Can States be Moral? The Curious Case of British Abolitionists

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto is a policy analyst and part-time dungeon master. When not talking endlessly about matters of public policy, he is a dungeon master on the NWN World of Avlis

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58 Responses

  1. Avatar North says:

    Do you think, Nob, that the American Revolution helped or hindered this process? I can see arguements either way:

    It hindered the process, as you noted, by giving abolitionism a rebel branding initially.

    On the other hand the revolution also removed from the British Empire the entire American South with its slave industries and powerful vested interest in slavery. That is a powerful financial and political voice that essentially was removed from consideration by the British politicians and lords.

    Alternative history crack… if the American Revolution hadn’t happened or had failed would British abolition have not occurred or would it have occurred and then sparked a new American revolution (in the south at least)?Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to North says:

      That’s an interesting question.

      I would argue that circa the revolutionary era, slavery in North America was a less lucrative market than slavery in the West Indies and South America. Large scale plantation slavery for cotton was still several decades away. There was a reason that some of the Framers were relatively sanguine about slavery: There wasn’t quite as much money in it when you’re just cultivating tobacco and molasses as there is when you’re making massive amounts of important staples like cotton (aided by industrialization and textile mills) and sugar.

      It’s also worth noting that anti-Anglican protestant dissidents were the strongest anti-slavery advocates in Britain. If say Pitt the Elder had managed to convince the Americans to accept being part of the Empire on a more equal basis, the dissident protestant populations in North America were likely to have found common cause with the abolitionists in Britain more quickly, due to the lack of war and nationalism (embryonic as it was) getting in the way.

      Given that abolition was such a powerfully MORAL force in British society, that slavery was seen as antithetical to the British conception of “liberty” (again there is the famous 1772 statement that a slave on british soil would automatically be freed as British air was too pure for the slave) and the revulsion that slavery created in popular society due to the efforts of the Saints, I would argue that slavery would likely have been abolished either way. The West Indies planters were as rich and powerful a narrow interest group can be in the British Empire. As noted they controlled nearly a fifth of British trade, in relative terms this was even more influential than the colonial exploitation of Ireland.

      What truly turned the scales was the simple fact that the Saints focused on the slave TRADE. Even if one could plausibly make the case that slavery could be benign once slaves were enslaved, one could not make the same claim for the actual transport and sale of slaves. The horrific nature of the trade made its abolition more likely and sapped the economic rationale for slavery.

      On the aggregate I would think that a lack of the War of Independence would have likely created more abolitionist sentiment in North America. The British were notoriously flexible in how they got their cotton. The likely outcome of any sort of riot against abolition would be diversification sooner into areas like Egypt and India for cotton cultivation which would have likely undermined the planters in the South that much sooner.Report

      • I would argue that circa the revolutionary era, slavery in North America was a less lucrative market than slavery in the West Indies and South America. Large scale plantation slavery for cotton was still several decades away. There was a reason that some of the Framers were relatively sanguine about slavery: There wasn’t quite as much money in it when you’re just cultivating tobacco and molasses as there is when you’re making massive amounts of important staples like cotton (aided by industrialization and textile mills) and sugar.

        This is a most interesting paragraph.  I’m trying to work through the implications, and struggling to do so.  It’s not uncommon to cite the cotton gin as a cause of the CW, but one thing the above seems to imply  is that the cotton gin may have prevented slavery in the US from dying a fairly quick natural death.  The patent on the cotton gin wasn’t validated until 1807, the same year as Jefferson signed into law the prohibition on importing and exporting slaves.

        The trend to that point very much favored abolition, even though the abolitionist movement that first comes to mind when we think of that phrase didn’t really start to organize until the 1830s.

        A question – is there any way of quantifying the value of slavery to the South both before and after the cotton gin started to spread like wildfire?  I saw that TNC has some relevant numbers posted for the CW era, but what about before cotton truly became King?

        One obvious thing this would seem to demonstrate is the power of economic incentives to change moral views.  In other words, it seems to be a parable of the manner in which our moral views may well just be post hoc justifications of things that are in our own personal best interests, no matter how abhorrent those moral views be.

