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American Negro Slavery by Ulrich Bonnell Phillips

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shortage was owing such opportunity as the white yeomanry had in staple
production. The world offered a market, though not at high prices, for a
greater volume of the crops than the plantation slaves could furnish; the
farmers supplied the deficit.

Free workingmen in general, whether farmers, artisans or unskilled wage
earners, merely filled the interstices in and about the slave plantations.
One year in the eighteen-forties a planter near New Orleans, attempting to
dispense with slave labor, assembled a force of about a hundred Irish and
German immigrants for his crop routine. Things went smoothly until the
midst of the grinding season, when with one accord the gang struck for
double pay. Rejecting the demand the planter was unable to proceed with
his harvest and lost some ten thousand dollars worth of his crop.[9] The
generality of the planters realized, without such a demonstration, that
each year must bring its crop crisis during which an overindulgence by the
laborers in the privileges of liberty might bring ruin to the employers.
To secure immunity from this they were the more fully reconciled to the
limitations of their peculiar labor supply. Freemen white or black might
be convenient as auxiliaries, and were indeed employed in many instances
whether on annual contract as blacksmiths and the like or temporarily
as emergency helpers in the fields; but negro slaves were the standard
composition of the gangs. This brought it about that whithersoever the
planters went they carried with them crowds of negro slaves and all the
problems and influences to which the presence of negroes and the prevalence
of slavery gave rise.

[Footnote 9: Sir Charles Lyell, _Second Visit to the United States_,
(London, 1850), II, 162, 163.]

One of the consequences was to keep foreign immigration small. In the
colonial period the trade in indentured servants recruited the white
population, and most of those who came in that status remained as permanent
citizens of the South; but such Europeans as came during the nineteenth
century were free to follow their own reactions without submitting to a
compulsory adjustment. Many of them found the wage-earning opportunity
scant, for the slaves were given preference by their masters when steady
occupations were to be filled, and odd jobs were often the only recourse
for outsiders. This was an effect of the slavery system. Still more
important, however, was the repugnance which the newcomers felt at working
and living alongside the blacks; and this was a consequence not of the
negroes being slaves so much as of the slaves being negroes. It was
a racial antipathy which when added to the experience of industrial
disadvantage pressed the bulk of the newcomers northwestward beyond the
confines of the Southern staple belts, and pressed even many of the native
whites in the same direction.

This intrenched the slave plantations yet more strongly in their local
domination, and by that very fact it hampered industrial development. Great
landed proprietors, it is true, have oftentimes been essential for making
beneficial innovations. Thus the remodeling of English agriculture which
Jethro Tull and Lord Townsend instituted in the eighteenth century could
not have been set in progress by any who did not possess their combination
of talent and capital.[10] In the ante-bellum South, likewise, it was the
planters, and necessarily so, who introduced the new staples of sea-island
cotton and sugar, the new devices of horizontal plowing and hillside
terracing, the new practice of seed selection, and the new resource of
commercial fertilizers. Yet their constant bondage to the staples debarred
the whole community in large degree from agricultural diversification, and
their dependence upon gangs of negro slaves kept the average of skill and
assiduity at a low level.

[Footnote 10: R.E. Prothero, _English Farming, past and present_, (London,
1912), chap. 7.]

The negroes furnished inertly obeying minds and muscles; slavery provided a
police; and the plantation system contributed the machinery of direction.
The assignment of special functions to slaves of special aptitudes would
enhance the general efficiency; the cooerdination of tasks would prevent
waste of effort; and the conduct of a steady routine would lessen the
mischiefs of irresponsibility. But in the work of a plantation squad no
delicate implements could be employed, for they would be broken; and no
discriminating care in the handling of crops could be had except at a cost
of supervision which was generally prohibitive. The whole establishment
would work with success only when the management fully recognized and
allowed for the crudity of the labor.

The planters faced this fact with mingled resolution and resignation. The
sluggishness of the bulk of their slaves they took as a racial trait to
be conquered by discipline, even though their ineptitude was not to
be eradicated; the talents and vigor of their exceptional negroes and
mulattoes, on the other hand, they sought to foster by special training and
rewards. But the prevalence of slavery which aided them in the one policy
hampered them in the other, for it made the rewards arbitrary instead of
automatic and it restricted the scope of the laborers' employments and of
their ambitions as well. The device of hiring slaves to themselves, which
had an invigorating effect here and there in the towns, could find little
application in the country; and the paternalism of the planters could
provide no fully effective substitute. Hence the achievements of the
exceptional workmen were limited by the status of slavery as surely as
the progress of the generality was restricted by the fact of their being

A further influence of the plantation system was to hamper the growth of
towns. This worked in several ways. As for manufactures, the chronic demand
of the planters for means with which to enlarge their scales of operations
absorbed most of the capital which might otherwise have been available for
factory promotion. A few cotton mills were built in the Piedmont where
water power was abundant, and a few small ironworks and other industries;
but the supremacy of agriculture was nowhere challenged. As for commerce,
the planters plied the bulk of their trade with distant wholesale dealers,
patronizing the local shopkeepers only for petty articles or in emergencies
when transport could not be awaited; and the slaves for their part, while
willing enough to buy of any merchant within reach, rarely had either money
or credit.

Towns grew, of course, at points on the seaboard where harbors were good,
and where rivers or railways brought commerce from the interior. Others
rose where the fall line marked the heads of river navigation, and on the
occasional bluffs of the Mississippi, and finally a few more at railroad
junctions. All of these together numbered barely three score, some of which
counted their population by hundreds rather than by thousands; and in the
wide intervals between there was nothing but farms, plantations and thinly
scattered villages. In the Piedmont, country towns of fairly respectable
dimensions rose here and there, though many a Southern county-seat could
boast little more than a court house and a hitching rack. Even as regards
the seaports, the currents of trade were too thin and divergent to permit
of large urban concentration, for the Appalachian water-shed shut off
the Atlantic ports from the commerce of the central basin; and even the
ambitious construction of railroads to the northwest, fostered by the
seaboard cities, merely enabled the Piedmont planters to get their
provisions overland, and barely affected the volume of the seaboard trade.
New Orleans alone had a location promising commercial greatness; but her
prospects were heavily diminished by the building of the far away Erie
Canal and the Northern trunk line railroads which diverted the bulk of
Northwestern trade from the Gulf outlet.

As conditions were, the slaveholding South could have realized a
metropolitan life only through absentee proprietorships. In the Roman
_latifundia_, which overspread central and southern Italy after the
Hannibalic war, absenteeism was a chronic feature and a curse. The
overseers there were commonly not helpers in the proprietors' daily
routine, but sole managers charged with a paramount duty of procuring
the greatest possible revenues and transmitting them to meet the urban
expenditures of their patrician employers. The owners, having no more
personal touch with their great gangs of slaves than modern stockholders
have with the operatives in their mills, exploited them accordingly. Where
humanity and profits were incompatible, business considerations were likely
to prevail. Illustrations of the policy may be drawn from Cato the Elder's
treatise on agriculture. Heavy work by day, he reasoned, would not only
increase the crops but would cause deep slumber by night, valuable as a
safeguard against conspiracy; discord was to be sown instead of harmony
among the slaves, for the same purpose of hindering plots; capital
sentences when imposed by law were to be administered in the presence of
the whole corps for the sake of their terrorizing effect; while rations for
the able-bodied were not to exceed a fixed rate, those for the sick were to
be still more frugally stinted; and the old and sick slaves were to be
sold along with other superfluities.[11] Now, Cato was a moralist of wide
repute, a stoic it is true, but even so a man who had a strong sense of
duty. If such were his maxims, the oppressions inflicted by his fellow
proprietors and their slave drivers must have been stringent indeed.

[Footnote 11: A.H.J. Greenidge, _History of Rome during the later Republic
and the early Principate_ (New York, 1905), I, 64-85; M. Porcius Cato, _De
Agri Cultura_, Keil ed. (Leipsig, 1882).]

The heartlessness of the Roman _latifundiarii_ was the product partly of
their absenteeism, partly of the cheapness of their slaves which were
poured into the markets by conquests and raids in all quarters of the
Mediterranean world, and partly of the lack of difference between masters
and slaves in racial traits. In the ante-bellum South all these conditions
were reversed: the planters were commonly resident; the slaves were costly;
and the slaves were negroes, who for the most part were by racial quality
submissive rather than defiant, light-hearted instead of gloomy, amiable
and ingratiating instead of sullen, and whose very defects invited
paternalism rather than repression. Many a city slave in Rome was the boon
companion of his master, sharing his intellectual pleasures and his revels,
while most of those on the _latifundia_ were driven cattle. It was hard to
maintain a middle adjustment for them. In the South, on the other hand, the
medium course was the obvious thing. The bulk of the slaves, because they
were negroes, because they were costly, and because they were in personal
touch, were pupils and working wards, while the planters were teachers and
guardians as well as masters and owners. There was plenty of coercion in
the South; but in comparison with the harshness of the Roman system the
American regime was essentially mild.

Every plantation of the standard Southern type was, in fact, a school
constantly training and controlling pupils who were in a backward state of
civilization. Slave youths of special promise, or when special purposes
were in view, might be bound as apprentices to craftsmen at a distance.
Thus James H. Hammond in 1859 apprenticed a fourteen-year-old mulatto boy,
named Henderson, for four years to Charles Axt, of Crawfordville, Georgia,
that he might be taught vine culture. Axt agreed in the indenture to feed
and clothe the boy, pay for any necessary medical attention, teach him his
trade, and treat him with proper kindness. Before six months were ended
Alexander H. Stephens, who was a neighbor of Axt and a friend of Hammond,
wrote the latter that Henderson had run away and that Axt was unfit to have
the care of slaves, especially when on hire, and advised Hammond to take
the boy home. Soon afterward Stephens reported that Henderson had returned
and had been whipped, though not cruelly, by Axt.[12] The further history
of this episode is not ascertainable. Enough of it is on record, however,
to suggest reasons why for the generality of slaves home training was
thought best.

[Footnote 12: MSS. among the Hammond papers in the Library of Congress.]

This, rudimentary as it necessarily was, was in fact just what the bulk of
the negroes most needed. They were in an alien land, in an essentially
slow process of transition from barbarism to civilization. New industrial
methods of a simple sort they might learn from precepts and occasional
demonstrations; the habits and standards of civilized life they could only
acquire in the main through examples reinforced with discipline. These the
plantation regime supplied. Each white family served very much the function
of a modern social settlement, setting patterns of orderly, well bred
conduct which the negroes were encouraged to emulate; and the planters
furthermore were vested with a coercive power, salutary in the premises, of
which settlement workers are deprived. The very aristocratic nature of the
system permitted a vigor of discipline which democracy cannot possess. On
the whole the plantations were the best schools yet invented for the mass
training of that sort of inert and backward people which the bulk of the
American negroes represented. The lack of any regular provision for the
discharge of pupils upon the completion of their training was, of course, a
cardinal shortcoming which the laws of slavery imposed; but even in view
of this, the slave plantation regime, after having wrought the initial and
irreparable misfortune of causing the negroes to be imported, did at
least as much as any system possible in the period could have done toward
adapting the bulk of them to life in a civilized community.



In barbaric society slavery is a normal means of conquering the isolation
of workers and assembling them in more productive cooerdination. Where
population is scant and money little used it is almost a necessity in the
conduct of large undertakings, and therefore more or less essential for
the advancement of civilization. It is a means of domesticating savage or
barbarous men, analogous in kind and in consequence to the domestication of
the beasts of the field.[1] It was even of advantage to some of the people
enslaved, in that it saved them from extermination when defeated in war,
and in that it gave them touch with more advanced communities than their
own. But this was counterbalanced by the stimulus which the profits of
slave catching gave to wars and raids with all their attendant injuries.
Any benefit to the slave, indeed, was purely incidental. The reason for the
institution's existence was the advantage which accrued to the masters.
So positive and pronounced was this reckoned to be, that such highly
enlightened people as the Greeks and Romans maintained it in the palmiest
days of their supremacies.

[Footnote 1: This thought was expressed, perhaps for the first time, in
T.R. Dew's essay on slavery (1832); it is elaborated in Gabriel Tarde, _The
Laws of Imitation_ (Parsons tr., New York, 1903), pp. 278, 279.]

