Was Slavery Dying in 1860?

wausaubob

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Well, they certainly had a better quality of life than the vast majority of the unemployed, homeless, half-starved, vagabond "free" blacks living in the squalid, filthy, ghettos of New York and Philadelphia.
That is probably something that should be determined by the free blacks themselves, at that time. To me it seems that from the time of the Revolution onwards free blacks preferred freedom. Very few if any, returned south and reinslaved themselves.
People did not let the slave chasers find them and return them to slavery, if they could avoid it. Instead thousands moved to Canada, and others returned to Africa.
 

jgoodguy

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True, because it ended.

In the age of tractors and harvesters would it still make sense to feed 50 people over a couple of pieces of equipment?

The slave becomes obsolete farm equipment when its costs outweigh the production and nobody else wants to buy them.

Anyone can imagine anything.
 

Kirk

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That is probably something that should be determined by the free blacks themselves, at that time. To me it seems that from the time of the Revolution onwards free blacks preferred freedom. Very few if any, returned south and reinslaved themselves.
People did not let the slave chasers find them and return them to slavery, if they could avoid it. Instead thousands moved to Canada, and others returned to Africa.

Perhaps. But millions upon millions of persons held to service remained at home and at work. Better fed, clothed, housed, cared for (medical), and pensioned than the starving and impoverished "free" blacks living under the burdens of the white-supremacist North.
 

wausaubob

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Having the African/American population grow their own food uses land. Is the use of land free?
All of which is irrelevant to whether slavery was dying prior to 1860.
The better arguments would be based on the demographic spread of slavery. The enslaved population was actually the slowest growing part of the US population as tabulated by the preliminary 1860 census. The deep south states were discounting about 16% of their slower growth, for political purposes. The example of Delaware in cutting off interstate sale of slaves was already there.
 

wausaubob

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Perhaps. But millions upon millions of persons held to service remained at home and at work. Better fed, clothed, housed, cared for (medical), and pensioned than the starving and impoverished "free" blacks living under the burdens of the white-supremacist North.
What does "remained" mean, in this context? It seems to me that when the Civil War presented them with a choice, they did not remain any longer. All of which is an attempt to untrack the thread.
 

cash

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True, because it ended.

In the age of tractors and harvesters would it still make sense to feed 50 people over a couple of pieces of equipment?

The slave becomes obsolete farm equipment when its costs outweigh the production and nobody else wants to buy them.

Why buy an expensive tractor or harvester when you have free labor already?

As history actually happened, agriculture in the South was mechanized in order to replace labor lost when workers moved from the fields to more lucrative jobs in the cities. If your labor force is enslaved, they have no such mobility and thus there is no incentive to mechanize.

As history actually happened, it wasn't until 1957 that it became cheaper to use a harvester than to pay laborers to pick cotton by hand--that's with a free labor force you had to pay, and after the need arose to replace lost labor through mechanization. With an enslaved labor force, that happens much later, if at all.
 

Youngblood

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Apr 26, 2015
Anyone can imagine anything.

Well since im posing it as a question, i imagined it might draw a thought provoking response.

I myself havent formed an opinion on if or when slavery would have become less profitable or died out.
Thats why im participating in this discussion thread.
 

wausaubob

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Why buy an expensive tractor or harvester when you have free labor already?

As history actually happened, agriculture in the South was mechanized in order to replace labor lost when workers moved from the fields to more lucrative jobs in the cities. If your labor force is enslaved, they have no such mobility and thus there is no incentive to mechanize.

As history actually happened, it wasn't until 1957 that it became cheaper to use a harvester than to pay laborers to pick cotton by hand--that's with a free labor force you had to pay, and after the need arose to replace lost labor through mechanization. With an enslaved labor force, that happens much later, if at all.
Mechanization as of 1860 would be an interesting discussion. The approximate truth is that mechanization of planting and harvesting was going to make the Illinois/Wisconsin area completely dominant in wheat production. Economies of scale in iron production utilized in any area connected to the iron ranges of Wisconsin and Michigan was going to nearly eliminate all other iron producers, no matter what their sources of labor.
 

wausaubob

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Its a reasonable argument to propose that slavery was not dying in the south in 1860. But the conduct of politicians in Delaware and Kentucky during the Civil War and while the 13th Amendment was in the ratification process provides abundant evidence that there were few people in the coerced labor states willing to acknowledge the end of slavery.
 

Youngblood

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Who do you think did the actual work of growing the crops on the plantations?

I think the slaves did it, obviously.
But you also pay an overseer.
Then theres cloths and shoes, which even made at home you have to buy the cloth and leather, correct?

