) in countries like
Britain and the United States to accumulate the venture capital necessary
to experiment with commercial and industrial innovations.  Thus, it
shouldn't be surprising that the major cities of both countries 
[Liverpool, Bristol, Providence (R.I.), New York, Boston, Philadelphia,
etc.] openly prospered from the slave trade and were on the cusp of the 
Industrial Revolution.  During the 18th century (and well into the 19th), 
leaders in both countries freely admitted that the prosperity of both
nations were intertwined with the slave trade and slavery.  One need only
read the great parliamentary debates over the English slave trade of the
1780s and 1790s to see how deeply entrenched pro-slavery West Indian and
maritime forces were in British economic and political life.  For the
U.S., read the debates of the constitutional conventions of the 1780s and 
congressional debates over slavery in the 1830s.  Or, just read Articles I
(section 2 and 9) and Article IV (section 2) to witness how slavery and
slaveholding interests are protected by the U.S. constitution, even as
the country entered the industrial age. The Industrial Revolution and
slavery formed a symbiotic relationship in which new inventions and
industries (such as sugar-processing technologies) cropped up to take
advantage of slavery's known ability to produce wealth, and
industrial/technological improvements (such as the cotton gin) revitalized
and expanded slavery.   

     Secondly, Mr. Gill makes the argument that "slavery was mostly
confined to the South" and that the South was and is poorer than the North
because of slavery and its failure to industrial.  The premise here is
faulty.  At one time or another, slavery existed in every part of the
original 13 colonies and many of the subsequent states admitted to the
Union.  Slavery did not end legally in New York until the late 1820s,
illustrating that free and unfree labor could coexist, even in an
industrializing urban setting.  Mr. Gill's relegation of slavery to the
South is dubious for another reason. Even after slavery dies in the
North--a slow, reluctant death to be sure, northern states still prospered 
from the system.  Many of the ships that were used to transfer slaves
across the Atlantic were northern in origin.  And even after the legal
transatlantic slave trade closed in 1808, northern shipbuilders and
maritime industries were still involved in outfitting vessels for slave
trading along the Atlantic and Gulf coast on behalf of the internal
American slave trade.  This is in addition to the northern slavers
involved in the illicit transatlantic slave trade that continued until the
Civil War.   Also, northern financiers, banks, and other creditors
invested millions of dollars in slavery, whether as monies to outfit
ships, loans to slaveholders in Southern states, investments in industries
tied to slavery (like cotton textiles), and a host of other ventures.
Insurance firms in the North insured both slaveships and planters against
financial losses.  Actually, much of what was produced by slave labor in
the South (and other places) was imported by northern states for
manufacture and consumption.  By the mid-19th century, slave-grown cotton
underpinned much of the northern textile industry, and Britain's too. And
slave-produced tobacco, sugar cane, rice, indigo, and other items were
processed into and/or sold as finished products in northern states and
throughout the Western world.   So, for Mr. Gill to say that slavery was
"confined to the South" is erroneous.  Or even to say the South was
economically worse off for it by the time of the Civil War is equally
incorrect.  Based on per capita wealth, the South, as a region, was one of
the three riches regions in the world, next only to the American North and
Britain. (Here, I am not entertaining the question of whether this wealth
was equitably and fairly distributed among most southerners. It was not.)
Relatively speaking, the American South even today is by far wealthier per
capita than the vast majority of countries of the world--not in spite of,
but because of slavery and other developments in American history.

    Finally, Mr. Gill's point about the need to criticize American
"Indians" for conquering the "Mound Culture" and Europeans for what
they've done in the Caribbean and other places is really beside the point
that was being made by the person to whom he is responding.  Yes, abundant
criticism is due in these cases, but the comment was specifically about
what occurred in this country between Native Americans, Europeans, and
Africans, not the history of war, conquest, and dispossession in the
entire world from time immemorial. This sort of disingenuous, amoral
relativism (more or less saying: "Everybody did it at some point, so
it's all the same") trivializes the distinctiveness of what happened to
Native and African peoples (and others) in what became known as the United
States.  It suggests that we lose sight of the fact that what is now the
United States and the Americas could not have been possible without the
greatest forced migration in recorded history, the most horrific and
sustained decimation of indigenous peoples (whether through brutality or
contagion) ever chronicled, the largest and most repressive slave 
societies of modern times, and the grandest accumulations of wealth based
on man's inhumanity to man the world has ever known.

      While Mr. Gill's post is not entirely--or even largely--accurate,
there's truth in it, which makes it the more necessary to respond to, lest
the whole message pass as undisputed "facts."  

Claude Clegg