Western Europe in primitive times was no exception. Slavery in a more or
less fully typical form was widespread. When the migrations ended in the
middle ages, however, the rise of feudalism gave the people a thorough
territorial regimentation. The dearth of commerce whether in goods or in
men led gradually to the conversion of the unfree laborers from slaves
into serfs or villeins attached for generations to the lands on which they
wrought. Finally, the people multiplied so greatly and the landless were
so pressed for livelihood that at the beginning of modern times European
society found the removal of bonds conducive to the common advantage. Serfs
freed from their inherited obligations could now seek employment wherever
they would, and landowners, now no longer lords, might employ whom they
pleased. Bondmen gave place to hirelings and peasant proprietors,
status gave place to contract, industrial society was enabled to make
redistributions and readjustments at will, as it had never been before. In
view of the prevailing traits and the density of the population a general
return whether to slavery or serfdom was economically unthinkable. An
intelligent Scotch philanthropist, Fletcher of Saltoun, it is true,
proposed at the end of the seventeenth century that the indigent and their
children be bound as slaves to selected masters as a means of relieving
the terrible distresses of unemployment in his times;[2] but his project
appears to have received no public sanction whatever. The fact that he
published such a plan is more a curious antiquarian item than one of
significance in the history of slavery. Not even the thin edge of a wedge
could possibly be inserted which might open a way to restore what everyone
was on virtually all counts glad to be free of.

[Footnote 2: W.E.H. Lecky, _History of England in the Eighteenth Century_
(New York, 1879), II, 43,44.]

When the American mining and plantation colonies were established, however,
some phases of the most ancient labor problems recurred. Natural resources
invited industry in large units, but wage labor was not to be had. The
Spaniards found a temporary solution in impressing the tropical American
aborigines, and the English in a recourse to indented white immigrants. But
both soon resorted predominantly for plantation purposes to the importation
of Africans, for whom the ancient institution of slavery was revived. Thus
from purely economic considerations the sophisticated European colonists
of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries involved themselves and their
descendants, with the connivance of their home governments, in the toils of
a system which on the one hand had served their remote forbears with good
effect, but which on the other hand civilized peoples had long and almost
universally discarded as an incubus. In these colonial beginnings the
negroes were to be had so cheaply and slavery seemed such a simple and
advantageous device when applied to them, that no qualms as to the future
were felt. At least no expressions of them appear in the records of thought
extant for the first century and more of English colonial experience.
And when apprehensions did arise they were concerned with the dangers of
servile revolt, not with any deleterious effects to arise from the economic
nature of slavery in time of peace.

Now, slavery and indented servitude are analogous to serfdom in that they
may yield to the employers all the proceeds of industry beyond what is
required for the sustenance of the laborers; but they have this difference,
immense for American purposes, that they permit labor to be territorially
shifted, while serfdom keeps it locally fixed. By choosing these
facilitating forms of bondage instead of the one which would have attached
the laborers to the soil, the founders of the colonial regime in industry
doubtless thought they had avoided all economic handicaps in the premises.
Their device, however, was calculated to meet the needs of a situation
where the choice was between bond labor and no labor. As generations passed
and workingmen multiplied in America, the system of indentures for white
immigrants was automatically dissolved; but slavery for the bulk of the
negroes persisted as an integral feature of economic life. Whether this
was conducive or injurious to the prosperity of employers and to the
community's welfare became at length a question to which students far and
wide applied their faculties. Some of the participants in the discussion
considered the problem as one in pure theory; others examined not only the
abstract ratio of slave and free labor efficiency but included in their
view the factor of negro racial traits and the prospects and probable
consequences of abolition under existing circumstances. On the one point
that an average slave might be expected to accomplish less in an hour's
work than an average free laborer, agreement was unanimous; on virtually
every other point the views published were so divergent as to leave the
public more or less distracted. Adam Smith, whose work largely shaped the
course of economic thought for a century following its publication in 1776,
said of slave labor merely that its cost was excessive by reason of its
lack of zest, frugality and inventiveness. The tropical climate of the
sugar colonies, he conceded, might require the labor of negro slaves,
but even there its productiveness would be enhanced by liberal policies
promoting intelligence among the slaves and assimilating their condition to
that of freemen.[3] To some of these points J.B. Say, the next economist to
consider the matter, took exception. Common sense must tell us, said he,
that a slave's maintenance must be less than that of a free workman, since
the master will impose a more drastic frugality than a freeman will adopt
unless a dearth of earnings requires it. The slave's work, furthermore,
is more constant, for the master will not permit so much leisure and
relaxation as the freeman customarily enjoys. Say agreed, however, that
slavery, causing violence and brutality to usurp the place of intelligence,
both hampered the progress of invention and enervated such free laborers as
were in touch with the regime.[4]

[Footnote 3: Adam Smith, _The Wealth of Nations_, various editions, book I,
chap. 8; book III, chap. 2; book IV, chaps. 7 and 9.]

[Footnote 4: J.B. Say, _Traite d'Economie Politique_ (Paris, 1803), book I,
chap. 28; in various later editions, book I, chap. 19.]

The translation of Say's book into English evoked a reply to his views on
slavery by Adam Hodgson, an Englishman with anti-slavery bent who had made
an American tour; but his essay, though fortified with long quotations,
was too rambling and ill digested to influence those who were not already
desirous of being convinced.[5] More substantial was an essay of 1827 by
a Marylander, James Raymond, who cited the experiences of his own
commonwealth to support his contentions that slavery hampered economy by
preventing seasonal shiftings of labor, by requiring employers to support
their operatives in lean years as well as fat, and by hindering the
accumulation of wealth by the laborers. The system, said he, could yield
profits to the masters only in specially fertile districts; and even there
it kept down the growth of population and of land values.[6]

[Footnote 5: Adam Hodgson, _A Letter to M. Jean-Baptiste Say, on the
comparative expense of free and slave labour_ (Liverpool, 1823; New York,

[Footnote 6: James Raymond, _Prize Essay on the Comparative Economy of Free
and Slave Labor in Agriculture_ (Frederick [Md.], 1827), reprinted in the
_African Repository_, III, 97-110 (June, 1827).]

About the same time Dr. Thomas Cooper, president of South Carolina College,
wrote: "Slave labour is undoubtedly the dearest kind of labour; it is all
forced, and forced too from a class of human beings who have the least
propensity to voluntary labour even when it is to benefit themselves
alone." The cost of rearing a slave to the age of self support, he
reckoned, including insurance, at forty dollars a year for fifteen years.
The usual work of a slave field hand, he thought, was barely two-thirds of
what a white laborer at usual wages would perform, and from his earnings
about forty dollars a year must be deducted for his maintenance. When
interest on the investment and a proportion of an overseer's wages were
deducted in addition, he thought the prevalent rate, six to eight dollars
a month and board valued at forty or fifty dollars a year, for free white
farm hands in the Northern states gave a decisive advantage to those who
hired laborers over those who owned them. "Nothing will justify slave
labour in point of economy," he concluded, "but the nature of the soil and
climate which incapacitates a white man from labouring in the summer time,
as on the rich lands in Carolina and Georgia extending one hundred miles
from the seaboard."[7]

[Footnote 7: Thomas Cooper, _Lectures on the Elements of Political
Economy_, (Columbia [S.C.], 1826), pp. 94, 95.]

The economic vices of slavery as exemplified in Virginia were elaborated in
an essay printed in 1832 attributed to Jesse Burton Harrison of that state.
Slavery, said this essay, drives away free workmen by stigmatizing labor,
for "nothing but the most abject necessity would lead a white man to hire
himself to work in the fields under the overseer"; it causes exhaustion of
the soil by reason of the negligence it promotes in the workmen and
the stress which overseers are fain to put upon immediate returns; it
discourages all forms of industry but plantation tillage, furthermore, for
although it has not and perhaps cannot be proved that slaves may not be
successfully employed in manufactures, the community has gone and tends
still to go, on that assumption; it discourages mechanic skill, for the
slaves never acquire more than the rudiments of artisanry, and the planters
discourage white craftsmen by giving preference uniformly to their
own laborers. Slave labor is dearer than free, because of its lack of
incentive; the regime costs the community the services of the immigrants
who would otherwise enter; and finally it promotes waste instead of
frugality on the part of both masters and slaves. The only means by which
Virginia could procure profit from slaves, it concluded, was that of
raising them for sale to the lower South; but such profit could only be
gained systematically at a complete sacrifice of honor.[8]

[Footnote 8: [Jesse Burton Harrison], _Review of the Slave Question,
extracted from the American Quarterly Review, Dec. 1832_. By a Virginian
(Richmond, 1833).]

Daniel R. Goodloe of North Carolina wrote in 1846 in a similar tone but
with original arguments. Beginning with an exposition of the South's
comparative backwardness in economic development, he showed a twofold
working of the institution of slavery as the cause. For one thing it
lessened the vigor of industry by degrading labor in the estimation of the
poor and engendering pride in the rich; but far more important, it required
employers to sink large amounts of capital in the purchase of laborers
instead of permitting them to pay for work, as the wage system does, out
of current proceeds. It thereby particularly hampered the growth of
manufactures, for in such lines, as well as in commerce, "the fact that
slavery absorbs the bulk of Southern capital must always present an
obstacle to extensive operations." The holding of laborers as property, he
continued, can contribute nothing to production, for the destruction of the
property by the liberation of the slaves would not impair their laboring
efficiency. Hence all the individual wealth which has assumed that shape
has added nothing to the resources of the community. "Slavery merely serves
to appropriate the wages of labor--it distributes wealth, but cannot create
it." It involves expenditure in acquiring early population, then operates
to prevent land improvements and the diversification of industry,
restricting, indeed, even the range of agriculture. The monopoly which the
South has enjoyed in the production of the staples has palliated the evils
of slavery, but at the same time has expanded the system to the point of
great injury to the public. Goodloe accordingly advocated the riddance of
the institution, contending that both landowners and laborers would thereby
benefit. The continued maintenance of the institution, on the other hand,
would bring severe loss to the slaveholders, for within the coming decade
the demand of the Southwest for slaves would be sated, he thought, and
nothing but a great advancement of cotton prices and an unlimited supply of
fertile land for its production could sustain slave prices. "It is
evident that the Southern country approaches a period of great and sudden
depreciation in the value of slave property."[9]

[Footnote 9: [D.R. Goodloe], _Inquiry into the Causes which have retarded
the Accumulation of Wealth and Increase of Population in the
Southern States, in which the question of slavery is considered in a
politico-economic point of view. By a Carolinian_. (Washington, 1846.)
_See also_ a similar essay by the same author in the U.S. Commissioner of
Agriculture's _Report_ for 1865, pp. 102-135.]

The statistical theme of the South's backwardness was used by many other
essayists in the period for indicting the slaveholding regime. With most
of these, however, exemplified saliently by H.R. Helper, logic was to such
extent replaced with vehemence as to transfer their writings from the
proper purview of economics to that of sectional controversy.

On the other hand, Thomas R. Dew, whose cogent essay of 1832 marks the turn
of the prevailing Southern sentiment toward a firm support of slavery,
attributed the lack of prosperity in the South to the tariff policy of the
United States, while he largely ignored the question of labor efficiency.
His central theme was the imperative necessity of maintaining the
enslavement of the negroes on hand until a sound plan was devised and made
applicable for their peaceful and prosperous disposal elsewhere. Among
Dew's disciples, William Harper of South Carolina admitted that slave labor
was dear and unskillful, though he thought it essential for productive
industry in the tropics and sub-tropics, and he considered coercion
necessary for the negroes elsewhere in civilized society. James H. Hammond,
likewise, agreed that "as a general rule ... free labor is cheaper than
slave labor," but in addition to the factor of race he stressed the
sparsity of population in the South as a contributing element in
economically necessitating the maintenance of slavery.[10]

[Footnote 10: "Essay" (1832), Harper's "Memoir" (1838), and Hammond's
"Letters to Clarkson" (1845) are collected in the _Pro-Slavery Argument_
(Philadelphia, 1852).]

Most of the foregoing Southern writers were men of substantial position and
systematic reasoning. N.A. Ware, on the other hand who in 1844 issued in
the capacity of a Southern planter a slender volume of _Notes on Political
Economy_ was both obscure and irresponsible. Contending as his main theme
that protective tariffs were of no injury to the plantation interests, he
asserted that slave labor was incomparably cheaper than free, and attempted
to prove it by ignoring the cost of capital and by reckoning the price
of bacon at four cents a pound and corn at fifteen cents a bushel. Then,
curiously, he delivered himself of the following: "When slavery shall have
run itself out or yielded to the changes and ameliorations of the times,
the owners and all dependent upon it will stand appalled and prostrate,
as the sot whose liquor has been withheld, and nothing but the bad and
worthless habit left to remind the country of its ruinous effects. The
political economist, as well as all wise statesmen in this country, cannot
think of any measure going to discharge slavery that would not be a worse
state than its existence." His own remedy for the depression prevailing at
the time when he wrote, was to divert a large proportion of the slaves from
the glutted business of staple agriculture into manufacturing, for which he
thought them well qualified.[11] Equally fantastic were the ideas of H.C.
Carey of Pennsylvania who dealt here and there with slavery in the course
of his three stout volumes on political economy. His lucubrations are
negligible for the present survey.

[Footnote 11: [N.A. Ware] _Notes on Political Economy as applicable to the
United States_. By a Southern Planter (New York, 1844), pp. 200-204.]