If you think that once purchased, a slave cost zero dollars to keep, thats fine, and may be right.
I dont know.
Thats why im talking about it.
 

cash

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Right here.
I think the slaves did it, obviously.
But you also pay an overseer.
Then theres cloths and shoes, which even made at home you have to buy the cloth and leather, correct?

If you think that once purchased, a slave cost zero dollars to keep, thats fine, and may be right.
I dont know.
Thats why im talking about it.

As I've posted several times in the forum, it cost the average slave owner about $20 per slave to keep their slaves alive each year.

The material for slave clothing was the cheapest available. It was actually called "Negro cloth."

The classic study of the profitability of slavery was done in 1958 by the economists Alfred Conrad and John Meyer.

"Children began to be productive in field labor at age six, with the males becoming self-sustaining by age nine (that is, they then earned the adult maintenance charge of $20 per year), while females became self-sustaining by age thirteen." [Alfred H. Conrad and John R. Meyer, "The Economics of Slavery in the Ante Bellum South," The Journal of Political Economy, Vol LXVI, No. 2, April, 1958, p. 107]

"The annual maintenance cost per child was assessed at the rate of $10 per year for one-six-year-olds, $15 per year for seven-twelve-year-olds and $20 per year, the full adult maintenance cost, for those age thirteen and over." [Ibid., p. 109]

Here's the breakdown they found:
A. Food and clothing (most food produced on plantation, most clothing hand-sewn) - $2.50 - 3.46
(some ready-made clothing and meat, fish, and other food 'delicacies' purchased - $7.00-10.00
B. Medical Care - $1.50 - 2.00
C. Taxes - $0.39 - 1.20
D. Supervision - $5.00 - 15.00

Total based on means of estimates in B through D and the second option of A: $20 - 21

Alfred H. Conrad and John R. Meyer, "The Economics of Slavery in the Ante Bellum South," The Journal of Political Economy, Vol LXVI, No. 2, April, 1958, p. 104, Table 5.

Some might point out this does not include something like life insurance for the slaves.

"Only about 3 percent of all industrial slaves and a substantially smaller number of plantation bondsmen employed during any year in the 1850s were covered by life insurance. The problem of cost was undoubtedly a major factor. Owners were probably reluctant to lay out an extra five to fifteen dollars annually for every laborer, even if the number insured was limited to prime hands, and small, marginally successful farmers could not afford to buy life insurance for their family slaves. Few white heads of households owned personal policies to protect their surviving spouses and children, much less policies on bondsmen." [Todd L. Savitt, "Slave Life Insurance in Virginia and North Carolina," The Journal of Southern History, Vol XLIII, No. 4, November, 1977, pp. 585-586]

Or is it that slave labor was remarkably efficient compared with free labor?

"Both southern farms using free labor and southern farms using slave labor were more efficient than northern farms. Compared with each other, however, southern slave farms were 28 percent more efficient than southern free farms. Compared with northern farms, southern free farms were 9 percent more efficient, while slave farms were 40 percent more efficient." [Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery, p. 192]

Why is that?

First of all:

"There were economies of scale in southern agriculture. This means that a single large farm using given quantities of inputs could produce more output than a group of small farms which together used the same quantities of input. Not all of the superior efficiency of slave farms was due to economies of scale. And not all economies of scale were in production." [Ibid., pp. 192-194]

"Economies of scale were achieved only with slave labor. There were no large-scale southern farms based on free wage labor. Small free farms did not combine into large enterprises in order to achieve the benefits of scale. The larger the farm, the larger the percentage of persons who were slaves." [Ibid., p. 194]

Secondly, they used slave labor in ways free labor could never be used.

A slave's labor belonged to their owner for the entire working life of the slave, which was essentially their entire life since the slave became productive early in life [recall they became productive in the field at age 6].

"To be sure, the slave's customary attitude of indifference toward his work, together with the numerous methods he devised to resist his enslavement, sharply reduced the master's potential profits. It does not follow, however, that a slaveholder who was a reasonably efficient manager would have found free labor cheaper to employ. Slavery's economic critics overlooked the fact that physical coercion, or the threat of it, proved to be a rather effective incentive, and that the system did not prevent masters from offering tempting rewards for the satisfactory performance of assigned tasks.