        The Jefferson of 1807 signed the ban on importation and export of slaves into law, even if he could not quite get himself to publicly push for abolition in toto; I have to wonder whether a hypothetical Jefferson of 1860 wouldn’t have been at minimum sympathetic to the Cornerstone Speech if not an outright supporter thereof.Report

        • From what I recall a lot of the Framers simply thought that by the time importation was no longer protected (1807) there would no longer be a need to import slaves as the demand would no longer be there.

          This proved to be rather optimistic, as by the time the importation ban was signed, there were still somewhere on the order of 70,000 slaves being imported into the western hemisphere each year and the US never really took steps to enforce its prohibition of slave trade until the abolition treaty signed in 1862.

          I suppose the best way you could quantify the value of slavery you compare the export value of cotton per slave in the South.

          If we use two points of reference (for this let’s say 1810 as it was the closest census to Jefferson’s import ban and 1860) we get numbers like this:
          Slave Population – 1,130,000
          Cotton Production – 88,819,000 pounds
          Slave Population – 3,950,000
          Cotton Production – 1,918,701,000

          Cotton Produced Per Slave:
          1810 – 78.6 lbs
          1860 –  485.75 lbs

          Now we juxtapose this to:
          Spot price of cotton…
          Which was – 18.9 cents per pound in 1810
          12.4 cents per pound in 1860 (though most estimates sugggest this was closer to 15 cents per pound)

          Meaning the labor value of one year’s production per slave in the south was:
          1810 – $14.85
          1860 – $60.23

          Now as far as I can tell the cost of a field hand went from $900ish in 1810 to about $1,800 in 1860. That means that in terms of an economic investment, the value of potential returns per slave hand increased substantially in that same period from being something that didn’t really break even (as we can see the productive value of a single slave’s yearly labor in 1810 would require 60 years of productivitiy to pay off) to something that was a reasonable capital expenditure by 1860 (assuming you could get 30 years of work out of a prime field hand)

          Also I’m a bit skeptical that the numbers between 1810 and growth in 1860 came exclusively from internal growth. Quadrupling the slave population in 50 years from just breeding seems unusually high.

          On the whole I’m not sure how Jefferson if alive in 1860 would have dealt with the issue of slavery. On one hand he was a planter. On the other hand he seemed to actually believe what he was writing about. I’m of the opinion that cotton so thoroughly screwed up the southern economy that there was no way to really separate it from slavery without resorting to some sort of coercion. Whether that comes from military force from the Union or some sort of external sanctions/intervention regime ala the British, the end result would’ve been the same.

          I guess one might consider the South to be akin to a modern resource extraction state.Report

          • Thanks for this, very useful.  Just a quick clarification – I wasn’t trying to suggest that the ban was ever well-enforced, even in the first few years of its existence before cotton exploded.  I was just using it as a piece of evidence regarding a cultural trend towards abolitionism that even seemed to include at least some slave holders.Report

            • I figured as much. I think in many ways the 20 year protection in the Constitution was…well somewhat fortuitous. If say Madison had said “let’s make it 50 years because the other states won’t go along with 20” there might have been additional ripples.

              I think the Ban of Importation would not have actually passed a Congress in 1838 rather than 1808. By that point cotton was becoming an economic force of growing importance and the 3/5ths compromise had given the slave states a nice path to congressional dominance.Report

              • I think the Ban of Importation would not have actually passed a Congress in 1838 rather than 1808. By that point cotton was becoming an economic force of growing importance and the 3/5ths compromise had given the slave states a nice path to congressional dominance.

                Agreed – this is pretty well consonant with what I’m getting at.  I think.