All these American writers except Goodloe accomplished little of
substantial quality in the field of economic thought beyond adding details
to the doctrines of Adam Smith and Say. John Stuart Mill in turn did little
more than combine the philosophies of his predecessors. "It is a truism
to assert," said he, "that labour extorted by fear of punishment is
insufficient and unproductive"; yet some people can be driven by the
lash to accomplish what no feasible payment would have induced them to
undertake. In sparsely settled regions, furthermore, slavery may afford
the otherwise unobtainable advantages of labour combination, and it has
undoubtedly hastened industrial development in some American areas. Yet,
since all processes carried on by slave labour are conducted in the rudest
manner, virtually any employer may pay a considerably greater value in
wages to free labour than the maintenance of his slaves has cost him and be
a gainer by the change.[12]

[Footnote 12: John Stuart Mill, _Principles of Political Economy_ (London,
1848, and later editions), book II, chap. 5.]

Partly concurring and partly at variance with Mill's views were those which
Edmund Ruffin of Virginia published in a well reasoned essay of 1857, _The
Political Economy of Slavery_. "Slave labor in each individual case and for
each small measure of time," he said, "is more slow and inefficient than
the labor of a free man." On the other hand it is more continuous, for
hirelings are disposed to work fewer hours per day and fewer days per year,
except when wages are so low as to require constant exertion in the
gaining of a bare livelihood. Furthermore, the consolidation of domestic
establishments, which slavery promotes, permits not only an economy in the
purchase of supplies but also a great saving by the specialization of labor
in cooking, washing, nursing, and the care of children, thereby releasing
a large proportion of the women from household routine and rendering them
available for work in the field. An increasing density of population,
however, would depress the returns of industry to the point where slaves
would merely earn their keep, and free laborers would of necessity lengthen
their hours. Finally a still greater glut of labor might come, and indeed
had occurred in various countries of Europe, carrying wages so low that
only the sturdiest free laborers could support themselves and all the
weaker ones must enter a partial pauperism. At such a stage the employment
of slaves could only be continued at a steady deficit, to relieve
themselves from which the masters must resort to a general emancipation. In
the South, however, there were special public reasons, lying in the racial
traits of the slave population, which would make that recourse particularly
deplorable; for the industrial collapse ensuing upon emancipation in the
British West Indies on the one hand, and on the other the pillage and
massacre which occurred in San Domingo and the disorder still prevailing
there, were alternative examples of what might be apprehended from orderly
or revolutionary abolition as the case might be. The Southern people, in
short, might well congratulate themselves that no ending of their existing
regime was within visible prospect.[13]

[Footnote 13: Edmund Ruffin, _The Political Economy of Slavery_ ([Richmond,

About the same time a writer in _DeBow's Review_ elaborated the theme that
the comparative advantages of slavery and freedom depended wholly upon the
attainments of the laboring population concerned. "Both are necessarily
recurring types of social organization, and each suited to its peculiar
phase of society." "When a nation or society is in a condition unfit for
self-government, ... often the circumstance of contact with or subjection
by more enlightened nations has been the means of transition to a higher
development." "All that is now needed for the defence of United States
negro slavery and its entire exoneration from reproach is a thorough
investigation of fact; ... and political economy ... must ... pronounce our
system ... no disease, but the normal and healthy condition of a society
formed of such mixed material as ours." "The strong race and the weak, the
civilized and the savage," the one by nature master, the other slave, "are
here not only cast together, but have been born together, grown together,
lived together, worked together, each in his separate sphere striving for
the good of each.... These two races of men are mutually assistant to each
other and are contributing in the largest possible degree consistent with
their mutual powers to the good of each other and mankind." A general
emancipation therefore could bring nothing but a detriment.[14]

[Footnote 14: _DeBow's Review_, XXI, 331-349, 443-467 (October and
November, 1856).]

What proved to be the last work in the premises before the overthrow of
slavery in the United States was _The Slave Power, its Character, Career
and Probable Designs_, by J.E. Cairnes, professor of political economy in
the University of Dublin and in Queen's College, Galway. It was published
in 1862 and reissued with appendices in the following year. Cairnes at the
outset scouted the factors of climate and negro racial traits. The sole
economic advantage of slavery, said he, consists in its facilitation
of control in large units; its defects lay in its causing reluctance,
unskilfulness and lack of versatility. The reason for its prevalence in the
South he found in the high fertility and the immense abundance of soil on
the one hand, and on the other the intensiveness of staple cultivation. A
single operative, said he, citing as authority Robert Russell's erroneous
assertion, "might cultivate twenty acres in wheat or Indian corn, but could
not manage more than two in tobacco or three in cotton; therefore the
supervision of a considerable squad is economically feasible in these
though it would not be so in the cereals." These conditions might once have
made slave labor profitable, he conceded; but such possibility was now
doubtless a thing of the distant past. The persistence of the system did
not argue to the contrary, for it would by force of inertia persist as long
as it continued to be self-supporting.

Turning to a different theme, Cairnes announced that slave labor, since it
had never been and never could be employed with success in manufacturing or
commercial pursuits, must find its whole use in agriculture; and even there
it required large capital, at the same time that the unthrifty habits
inculcated in the masters kept them from accumulating funds. The
consequence was that slaveholding society must necessarily be and remain
heavily in debt. The imperative confinement of slave labor to the most
fertile soils, furthermore, prevented the community from utilizing any
areas of inferior quality; for slaveholding society is so exclusive that it
either expels free labor from its vicinity or deprives it of all industrial
vigor. It is true that some five millions of whites in the South have no
slaves; but these "are now said to exist in this manner in a condition
little removed from savage life, eking out a wretched subsistence by
hunting, by fishing, by hiring themselves for occasional jobs, by plunder."
These "mean whites ... are the natural growth of the slave system; ...
regular industry is only known to them as the vocation of slaves, and it is
the one fate which above all others they desire to avoid."[15]

[Footnote 15: First American edition (New York, 1862), pp. 54, 78, 79.]

"The constitution of a slave society," he says again, "resolves itself into
three classes, broadly distinguished from each other and connected by no
common interest--the slaves on whom devolves all the regular industry, the
slaveholders who reap all its fruits, and an idle and lawless rabble who
live dispensed over vast plains in a condition little removed from absolute
barbarism."[16] Nowhere can any factors be found which will promote any
progress of civilization so long as slavery persists. The non-slaveholders
will continue in "a life alternating between listless vagrancy and the
excitement of marauding expeditions." "If civilization is to spring up
among the negro race, it will scarcely be contended that this will happen
while they are still slaves; and if the present ruling class are ever to
rise above the existing type, it must be in some other capacity than
as slaveholders."[17] Even as a "probationary discipline" to prepare a
backward people for a higher form of civilized existence, slavery as it
exists in America cannot be justified; for that effect is vitiated by
reason of the domestic slave trade. "Considerations of economy, ... which
under a natural system afford some security for humane treatment by
identifying the master's interest with the slave's preservation, when once
trading in slaves is practised become reasons for racking to the utmost the
toil of the slave; for when his place can at once be supplied from foreign
preserves the duration of his life becomes a matter of less moment than
its productiveness while it lasts. It is accordingly a maxim of slave
management in slave-importing countries, that the most effective economy is
that which takes out of the human chattel in the shortest space of time the
utmost amount of exertion it is capable of putting forth."[18]

[Footnote 16: Ibid., p. 60.]

[Footnote 17: Ibid., p. 83.]

[Footnote 18: First American edition (New York, 1862), p. 73.]

The force of circumstances gave this book a prodigious and lasting vogue.
Its confident and cogent style made skepticism difficult; the dearth of
contrary data prevented impeachment on the one side of the Atlantic, and
on the other side the whole Northern people would hardly criticise such a
vindication of their cause in war by a writer from whose remoteness might
be presumed fairness, and whose professional position might be taken as
giving a stamp of thoroughness and accuracy. Yet the very conditions and
method of the writer made his interpretations hazardous. An economist,
using great caution, might possibly have drawn the whole bulk of his data
from travelers' accounts, as Cairnes did, and still have reached fairly
sound conclusions; but Cairnes gave preference not to the concrete
observations of the travelers but to their generalizations, often biased
or amateurish, and on them erected his own. Furthermore, he ignored such
material as would conflict with his preconceptions. His conclusions,
accordingly, are now true, now false, and while always vivid are seldom
substantially illuminating. His picture of the Southern non-slaveholders,
which, be it observed, he applied in his first edition to five millions
or ten-elevenths of that whole white population, and which he restricted,
under stress of contemporary criticism, only to four million souls in the
second edition,[19] is merely the most extreme of his grotesqueries. The
book was, in short, less an exposition than an exposure.

[Footnote 19: Ibid., second edition (London, 1863), appendix D.]

These criticisms of Cairnes will apply in varying lesser degrees to all of
his predecessors in the field. Those who sought the truth merely were in
general short of data; those who could get the facts in any fullness were
too filled with partisan purpose. What was begun as a study was continued
as a dispute, necessarily endless so long as the political issue remained
active. Many data which would have been illuminating, such as plantation
records and slave price quotations, were never systematically assembled;
and the experience resulting from negro emancipation was then too slight
for use in substantial generalizations. The economist M'Culloch, for
example, concluded from the experience of San Domingo and Jamaica that
cane sugar production could not be sustained without slavery;[20] but the
industrial careers of Cuba, Porto Rico and Louisiana since his time have
refuted him. He, like virtually all his contemporaries in economic thought,
confused the several factors of slavery, race traits and the plantation
system; the consequent liability to error was inevitable.

[Footnote 20: J.R. M'Culloch, _Principles of Political Economy_ (fourth
edition, Edinburgh, 1849), p. 439.]

Economists of later times have nearly all been too much absorbed in current
problems to give attention to a discarded institution. Most of them have
ignored the subject of slavery altogether, and the concern of the rest with
it has been merely incidental. Nicholson, for example, alludes to it as[21]
"one of the earliest and one of the most enduring forms of poverty," and
again as "the original and universal form of bankruptcy." Smart deals with
it only as concerns the care of workingmen's children: "The one good thing
in slavery was the interest of the master in the future of his workers.
The children of the slaves were the master's property. They were always at
least a valuable asset.... But there is no such continuity in the
relation between the employer [of free labor] and his human cattle. The
best-intentioned employer cannot be expected to be much concerned about the
efficient upkeep of the workman's child when the child is free to go where
he likes.... The child's future is bound up with the father's wage. The
wage may be enough, even when low, to support the father's efficiency, but
it is not necessarily enough to keep up the efficiency of the young laborer
on which the future depends."[22] Loria deals more extensively with
slavery as affected by the valuation of labor,[23] and Gibson[24] examines
elaborately the nature of hypothetically absolute slavery in analyzing the
earnings of labor. The contributions of both Loria and Gibson will be used
below. The economic bearings of the institution in history still await
satisfactory analysis.

[Footnote 21: J.S. Nicholson, _Principles of Political Economy_ (New York,
1898), I, 221, 391.]

[Footnote 22: William Smart, _The Distribution of Income_ (London, 1899),
pp. 296, 297.]

[Footnote 23: Achille Loria, _La Costitutione Economica Odierna_ (Turin,
1899), chap. 6, part 2.]

[Footnote 24: Arthur H. Gibson, _Human Economics_ (London, 1909).]



An expert accountant has well defined the property of a master in his slave
as an annuity extending throughout the slave's working life and amounting
to the annual surplus which the labor of the slave produced over and above
the cost of his maintenance.[1] Before any profit accrued to the master
in any year, however, various deductions had to be subtracted from this
surplus. These included interest on the slave's cost, regardless of
whether he had been reared by his owner or had been bought for a price;
amortization of the capital investment; insurance against the slave's
premature death or disability and against his escape from service;
insurance also for his support when incapacitated whether by illness,
accident or old age; taxes; and wages of superintendence. None of these
charges would any sound method of accounting permit the master to escape.

[Footnote 1: Arthur H. Gibson, _Human Economics_ (London, 1909), p. 202.
The substance of the present paragraph and the three following ones is
mostly in close accord with Gibson's analysis.]

The maintenance of the slave at the full rate required for the preservation
of lusty physique was essential. The master could not reduce it below that
standard without impairing his property as well as lessening its immediate
return; and as a rule he could shift none of the charge to other shoulders,
for the public would grant his workmen no dole from its charity funds. On
the other hand, he was often induced to raise the scale above the minimum
standard in order to increase the zeal and efficiency of his corps. In any
case, medical attendance and the like was necessarily included in the cost
of maintenance.

The capital investment in a slave reared by his master would include
charges for the insurance of the child's mother at the time of his birth
and for her deficit of routine work before and afterward; the food,
clothing, nurse's care and incidentals furnished in childhood; the surplus
of supplies over earnings in the period of youth while the slave was not
fully earning his own keep and his overhead charges; compound interest on
all of these until the slave reached adolescence or early manhood; and a
proportion of similar charges on behalf of other children in his original
group who had died in youth. In his teens the slave's earnings would
gradually increase until they covered all his current charges, including
the cost of supervision; and shortly before the age of twenty he would
perhaps begin to yield a net return to the owner.

