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Was Slavery Dying in 1860?

Discussion in 'Civil War History - Secession and Politics' started by CMWinkler, Jul 31, 2018.

  1. CMWinkler

    CMWinkler Colonel Forum Host Retired Moderator

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    There was talk in the thread James Robertson Speaks which indicates that modern scholarship has proven that slavery was not dying or would not have died in due course without the war.

    Kevin Levin mentions it here: http://cwmemory.com/2018/07/31/james-i-robertsons-monument-rant/

    I'm curious as to what has, in fact, been proven. Would slavery have died without the war?
     

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  3. huskerblitz

    huskerblitz Captain

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    How can a supposition be proven?

    There are a number of ways it can be looked at. Trends leading up to 1860. And the economic stability of the institution leading up to 1860 and beyond. Feasibility of expansion into western lands. Etc.
     
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  4. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    I have not seen the claim that slavery "would not have died" without the Civil War. I heard Eric Foner say that agricultural-based slavery was viable until the 1920s. Whether the leap to urban slavery could have been made is tough to say, but it is possible.

    If slavery was dying out, we would expect to see it decline during the years leading up to the Civil War, yet as this table indicates, the number of slaves was steadily increasing:

    slaves table1.JPG
    From 1850 to 1860 there was a 23% increase in the number of slaves in the South. That is without anyone being added to the slave population through import or immigration!
     
  5. Tin cup

    Tin cup Captain

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  6. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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  7. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    Economically, the only activity that could absorb slave labor fast enough was the world cotton economy. When the demand for cotton increased at the rate of 5% per year, the economy of slavery was fine. The cotton boom between 1840-1860 was the height of prosperity.
    But once cotton textiles produced in mills replaces most of the traditional production, the increase in cotton demand slows.
    It actually slowed to the rate of 1.5% per year after the Civil War.
    Slavery was not dying, but it was moving west and south. Continued expansion of cotton production increased the demand for coerced labor, but the price of raw cotton depended on big factors in the world market.
    Slavery had other applications. Whether those other applications would create enough demand for slavery to keep the arrangement politically viable is uncertain.
    The problem was more political than economic. When the ratio of paid labor states to coerced labor states changed to 19/15 and population growth was very rapid in the corn belt states, and in Pennsylvania and New York, the political pressure on domestic slavery was going to grow.
    So no, it was not dying, but it was politically doomed.
     
  8. Tin cup

    Tin cup Captain

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    I'm not understanding how it is with all that period documentation, all the speeches, all the fear of abolitionist's, the laws governing slavery, all the talk of OPENING the oversea's slave trade, the Secession Commissioners speeches, the actions taken during the "Texas Troubles period"... How anyone can even think of believing the Southern Slave States were going to just let it go away?

    Kevin Dally
     
  9. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    I note that from 1850 to 1860, while the white population increased by 31% and the enslaved increased by 23%, free non-whites only increased by 10%. This also demonstrates a lack of a transition to free labor or a dying out of slavery.

    It is interesting that between 1790 and 1800, the free non-white population increased by 90%. The Revolutionary generation clearly saw slavery as a precarious institution. Their grandsons did not.
     
  10. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    The price of slaves in New Orleans is one market price in a large and diverse economy. Local factors including local currency issues influence the price of slaves in New Orleans.
     
  11. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    Sure. If you know of other markets please post. Were prices declining elsewhere?

    New Orleans was, however, a major location for sales.
     
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  12. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Retired Moderator

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    https://www.measuringworth.com/slavery.php
    Aggregate slave prices also increased suggesting increasing not decreasing demand.

    p4.jpg
     
  13. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    New Orleans was a major slave market. It was also located near the heart of the cotton district and the sugar district as well.
    So slave prices could have been rising in New Orleans, as long as the price of cotton is stable, while slave prices were falling in Maryland and Virginia.
    There is not a single unified slave economy.
    Also, we do not know the demographics of slavery in the deep south, especially in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
    Further, additional enslaved people were imported throughout the ante bellum era. They came in through the purchase of Louisiana, and Florida, and the addition of Texas. Large numbers of enslaved people were also imported illegally. One has to consult W.E.B. DuBois on these issues, but no one cares about him, apparently.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2018
  14. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    The price of slaves depended on the political prospects for slavery in the US, and the price of cotton in the world market.
    Sooner or later people in the middle eight states were going to sell off their slaves.
    If something happens to the price of cotton, there is an accelerated crisis involving poverty, malnutrition and disease.
    There were far too many people who were not willing to see slavery die out, but would be willing to sit by and watch that humanitarian crisis unfold. :thumbsdown:
     
  15. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    Before the war, I don't think anyone assumed that slavery was on the way out. So the decisions about the war weren't not made with the assumption it was fading or dying out. I have never heard of anyone thinking that slavery was going to "fade away" without someone making that happen, before the war. But I don't know everything, can anyone identify someone who thought that?
     
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  16. Viper21

    Viper21 First Sergeant

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    Or could the differences be found somewhere in the immigration stats..?

    The 31% WP could easily be the result of natural increase, plus immigration. The 23% slave increase is easily deduced from natural reproduction. How many "free non-whites" immigrated to the US 1850-1860..? How about 1790-1800..?
     
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  17. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    That's a completely different question from whether or not slavery was dying. It was not dying. It was never more popular than it had been at the start of the Civil War. It was a remarkably resilient institution, being able to survive throughout the war, even with the body blows it took. Had there been no 13th Amendment, it could very well have come back and become as strong as ever.

    Mechanization of agriculture didn't happen until the middle of the 20th Century, and wasn't complete until the 1970s. And the impetus for mechanization came from the need to replace workers who had left the farms for more lucrative jobs in urban areas. An enslaved labor force has no such mobility, hence would not have left the fields, thus removing the historical impetus for mechanization.

    The idea that cotton could not be grown in places like New Mexico, Arizona, and California is contradicted by actual growing of cotton in:

    New Mexico: https://www.cottonfarming.com/special-report/western-report-new-mexicos-research-has-rich-history/
    Arizona: https://www.azfb.org/Article/7-Little-Known-Facts-About-Arizona-Agricultures-Cotton
    California: https://ccgga.org/cotton-information/ca-cotton-facts/
     
  18. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Retired Moderator

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    IMHO it is a post-war conceit, a part of the Lost Cause histography.
     
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  19. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Retired Moderator

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    Agree but with the following observations. There is no evidence that any of the above States would have been slave States.
    Politics not economic will constrain slavery. No Civil War implies the South abandons slavery expansion. Any decision paths involving no Civil War has to contend with successful secession or unsuccessful secession. I personally find that things get very vague after 1869. Cotton farming in the areas mentioned above depends on expansive government investment. I am not sure how we get that without the Civil War.

    During the post-reconstruction period, stagnating cotton prices caused a lot of problems leading me to doubt unqualified optimistic appraisal of the viability of slave labor.
     
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  20. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    I repeat, if people in the middle eight coerced labor states lose confidence in the future of slavery, then a sell off can occur and prices will crash.
    If something happens to the price of cotton, there can also be a sell off. The last few years of the ante bellum era was a cotton boom. Those conditions would not be repeated again until the 20th century.
    Either crisis could cause a humanitarian problem.
    Either way, selling cotton produced with coerced labor to the world textile market, that has completely converted to paid labor, is a basic contradiction. Projecting an institution borrowed from the ancient world, into a world of railroads, newspapers and telegraph wires stretched across the continent, does not make sense. Something was going to happen.
     
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  21. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Retired Moderator

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    IMHO it is difficult to prove a negative, the proper proposition is proving slavery was dying out. That proposition can be shown to be false.
     

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