                Out of curiosity, do you know of a link that shows the voting on the 1807 ban in each or either house of Congress?Report

              • I’ve looked for it but can’t really find an actual voting record. The problem is that THOMAS for example only goes back so far, and we’re talking the 9th Congress here.
                As far as I can find the record looked like:
                Joseph Anderson – TN
                Stephen Bradley – VT
                John Condit – NJ
                James Fennder – RI
                Nicholas Gilman – NH
                Benjamin Howland – RI
                Aaron Kitchell – NJ
                George Logan – PA
                Samuel Maclay – PA
                Samuel Mitchill – NY

                William Plumer – NH
                Samuel Smith – MD
                Daniel Smith – TN
                Israel Smith – VT
                David Stone – NC
                Buckner Thruston – KY
                Thomas Worthington – OH
                Robert Wright – MD

                John Adair – KY
                John Quincy Adams – MA
                Abraham Baldwin – GA
                John Gaillard – SC
                James Jackson – GA
                Andrew Moore – VA
                Timothy Pickering – MA
                Thomas Sumter – SC

                I’ll keep looking…Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

                This side thread is almost better than the post.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Kolohe says:

                It’s certainly interesting fodder for another thread…something to think about.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Kolohe says:

                Agreed, well done.Report

              • So I was looking at the numbers a bit more, and I wonder if the overall valuation of slave labor was actually somewhat undervalued in my initial calculation.

                That is to say that we have about $200 million worth of cotton being produced every year for a slave population of 4 million and an economic cost of about 3.5 billion dollars. That’s breaks even in less than 20 years, rather than the 30 I assumed.

                Which is to say: Yowza.

                Now let’s imagine a situation where the importation of slaves was not enforced by the British.

                By all accounts the importation of slaves into the Americas worked at around a million per every two decades. We have roughly five decades between 1810 and 1860 or little more than 2.5 million slaves.

                Say a third of those (perhaps a bit too generous) had been imported into North America.

                That gives us an additional 800,000 slaves to the total count, giving us a slave population of roughly 4.7 million in 1860. If the amount of cotton and the capital valuation of slaves remained the same, the numbers basically break down to about $750 for the capital investment in a single slave, with an annual labor value of about $50 per slave. You can basically make buying a new slave pay off in about 15 years.

                That’s quite a difference.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

                Nob, you still have to feed, house and clothe the slave so there are additional costs that aren’t in the equation. Also the price of cotton surely fluctuated during that and subsequent periods just like other agricultural commodities. Your study is still excellent however, when I originally read it, I was doing the math in my head thinking, 30 year payback is a poor investment because of death, disease, injury on top of market foibles. I’ve always been convinced that slavery made no economic sense, but you’ve drawn a better picture for the system. It still doesn’t make economic sense but I can see better how the people of the time thought it did.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to wardsmith says:

                You’ve made an important point here.   It’s my opinion slavery in the Americas was a perverse end-run around the trend toward mechanization in the Industrial Revolution.   Though the Industrial Revolution would lead to its own horrors and abuses, chattel slavery in North America would weaken the industrial core of the states which endorsed it.


              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to wardsmith says:

                I agree that the study is incomplete. As noted below, there’s also the point that not all of the slaves were employed on cotton fields and so the individual labor value of a good field hand was probably worth more than what I posited above. On the other hand there are those “maintenance” costs of feeding, clothing and providing for medicine. A field hand was a valuable commodity afterall…

                As for cotton’s price fluctuations it did seem relatively stable at around 10-20 cents per pound. It would fluctuate in that range, as industry caught up with supply, then outstripped it, but generally you could expect around 15 cents a pound at any point in the 19th century prior to the Civil War. (Now the 1860s were a terrible decade for cotton buyers, since the price shot up to around 40 cents a pound due to supply disruption, making it economically feasible to invest in cotton growing in India and Egypt)Report

              • Nob – out of curiosity, would these numbers change significantly if you included proceeds from other crops and/or crops retained for use on-site (ie, foodstuffs) and/or the value of labor provided by house slaves?Report

              • This is hard to quantify.

                Arguably my numbers above understates the economic value of cotton field slaves because it assumes that 100% of the slaves listed were working on cotton plantations. (The actual number I think is closer to 70%)

                On the other hand I can’t really account for things like the cost of feeding, housing the slaves and other things like whatever rudimentary medical care they might have been provided.

                If we went by the 70% figure of total slave population as field hands/cotton plantations, then slaves at $1800 per field hand (which is a maximal value, we have to remember, since the total value of slaves in 1860 was about $3.5 billion out of a population of 4 million) would still get their return back in 21 years with an average cotton production of 750 pounds or so.