A slave's highest rate of earning would be reached of course when his
physical maturity and his training became complete, and would normally
continue until his bodily powers began to flag. This period would extend
in the case of male field hands from perhaps twenty-five to possibly fifty
years of age, and in the case of artizans from say thirty to fifty-five
years. The maximum valuation of the slave as property, however, would come
earlier, at the point when the investment in his production was first
complete and when his maximum earnings were about to begin; and his value
would thereafter decline, first slowly and then more swiftly with every
passing year, in anticipation of the decline and final cessation of his
earning power. Thus the ratio between the capital value of a slave and his
annual net earnings, far from remaining constant, would steadily recede
from the beginning to the end of his working life. At the age of twenty
it might well be as ten to one; at the age of fifty it would probably not
exceed four to one; at sixty-five it might be less than a parity.

In the buying and selling of nearly all non-human commodities the cost of
production, or of reproduction, bears a definite relation to the market
price, in that it fixes a limit below which owners will not continue to
produce and sell. In the case of slaves, however, the cost of rearing had
no practical bearing upon the market price, for the reason that the owners
could not, or at least did not, increase or diminish the production at
will.[2] It has been said by various anti-slavery spokesmen that many
slaveowners systematically bred slaves for the market. They have adduced no
shred of supporting evidence however; and although the present writer has
long been alert for such data he has found but a single concrete item in
the premises. This one came, curiously enough, from colonial Massachusetts,
where John Josslyn recorded in 1636: "Mr. Maverick's negro woman came to my
chamber window and in her own country language and tune sang very loud and
shril. Going out to her, she used a great deal of respect towards me, and
willingly would have expressed her grief in English. But I apprehended it
by her countenance and deportment, whereupon I repaired to my host to learn
of him the cause, for that I understood before that she had been a queen in
her own countrey, and observed a very humble and dutiful garb used towards
her by another negro who was her maid. Mr. Maverick was desirous to have a
breed of negroes, and therefore seeing she would not yield to perswasions
to company with a negro young man he had in his house, he commanded him,
will'd she nill'd she to go to bed to her--which was no sooner done than
she kickt him out again. This she took in high disdain beyond her slavery,
and this was the cause of her grief."[3]

[Footnote 2: This is at variance with Gibson's thesis which, professedly
dealing always in pure hypothesis, assumes a state of "perfect" slavery in
which breeding is controlled on precisely the same basis as in the case of

[Footnote 3: John Josslyn, "Account of two Voyages to New England," in the
Massachusetts Historical Society _Collections, XXIII_, 231.]

As for the ante-bellum South, the available plantation instructions,
journals and correspondence contain no hint of such a practice. Jesse
Burton Harrison, a Virginian in touch with planters' conversation and
himself hostile to slavery,[4] went so far as to write, "It may be that
there is a small section of Virginia (perhaps we could indicate it) where
the theory of population is studied with reference to the yearly income
from the sale of slaves," but he went no further; and this, be it noted, is
not clearly to hint anything further than that the owners of multiplying
slaves reckoned their own gains from the unstimulated increase. If pressure
were commonly applied James H. Hammond would not merely have inserted the
characteristic provision in his schedule of rewards: "For every infant
thirteen months old and in sound health that has been properly attended to,
the mother shall receive a muslin or calico frock."[5] A planter here and
there may have exerted a control of matings in the interest of industrial
and commercial eugenics, but it is extremely doubtful that any appreciable
number of masters attempted any direct hastening of slave increase. The
whole tone of the community was hostile to such a practice. Masters were
in fact glad enough to leave the slaves to their own inclinations in all
regards so long as the day's work was not obstructed and good order was
undisturbed. They had of course everywhere and at all times an interest
in the multiplication of their slaves as well as the increase of their
industrial aptitudes. Thus William Lee wrote in 1778 concerning his
plantation in Virginia: "I wish particular attention may be paid to rearing
young negroes, and taking care of those grown up, that the number may be
increased as much as possible; also putting several of the most promising
and ingenious lads apprentices to different trades, such as carpenters,
coopers, wheelwrights, sawyers, shipwrights, bricklayers, plasterers,
shoemakers and blacksmiths; some women should also be taught to weave."[6]

[Footnote 4: _Review of the Slave Question_ (Richmond, 1833), p. 17.]

[Footnote 5: See above, p. 272.]

[Footnote 6: W.C. Ford, ed., _Letters of William Lee_ (Brooklyn, 1891), II,
363, 364.]

But even if masters had stimulated breeding on occasion, that would have
created but a partial and one-sided relationship between cost of production
and market price. To make the connection complete it would have been
requisite for them to check slave breeding when prices were low; and even
the abolitionists, it seems, made no assertion to that effect. No, the
market might decline indefinitely without putting an appreciable check upon
the birth rate; and the master had virtually no choice but to rear every
child in his possession. The cost of production, therefore, could not serve
as a nether limit for slave prices at any time.

An upper limit to the price range was normally fixed by the reckoning of a
slave's prospective earnings above the cost of his maintenance. The slave
may here be likened to a mine operated by a corporation leasing the
property. The slave's claim to his maintenance represents the prior claim
of the land-owner to his rent; the master's claim to the annual surplus
represents the equity of the stockholders in the corporation. But the ore
will some day be exhausted and the dividends cease. Purchasers of the stock
should accordingly consider amortization and pay only such price as will
be covered by the discounted value of the prospective dividends during the
life of the mine. The price of the output fluctuates, however, and the
rate of any year's earnings can only be conjectured. Precise reckoning is
therefore impracticable, and the stock will rise and fall in the market in
response to the play of conjectures as to the present value of the total
future earnings applicable to dividends. So also a planter entering the
slave market might have reckoned in advance the prospect of working life
which a slave of given age would have, and the average earnings above
maintenance which might be expected from his labor. By discounting each of
those annual returns at the prevailing rate of interest to determine their
present values, and adding up the resulting sums, he would ascertain the
price which his business prospects would justify him in paying. Having
bought a slave at such a price, an equally thoroughgoing caution would have
led him to take out a life, health and accident insurance policy on the
slave; but even then he must personally have borne the risk of the slave's
running away. In practice the lives of a few slaves engaged in steamboat
operation and other hazardous pursuits were insured,[7] but the total
number of policies taken on their lives, except as regards marine insurance
in the coasting slave trade, was very small. The planters as a rule carried
their own risks, and they generally dispensed with actuarial reckonings in
determining their bids for slaves. About 1850 a rule of thumb was current
that a prime hand was worth a hundred dollars for every cent in the current
price of a pound of cotton. In general, however, the prospective purchaser
merely "reckoned" in the Southern sense of conjecturing, at what price
he could employ an added slave with probable advantage, and made his bid

[Footnote 7: J.C. Nott, in J.B.D. DeBow, ed., _Industrial Resources of the
Southern and Western States_ (New Orleans, 1852), II, 299; F.L. Hoffman, in
_The South in the Building of the Nation_ (Richmond, Va. [1909]), 638-655.
_DeBow's Review_, X, 241, contains an advertisement of a company offering
life and accident insurance on slaves.

A typical policy is preserved in the MSS. division of the Library of
Congress. It was issued Dec. 31, 1851, by the Louisville agent of the
Mutual Benefit Fire and Life Insurance Company of Louisiana, to T.P.
Linthicum of Bairdstown, Ky., insuring for $650 each the lives of Jack, 26
years old and Alexander, 31 years old, for one year, at the rates of 2 and
2-1/2 per cent, respectively, plus one per cent, for permission to employ
the slaves on steamboats during the first half of the period. They were
employed as waiters. Jack died Nov. 20, and the insurance was duly paid.]

A slave's market price was affected by sex, age, physique, mental quality,
industrial training, temper, defects and vices, so far as each of these
could be ascertained. The laws of most of the states presumed a seller's
warrant of health at the time of sale, unless expressly withheld, and in
Louisiana this warrant extended to mental and moral soundness. The period
in which the buyer might apply for redress, however, was limited to a few
months, and the verdicts of juries were uncertain. On the whole, therefore,
if the buyer were unacquainted with the slave's previous career and with
his attitude toward the transfer of possession, he necessarily incurred
considerable risk in making each purchase. But in general the taking of
reasonable precautions would cause the loss through unsuspected vices in
one case to be offset by gains through unexpected virtues in another.

The scale and the trend of slave prices are essential features of the
regime which most economists have ignored and for which the rest have had
too little data. For colonial times the quotations are scant. An historian
of the French West Indies, however, has ascertained from the archives
that whereas the prices ranged perhaps as low as 200 francs for imported
Africans there at the middle of the seventeenth century, they rose to
450 francs by the year 1700 and continued in a strong and steady advance
thereafter, except in war times, until the very eve of the French
Revolution. Typical prices for prime field hands in San Domingo were 650
francs in 1716, 800 in 1728, 1,160 in 1750, 1,400 in 1755, 1,180 in 1764,
1,600 in 1769, 1,860 in 1772, 1,740 in 1777, and 2,200 francs in 1785.[8]

[Footnote 8: Lucien Peytraud, _L'Esclavage aux Antilles Francaises avant
1789_ (Paris, 1897), pp. 122-127.]

In the British West Indies it is apparent from occasional documents that
the trend was similar. A memorial from Barbados in 1689, for example,
recited that in earlier years the planters had been supplied with Africans
at L7 sterling per head, of which forty shillings covered the Guinea cost
and L5 paid the freightage; but now since the establishment of the Royal
African company, "we buy negroes at the price of an engrossed commodity,
the common rate of a good negro on shipboard being twenty pound. And we are
forced to scramble for them in so shameful a manner that one of the great
burdens of our lives is the going to buy negroes. But we must have them; we
cannot be without them."[9] The overthrow of the monopoly, however, brought
no relief. In 1766 the price of new negroes in the West Indies ranged at
about L26;[10] and in 1788-1790 from L41 to L49. At this time the value
of a prime field hand, reared in the islands, was reported to be twice as
great as that of an imported African.[11]

[Footnote 9: _Groans of the Plantations_ (1679), p. 5, quoted in W.
Cunningham, _Growth of English Industry and Commerce_ (Cambridge, 1892),
II, 278, note.]

[Footnote 10: _Abridgement of the Evidence taken before a Committee of the
whole House: The Slave Trade_, no. 2 (London, 1790), p. 37.]

[Footnote 11: "An Old Member of Parliament," _Doubts on the Abolition of
the Slave Trade_ (London, 1790), p. 72, quoting Dr. Adair's evidence in the
_Privy Council Report_, part 3, Antigua appendix no. II].

In Virginia the rise was proportionate. In 1671 a planter wrote of his
purchase of a negro for L26. 10_s_ and said he supposed the price was the
highest ever paid in those parts; but a few years afterward a lot of four
men brought L30 a head, two women the same rate, and two more women L25
apiece; and before the end of the seventeenth century men were being
appraised at L40.[12] An official report from the colony in 1708 noted a
great increase of the slave supply in recent years, but observed that the
prices had nevertheless risen.[13] In 1754 George Washington paid L52 for a
man and nearly as much for a woman; in 1764 he bought a lot at L57 a head;
in 1768 he bought two mulattoes at L50 and L61.15_s_ respectively, a negro
for L66.10_s_, another at public vendue for L72, and a girl for L49.10_s_.
Finally in 1772 he bought five males, one of whom cost L50, another L65, a
third L75, and the remaining two L90 each;[14] and in the same year he was
offered L80 for a slave named Will Shagg whom his overseer described as an
incorrigible runaway.[15]

[Footnote 12: P.A. Bruce, _Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth
Century_, II, 88-92.]

[Footnote 13: _North Carolina Colonial Records_, I, 693.]

[Footnote 14: W.C. Ford, _George Washington_ (Paris and New York, 1900),
I, 125-127; _Washington as an Employer and Importer of Labor_ (Brooklyn,

[Footnote 15: S.M. Hamilton, ed., _Letters to Washington_. IV, 127.]

Scattered items which might be cited from still other colonies make the
evidence conclusive that there was a general and substantially continuous
rise throughout colonial times. The advances which occurred in the
principal British West India islands and in Virginia, indeed, were a
consequence of advances elsewhere, for by the middle of the eighteenth
century all of these colonies were already passing the zenith of their
prosperity, whereas South Carolina, Georgia, San Domingo and Brazil, as
well as minor new British tropical settlements, were in course of rapid
plantation expansion. Prices in the several communities tended of course to
be equalized partly by a slender intercolonial slave trade but mainly by
the Guineamen's practice of carrying their wares to the highest of the many
competing markets.

