Copyright

The Economics of American Slavery

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: American Anti-Slavery Society: History & Activities

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:03 Beginning of Slavery…
  • 1:10 The Rise of Cotton as…
  • 2:52 National Dependency on Slavery
  • 3:52 Negative Economic…
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed Speed
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Slavery was an institution that drastically impacted the economy of the United States. This lesson explores the early growth of slavery and how it helped shape both the Southern and national economy.

Beginning of Slavery in the U.S.

You're probably familiar with the institution of slavery that existed in the United States. But do you know when or how it got its start?

In 1619, a Dutch trading ship arrived in Virginia with the first Africans to step foot in the English colonies. You may be interested to know that these Africans were not originally considered slaves. Instead, they were treated more like indentured servants. During the 1600s, indentured servitude was a way for many people to get to the New World. In exchange for passage across the Atlantic, they agreed to be an unpaid laborer or servant for a given period of time (usually about seven years).

By the end of the 1600s and into the early 1700s, there were fewer and fewer indentured servants in the colonies. This posed a major problem for plantation owners, especially in the Virginia colony. Large-scale production of tobacco required a lot of inexpensive man-power for the industry to be profitable. To meet the demand for cheap labor, the early colonists turned to African slavery. Within just a few short decades, slavery transformed the U.S. economy.

The Rise of Cotton as a Commodity

In the early English colonies, tobacco was one of the most popular and profitable crops to grow. Unfortunately, widespread tobacco production soon became problematic. As the soil was stripped of nutrients from planting the same thing over and over, it became increasingly difficult to keep growing tobacco on the same plantations. Southern farmers began to panic. What would they do without such a valuable cash crop?

In 1793, their fears were put to rest with a revolutionary invention. Some farmers in the South grew cotton but not on a massive scale. Cotton took a long time to clean and, as a result, was not very profitable to grow. Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin made it possible to quickly and easily separate the cotton fibers from the seeds, which sped up the initial processing phase immensely. Shortly thereafter, the Southern economy changed rapidly. Tobacco was no longer the most important cash crop. Instead, cotton became the king of the South. This transition made slavery more important than ever to Southern growers.

Slavery made the large-scale production of cotton possible. Not only that, it created a national dependence on the commodity. Thanks to the labor of countless thousands of slaves, the South became the largest cotton producer in the world. By 1840, the U.S. produced over 50% of the world's cotton.

Just like with tobacco, growing cotton eventually proved problematic. Soil depletion made it more difficult to grow cotton. This forced plantation owners to increase their slave labor to keep production up. This created further economic dependency on the institution of slavery.

National Dependency on Slavery

Slave labor helped Southern planters grow wealthy, but it also contributed to economic growth around the country. By the mid-1800s, the North did not have a direct dependence on slavery, but they did rely on it indirectly. Cotton grown in states like South Carolina and Georgia was spun into thread and woven into fabric in textile mills in states like Massachusetts. Merchants exported cotton to England through Northern ports like Philadelphia and Boston. Meanwhile, Northern bankers loaned Southern planters money to buy more land and to buy more slaves to further support the cotton industry. Plantations often used their slaves as collateral to secure loans to buy additional slaves.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support