                So in other words, in general the numbers provided above sort of undervalue slaves relative to their value in cotton production because they assume all slaves are cotton producers. If we started assuming other cash crops like tobacco or molasses were also included in the total value, and then we also used stuff like wheat and domestic labor, presumably the economic case for slavery actually goes up…

                Which is to say the least, rather disturbing.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

            Olmstead ( came to the conclusion that a slave in the 1850s produced something like 8-10 bales of cotton a year, which, taking into account the expenses of owning a slave, yielded a profit per field hand of about $250 a year. At that rate, the price of a slave was covered in under a decade. While I can’t speak for the accuracy of his investment, I suspect that it’s closer to the real value than yours, if only because he wasn’t using the entire slave population (which wasn’t only used for cotton).Report

            • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Chris says:

              Yeah, I’m inclined to agree on Olmstead’s analysis being more accurate. My numbers above were basically a back of the envelope calculation meant to make the case that Mr. Whitney’s Patented Cotton Gin made slavery workable due to Cotton’s explosion as a cash crop. I think it served that purpose.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

                I suspect that slavery was profitable before the cotton gin, but it became wildly so after it. Moral considerations might have outweighed economic ones before the cotton gin, but not after. They were making a shitload.

                Also, I got soaked coming in to work this morning. What was that stuff falling on me?Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Chris says:

                I think slavery was profitable before the cotton gin, but only just, and the slave-trade ban by the British made it substantially more difficult to keep it profitable. It’s probably an academic distinction in some respects, but it’s telling that British textile workers had started showing an aversion to working with slave produced cotton by the 1850s. Public outrage had at that point outstripped their own economic self-interest.

                As for the sky, it appears broken. Someone claimed it’s something called “rain”…I’m not sure if such a thing exists, but I like it.Report

  2. This was pretty much awesome, Nob.  I feel a little bit smarter for having read it.Report

  3. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I’m not sure that there will be a whole lot of comments coming from this post, Nob.  And since you’re the new guy, I wanted to make sure you’re aware the reason for that is that there’s not much to say that isn’t in the post already.   I knew little of this prior to reading your post, and am very glad to have been introduced to it.

    Really, this is most outstanding.Report

  4. Avatar greginak says:

    Very good post. I’ve always thought this  was a bit of lesser or unknown history in the US. Ending slavery without the CW was, at the least, a monumentally unlikely task and, in reality, would have never happened with the intransigence of a large part of the population.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to greginak says:

      I’m a bit conflicted on this. I think if the US persisted in slavery, the likelihood was that the British abolitionists would eventually have targeted US cotton imports as a means of forcing their hand. Now granted the theoretically costs to the British economy would have likely been just as catastrophic as when the CW happened and the Feds blockaded Rebel exports. But even in the hypothetical alternate histories, the strength of British abolitionist sentiment is often deeply underestimated.

      The likelihood is that if the British ever did decide to recognize the CSA as a legitimate state, they would have found some way to bludgeon them into a form of emancipation. (As they did against Brazil and the Spaniards)Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        I  can’t imagine any effort from the Brits would have worked since just electing Lincoln was enough to send the south to war. How the south would have worked if the Brits pushed is a good question but they weren’t giving up their slaves.Report

        • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to greginak says:

          Greg, I was thinking more on the popular counterfactuals of “British help the CSA win independence” stuff. I’d imagine that the South wouldn’t have wanted to give up their slaves and might have eventually come to blows with the Brits over reestablishing the slave trade.

          Mostly I’m saying that the Brits, if they were in fact in the position of aiding the CSA in its fight for independence, would have likely leveraged that to the hilt to force some sort of eventual emancipation. Whether or not the CSA would have followed through with it is another question entirely.Report

  5. Avatar wardsmith says:

    Great post Noboru.

    I wonder if your reading showed up the economic effect of eliminating the lave trade on those who were already slaves, ie breeding? As I recall, although for instance Jefferson wanted to free his slaves, they were simply too valuable by then (and he was too indebted) for that to happen. Likewise by the time of the Civil War, the majority of the assets of the south were slaves, followed by land as far as bankers were concerned.

