1. Welcome to the CivilWarTalk, a forum for questions and discussions about the American Civil War! Become a member today for full access to all of our resources, it's fast, simple, and absolutely free!
Dismiss Notice
Join and Become a Patron at CivilWarTalk!
Support this site with a monthly or yearly subscription! Active Patrons get to browse the site Ad free!
START BY JOINING NOW!

Slave prices would have declined after 1860, even without the war.

Discussion in 'Civil War History - Secession and Politics' started by wausaubob, Jul 11, 2017.

  1. wausaubob

    wausaubob 2nd Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2017
    Messages:
    3,215
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    I should not put words in Prof. Wright's paper, but his conclusions are important.
    https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/21982/0000392.pdf?sequence=1
    I think that this consistent with Sherman's view, but I cannot recall the exact quote.
    The cotton boom made the South the cotton equivalent of the Oil emirates, and made both cotton and slavery look like the inevitable pathway to fame, fortune and happiness.
    But the demand for cotton was not going to continue to grow as rapidly as it had, and the price after 1865 was only stable because so much labor had been withdrawn from the cotton system.
    Over supply, under employment, and unemployment, were coming. The boom was moving westward, and the Atlantic states were participating by selling slaves westward.
     
    NH Civil War Gal likes this.

  2. (Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
  3. demiurge

    demiurge Corporal

    Joined:
    Apr 15, 2016
    Messages:
    305
    Which is why the South seceded over their slaves not being able to be exported to the new boom regions. Both because there was enormous profits to be made, and because without that pressure the South was a powder keg waiting to explode.

    You couldn't make a more eloquent case that the primary instigation of the Civil War was over slavery if you tried.
     
  4. major bill

    major bill Major Forum Host

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2012
    Messages:
    9,833
    If the price of slaves dropped, then they could be used in other ways that would not make as high as profit as cotton. This could have helped to issue slavery would have remained profitable for decades after the 1860s. If the price of slaves was low enough, slavery could have remained profitable through the twentieth century.
     
    WJC, Dedej and DaveGberg like this.
  5. wausaubob

    wausaubob 2nd Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2017
    Messages:
    3,215
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    I draw no inference as to the cause of the Civil War. I think there was some over buying in 1859 and 1860, and as soon as Lincoln was nominated there was potential for speculating in warehouse cotton. Cotton was durable and liquid.
    Read Professor Wright's paper and draw your own conclusions.
    My own estimate was this was the height of the slave owners' power and wealth and it was now or never by 1860.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2017
    demiurge likes this.
  6. civilken

    civilken 2nd Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2013
    Messages:
    3,185
    I honestly believe with the mechanization of America I would think slavery was about to bloom again think about instead of Pennsylvania steel plants go to Marilyn and use slave labor. And once that had started and the prophets begin rolling in South might have grown faster than the North with factories.
     
    Dedej and jgoodguy like this.
  7. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2011
    Messages:
    26,813
    Location:
    Pelham, AL
    Some thoughts.
    A collapse in the speculative part of slave prices is going to cause a lot of economic dislocation. The speculative part of a price is the value that the price of an asset is going to increase and in owning that asset above the utility value there is profit from owning. Cotton growers were leveraged and if cotton prices are declining and slave price are declining then bankruptcies will be common, dumping a lot of slaves on the market. Some will be purchased, but since a major market of slaves will be smaller cotton planters also suffering that cotton price assuming they will buy the surplus is questionable.

    Industrialization takes time and those slaves have to be fed and taken care of by anyone speculating on using that labor for factories until those factories are built. Capital to build those factories have to be accumulated at a time of economic distress and if everyone is industrializing at the same time there is over capacity. Part of the demand for factory products is paid factory workers and in a slave driven factory system that demand is not there. Finally there was already discontent between working whites and slave labor in the South. Dump thousands of slaves onto the labor market place and the social situation is a powder keg.

