Was Slavery Dying in 1860?

Joined
Oct 3, 2005
It's a very intriguing argument, to be sure! Slavery as an acknowledged, formal institution would have ultimately died out but how long that would have taken is debatable.

It seems from the graph, the slavery numbers follow a very typical bell curve. In the 1860s, cotton production met it's apogee and some early developments of things like the cotton gin made slave owning MORE profitable than ever. But all things do end as we see from the 1890s through to our current century where technology has advanced leaps and bounds, more than it ever had at any time in previous history. Primarily, the ability to harness electricity, developments of nitrogen fertilizers, pesticides (post WWI), and tractor development. 1860s plantation owners were riding the tail end of a time with just enough technology to make slavery still viable but not so much as to make it burdensome.

Slave owning is a very costly business and economically not feasible as new inventions are derived to speed up the harvesting process. This in and of itself would have made field slavery obsolete. I'm sure a plantation owner would value speed of harvesting and processing over tedious manual labor that produced significantly less output. No matter how fast and good the picker, they are still humans with a limited capacity. Feeding, housing, clothing, and medical treatments of slaves would become money squandered since their position has been swapped out for a machine that produces far better results.

That being said, it's possible that the last frontier of slave holding would be household slaves, which is a place that would still require a lot of manual labor for cleaning, cooking, and laundry. But how many house slaves would one plantation home need? Then the question becomes ... what do you do with the rest?

As history has proven, the Union cause was never an altruistic cause. The South was responsible for a lion's share of the U.S. GDP and paid the most taxes. People talk a lot about the North being more "industrialized" but lose sight of the fact there has to be a raw material to process in the first place. There was no way that Washington will let all that money peacefully strut out of the Union. The North spent a lot of emotional coin to sell the slave narrative to promote recruitment of the more ideological for whom profiteering held no particular significance. This is obvious in the way slaves were summarily dumped (for lack of a better term) into their freedom with their 100 acres and a mule and some fine sounding but unenforced legislation. Otherwise, they were on their own and did not really benefits from much of these newly found "rights".

So, long and short - I do agree with this theory but we will never know will we?
The South was not responsible for a lion's share of taxes.

We can fantasize about how long slavery would last minus the CW. An excellent argument can be made that of it lasting, in reality if not name until the 21st century. That's the great thing about what ifs. What is not theoretical is that most of the decision makers in 1860 didn't see it going anywhere. Slavery might be killed, but it wasn't dying.

The end of slavery not benefiting the people formerly enslaved? I'll let that one sit there for awhile.

A lot of your thoughts are familiar from the "Dunning School."
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
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Location
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The slave interest could not afford to lose even one Presidential election.
Such a loss meant that Fugitive Slave Act could be amended by a majority vote.
The admission of only paid labor states was already backed by Republicans and Anti-Lecompton Democrats. A cooperation treaty with the British might have been blocked by a minority, but enforcement of the existing laws was enough to suppress the smuggling.
If the political stability of slavery becomes questionable, the border state slave owners attempt to sell off their slaves. Keeping slave women and selling their children becomes a risky business.
The real pinch comes between the international prices of cotton, and the willingness of commercial banks to support the factors supplying credit to the cotton economy. In an unstable political environment, a small risk premium in the commercial lending practices, combined with a stagnant cotton price, can produce the end of the investment value of slave labor.
If the revenue basis of slavery is falling and the border state owners are selling, another sharp fall in slave prices in 1837 is likely.
How long would all of this take? Maybe 50 years, maybe 4 years. The future of slavery depended heavily on the world textile market.
 

uaskme

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Location
SE Tennessee
Lincoln though that returning to the Missouri Compromise put Slavery on the Path to extension. It eliminated it in the Yankee Sphere anyway. All He and the Yankees were interested it.

So you think Slavery would of lasted until the invention of the Hula Hoop, Interesting!
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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The slave interest could not afford to lose even one Presidential election.
Such a loss meant that Fugitive Slave Act could be amended by a majority vote.
The admission of only paid labor states was already backed by Republicans and Anti-Lecompton Democrats. A cooperation treaty with the British might have been blocked by a minority, but enforcement of the existing laws was enough to suppress the smuggling.
If the political stability of slavery becomes questionable, the border state slave owners attempt to sell off their slaves. Keeping slave women and selling their children becomes a risky business.
The real pinch comes between the international prices of cotton, and the willingness of commercial banks to support the factors supplying credit to the cotton economy. In an unstable political environment, a small risk premium in the commercial lending practices, combined with a stagnant cotton price, can produce the end of the investment value of slave labor.
If the revenue basis of slavery is falling and the border state owners are selling, another sharp fall in slave prices in 1837 is likely.
How long would all of this take? Maybe 50 years, maybe 4 years. The future of slavery depended heavily on the world textile market.

