Why did slavery decline in the North?

MattL

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#1
This is something I've been interested in for a while. I welcome both links to books or articles that cover this topic as well as open discussion.

The question is Why did slavery decline in the North?

The further context is that I know the common explanation is that agriculture being more prominent in the South (at a larger scale) combined with the cotton gin resulted in the growth of Slavery in the South. So my curiosity centers around the fact that industry was growing in the North at this time, why didn't those industry related jobs result in a surge of slaves in the North. Maybe I'm missing something obvious but it seems like industrial related jobs like that would be a perfect venue for purchasing slaves. Why didn't the industrial revolution result in a cotton gin like surge of slavery in the North?

The only thing that comes to mind is culture, that an anti-slavery culture was already developing strong enough that they didn't turn to that source of labor. Though I'm sure I'm missing many things.
 

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brass napoleon

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#2
Why didn't the industrial revolution result in a cotton gin like surge of slavery in the North?

The only thing that comes to mind is culture, that an anti-slavery culture was already developing strong enough that they didn't turn to that source of labor. Though I'm sure I'm missing many things.
Industrialization is much more amenable to free labor than to slave labor. You need mechanics and other high-skilled laborers to keep the machinery operating, and it is much more efficient to have a positively motivated, educated workforce to do this, than an unmotivated, uneducated, and perhaps vengeance-minded, workforce that might even engage in sabotage.

A perfect example of this can be seen in the South itself, where slaves that were used for industrial purposes were given incentives and freedoms that agricultural slaves never had.
 

MattL

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#3
Industrialization is much more amenable to free labor than to slave labor. You need mechanics and other high-skilled laborers to keep the machinery operating, and it is much more efficient to have a positively motivated, educated workforce to do this, than an unmotivated, uneducated, and perhaps vengeance-minded, workforce that might even engage in sabotage.

A perfect example of this can be seen in the South itself, where slaves that were used for industrial purposes were given incentives and freedoms that agricultural slaves never had.
That's a good point. Though going down that road wouldn't we have seen the same desire to try and have slaves fill that role and subsequently them gaining said additional freedoms resulting in revolting slaves, more freed slaves, or otherwise a movement in the North of many slaves being tried to fit in that role and them harshly realizing the free nature of that labor was too much?

Maybe this happened and I'm unaware, though if it didn't happen then my question would be why didn't they then try to make slaves fit in that role. It seems human greed would lead them to try.
 

brass napoleon

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#4
That's a good point. Though going down that road wouldn't we have seen the same desire to try and have slaves fill that role and subsequently them gaining said additional freedoms resulting in revolting slaves, more freed slaves, or otherwise a movement in the North of many slaves being tried to fit in that role and them harshly realizing the free nature of that labor was too much?

Maybe this happened and I'm unaware, though if it didn't happen then my question would be why didn't they then try to make slaves fit in that role. It seems human greed would lead them to try.
Probably to a large extent it was simple supply and demand. The North had a much larger pool of free laborers than slave laborers to draw from to fill that role. The number of slaves in the North was relatively low. The number of potential European immigrants was almost limitless.
 
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#5
@brass napoleon makes a good point but I also think a big factor had to do with amount of relatively unskilled labor needed to work large plantations and the facts that it would be hard to get and keep paid workers in sufficient numbers and, if paid, labor costs would eat up profits. Slaves weren't free of course but in the long run it was cheaper than paying wages.
 

MattL

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#6
Both good points... The data that comes to mind in response that I want to dig out at some point (others are welcome to do the same):

All of these apply to numbers roughly to the range of 1800-1860
1) How many free laborers were there in the North
2) How much demand for laborers were there in the North
3) Were there attempts (microcosms) to import slaves for industrial efforts in the north, did they succeed or fail?
4) What were the actual European immigrant numbers compared to #1 and #2
5) How much labor of what type of skill was needed to run industrial work in the North, how does this compare to the South (which had plantations of various sizes)
6) Compare skill level between work in the North and the South, I'm not completely sold that the labor in the North was that much more "skilled" though purely speculation
7) By 1804 all of the North had voted to abolish slavery in some way or another... a timeline on labor needs in the North would be useful, maybe it happened after 1804 so the idea of going against both the culture and legislation of reversing the move against slavery might have been too much
 

brass napoleon

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#7
Both good points... The data that comes to mind in response that I want to dig out at some point (others are welcome to do the same):