    There’s an arbitrary corollary here in US with Alpacas. For reasons unknown, they either cannot be imported or the import is limited (I’m no expert on them). I’ve been to someone’s farm however some years ago who proudly showed me a half a dozen alpacas that he had paid half a million for. I tried not to snort beer out my nose, while he further explained they were so valuable because they couldn’t be imported. My problem was that I’d seen them by the thousands in South America where they could even be found on the menus of some restaurants.

    So while we’re examining the IR effect of the moral elimination of the slave trade, it also created a secondary market where existing slaves and their progeny increased in value. Like prohibition (another moral crusade) there are always unintended consequences. AS they say, no good deed goes unpunished.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to wardsmith says:

      Essentially the rise in value of American slaves was predicated on two factors. The first is that large-scale importation became difficult and then was banned. The second was that the value of the product produced by the labor shot up exponentially by the time Jefferson died.

      The first is interesting because the US Constitution effectively protected importation of slaves for 20 years after ratification. While Congress technically outlawed imports in 1808, there was sufficient nationalist agitation of British abuses against American merchant shipping that there was a bit of a “wink and a nod” approach to slave imports until the Civil War. Smuggling slaves into the US became an increasingly more profitable venture as the price of slaves went up.

      The second is essentially a matter of economics. Slavery in the sugar producing regions of the West Indies eventually couldn’t sustain itself because the lack of imports meant they couldn’t replace cheap slave labor, and that in itself made slavery unprofitable. On the other hand the explosion of cotton production due to Whitney’s patented invention allowed the productivity of an individual slave in the south to outpace the rate of inflation on slave prices.

      I’m not sure what the economic effects of not banning the slave trade would have had on the use of slave labor. Second order effects are interesting in that respect. I do think in the aggregate it was a moral good, and that some of the more terrible parts of say the late 1880s scramble for Africa might have wound up even more horrific if slave-trade was still legal. But when we go that far into counter-factuals we’re treading on Newt Gingrich fantasy-land territory, and I’m not real comfortable there unless I’m writing fiction.Report

  6. Avatar Will Truman says:

    This last point is perhaps not understood by people who claim slavery could have been ended “naturally”. The economic costs that made slavery unattractive by the latter half of the 1800s in most of the western hemisphere didn’t happen in a vacuum, but due to the British efforts to end the slave trade.

    When I hear people say that slavery could have been ended naturally, I have sort of been under the assumption that they were saying “without war” and not necessarily “due to raw economics.”

    You touch on this in your later comments, but I do think there is a chance that had the South won, the combined economic pressure of Britain and the US would have put the Confederacy in a precarious position and that something else might have been worked out.

    None of this is to criticize Lincoln or put the burden on the Union. God Bless Lincoln. The (modern) South, as much as anyone, owes him a debt of gratitude.Report

    • I guess what I’m trying to say is that the British Saints essentially conducted a 60 year “war on slavery”. They used every tool at their disposal including an enormous Royal Navy squadron for this purpose. The RN’s raids into western Africa were the Seal Team 6s of their day.

      I suppose my point is the conditions that made slavery potentially endable without a Civil War were bought by the blood and treasure of other people. It was not the invisible hand of the free market doing it. It was concerted international intervention by a country flexing its huge advantage in naval superiority to do so.Report

      • So what do you think the odds are of it being able to force a Confederacy into abandoning it a decade or two after its inception?Report

        • I’m not really sure. I guess the question is whether or not the Confederacy would have become economically dependent on British cotton demand.

          That said, the Royal Navy was the blunt instrument of this British policy. Likely as not if the Confederacy decided to be inflexible on the question of manumission it would have been able to starve it to death by cutting off exports through blockade and would probably have been willing to fight some sort of short war like it did against Brazil in the 1850s.