The war for American independence, bringing hard times, depressed all
property values, those of slaves included. But the return of peace brought
prompt inflation in response to exaggerated anticipations of prosperity to
follow. Wade Hampton, for example, wrote to his brother from Jacksonborough
in the South Carolina lowlands, January 30, 1782: "All attempts to purchase
negroes have been fruitless, owing to the flattering state of our affairs
in this quarter."[16] The sequel was sharply disappointing. The indigo
industry was virtually dead, and rice prices, like those of tobacco, did
not maintain their expected levels. The financial experience was described
in 1786 by Henry Pendleton, a judge on the South Carolina bench, in words
which doubtless would have been similarly justified in various other
states: "No sooner had we recovered and restored the country to peace and
order than a rage for running into debt became epidemical.... A happy
speculation was almost every man's object and pursuit.... What a load
of debt was in a short time contracted in the purchase of British
superfluities, and of lands and slaves for which no price was too high if
credit for the purchase was to be obtained!... How small a pittance of the
produce of the years 1783, '4, '5, altho' amounting to upwards of 400,000
sterling a year on an average, hath been applied toward lessening old
burdens!... What then was the consequence? The merchants were driven to the
exportation of gold and silver, which so rapidly followed; ... a diminution
of the value of the capital as well as the annual produce of estates in
consequence of the fallen price; ... the recovery of new debts as well
as old in effect suspended, while the numerous bankruptcies which have
happened in Europe amongst the merchants trading to America, the reproach
of which is cast upon us, have proclaimed to all the trading nations
to guard against our laws and policy, and even against our moral

[Footnote 16: MS. among the Gibbes papers In the capitol at Columbia, S.C.]

[Footnote 17: _Charleston Morning Post_, Dec. 13, 1786 quoted in the
_American Historical Review_, XIV, 537, 538]

The depression continued with increasing severity into the following
decade, when it appears that many of the planters in the Charleston
district were saved from ruin only by the wages happily drawn from the
Santee Canal Company in payment for the work of their slaves in the canal
construction gangs.[18] The conditions and prospects in Virginia at the
same time are suggested by a remark of George Washington in 1794 on slave
investments: "I shall be happily mistaken if they are not found to be a
very troublesome species of property ere many years have passed over our

[Footnote 18: Samuel DuBose, "Reminiscences of St. Stephen's Parish," in
T.G. Thomas, ed., _History of the Huguenots in South Carolina_ (New York,
1887), pp. 66-68.]

[Footnote 19: New York Public Library _Bulletin_, II, 15. This letter has
been quoted at greater length at the beginning of chapter VIII above.]

Prices in this period were so commonly stated in currency of uncertain
depreciation that a definite schedule by years may not safely be made. It
is clear, however, that the range in 1783 was little lower than it had been
on the eve of the war, while in 1795 it was hardly more than half as high.
For the first time in American history, in a period of peace, there was
a heavy and disquieting fall in slave prices. This was an earnest of
conditions in the nineteenth century when advances and declines alternated.
From about 1795 onward the stability of the currency and the increasing
abundance of authentic data permit the fluctuations of prices to be
measured and their causes and effects to be studied with some assurance.

The materials extant comprise occasional travellers' notes, fairly numerous
newspaper items, and quite voluminous manuscript collections of appraisals
and bills of sale, all of which require cautious discrimination in their
analysis.[20] The appraisals fall mainly into two groups: the valuation of
estates in probate, and those for the purpose of public compensation to
the owners of slaves legally condemned for capital crimes. The former were
oftentimes purely perfunctory, and they are generally serviceable only as
aids in ascertaining the ratios of value between slaves of the diverse ages
and sexes. The appraisals of criminals, however, since they prescribed
actual payments on the basis of the market value each slave would have had
if his crime had not been committed, may be assumed under such laws as
Virginia maintained in the premises to be fairly accurate. A file of more
than a thousand such appraisals, with vouchers of payment attached, which
is preserved among the Virginia archives in the State Library at Richmond,
is particularly copious in regard to prices as well as in regard to crimes
and punishments.

[Footnote 20: The difficulties to be encountered in ascertaining the values
at any time and place are exemplified in the documents pertaining to slave
prices in the various states in the year 1815, printed in the _American
Historical Review_, XIX, 813-838. In the gleaning of slave prices I have
been actively assisted by Professor R.P. Brooks of the University of
Georgia and Miss Lillie Richardson of New Orleans.]

The bills of sale recording actual market transactions remain as the chief
and central source of information upon prices. Some thousands of these,
originating in the city of Charleston, are preserved in a single file among
the state archives of South Carolina at Columbia; other thousands are
scattered through the myriad miscellaneous notarial records in the court
house at New Orleans; many smaller accumulations are to be found in
county court houses far and wide, particularly in the cotton belt; and
considerable numbers are in private possession, along with plantation
journals and letters which sometimes contain similar data.

Now these documents more often than otherwise record the sale of slaves
in groups. One of the considerations involved was that a gang already
organized would save its purchaser time and trouble in establishing a new
plantation as a going concern, and therefore would probably bring a higher
gross price than if its members were sold singly. Another motive was that
of keeping slave families together, which served doubly in comporting with
scruples of conscience and inducing to the greater contentment of slaves
in their new employ. The documents of the time demonstrate repeatedly the
appreciation of equanimity as affecting value. But group sales give slight
information upon individual prices; and even the bills of individual
sale yield much less than a statistician could wish. The sex is always
presumable from the slave's name, the color is usually stated or implied,
and occasionally deleterious proclivities are specified, as of a confirmed
drunkard or a persistent runaway; but specifications of age, strength and
talents are very often, one and all, omitted. The problem is how may these
bare quotations of price be utilized. To strike an average of all prices
in any year at any place would be fruitless, since an even distribution of
slave grades cannot be assumed when quotations are not in great volume: the
prices of young children are rarely ascertainable from the bills, since
they were hardly ever sold separately; the prices of women likewise are too
seldom segregated from those of their children to permit anything to be
established beyond a ratio to some ascertained standard; and the prices of
artizans varied too greatly with their skill to permit definite schedules
of them. The only market grade, in fact, for which basic price tabulations
can be made with any confidence is that of young male prime field hands,
for these alone may usually be discriminated even when ages and qualities
are not specified. The method here is to select in the group of bills for
any time and place such maximum quotations for males as occur with any
notable degree of frequency. Artizans, foremen and the like are thereby
generally excluded by the infrequency of their sales, while the
middle-aged, the old and the defective are eliminated by leaving aside the
quotations of lower range. The more scattering bills in which ages
and crafts are given will then serve, when supplemented from probate
appraisals, to establish valuation ratios between these able-bodied
unskilled young men and the several other classes of slaves. Thus, artizans
often brought twice as much as field hands of similar ages, prime women
generally brought three-fourths or four-fifths as much as prime men; boys
and girls entering their teens, and men and women entering their fifties,
brought about half of prime prices for their sexes; and infants were
generally appraised at about a tenth or an eighth of prime. The average
price for slaves of all ages and both sexes, furthermore, was generally
about one-half of the price for male prime field hands. The fluctuation
of prime prices, therefore, measures the rise and fall of slave values in

The accompanying chart will show the fluctuations of the average prices
of prime field hands (unskilled young men) in Virginia, at Charleston, in
middle Georgia, and at New Orleans, aL well as the contemporary range of
average prices for cotton of middling grade in the chief American market,
that of New York. The range for prime slaves, it will be seen, rose from
about $300 and $400 a head in the upper and lower South respectively in
1795 to a range of from $400 to $600 in 1803, in consequence of the initial
impulse of cotton and sugar production and of the contemporary prohibition
of the African slave trade by the several states. At those levels prices
remained virtually fixed, in most markets, for nearly a decade as an effect
of South Carolina's reopening of her ports and of the hampering of export
commerce by the Napoleonic war. The latter factor prevented even the
congressional stoppage of the foreign slave trade in 1808 from exerting
any strong effect upon slave prices for the time being except in the sugar
district. The next general movement was in fact a downward one of about
$100 a head caused by the War of 1812. At the return of peace the prices
leaped with parallel perpendicularity in all the markets from $400-$500 in
1814 to twice that range in 1818, only to be upset by the world-wide panic
of the following year and to descend to levels of $400 to $600 in 1823.
Then came a new rise in the cotton and sugar districts responding to a
heightened price of their staples, but for once not evoking a sympathetic
movement in the other markets. A small decline then ensuing gave place to
a soaring movement at New Orleans, in response to the great stimulus which
the protective tariff of 1828 gave to sugar production. The other markets
began in the early thirties to make up for the tardiness of their rise; and
as a feature of the general inflation of property values then prevalent
everywhere, slave prices rose to an apex in 1837 of $1,300 in the
purchasing markets and $1,100 in Virginia. The general panic of 1837
began promptly to send them down; and though they advanced in 1839 as a
consequence of a speculative bolstering of the cotton market that year,
they fell all the faster upon the collapse of that project, finding new
levels of rest only at a range of $500-$700. A final advance then set in
at the middle of the forties which continued until the highest levels on
record were attained on the eve of secession and war. [Illustration: PRICES

There are thus in the slave price diagram for the nineteenth century a
plateau, with a local peak rising from its level in the sugar district, and
three solid peaks--all of them separated by intervening valleys, and all
corresponding more or less to the elevations and depressions in the cotton
range. The plateau, 1803-1812, was prevented from producing a peak in the
eastern markets by the South Carolina repeal of the slave trade prohibition
and by the European imbroglio. The first common peak, 1818, and its ensuing
trough came promptly upon the establishment of the characteristic regime of
the ante-bellum period, in which the African reservoir could no longer
be drawn upon to mitigate labor shortages and restrain the speculative
enhancement of slave prices. The trough of the 'twenties was deeper and
broader in the upper and eastern South than elsewhere partly because the
panic of 1819 had brought a specially severe financial collapse there from
the wrecking of mushroom canal projects and the like.[21] It is remarkable
that so wide a spread of rates in the several districts prevailed for so
long a period as here appears. The statistics may of course be somewhat at
fault, but there is reason for confidence that their margin of error is not
great enough to vitiate them.

[Footnote 21: _E. g., The Papers of Archibald D. Murphey_ (North Carolina
Historical Commission _Publications_, Raleigh, 1914), I, 93ff]

The next peak, 1837-1839, was in most respects like the preceding one, and
the drop was quite as sudden and even more severe. The distresses of the
time in the district where they were the most intense were described in a
diary of 1840 by a North Carolinian, who had journeyed southwestward in the
hope of collecting payment for certain debts, but whose personal chagrin
was promptly eclipsed by the spectacle of general disaster. "Speculation,"
said he, "has been making poor men rich and rich men princes." But now "a
revulsion has taken place. Mississippi is ruined. Her rich men are poor,
and her poor men beggars.... We have seen hard times in North Carolina,
hard times in the east, hard times everywhere; but Mississippi exceeds them
all.... Lands ... that once commanded from thirty to fifty dollars per acre
may now be bought for three or five dollars, and that with considerable
improvements, while many have been sold at sheriff's sales at fifty cents
that were considered worth ten to twenty dollars. The people, too, are
running their negroes to Texas and to Alabama, and leaving their real
estate and perishable property to be sold, or rather sacrificed.... So
great is the panic and so dreadful the distress that there are a great many
farms prepared to receive crops, and some of them actually planted, and yet
deserted, not a human being to be found upon them. I had prepared myself to
see hard times here, but unlike most cases, the actual condition of affairs
is much worse than the report."[22]

[Footnote 22: W.H. Wills, "Diary," in the Southern History Association
_Publications_, VIII (Washington, 1904), 35.]

The fall of Mississippi slaves continued, accompanying that of cotton and
even anticipating it in the later phase of the movement, until extreme
depths were reached in the middle forties, though at New Orleans and in the
Georgia uplands the decline was arrested in 1842 at a level of about $700.
The sugar planters began prospering from the better prices established for
their staple by the tariff of that year, and were able to pay more than
panic prices for slaves; but as has been noted in an earlier chapter,
suspicion of fraud in the cases of slaves offered from Mississippi
militated against their purchase. A sugar planter would be willing to pay
considerably more for a neighbor's negro than for one who had come down the
river and who might shortly be seized on a creditor's attachment.