    Generally speaking, slavery works only in times of labor shortage. Unless there is a Southern labor shortage, slavery is going to struggle.

    I am not optimistic for slavery without cotton. The massive labor gangs used for cotton just simply cannot be adsorbed into the labor market.
     
    wausaubob likes this.
  8. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

    Joined:
    Oct 3, 2005
    Messages:
    10,832
    The great thing about speculating about events that didn't happen and that they can always work out the way you want.

    Personally, I think the enslaved would have been deployed to factories, and helped a southern industrial boom. By 1965, some people were thinking about emancipation, but this tender hearted tomfoolery would soon be suppressed: how can American industry compete with cheap foreign labor? The slaves that outproduced the Nazi slaves in World War II? No suh, factory slaves then, factory slaves now, and factory slaves forever!
     
  9. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2011
    Messages:
    26,813
    Location:
    Pelham, AL
    Very good points. Almost makes me want to invest into the United States Slave Labor Combine. Slaves for Every Purpose Under The Sun. First month free with 12 month contract. Picture catalog available on request or drop in one of our establishments.

    OTOH a peek can be seen in the post war South where IMHO we have sharecropping which is quasi slave labor without the capital costs, the economic losses of the war and a cotton centric boom and bust economy with not so much industry and lots of resentment by whites over black labor. That did not end until the WWII industrialization.
     
    Dedej, Copperhead-mi and wausaubob like this.
  10. Copperhead-mi

    Copperhead-mi 1st Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2009
    Messages:
    4,399
    Location:
    Near Ann Arbor, Michigan
    If slave prices drop, then slave ownership is now a real possibility for the average Joe dirt farmer who raises vegetables, grain or tobacco. Even if he can't afford to pay in full for a slave or two, some enterprising slave dealer may come up with some sort of "rent to own" system for them.
     
    Dedej likes this.
  11. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

    Joined:
    Oct 3, 2005
    Messages:
    10,832
    Like I said, when it never happened, anything can happen.
     
  12. wausaubob

    wausaubob 2nd Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2017
    Messages:
    3,215
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    The trouble with slave labor in factory work is that the factory work requires a large number of supervisors and shift bosses.
    They have to know the business and have to be able to read and write and do basic arithmetic. That means that entry level workers with a primary and some secondary education are more valuable. The factory system trends towards men who can read and write, and like to organize unions and fraternal organizations, and unmarried women. Many commentators have suggested that this industrial usage of slaves was developing and would have been successful. However the idea that one man can rent out another man's labor and take his wages, is a difficult proposition to sustain in the United States.
    The boom between 1840-1860 produced the precondition for the Civil War.
    I think it is easy to see now that the supply of cotton was much more elastic than the cotton growers realized. Cotton could be grown on small plots, and varieties suitable for conditions in Texas were going to occur.
    In the short run, clearing more land and building more plantations was very inelastic and incredibly labor intensive.
    The demand for slave labor in the old Southwest was intense.
    This short run constraint is what allowed speculation in cotton. People could speculate on crop failures or political disturbances, because there was not true alternative to U.S. slave cotton.
    I think this speculation made the case for slavery look better than it really was and I think some the biggest and richest cotton growers were already diversifying into land in the old Northwest and into industrial bonds.
    The big words spoke confidently of slavery's future, but the big money was already flowing to the north and west.
     
  13. wausaubob

    wausaubob 2nd Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2017
    Messages:
    3,215
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    Sure, it is easy to write that slaves could be used in coal mines and in big steel mills. It never happened, so it is easy to write about.
    But the railroads in particular, were not going to use slaves to operate.
    In the real world, the fact that using slave labor to compete with non-agricultural businesses was possible was one of the causes of the rise of the Republican Party.
    Neither the capitalists in the free states, nor the working class people in the free states, were willing to allow the experiment.
    The war that actually happened is the demonstrated response to this possibility.
     