          I would say that an independent CSA would’ve been forced to abolish by 1880s at latest, simply given the pressure to do so by its huge economic patron and the inability of it to actually do anything about its dependence on foreign exports to sustain its cotton economy.Report

        • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Will Truman says:

          Will, to be clear here, you’re talking about an alternate reality where there was no Pickett’s charge, Stuart stayed home to help out at Gettysburg etc. and somehow the Confederacy wins secession? If /that/ Confederacy had achieved independence, would the moral crusaders of Britain and the still extant USA been able to use sanctions and/or diplomatic means to inveigle the Confederacy to abandon slavery? That would certainly make for an interesting read, care to give it a go?


          • Avatar Kim in reply to wardsmith says:

            rofl. I know the guy who ran the numbers on this one. Gettysburg was a doomed battle from the getgo (and Longstreet knew it…)

            Hope you’re not one of those bent on flogging Lee’s old warhorse.

            But, but, but, the war was already lost by the time Gettysburg was necessary.

            Even without a war, even had Lincoln stayed home entirely (somehow. moved to Harrisburg?), the whole thing woulda fallen apart.Report

            • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Kim says:

              I bought the Killer Angels trilogy as it came out, excellent read. I’m not from the south although my ancestors were there long ago. I’m guessing they were in the worst possible position, poor white trash for the most part, economically disadvantaged by a system where a free man can’t get honest work that might have been done otherwise by slaves. Amazingly the majority of soldiers in the CW southern army were just such characters, fighting not to continue the slavery but to assert state’s rights over the wicked federal gov’t. Libertarians perhaps? 😉Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to wardsmith says:

                I’m quite fond of the Michael Shaara books, too. Though I do take them with a bit of salt, much like one might take Aubrey-Maturin, Hornblower or Sharpe with a bit of salt, as well.Report

              • Avatar Matty in reply to wardsmith says:

                I’m guessing they were in the worst possible position

                Second worst I think you’ll findReport

              • Amazingly the majority of soldiers in the CW southern army were just such characters, fighting not to continue the slavery but to assert state’s rights over the wicked federal gov’t.

                This is a commonly held belief and oft-made claim, but does not withstand scrutiny in any meaningful sense.


              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                Mark, I’m by no means an expert on the CW, but have a hard time believing many could come up with that kind of scratch. If a slave sold for $1800, that would equal about a lifetime’s wages for the average citizen of the day. One site shows the relative economic power of that amount at about $6million in today’s currency, which sounds about right.

                Matty, well played.Report

              • Perhaps, but….

                1.  Part of the point of the linked-to post is that those who benefitted directly from slavery were massively more likely to volunteer for service.  Or, if you’d prefer, those who did not so benefit were massively less likely to volunteer for CSA service.

                2.  The “sale price” figure isn’t relevant when discussing slaves that were never purchased but were instead born into slavery and stayed with the same master throughout.

                Keep in mind also that the areas of the South where slaveholding was significantly less common were also the areas that basically stayed within the Union fold – West Virginia and a good chunk of Tennessee.  There were about 3.5 million slaves in what would be come the CSA in 1860; the total population of those states was a little over 5.5 million.  In the Lower South (excl. Texas), there were actually more slaves than free whites.

                Now, I would expect that after the first half of 1861, there was a significant increase in the number of volunteers without a direct tie to slavery, particularly in Virginia, but that does not at all exonerate the South’s Cause, since at that point we’re dealing with a good number of people enlisting because of a direct threat to their homes from an invading army, whether or not that invasion was justified.

                Last but not least, your $6 million estimate based on an $1800 price is off by about two orders of magnitude.  So far as I can calculate, it’s a lot closer to $60,000 in real 2011 dollars.Report

              • I think ward was calculating the $6 million based on the average household income and overall wealth level in terms of what it would equal for a person to buy these days.Report

              • Actually, here’s a good link for that last number.