Maybe 100 years if slave owners could find a way to used slaves in other industries.
 

es3040

Cadet
Joined
Aug 28, 2018
The South was not responsible for a lion's share of taxes.

We can fantasize about how long slavery would last minus the CW. An excellent argument can be made that of it lasting, in reality if not name until the 21st century. That's the great thing about what ifs. What is not theoretical is that most of the decision makers in 1860 didn't see it going anywhere. Slavery might be killed, but it wasn't dying.

The end of slavery not benefiting the people formerly enslaved? I'll let that one sit there for awhile.

A lot of your thoughts are familiar from the "Dunning School."

I'm not implying that freed slaves did not benefit from the end of slavery. They were free, most definitely. However, there had to be a lot more done for the freed slaves than what was (or wasn't) done. They maybe had a few good years post-slavery until slavery was reinvented until multiple ruses (e.g. convict leasing). Post-CW, the central government certainly didn't intervene in any substantial way to ensure freed slaves benefited from freedom and entry into the free market. It wasn't until almost the 1890s any of those issues were even addressed. It's legitimate to argue it's still alive and well in the industrial prison system, as you insinuate. There is a book called, "The New Jim Crow" that goes into some detail about this.
 
Joined
Oct 3, 2005
I'm not implying that freed slaves did not benefit from the end of slavery. They were free, most definitely. However, there had to be a lot more done for the freed slaves than what was (or wasn't) done. They maybe had a few good years post-slavery until slavery was reinvented until multiple ruses (e.g. convict leasing). Post-CW, the central government certainly didn't intervene in any substantial way to ensure freed slaves benefited from freedom and entry into the free market. It wasn't until almost the 1890s any of those issues were even addressed. It's legitimate to argue it's still alive and well in the industrial prison system, as you insinuate. There is a book called, "The New Jim Crow" that goes into some detail about this.
The long history of racial discrimination is a sad and squalid one to be sure. But it wasn't the same as slavery. The "fine sounding" legislation: the Civil Rights Act, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, laid down the essential foundation for civil and political rights in the US, and the basis for civil rights advances since the CW.

Was slavery dying in 1860: I'm thinking not, but more importantly, the people of 1860 didn't think so either. There had been slavery in North America for two hundred years by 1860. Never had there been more slaves, more territory held by slave holders, never had the slaves been more valuable. The US was the greatest slave holding power in the world. They can be forgiven for thinking slavery was doing just fine.
 

wausaubob

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Slavery as it existed in the United States was going to be checked on the Atlantic by British efforts to end the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
In the north, they were losing ground politically to both Republicans and free soil Democrats.
In the west, both demographics and climate worked against the expansion of slavery.
It certainly had a vast territory, but slavery was not occupying even that territory. There was a large slave population, but there only about 40,000 large coerced labor farms and businesses. Those operations had wealth and power.
But slavery was already fading in Virginia and Maryland and Virginia was no longer a dominant state in the United States.
One would have to consider, did they the slave interests get a division of California, were they successful in Kansas?
Did the Walker fillibusterers in Nicaragua succeed or was Walker turned over to the Hondurans and hung?
During the Buchanan administration the US Navy caught the slave trader Gordon, and the Lincoln administration declined to pardon him and he was hung.
 

cash

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Slavery as it existed in the United States was going to be checked on the Atlantic by British efforts to end the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
In the north, they were losing ground politically to both Republicans and free soil Democrats.
In the west, both demographics and climate worked against the expansion of slavery.
It certainly had a vast territory, but slavery was not occupying even that territory. There was a large slave population, but there only about 40,000 large coerced labor farms and businesses. Those operations had wealth and power.
But slavery was already fading in Virginia and Maryland and Virginia was no longer a dominant state in the United States.
.

British efforts failed until the Lincoln administration signed onto assist by allowing them to stop and search vessels flying the U.S. Flag.

The U.S. Census showed no fading of slavery in Virginia. The interstate slave trade was very lucrative for them.
 

wausaubob

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cash, post: 1884468, member: 45"]British efforts failed until the Lincoln administration signed onto assist by allowing them to stop and search vessels flying the U.S. Flag.

I think that confirms the point I was making. The slave interest had to win every Presidential election, or the link between US and British policy was going to become closer. And even under Buchanan the US navy was starting to enforce the laws prohibiting participation in the international slave trade.
 