At the middle of the forties, with a rising cotton market, there began
a strong and sustained advance, persisting throughout the fifties and
carrying slave prices to unexampled heights. By 1856 the phenomenon was
receiving comment in the newspapers far and wide. In the early months of
that year the _Republican_ of St. Louis reported field hand sales in
Pike County, Missouri, at from $1,215 to $1,642; the _Herald_ of Lake
Providence, Louisiana, recorded the auction of General L.C. Folk's slaves
at which "negro men ranged from $1,500 to $1,635, women and girls from
$1,250 to $1,550, children in proportion--all cash" and concluded: "Such a
sale, we venture to say, has never been equaled in the state of Louisiana."
In Virginia, likewise, the Richmond _Despatch_ in January told of the sale
of an estate in Halifax County at which "among other enormous prices, one
man brought $1,410 and another $1,425, and both were sold again privately
the same day at advances of $50. They were ordinary field hands, not
considered no. I. in any respect." In April the Lynchburg _Virginian_
reported the sale of men in the auction of a large estate at from $1,120 to
$2,110, with most of the prices ranging midway between; and in August the
Richmond _Despatch_ noted that instead of the customary summer dullness in
the demand for slaves, it was unprecedentedly vigorous, with men's prices
ranging from $1,200 to $1,500.[23]

The _Southern Banner_ of Athens, Georgia, said as early as January, 1855:
"Everybody except the owners of slaves must feel and know that the price
of slave labor and slave property at the South is at present too high when
compared with the prices of everything else. There must ere long be a
change; and ... we advise parties interested to 'stand from under!'"[24]
But the market belied the apprehensions. A neighboring journal noted at the
beginning of 1858, that in the face of the current panic, slave prices
as indicated in newspapers from all quarters of the South held up
astonishingly. "This argues a confidence on the part of the planters that
there is a good time coming. Well," the editor concluded with a hint of
his own persistent doubts, "we trust they may not be deceived in their

The market continued deaf to the Cassandra school. When in March, 1859,
Pierce Butler's half of the slaves from the plantations which his quondam
wife made notorious were auctioned to defray his debts, bidders who
gathered from near and far offered prices which yielded an average rate
of $708 per head for the 429 slaves of all ages.[26] And in January and
February the still greater auction at Albany, Georgia, of the estate of
Joseph Bond, lately deceased, yielded $2,850 for one of the men, about
$1,900 as an average for such prime field hands as were sold separately,
and a price of $958.64 as a general average for the 497 slaves of all ages
and conditions.[27] Sales at similar prices were at about the same time
reported from various other quarters.[28]

[Footnote 23: These items were reprinted in George M. Weston, _Who are and
who may be Slaves in the U.S._ [1856].]

[Footnote 24: _Southern Banner_, Jan. 11, 1855, endorsing an editorial of
similar tone in the New York _Express_.]

[Footnote 25: _Southern Watchman_ (Athens, Ga.), Jan. 21, 1858.]

[Footnote 26: _What Became of the Slaves on a Georgia Plantation Auction
Sale of Slaves at Savannah, March 2d and 3d, 1859. A Sequel to Mrs.
Kemble's Journal_ [1863]. This appears to have been a reprint of an
article in the New York _Tribune_. The slaves were sold in family parcels
comprising from two to seven persons each.]

[Footnote 27: MS. record in the Ordinary's office at Macon, Ga. Probate
Returns, vol. 9, pp. 2-7.]

[Footnote 28: Edward Ingle, _Southern Sidelights_ (New York [1896]), p.
294. note.]

Editorial warnings were now more vociferous than before. The _Federal
Union_ of Milledgeville said for example: "There is a perfect fever raging
in Georgia now on the subject of buying negroes.... Men are borrowing money
at exorbitant rates of interest to buy negroes at exorbitant prices. The
speculation will not sustain the speculators, and in a short time we shall
see many negroes and much land offered under the sheriff's hammer, with few
buyers for cash; and then this kind of property will descend to its real
value. The old rule of pricing a negro by the price of cotton by the
pound--that is to say, if cotton is worth twelve cents a negro man is
worth $1,200.00, if at fifteen cents then $1,500.00--does not seem to be
regarded. Negroes are 25 per cent. higher now with cotton at ten and one
half cents than they were two or three years ago when it was worth fifteen
and sixteen cents. Men are demented upon the subject. A reverse will surely

[Footnote 29: _Federal Union_ (Milledgeville, Ga.), Jan. 17, 1860,
reprinted with endorsement in the _Southern Banner_ (Athens, Ga.), Jan. 26,
1860, and reprinted in _Plantation and Frontier_, II, 73, 74.]

The fever was likewise raging in the western South,[30] and it persisted
until the end of 1860. Indeed the peak of this price movement was evidently
cut off by the intervention of war. How great an altitude it might have
reached, and what shape its downward slope would have taken had peace
continued, it is idle to conjecture. But that a crash must have come is
beyond a reasonable doubt.

[Footnote 30: Prices at Lebanon, Tenn., and Franklin, Ky., are given in
_Hunt's Merchants' Magazine_, XI, 774 (Dec., 1859).]

The Charleston _Mercury_[31] attributed the advance of slave prices in the
fifties mainly to the demand of the railroads for labor. This was borne
out in some degree by the transactions of the railroad companies whose
headquarters were in that city. The president of the Charleston and
Savannah Railroad Company, endorsing the arguments which had been advanced
by a writer in _DeBows Review_,[32] recommended in his first annual report,
1855, an extensive purchase of slaves for the company's construction gangs,
reckoning that at the price of $1,000, with interest at 7 per cent. and
life insurance at 2-1/2 per cent. the annual charge would be little more
than half the current cost in wages at $180. The yearly cost of maintenance
and superintendence, reckoned at $20 for clothing, $15 for corn, molasses
and tobacco, $1 for physician's fees, $10 for overseer's wages and $15 for
tools and repairs, he said, would be the same whether the slaves were hired
or bought.[33] How largely the company adopted its president's plan is not
known. For the older and stronger South Carolina Railroad Company, however,
whose lines extended from Charleston to Augusta, Columbia and Camden,
detailed records in the premises are available. This company was created
in 1843 by the merging of two earlier corporations, one of which already
possessed eleven slaves. In February, 1845, the new company bought three
more slaves, two of which cost $400 apiece and the third $686. At the end
of the next year the superintendent reported: "After hands for many years
in the company's service have acquired the knowledge and skill necessary to
make them valuable, the company are either compelled to submit to higher
rates of wages imposed or to pass others at a lower rate of compensation
through the same apprenticeship, with all the hazard of a strike, in their
turn, by the owners."[34] The directors, after studying the problem thus
presented, launched upon a somewhat extensive slave-purchasing programme,
buying one in 1848 and seven in 1849 at uniform prices of $900; one in
1851 at $800 thirty-seven in 1852, all but two of which were procured in a
single purchase from J.C. Sproull and Company, at prices from $512.50 to
$1,004.50, but mostly ranging near $900; and twenty-eight more at various
times between 1853 and 1859, at prices rising to $1,500. Finally, when two
or three years of war had put all property, of however precarious a nature,
at a premium over Confederate currency, the company bought another slave
in August, 1863, for $2,050, and thirty-two more in 1864 at prices ranging
from $2,450 to $6,005.[35] All of these slaves were males. No ages or
trades are specified in the available records, and no statement of the
advantages actually experienced in owning rather than hiring slaves.

[Footnote 31: Reprinted in William Chambers, _American Slavery and Colour_
(London, 1857), P. 207.]

[Footnote 32: _DeBow's Review_, XVII, 76-82.]

[Footnote 33: _Ibid_., XVIII, 404-406.]

[Footnote 34: U.B. Phillips, _Transportation in the Eastern Cotton Belt_
(New York, 1908), p. 205.]

[Footnote 35: South Carolina Railroad Company _Reports_ for 1860 and 1865.]

The Brandon Bank, at Brandon, Mississippi, which was virtually identical
with the Mississippi and Alabama Railroad Company, bought prior to 1839,
$159,000 worth of slaves for railroad employment, but it presumably lost
them shortly after that year when the bank and the railroad together went
bankrupt.[36] The state of Georgia had bought about 190 slaves in and
before 1830 for employment in river and road improvements, but it sold them
in 1834,[37] and when in the late 'forties and the 'fifties it built and
operated the Western and Atlantic Railroad it made no repetition of the
earlier experiment. In the 'fifties, indeed, the South Carolina Railroad
Company was almost unique in its policy of buying slaves for railroad

[Footnote 36: _Niles' Register_, LVI, 130 (April 27, 1839).]

[Footnote 37: U.B. Phillips, _Transportation in the Eastern Cotton Belt_,
pp. 114, 115; W.C. Dawson, _Compilation of Georgia Laws_, p. 399; O.H.
Prince, _Digest of the Laws of Georgia_, p. 742.]

The most cogent reason against such a policy was not that the owned slaves
increased the current charges, but that their purchase involved the
diversion of capital in a way which none but abnormal circumstances could
justify. In the year 1846 when the superintendent of the South Carolina
company made his recommendation, slave prices were abnormally low and
cotton prices were leaping in such wise as to make probable a strong
advance in the labor market. By 1855, however, the price of slaves had
nearly doubled, and by 1860 it was clearly inordinate. The special occasion
for a company to divert its funds or increase its capital obligations had
accordingly vanished, and sound policy would have suggested the sale of
slaves on hand rather than the purchase of more. The state of Louisiana,
indeed, sold in 1860[38] the force of nearly a hundred slave men which it
had used on river improvements long enough for many of its members to have
grown old in the service.[39]

[Footnote 38: Board of Public Works _Report_ for 1860 (Baton Rouge, 1861),
p. 7.]

[Footnote 39: State Engineer's _Report_ for 1856 (New Orleans, 1857), p.

Manufacturing companies here and there bought slaves to man their works,
but in so doing added seriously to the risks of their business. A news item
of 1849 reported that an outbreak of cholera at the Hillman Iron Works near
Clarksville, Tenn., had brought the death of four or five slaves and the
removal of the remainder from the vicinity until the epidemic should have
passed.[40] A more normal episode of mere financial failure was that which
wrecked the Nesbitt Manufacturing Company whose plant was located on Broad
River in South Carolina. To complete its works and begin operations this
company procured a loan of some $92,000 in 1837 from the Bank of the State
of South Carolina on the security of the land and buildings and a hundred
slaves owned by the company. After several years of operation during which
the purchase of additional slaves raised the number to 194, twenty-seven of
whom were mechanics, the company admitted its insolvency. When the mortgage
was foreclosed in 1845 the bank bought in virtually the whole property to
save its investment, and operated the works for several years until a new
company, with a manager imported from Sweden, was floated to take the
concern off its hands.[41]

[Footnote 40: New Orleans _Delta_, Mch. 10, 1849.]

[Footnote 41: _Report of the Special Joint Committee appointed to examine
the Bank of the State of South Carolina_ (Charleston, 1849); _Report of
the President and Directors of the Bank of the State of South Carolina,
November, 1850_ (Columbia, 1850).]

Most of the cotton mills depended wholly upon white labor, though a few
made experiments with slave staffs. One of these was in operation in Maury
County, Tennessee, in 1827,[42] and another near Pensacola, Florida, twenty
years afterward. Except for their foremen, each of these was run by slave
operatives exclusively; and in the latter case, at least, all the slaves
were owned by the company. These comprised in 1847 some forty boys and
girls, who were all fed, and apparently well fed, at the company's
table.[43] The career of these enterprises is not ascertainable. A better
known case is that of the Saluda Factory, near Columbia, South Carolina.
When J. Graves came from New England in 1848 to assume the management of
this mill he found several negroes among the operatives, all of whom were
on hire. His first impulse was to replace all the negroes with whites; but
before this was accomplished the newcomer was quite converted by their
"activity and promptness," and he recommended that the number of black
operatives be increased instead of diminished. "They are easily trained
to habits of industry and patient endurance," he said, "and by the
concentration of all their faculties ... their imitative faculties become
cultivated to a very high degree, their muscles become trained and obedient
to the will, so that whatever they see done they are quick in learning to
do."[44] The company was impelled by Graves' enthusiasm to resort to slave
labor exclusively, partly on hire from their owners and partly by purchase.
At the height of this regime, in 1851, the slave operatives numbered
158.[45] But whether from the incapacity of the negroes as mill hands or
from the accumulation of debt through the purchase of slaves, the company
was forced into liquidation at the close of the following year.[46]

[Footnote 42: _Georgia Courier_ (Augusta, Ga.), Apr. 24, 1828, reprinted in
_Plantation and Frontier_, II, 258.]

[Footnote 43: _DeBow's Review_, IV, 256.]

[Footnote 44: Letter of J. Graves, May 15, 1849, in the Augusta, Ga.,
_Chronicle_, June 1, 1849. Cf. also J.B. D Debow, _Industrial Resources of
the Southern and Western States_ (New Orleans, 1852), II, 339.]

[Footnote 45: _DeBow's Review_, XI, 319, 320.]

[Footnote 46: _Augusta Chronicle_, Jan. 5, 1853.]

Corporations had reason at all times, in fact, to prefer free laborers over
slaves even on hire, for in so doing they escaped liabilities for injuries
by fellow servants. When a firm of contractors, for example, advertised
in 1833 for five hundred laborers at $15 per month to work on the Muscle
Shoals canal in northern Alabama, it deemed it necessary to say that in
cases of accidents to slaves it would assume financial responsibility "for
any injury or damage that may hereafter happen in the process of blasting
rock or of the caving of banks."[47] Free laborers, on the other hand,
carried their own risks. Except when some planter would take a contract for
grading in his locality, to be done under his own supervision in the spare
time of his gang, slaves were generally called for in canal and railroad
work only when the supply of free labor was inadequate.

[Footnote 47: Reprinted in E.S. Abdy, _Journal of a Residence in the United
States_ (London, 1835), II, 109.]