                If you’re just comparing $1800 in income and trying to figure out the economic power of that income, then you can get to around $6,000,000.  But if you are trying to figure out the price of a commodity (and that’s how slaves were obviously treated), then the number comes out to either around $50,000 in real price, or around $600,000 in income value.  I’d be willing to use the $600,000 figure here, though obviously I think the $50,000 figure makes sense as well, since the $600,000 figure would have the meaning “amount of income in 2010 required to purchase the commodity for cash if the commodity were available in 2010.”  That is still expensive, but amounts to the mortgage on a high-priced home or, more relevant for our purposes, a medium sized farm.Report

              • Also as a side note worth noting that $1800 was for a “prime field hand” meaning a young male worker. It’s likely you could buy slaves that weren’t quite that expensive depending on what you needed them for. For example a household slave was likely cheaper by a substantial amount.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                Yes Nob and actually Mark that was exactly the site I got my number from. You should see why I was going for economic rather than commodity, since a commodity such as cotton is used once while a slave (or horse or machinery) has an economically productive lifetime associated with it.

                Slavery is obviously a horrible and stupid practice. The worst thing about it is that one could be born into slavery. Even if I take the $600K number, mistreating a slave would make no economic sense for something that cost as much as a house. Jefferson felt that since we’d taken the blacks out of their natural habitat we had an obligation to take care of them.

                From an economic despot viewpoint, serfdom makes much better sense. Serfs not only have to pay you for using your land, they have to take care of themselves as best they can, slaves are valuable and hence you need to take care of them. In sum, slaves cost more from an economic standpoint.

                Way back in school I wrote a science fiction story about people getting the opportunity to own one “slave” a robot that could earn their living for them so they didn’t have to work themselves. Of course if you lost your robot in that society you were really screwed.Report

              • For our purposes, the type of treatment the slaves received is not really relevant;and of course mistreatment can take many different forms, and many types of mistreatment need not shorten the life span of the mistreated person. The point here is that a majority of CSA volunteers in 1861 were pretty clearly direct beneficiaries of slavery and indeed directly reliant upon it.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to wardsmith says:

            I actually had a different series of events in mind (starting just before Guadalupe-Hidalgo), involving a story idea I was batting around for a while. But for the sake of the discussion, I am satisfied with not bringing Mexico into it and assuming a different result for whatever reason (earlier assassination of Lincoln, what you describe, British intervention).Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

          false premise. you assume a confederacy would have held up to anything, even time.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

      the modern south owes him a debt of gratitude… and a whole lot of hate. Because who left everything standing, in some misguided sense of “they’ll work this out…”

      Who left behind the seeds of the lost causers, akin to the seeds hitler played off of?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kim says:

        Andrew Johnson, as much as anybody. Unless you’re saying that Lincoln shouldn’t have accepted the surrender and should have just Shermaned everything in sight. Occupation spanning generations (required to annihilate the dissident culture) would have been… very difficult to accomplish. Difficult to summon the political will, if nothing else.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

          Given that there is still a significant pool of money paying for the Lost Cause, that was established directly after the Civil War… I don’t think “Carthage-izing” everything would have been necessary. Simply destroying the money supply for the ongoing propaganda effort would be enough.

          That doesn’t involve ongoing occupation, though it might have required summary executions of all nobility involved. (they were Cavaliers, of course they had nobility! and Ranking! Missouri ranked lowest)Report

  7. Avatar Katherine says:

    Thank you for this post.  I remember writing a paper on the issue in undergrad; it’s always fascinated me, both because it’s one of the triumphs of Christianity as a moral force in politics, and because it contradicts the realist theory of foreign policy that states will always and only do what is in their interests.  And that really does make it an inspiration to modern-day movements that pursue goals which are dismissed as utopian.

    I’d say that one reason abolition was possible was that it combined the support of a highly committed group in Parliament with that of the British public.  (To some degree this was likely a circular effect, where the presence of prominent opponents to the slave trade in Parliament brought the issue to the public consciousness.)  Abolitionists sent numerous and large petitions (those from Manchesters’ artisans were typically with largest, with tens of thousands of signatures) to Parliament.  Some 300,000 people boycotted slave-grown sugar; imagine if we could get a similar number behind the fair trade movement (in coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar) today.  In the November 1806 British elections, some pro-slave-trade candidates actually withdrew from the race after realizing they didn’t have a chance; others changed their positions to pro-abolition in response to public opinion.  Even Liverpool, the port at the heart of the slave trade, elected an an anti-slave-trade MP.Report