20 January 2015

Abolition of slavery in America

Notice where the "freedom-loving" country ranks compared to the others.  Via Kottke.


  1. I sometimes literally wake up in the middle of the night, wondering "In face of such an egregious error as slavery, how did the US grow to be a great power?"

    1. The U.S. grew to be a great power in part because of the existence of slavery. (If, by power, you mean monetary wealth) Of course being rich is not the same as being great.

    2. I'm not even American and feel the need to somewhat correct this:

      First of all there is a huge difference between legally abolishing slavery and actually ending it. This is the first part of answering how the US could become powerful: Once slavery was abolished, systems of forced or 'unfree' labor didn't exist anymore to a relevant (mind you: relevant!) degree. Compare this to South America, where the countries abolished slavery earlier but systems of labor exploitation and dependency stayed in place.

      And secondly it is important to see how relevant slavery was in the first place. Take French Guyana for example, which basically stopped working within a decade of abolishing slavery - even though the french government tried to save the colony by sending thousands of prisoners for forced work. In the United States on the other hand slavery was only relevant in the south, and only in a few of the US' very diverse industries.

      Also keep in mind the that US' stellar rise in power only really started in the second half of the 19th century.
      You would have to compare the US' situation then to the rest of the world. As you can see in the linked map, slavery was abolished in the US later than in most countries of the western hemisphere, but it all happend basically within one generation (ignoring Hispaniola, where the abolition of slavery happend kind of "bottom-up"). In Africa itself and the Middle East slavery was still going strong, systems of forced labor where intensively used in northern Asia (aka Siberia), India had its caste system, China a highly regulated, one might say feudal, society, Australia was still primarily a prison colony and so forth.
      Bottom line is: While slavery was an "egregious error" it happened at a time when most of the world was living some kinds of egregious errors or others... An error is only a disadvantage if your competitors are doing better.

  2. An interesting book that I just read a few weeks ago, and found quite interesting on the subject...

  3. One way the U.S. grew to be a great power was by surrendering the use of slavery. A great nation can recognize its mistakes, correct them and not just survive but thrive.

  4. Two things about slavery in the US: a) how deeply it was entrenched in our overall economy- even our most famous Northern institutions of higher learning were thoroughly dependent on the monies invested in slavery; b) how the whole concept of race was first institutionalized in the US beginning with The Bacon Rebellion when land owning Whites began rewarding poor Whites with the crumbs, if they assisted in keeping non-Whites in place.

  5. Did the abolishment of slavery in the united states coincide with the abolishment in indentured servitude?
    Does anyone here view our current credit based economy as a sort of indentured servitude?

  6. I notice Kottke pretends Canada does not exist: the British Parliament's Slavery Abolition Act finally abolished slavery in all parts of the British Empire effective August 1, 1834, although the Simcoe Slave Act of 1793 did severely limit slavery in Upper Canada, restricting slave owners from acquiring new slaves and requiring them to free children of slaves at the age of 25.


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