Slaveowners, on the other hand, were equally reluctant to hire their slaves
to such corporations or contractors except in times of special depression,
for construction camps from their lack of sanitation, discipline,
domesticity and stability were at the opposite pole from plantations as
places of slave residence. High wages were no adequate compensation for
the liability to contagious and other diseases, demoralization, and the
checking of the birth rate by the separation of husbands and wives. The
higher the valuation of slave property, the greater would be the strength
of these considerations.

Slaves were a somewhat precarious property under all circumstances. Losses
were incurred not only through disease[48] and flight but also through
sudden death in manifold ways, and through theft. A few items will furnish
illustration. An early Charleston newspaper printed the following: "On the
ninth instant Mr. Edward North at Pon Pon sent a sensible negro fellow to
Moon's Ferry for a jug of rum, which is about two miles from his house;
and he drank to that excess in the path that he died within six or seven
hours."[49] From the Eutaws in the same state a correspondent wrote in 1798
of a gin-house disaster: "I yesterday went over to Mr. Henry Middleton's
plantation to view the dreadful effects of a flash of lightning which the
day before fell on his machine house in which were about twenty negro men,
fourteen of which were killed immediately."[50] In 1828 the following
appeared in a newspaper at New Orleans: "Yesterday towards one o'clock
P.M., as one of the ferry boats was crossing the river with sixteen slaves
on board belonging to General Wade Hampton, with their baggage, a few rods
distant from the shore these negroes, being frightened by the motion of the
boat, all threw themselves on the same side, which caused the boat to fill;
and notwithstanding the prompt assistance afforded, four or five of these
unfortunates perished."[51] In 1839 William Lowndes Yancey, who was then a
planter in South Carolina, lost his whole gang through the poisoning of a
spring on his place, and was thereby bankrupted.[52] About 1858 certain
bandits in western Louisiana abducted two slaves from the home of the Widow
Bernard on Bayou Vermilion. After the lapse of several months they were
discovered in the possession of one Apcher, who was tried for the theft
but acquitted. The slaves when restored to their mistress were put in the
kitchen, bound together by their hands. But while the family was at dinner
the two ran from the house and drowned themselves in the bayou. The
narrator of the episode attributed the impulse for suicide to the taste for
vagabondage and the hatred for work which the negroes had acquired from the

[Footnote 48: For the effect of epidemics _see_ above, pp. 300, 301.]

[Footnote 49: _South Carolina Gazette_, Feb. 12 to 19, 1741.]

[Footnote 50: _Carolina Gazette_ (Charleston), Feb. 4, 1798, supplement.]

[Footnote 51: _Louisiana Courier_, Mch. 3, 1828.]

[Footnote 52: J.W. DuBose, _Life of W.L. Yancey_ (Birmingham, Ala., 1892),
p. 39.]

[Footnote 53: Alexandra Barbe, _Histoire des Comites de Vigilance aux
Attakapas_] (Louisiana, 1861), pp. 182-185.

The governor of South Carolina reported the convictions of five white
men for the crime of slave stealing in the one year;[54] and in the
penitentiary lists of the several states the designation of slave stealers
was fairly frequent, in spite of the fact that the death penalty was
generally prescribed for the crime. One method of their operation was
described in a Georgia newspaper item of 1828 which related that two
wagoners upon meeting a slave upon the road persuaded him to lend a hand in
shifting their load. When the negro entered the wagon they overpowered him
and drove on. When they camped for the night they bound him to the wheel;
but while they slept he cut his thongs and returned to his master.[55] The
greatest activities in this line, however, were doubtless those of the
Murrell gang of desperadoes operating throughout the southwest in the early
thirties with a shrewd scheme for victimizing both whites and blacks. They
would conspire with a slave, promising him his freedom or some other reward
if he would run off with them and suffer himself to be sold to some unwary
purchaser and then escape to join them again.[56] Sometimes they repeated
this process over and over again with the same slave until a threat of
exposure from him led to his being silenced by murder. In the same period a
smaller gang with John Washburn as its leading spirit and with Natchez as
informal headquarters, was busy at burglary, highway and flatboat robbery,
pocket picking and slave stealing.[57] In 1846 a prisoner under arrest at
Cheraw, South Carolina, professed to reveal a new conspiracy for slave
stealing with ramifications from Virginia to Texas; but the details appear
not to have been published.[58]

[Footnote 54: H.M. Henry, _The Police Control of the Slave in South
Carolina_ [1914], pp. 110-112.]

[Footnote 55: _The Athenian_ (Athens, Ga.), Aug. 19, 1828.]

[Footnote 56: H.R. Howard, compiler, _The History of Virgil A. Stewart and
his Adventure in capturing and exposing the great "Western Land Pirate" and
his Gang_ (New York, 1836), pp. 63-68, 104, _et passim_. The truth of these
accounts of slave stealings is vouched for in a letter to the editor of the
New Orleans _Bulletin_, reprinted in the _Federal Union_ (Milledgeville,
Ga.), Nov. 5, 1835.]

[Footnote 57: The manifold felonies of the gang were described by Washburn
in a dying confession after his conviction for a murder at Cincinnati.
Natchez _Courier_, reprinted in the _Louisiana Courier_ (New Orleans), Feb.
28, 1837. Other reports of the theft of slaves appear in the Charleston
_Morning Post and Daily Advertiser_, Nov. 2, 1786; _Southern Banner_
(Athens, Ga.), July 19, 1834, advertisement; _Federal Union_
(Milledgeville, Ga.), July 18, 1835; and the following New Orleans
journals: _Louisiana Gazette_, Apr. 1 and Sept. 10, 1819; _Mercantile
Advertiser_, Sept 29, 1831; _Bee_, Dec. 14, 1841; Mch. 10, 1845, and Aug.
1 and Nov. 11, 1848; _Louisiana Courier_, Mch. 29 and Sept. 18, 1840;
_Picayune_, Aug. 21, 1845.]

[Footnote 58: New Orleans _Commercial Times_, Aug. 26, 1846.]

Certain hostile critics of slavery asserted that in one district or another
masters made reckonings favorable to such driving of slaves at their work
as would bring premature death. Thus Fanny Kemble wrote in 1838, when on
the Georgia coast: "In Louisiana ... the humane calculation was not only
made but openly and unhesitatingly avowed that the planters found it upon
the whole their most profitable plan to work off (kill with labour) their
whole number of slaves about once in seven years, and renew the whole
stock."[59] The English traveler Featherstonhaugh likewise wrote of
Louisiana in 1844, when he had come as close to it as East Tennessee,
that "the duration of life for a sugar mill hand does not exceed seven
years."[60] William Goodell supported a similar assertion of his own in
1853 by a series of citations. The first of these was to Theodore Weld as
authority, that "Professor Wright" had been told at New York by Dr. Deming
of Ashland, Ohio, a story that Mr. Dickinson of Pittsburg had been told by
Southern planters and slave dealers on an Ohio River steamboat. The tale
thus vouched for contained the assertion that sugar planters found that by
the excessive driving of slaves day and night in the grinding season they
could so increase their output that "they could afford to sacrifice one set
of hands in seven years," and "that this horrible system was now practised
to a considerable extent." The second citation was likewise to Weld for a
statement by Mr. Samuel Blackwell of Jersey City, whose testimonial lay in
the fact of his membership in the Presbyterian church, that while on a tour
in Louisiana "the planters generally declared to him that they were obliged
so to overwork their slaves during the sugar-making season (from eight to
ten weeks) as to use them up in seven or eight years." The third was to the
Rev. Mr. Reed of London who after a tour in Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky
in 1834 published the following: "I was told, confidentially, from
excellent authority, that recently at a meeting of planters in South
Carolina the question was seriously discussed whether the slave is more
profitable to the owner if well fed, well clothed and worked lightly, or if
made the most of at once and exhausted in some eight years. The decision
was in favor of the last alternative"[61] An anonymous writer in 1857
repeated this last item without indication of its date or authority but
with a shortening of the period of exhaustion to "some four or five

[Footnote 59: Frances A. Kemble, _Journal_ (New York, 1863), p. 28.]

[Footnote 60: G.W. Featherstonhaugh, _Excursion Through the Slave States_
(London, 1844), I, 120. Though Featherstonhaugh afterward visited New
Orleans his book does not recur to this topic.]

[Footnote 61: William Goodell, _The American Slave Code in Theory and
Practise_ (New York, 1853), pp. 79-81, citing Theodore Weld, _Slavery as it
is_, p 39, and Mattheson, _Visit to the American Churches_, II, 173.]

[Footnote 62: _The Suppressed Book about Slavery! Prepared for publication
in 1857, never published until the present time_ (New York, 1864), p. 211.]

These assertions, which have been accepted by some historians as valid,
prompt a series of reflections. In the first place, anyone who has had
experience with negro labor may reasonably be skeptical when told that
healthy, well fed negroes, whether slave or free, can by any routine
insistence of the employer be driven beyond the point at which fatigue
begins to be injurious. In the second place, plantation work as a rule had
the limitation of daylight hours; in plowing, mules which could not
be hurried set the pace; in hoeing, haste would imperil the plants by
enhancing the proportion of misdirected strokes; and in the harvest of
tobacco, rice and cotton much perseverance but little strain was involved.
The sugar harvest alone called for heavy exertion and for night work in the
mill. But common report in that regard emphasized the sturdy sleekness as
well as the joviality of the negroes in the grinding season;[63] and even
if exhaustion had been characteristic instead, the brevity of the period
would have prevented any serious debilitating effect before the coming of
the more leisurely schedule after harvest. In fact many neighboring Creole
and Acadian farmers, fishermen and the like were customarily enlisted
on wages as plantation recruits in the months of stress.[64] The sugar
district furthermore was the one plantation area within easy reach of a
considerable city whence a seasonal supply of extra hands might be had to
save the regular forces from injury. The fact that a planter, as reported
by Sir Charles Lyell, failed to get a hundred recruits one year in the
midst of the grinding season[65] does not weaken this consideration. It may
well have been that his neighbors had forestalled him in the wage-labor
market, or that the remaining Germans and Irish in the city refused to take
the places of their fellows who were on strike. It is well established that
sugar planters had systematic recourse to immigrant labor for ditching and
other severe work.[66] It is incredible that they ignored the same recourse
if at any time the requirements of their crop threatened injury to their
property in slaves. The recommendation of the old Roman, Varro, that
freemen be employed in harvesting to save the slaves[67] would apply with
no more effect, in case of need, to the pressing of oil and wine than to
the grinding of sugar-cane. Two months' wages to a Creole, a "'Cajun" or
an Irishman would be cheap as the price of a slave's continued vigor,
even when slave prices were low. On the whole, however, the stress of the
grinding was not usually as great as has been fancied. Some of the regular
hands in fact were occasionally spared from the harvest at its height and
set to plow and plant for the next year's crop.[68]

[Footnote 63: E. g., Olmsted, _Seaboard Slave States_, p. 668.]

[Footnote 64: _DeBow's Review_, XI, 606.]

[Footnote 65: _See_ above, p. 337.]

[Footnote 66: See above, pp. 301, 302.]

[Footnote 67: Varro, _De Re Rustica_, I, XVII, 2.]

[Footnote 68: _E. g_., items for November, 1849, in the plantation diary of
Dr. John P.R. Stone, of Iberville Parish, Louisiana. For the use of this
document, the MS. of which is in the possession of Mr. John Stone Ware,
White-Castle, La., I am indebted to Mr. V. Alton Moody, of the University
of Michigan, now Lieutenant in the American Expeditionary Force in France.]

The further question arises: how could a master who set himself to work a
slave to death in seven years make sure on the one hand that the demise
would not be precipitated within a few months instead, and on the other
that the consequence would not be merely the slave's incapacitation instead
of his death? In the one case a serious loss would be incurred at once; in
the other the stoppage of the slave's maintenance, which would be the only
conceivable source of gain in the premises, would not have been effected,
but the planter would merely have an invalid on his hands instead of a
worker. Still further, the slaves had recourses of their own, even aside
from appeals for legal redress. They might shoot or stab the oppressor,
burn his house, or run away, or resort to any of a dozen other forms of
sabotage. These possibilities the masters knew as well as the slaves. Mere
passive resistance, however, in cases where even that was needed, would
generally prove effective enough.