  14. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2011
    Messages:
    26,813
    Location:
    Pelham, AL
    Possible, but that slave has to be fed and cared for. If he runs off, then that is an expense and so on. Expensive State coercion is requited to keep slavery and if cotton is collapsing, then tax revenues are too and that becomes iffy. How low enough is an issue. A creditor has his collateral in that slave so how risky is that.

    Having children is an alternative to a slave and less likely to run off.
     
  15. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2011
    Messages:
    26,813
    Location:
    Pelham, AL
    In the war time and antebellum South, railroads used slave labor to construct railroads and maintenance of track and so on.
    Actually it did. Slaves were used in mining and also in the making of steel in the war time and antebellum South
     
    Georgia Sixth and demiurge like this.
  16. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2011
    Messages:
    26,813
    Location:
    Pelham, AL
    Agree, but there are historical events that can be examined instead of just pure speculation.
     
  17. wausaubob

    wausaubob 2nd Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2017
    Messages:
    3,215
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    How much, JGG? And were they competitive? The response to the use of slave labor is demonstrated in the California gold fields. A miner had to work his own plot. No slaves were allowed. It was a response put together by Californios, and immigrants from the North and South.
     
  18. wausaubob

    wausaubob 2nd Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2017
    Messages:
    3,215
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    Price bubbles work because the sophisticated investors know that there is manipulation occurring and the less knowledgeable investors stay in the market too long.
    The time period 1852-1860 has all the signs of a price bubble that had built the demand for cotton and slaves well beyond what the real demand factors in China, India and Europe could sustain.
    The southern mid level investors thought it could go on forever, and the Northern people were afraid it would go on forever and that the slave system would takeover the entire west.
    The actual demographic weakness of slavery in Maryland, the western counties of Virginia, in Missouri and Kansas, and in California and Oregon, is much more obvious now than it was in 1860.
     
  19. wausaubob

    wausaubob 2nd Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2017
    Messages:
    3,215
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    The highest level thinkers among the secessionists knew that there would be no better opportunity to secede. "Cotton is king," had a rational basis in 1860, even if it wasn't correct. If secession was delayed, the market would transition away from cotton faster than industrialization could absorb the slaves in the south. Which meant that demand for escaped slaves could go sky high in the north.
    Abraham Lincoln and other thinkers hoped that if secession was delayed for four years, the bubble would burst and slaves would become so cheap in the south, that as William Sherman wrote, they would not be worth fighting for.
     
  20. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2011
    Messages:
    26,813
    Location:
    Pelham, AL
    California was a political, not an economic response. Miners feared cheap slave labor. Miners worked for companies not just their own plot.

    Tanneyhill foundry, Shelby IronWorks and all of the Alabama iron works used slave labor as did Trafalgar Ironworks in VA and others. 10,000 slaves worked in iron works of one kind or another.

    Industrial Slavery in the Old South Hardcover – July 2, 1970 by Robert S. Starobin (Author)

    0717171000b.jpg

    0717171000a.jpg
    .
    .
     
  21. Dedej

    Dedej First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2017
    Messages:
    1,068
    I think they would have gotten higher.

    From what I have learned the enslaved did a lot of different things/jobs and not just picking cotton. They would have become more specialized and that is how they would have been promoted and sold.

    Or like a few others have said - they would have been placed in a factory, store, etc -- setting. Free labor is free labor - and a person can be trained and FORCED to do just about anything.

    I was watching a lecture on slavery in Louisiana (below) and one of the professors talked about how women enslavers would often take Black babies and young women - those that wouldn't sell at auctions and teach them specialized skills that would make them different/better trained than others. Then months later she would go back to the auction and sell them for double/triple the price.

    So, I feel like it would have been specialized - meaning if someone wanted a woman/man/child that had a certain set of skills. It would have been dealers like the woman mentioned -- who saw the financial benefit in doing so.

     

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)

Share This Page


(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)