"Besides, slave labor had several competitive advantages over free white labor. In the first place, it was paid less: the average wage of a free laborer exceeded considerably the investment and maintenance costs of a slave. In the second place, masters exploited women and children more fully than did the employers of free labor. Finally, the average bondsman worked longer hours and was subjected to a more rigid discipline. Slaveholders were less troubled with labor 'agitators' and less obligated to bargain with their workers. The crucial significance of this fact was dramatically demonstrated by a Louisiana sugar planter who once experimented with free labor, only to have his gang strike for double pay during the grinding season. 'Slave labor is the most constant form of labor,' argued a Southerner. 'The details of cotton and rice culture could not be carried on with one less constant.' No conviction was more firmly embedded in the mind of the planter than this. Many employers 'hire slaves in preference to other laborers,' explained a southern judge, 'because they believe the contract confers an absolute right to their services during its continuation.' These advantages more than compensated for whatever superiority free labor had in efficiency.

"Indeed, some southern landowners who employed Irish immigrants or native whites even doubted that they were more diligent than slaves. One employer complained that no matter how well white workers were treated, 'except when your eyes are on them they cheat you out of the labor due you, by lounging under the shade of the trees in your field.' A Maryland planter assured Olmsted that 'at hoeing and any steady field-work' his slaves accomplished twice as much, and with less personal supervision, than the Irish laborers he had used." [Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante Bellum South, pp. 399-401]

Finally,

"Still another argument of the economic critics was that owners of slaves had to bear certain costs that employers of free labor did not bear. In a free labor system workers were hired and fired as they were needed; in a slave labor system workers had to be supported whether or not they were needed. In a free labor system the employer had no obligation to support the worker's dependents, or the worker himself during illness and in old age; in a slave labor system the employer was legally and morally obligated to meet these costs. Thus, presumably, slavery was at once more humane and more expensive.

"This, too, is a myth. Employers of free labor, through wage payments, did in fact bear most of the cost of supporting the children of their workers, as well as the aged and infirm. Government and private charities assumed only a small part of this burden. Moreover, the amount that slaveholders spent to maintain these unproductive groups was not a substantial addition to their annual operating costs. The maintenance of disabled and senile slaves was a trivial charge upon the average master; and the market value of a young slave far exceeded the small expense of raising him." [Ibid., pp. 401-402]

Perhaps the best evidence we have is the practice of these hardened businessmen.

"But as we have seen, small free southern farmers were not bunglers. Nor were they lacking in enterprise. Many small free farmers became the masters of large slave plantations. If there had been no special advantage to slave labor, one would expect at least some of these enterprising individuals to have based their plantations on free labor. The fact that economies of scale were achieved exclusively with slave labor clearly indicates that in large-scale production some special advantage attached to the use of slaves." [Fogel and Engerman, op. cit., p. 234]

In the years between 1850 and 1860, in the thirteen slaveholding states (excluding Missouri and Delaware), the total cash value of farms rose from $1,035,544,075 to $2,288,179,125; the average cash value of farms rose from $2,035.75 to $3,438.71; the number of slaveholders grew from 326,054 to 358,728; and the average number of slaves per slaveholders rose from 9.54 to 10.69. [Thomas P. Govan, "Was Plantation Slavery Profitable?" Journal of Southern History, Vol VIII, No. 4, Nov., 1942, p. 518]

Alfred Conrad and John Meyer concluded, "Slavery was profitable to the whole South, the continuing demand for labor in the Cotton Belt insuring returns to the breeding operation on the less productive land in the seaboard and border states. The breeding returns were necessary, however, to make the plantation operations on the poorer lands as profitable as alternative contemporary economic activities in the United States. . . . Continued expansion of slave territory was both possible and, to some extent, necessary. The maintenance of profits in the Old South depended upon the expansion, extensive or intensive, of slave agriculture into the Southwest. [Alfred H. Conrad and John R. Meyer, "The Economics of Slavery in the Ante Bellum South," The Journal of Political Economy, Vol. LXVI, No. 2, April, 1958, p. 121]

"On both large and small estates, none but the most hopelessly inefficient masters failed to profit from the ownership of slaves." [Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South, p. 414]

You can also see the Dec. 1967 issue of the Journal of Economic History [Vol XXVII, No. 4] for a panel discussion held at the 27th Annual Meeting of the Economic History Association on Slavery and Economic Growth. The panelists included Alfred H. Conrad (City University of New York), Douglas Dowd (Cornell University), Stanley Engerman (University of Rochester), Charles Kelso (Harvard University), John R. Meyer (Harvard University), Harry N. Scheiber (Dartmouth College), and Richard Sutch (M.I.T.).