Finally, if all the foregoing arguments be dismissed as fallacious, there
still remains the factor of slave prices as a deterrent in certain periods.
If when slaves were cheap and their produce dear it might be feasible and
profitable to exhaust the one to increase the other, the opportunity would
surely vanish when the price relations were reversed. The trend of the
markets was very strong in that direction. Thus at the beginning of the
nineteenth century a prime field hand in the upland cotton belt had the
value of about 1,500 pounds of middling cotton; by 1810 this value had
risen to 4,500 pounds; by 1820 to 5,500; by 1830 to 6,000; by 1840 to
8,300; from 1843 to 1853 it was currently about 10,000; and in 1860 it
reached about 16,000 pounds. Comparison of slave values as measured in the
several other staples would show quite similar trends, though these great
appreciations were accompanied by no remotely proportionate increase of
the slaves' industrial capacities. The figures tell their own tale of
the mounting preposterousness of any calculated exhaustion of the human

The tradition in anti-slavery circles was however too strong to die.
Various travelers touring the South, keen for corroborative evidence but
finding none, still nursed the belief that a further search would bring
reward. It was like the rainbow's end, always beyond the horizon. Thus the
two Englishmen, Marshall Hall and William H. Russell, after scrutinizing
many Southern localities and finding no slave exhaustion, asserted that it
prevailed either in a district or in a type of establishment which they had
not examined. Hall, who traveled far in the Southern states and then merely
touched at Havana on his way home, wrote: "In the United States the life of
the slave has been cherished and his offspring promoted. In Cuba the lives
of the slaves have been 'used up' by excessive labour, and increase in
number disregarded. It is said, indeed, that the slave-life did not extend
beyond eight or ten years."[69] Russell recorded his surprise at finding
that the Louisiana planters made no reckoning whatever of the cost of their
slaves' labor, that Irish gangs nevertheless did the ditching, and that the
slave children of from nine to eleven years were at play, "exempted from
that cruel fate which befalls poor children of their age in the mining and
manufacturing districts of England"; and then upon glimpsing the homesteads
of some Creole small proprietors, he wrote: "It is among these men that, at
times, slavery assumes its harshest aspect, and that slaves are exposed to
the severest labor."[70] Johann Schoepf on the other hand while travelling
many years before on the Atlantic seaboard had written: "They who have the
largest droves [of slaves] keep them the worst, let them run naked mostly
or in rags, and accustom them as much as possible to hunger, but exact of
them steady work."[71] That no concrete observations were adduced in any
of these premises is evidence enough, under the circumstances, that the
charges were empty.

[Footnote 69: Marshall Hall, _The Two-fold Slavery of the United States_
(London, 1854), p. 154.]

[Footnote 70: W.H. Russell, _My Diary North and South_ (Boston, 1863), pp.
274, 278.]

[Footnote 71: Johann David Schoepf, _Travels in the Confederation_, A.J.
Morrisson, tr. (Philadelphia, 1911), II, 147. But _see ibid_., pp. 94, 116,
for observations of a general air of indolence among whites and blacks

The capital value of the slaves was an increasingly powerful insurance of
their lives and their health. In four days of June, 1836, Thomas Glover of
Lowndes County, Alabama, incurred a debt of $35 which he duly paid, for
three visits with mileage and prescriptions by Dr. Salley to his "wench
Rina";[72] and in the winter of 1858 Nathan Truitt of Troup County,
Georgia, had medical attendance rendered to a slave child of his to the
amount of $130.50.[73] These are mere chance items in the multitude which
constantly recur in probate records. Business prudence required expenditure
with almost a lavish hand when endangered property was to be saved. The
same consideration applied when famines occurred, as in Alabama in 1828[74]
and 1855.[75] Poverty-stricken freemen might perish, but slaveowners could
use the slaves themselves as security for credits to buy food at famine
prices to feed them.[76] As Olmsted said, comparing famine effects in the
South and in Ireland, "the slaves suffered no physical want--the peasant
starved."[77] The higher the price of slaves, the more stringent the
pressure upon the masters to safeguard them from disease, injury and risk
of every sort.

[Footnote 72: MS. receipt in private possession.]

[Footnote 73: MS. probate records at LaGrange, Ga.]

[Footnote 74: Charleston, _City Gazette_, May 28, 1828.]

[Footnote 75: Olmsted, _Seaboard Slave States_, pp. 707, 708, quoting
contemporary newspapers.]

[Footnote 76: Cf. D.D. Wallace, _Life of Henry Laurens_, p. 429.]

[Footnote 77: Olmsted, _Seaboard Slave States_, p. 244.]

Although this phase of the advancing valuation gave no occasion for regret,
other phases brought a spread of dismay and apprehension. In an essay of
1859 Edmund Ruffin analyzed the effects in Virginia. In the last fifteen
years, he said, the value of slaves had been doubled, solely because of
the demand from the lower South. The Virginians affected fell into three
classes. The first were those who had slaves to be sold, whether through
pressure of debt or in the legal division of estates or in the rare event
of liquidating a surplus of labor. These would receive advantage from high
prices. The second were those who wishing neither to buy nor sell slaves
desired merely to keep their estates intact. These were, of course,
unaffected by the fluctuations. The third were the great number of
enterprising planters and farmers who desired to increase the scale of
their industrial operations and who would buy slaves if conditions were
propitious but were debarred therefrom by the immoderate prices. When these
men stood aside in the bidding the manual force and the earning power of
the commonwealth were depleted. The smaller volume of labor then remaining
must be more thinly applied; land values must needs decline; and the
shrewdest employers must join the southward movement. The draining of
the slaves, he continued, would bring compensation in an inflow of white
settlers only when the removal of slave labor had become virtually complete
and had brought in consequence the most extreme prostration of land
prices and of the incomes of the still remaining remnant of the original
population. The exporting of labor, at whatever price it might be sold, he
likened to a farmer's conversion of his plow teams into cash instead of
using them in his work. According to these views, he concluded, "the
highest prices yet obtained from the foreign purchasers of our slaves have
never left a profit to the state or produced pecuniary benefit to general
interests. And even if prices should continue to increase, as there is good
reason to expect and to dread, until they reach $2000 or more for the best
laborers, or $1200 for the general average of ages and sexes, these prices,
though necessarily operating to remove every slave from Virginia, will
still cause loss to agricultural and general interests in every particular
sale, and finally render the state a desert and a ruin."[78]

[Footnote 78: Edmund Ruffin, "The Effects of High Prices of Slaves," in
_DeBow's Review_, XXVI, 647-657 (June, 1859).]

At Charleston a similar plaint was voiced by L.W. Spratt. In early years
when the African trade was open and slaves were cheap, said he, in the
Carolina lowlands "enterprise found a profitable field, and necessarily
therefore the fortunes of the country bloomed and brightened. But when
the fertilizing stream of labor was cut off, when the opening West had
no further supply to meet its requisitions, it made demands upon the
accumulations of the seaboard. The limited amount became a prize to be
contended for. Land in the interior offered itself at less than one dollar
an acre. Land on the seaboard had been raised to fifty dollars per acre,
and labor, forced to elect between them, took the cheaper. The heirs who
came to an estate, or the men of capital who retired from business, sought
a location in the West. Lands on the seaboard were forced to seek for
purchasers; purchasers came to the seaboard to seek for slaves. Their
prices were elevated to their value not upon the seaboard where lands were
capital but in the interior where the interest upon the cost of labor was
the only charge upon production. Labor therefore ceased to be profitable
in the one place as it became profitable in the other. Estates which were
wealth to their original proprietors became a charge to the descendants
who endeavored to maintain them. Neglect soon came to the relief of
unprofitable care; decay followed neglect. Mansions became tenantless and
roofless. Trees spring in their deserted halls and wave their branches
through dismantled windows. Drains filled up; the swamps returned. Parish
churches in imposing styles of architecture and once attended by a goodly
company in costly equipages, are now abandoned. Lands which had ready sale
at fifty dollars per acre now sell for less than five dollars; and over
all these structures of wealth, with their offices of art, and over
these scenes of festivity and devotion, there now hangs the pall of an
unalterable gloom."[79] In a later essay the same writer dealt with
developments in the 'fifties in more sober phrases which are corroborated
by the census returns. Within the decade, he said, as many as ten thousand
slaves had been drawn from Charleston by the attractive prices of the west,
and the towns of the interior had suffered losses in the same way. The
slaves had been taken in large numbers from all manufacturing employments,
and were now being sold by thousands each year from the rice fields. "They
are as yet retained by cotton and the culture incident to cotton; but as
almost every negro offered in our markets is bid for by the West, the drain
is likely to continue." In the towns alone was the loss offset in any
degree by an inflow of immigration.[80]

[Footnote 79: L.W. Spratt, _The Foreign Slave Trade, the source of
political power, of material progress, of social integrity and of social
emancipation to the South_ (Charleston, 1858), pp. 7, 8.]

[Footnote 80: L.W. Spratt, "Letter to John Perkins of Louisiana," in the
Charleston _Mercury_, Feb. 13, 1861.]

A similar trend as to slaves but with a sharply contrasting effect upon
prosperity was described by Gratz Brown as prevailing in Missouri. The
slave population, said he, is in process of rapid decline except in a dozen
central counties along the Missouri River. "Hemp is the only staple here
left that will pay for investment in negroes," and that can hardly hold
them against the call of the cotton belt. Already the planters of the
upland counties are beginning to send their slaves to southerly markets
in response to the prices there offered. In most parts of Missouri, he
continued, slavery could not be said to exist as a system. It accordingly
served, not as an appreciable industrial agency, but only as a deterrent
hampering the progress of immigration. Brown therefore advocated the
complete extirpation of the institution as a means of giving great impetus
to the state's prosperity.[81]

[Footnote 81: B. Gratz Brown, _Speech in the Missouri Legislature, February
12, 1857 on gradual emancipation in Missouri_ (St. Louis, 1857).]

These accounts are colored by the pro-slavery views of Ruffin and Spratt
and the opposite predilections of Brown. It is clear nevertheless that the
net industrial effects of the exportation of slaves were strikingly
diverse in the several regions. In Missouri, and in Delaware also, where
plantations had never been dominant and where negroes were few, the loss
of slaves was more than counterbalanced by the gain of freemen; in some
portions of Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky the replacement of the one by
the other was at so evenly compensating a rate that the volume of industry
was not affected; but in other parts of those states and in the rural
districts of the rice coast the depletion of slaves was not in any
appreciable measure offset by immigration. This applies also to the older
portions of the eastern cotton belt.

Throughout the northern and eastern South doubts had often been expressed
that slave labor was worth its price. Thus Philip Fithian recorded in his
Virginia diary in 1774 a conversation with Mrs. Robert Carter in which she
expressed an opinion, endorsed by Fithian, "that if in Mr. Carter's or in
any gentleman's estate all the negroes should be sold and the money put to
interest in safe hands, and let the land which the negroes now work lie
wholly uncultivated, the bare interest of the price of the negroes would be
a much greater yearly income than what is now received from their working
the lands, making no allowance at all for the trouble and risk of the
masters as to crops and negroes."[82] In 1824 John Randolph said: "It is
notorious that the profits of slave labor have been for a long time on the
decrease, and that on a fair average it scarcely reimburses the expense of
the slave," and concluded by prophesying that a continuance of the tendency
would bring it about "in case the slave shall not elope from his master,
that his master will run away from him."[83] In 1818 William Elliott
of Beaufort, South Carolina, had written that in the sea-island cotton
industry for a decade past the high valuations of lands and slaves had been
wholly unjustified. On the one hand, said he, the return on investments
was extremely small; on the other, it was almost impossible to relieve an
embarrassed estate by the sale of a part, for the reduction of the scale of
operations would cause a more than proportionate reduction of income.[84]

[Footnote 82: Philip V. Fithian, _Journal and Letters_ (Princeton, 1900),
p. 145.]

[Footnote 83: H.A. Garland, _Life of John Randolph_ (New York 1851), II,

[Footnote 84: _Southern Agriculturist_, I, 151-163.]

The remorseless advance of slave prices as measured in their produce tended
to spread the adverse conditions noted by Elliott into all parts of the
South; and by the close of the 'fifties it is fairly certain that no
slaveholders but those few whose plantations lay in the most advantageous
parts of the cotton and sugar districts and whose managerial ability was
exceptionally great were earning anything beyond what would cover their
maintenance and carrying charges.

Achille Loria has repeatedly expressed the generalization that slaves have
been systematically overvalued wherever the institution has prevailed, and
he has attempted to explain the phenomenon by reference to an economic law
of his own formulation that capitalists always and everywhere exploit labor
by devices peculiarly adapted to each regime in turn. His latest argument
in the premises is as follows: Man, who is by nature dispersively
individualistic, is brought into industrial coordination only by coercion.
Isolated labor if on exceptionally fertile soil or if equipped with
specially efficient apparatus or if supernormal in energy may produce a
surplus income, but ordinarily it can earn no more than a bare subsistence.
Associative labor yields so much greater returns that masters of one sort
or another emerge in every progressive society to replace dispersion with
concentration and to engross most of the accruing enhancement of produce
to themselves as captains of industry. This "persistent and continuous
coercion, compelling them to labour in conformity to a unitary plan or in
accordance with a concentrating design" is commonly in its earlier form
slavery, and slaveholders are thus the first possessors of capital. As
capitalists they become perpetually concerned with excluding the laborers
from the proprietorship of land and the other means of production. So long
as land is relatively abundant this can be accomplished only by keeping
labor enslaved, and enslavement cannot be maintained unless the slaves are
prevented from buying their freedom. This prevention is procured by the

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