Potomac Pride

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The South was not responsible for a lion's share of taxes.

We can fantasize about how long slavery would last minus the CW. An excellent argument can be made that of it lasting, in reality if not name until the 21st century. That's the great thing about what ifs. What is not theoretical is that most of the decision makers in 1860 didn't see it going anywhere. Slavery might be killed, but it wasn't dying.

The end of slavery not benefiting the people formerly enslaved? I'll let that one sit there for awhile.

A lot of your thoughts are familiar from the "Dunning School."

Slavery was eliminated in the western hemisphere by 1888. If there had been no Civil War, you might be stretching things a bit to say it would have lasted in the south until the 21st century.
 

wausaubob

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As Matt notes, so much land, so many people, so much cotton money, it must have been a thriving system.
Much of that land was undeveloped. Another portion was not conducive to large scale cash crop agriculture.
The old areas of slavery along the Chesapeake were no longer the dominant slave states. The new areas in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi were the force behind slavery.
 

wausaubob

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In the absence of the Civil War, the next eight years of anti-slavery politics would have been about the west. Unexpectedly the mining districts of Nevada would petition for statehood. The farmers of Nebraska were rapidly approaching the level of statehood. Both northern parties were trying to get the transcontinental railroad going on the Iowa, Nebraska, Sacramento route.
The political struggle would have been intense in Missouri. St. Louis was already a Republican city and the Republicans would continue to attempt to organize the state. It is not possible to say whether their efforts would have been successful. Most likely the state would begin to divide between Republican districts and Democratic districts.
As for modification of the Fugitive Slave Act and abolition of slavery in Washington, DC, the Republicans may or may not have had the votes in 1861. But when reapportionment takes hold by 1864, they most likely do have the votes.
 

wausaubob

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There are separate questions, as cited above. The economic basis of slavery depended heavily on its application to opening up new agricultural lands. The sugar industry in Louisiana was heavily dependent on slavery. Outside of those applications slavery was a management problem.
Was the slave society ever going to acknowledge that the slaves were people, and Americans? There was no evidence that any event could result in that acknowledgement.
 

wausaubob

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What the slave society had achieved in terms of achieving independence and territorial expansion, they achieved with the help of the rest of the colonies and states. The colonies outlasted Britain as a unit. The federal government supported the expulsion of the Indians. The United States paid for and fought the Mexican/American war. Those were uncomfortable facts which the secessionists did not want to discuss.
In terms of commercial success, the slave economy was dependent on the world textile market. There had been recessions in that market previously and a new recession was imminent in 1860.
As far as commercial expansion of slavery in industries competitive to the those in northern areas or in Britain, there were difficulties involved that could not be solved with cheap unskilled labor. Inductive reasoning based on a few examples proves that it was possible. The fact that home grown slave industries were not dominant demonstrates that the development of industry is not an easy process.
 

KeyserSoze

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Slavery was eliminated in the western hemisphere by 1888. If there had been no Civil War, you might be stretching things a bit to say it would have lasted in the south until the 21st century.

And in all cases through government action and in spite of tremendous opposition from the slaveowners themselves. If the Southern states were willing to rebel in 1861 to protect their slaves, how long do you think it would have been before they would have peacefully given in to an end of slavery?
 

wausaubob

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Its difficult to realize that the area that had protected slavery had done so with the help of the United States. It had prospered as an economic colony of the British textile economy.
It did not grow and prosper independently.
In addition, the prosperity of the slave system was unevenly distributed within the southern area. And the demographics of the slave society were poor in contrast to the demographics of the paid labor economy which had already re-established its population links to Ireland, England, Germany and Scandinavia.
One section was joined to modern western Europe and one section was rationalizing its system based on the existence of slavery in ancient Rome, Sparta and Egypt.
 

Potomac Pride

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And in all cases through government action and in spite of tremendous opposition from the slaveowners themselves. If the Southern states were willing to rebel in 1861 to protect their slaves, how long do you think it would have been before they would have peacefully given in to an end of slavery?

How long do I think? Well, it is hard to predict but it probably would have been before the 21st century.
 

cash

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cash, post: 1884468, member: 45"]British efforts failed until the Lincoln administration signed onto assist by allowing them to stop and search vessels flying the U.S. Flag.

I think that confirms the point I was making. The slave interest had to win every Presidential election, or the link between US and British policy was going to become closer. And even under Buchanan the US navy was starting to enforce the laws prohibiting participation in the international slave trade.

Absent secession and war no president would take that action.
 

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