Sutch has calculated the value of slaves appreciated at a rate of about 7.56% annually [p. 520]. Conrad quotes Douglas North, another economic historian, as saying, "there is no possibility that slavery was economically not viable." [p. 523] Conrad and Meyer say, "Although profitability cannot be offered as a sufficient guarantee of the continuity of southern slavery, the converse argument that slavery must have destroyed itself can no longer rest upon allegations of unprofitability or upon assumptions about the impossibility of maintaining and allocating a slave labor force. To the extent, moreover, that profitability is a necessary condition for the continuation of a private business institution in a free-enterprise society, slavery was not untenable in the ante-bellum American South." [p. 527] Dowd says, "For the American South, it surely was good business sense that led planters to emphasize cotton cultivation, slaveholding, and slave breeding." [p. 532] Dowd further says, "Of course slavery was profitable." [p. 536] and "If one looks at the history of the American South, one finds that it was a very prosperous region relative to the rest of the world in the pre-Civil War period, and that it was at that time reasonably prosperous relative to the rest of the United States." [p. 552]

Robert Fogel, of the University of Chicago, said, "It turns out the relative profitability of slavery [had there not been a Civil War and emancipation] between 1860 and 1890 would have increased. Whether we like it or not, the demand for American cotton continued to grow down to the early 1920s more rapidly than the South was able to respond and supply. It is quite wrong to say the price of cotton fell. The real price of cotton rose over time. It is clear, then, that cotton over this period faced a booming market." [p. 553]

Engerman said, "The white population [of the South] probably had a per capita income which exceeded that of the North and the West averaged together; even if you include the Negro population, per capita income in the South was reasonably high in comparison to the West." [p. 558]

You can also see Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery by Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman, which concludes that slavery was "a commercially vigorous and highly efficient mode of agricultural production, and the slave plantations formed the leading sector in the rapidly developing regional economy of the antebellum South." [Paul A. David, "Slavery: The Progressive Institution? A Review of Time on the Cross, The Journal of Economic History, Vol XXXIV, No. 3, Sep 1974, p. 739]

Not only was it profitable, it was also a status symbol to be a slave owner.

"No other profession gave a Southerner such dignity and importance as the cultivation of the soil with slave labor. The ownership of slaves, affirmed Cairnes, had become 'a fashionable taste, a social passion'; it had become a symbol of success like 'the possession of a horse among the Arabs: it brings the owner into connexion [sic] with the privileged class; it forms the presumption that he has attained a certain social position.' Slaves, therefore, were 'coveted with an eagerness far beyond what the intrinsic utility of their services would explain.' Cairnes concluded that it would be futile to propose compensated emancipation, for this would be asking slaveholders to renounce their power and prestige 'for a sum of money which, if well invested, might perhaps enable them and their descendants to vegetate in peaceful obscurity.' " [Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution, pp. 385-386]

As to the idea that it cost more to own slaves than it cost to pay free labor, that's another misconception.

"The average wage of a free laborer exceeded considerably the investment and maintenance costs of a slave. . . . masters exploited women and children more fully than did the employers of free labor. . .. the average bondsman worked longer hours and was subjected to a more rigid discipline." [Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution, p. 400]
 

CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Dec 3, 2011
Location
Laurinburg NC
I think the slaves did it, obviously.
But you also pay an overseer.
Then theres cloths and shoes, which even made at home you have to buy the cloth and leather, correct?

If you think that once purchased, a slave cost zero dollars to keep, thats fine, and may be right.
I dont know.
Thats why im talking about it.

Also, slaves grow too old or too sick to work and occasionally run away.
 

cash

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Right here.
Mechanization as of 1860 would be an interesting discussion. The approximate truth is that mechanization of planting and harvesting was going to make the Illinois/Wisconsin area completely dominant in wheat production. Economies of scale in iron production utilized in any area connected to the iron ranges of Wisconsin and Michigan was going to nearly eliminate all other iron producers, no matter what their sources of labor.

They and the Pacific States already were completely dominant in wheat production.

This is from the 1860 US Census:

1860 Census Agriculture-1.jpg
 

wausaubob

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Location
Denver, CO
Fogel was just plain wrong about the future of cotton. The real price of cotton may have risen for awhile, but the cotton production income was supporting an ever larger population. Real prices of cotton fell. Real per capital income in the south lagged far, far behind what it was in the north.
The poverty in the south that drew a response in 1960 was real. The poverty that drove blacks to move north and look for any possible job was real.
 

cash

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Right here.
Fogel was just plain wrong about the future of cotton. The real price of cotton may have risen for awhile, but the cotton production income was supporting an ever larger population. Real prices of cotton fell. Real per capital income in the south lagged far, far behind what it was in the north.
The poverty in the south that drew a response in 1960 was real. The poverty that drove blacks to move north and look for any possible job was real.

I'll take his Ph.D. over others' opinions and google searches.
 
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