All of these apply to numbers roughly to the range of 1800-1860
1) How many free laborers were there in the North
2) How much demand for laborers were there in the North
3) Were there attempts (microcosms) to import slaves for industrial efforts in the north, did they succeed or fail?
4) What were the actual European immigrant numbers compared to #1 and #2
5) How much labor of what type of skill was needed to run industrial work in the North, how does this compare to the South (which had plantations of various sizes)
6) Compare skill level between work in the North and the South, I'm not completely sold that the labor in the North was that much more "skilled" though purely speculation
7) By 1804 all of the North had voted to abolish slavery in some way or another... a timeline on labor needs in the North would be useful, maybe it happened after 1804 so the idea of going against both the culture and legislation of reversing the move against slavery might have been too much
Sounds like you've got the outline for a doctoral dissertation there! :wink:
 
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#8
To play a bit off of Brass's posts, another concern I've read (and I apologize I don't recall where, it's been quite a while ago but stuck with me) is with industry in the North, a slave deciding to sabotage the equipment could potentially shut down the entire plant. A slave that breaks a hoe, or a shovel or kill a prize bull will not shut down the entire plantation. An industrial slave wedging something into a gear or breaking an industrial belt could shut down production for quite a while and cost the owners a lot of money in time and repair charges. I'm not sure many would put that much stock into slaves not messing things up.
 
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#9
The contrast between slavery in Eastern Maryland, a tobacco growing region, and slavery in Western Maryland, with its rural subsistence single family farms growing grain and produce tells us something. The Western Maryland farmer was burdened by slaves in Winter when nothing was growing and wanted to rent them out, while there was much more agricultural work for slaves in the field and the in the cutting, drying and processing of tobacco near the coast. Western Maryland was predominantly politically Union. The same type of farm operation and the same type of settlers, farming pioneers largely English, German or Scots Irish, were spread throughout the North, which began outlawing slavery before or at the very onset of the Industrial Revolution (which began in England) in 1799 when PA freed slaves and NY adopted it's gradual emancipation act. Young woman supplied a great deal of the labor in the first fabric mills of New England and the great waves of Irish and German immigrants entering the Northeast in the first half of the nineteenth Century was a huge labor force of independent workers.
 

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#10
This is something I've been interested in for a while. I welcome both links to books or articles that cover this topic as well as open discussion.

The question is Why did slavery decline in the North?

The further context is that I know the common explanation is that agriculture being more prominent in the South (at a larger scale) combined with the cotton gin resulted in the growth of Slavery in the South. So my curiosity centers around the fact that industry was growing in the North at this time, why didn't those industry related jobs result in a surge of slaves in the North. Maybe I'm missing something obvious but it seems like industrial related jobs like that would be a perfect venue for purchasing slaves. Why didn't the industrial revolution result in a cotton gin like surge of slavery in the North?

The only thing that comes to mind is culture, that an anti-slavery culture was already developing strong enough that they didn't turn to that source of labor. Though I'm sure I'm missing many things.
Cotton didn't grow well there.
 

thomas aagaard

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#11
Most of the northern colonies was originally created by men seeking a new life and freedom for religious discrimination and similar. From the British islands (with some help form the dutch and similar)

The colonies in the south was an outgrowth of the sugar islands in the "west indies" where the hole of society was based on slavery.

So from the start it was two very different societies... and the political structure, the laws and traditions was all made to promote the society they wanted.
And this had not change that much by the time of Independence...

The advantage of South Carolina compared to the "west indies" was two things.
The climate was less brutal allowing the slaves to work more and less of them died. Allowing the slave population to be stable. And there was lots and lots of land for the taking.

When we look at Virginia the advantage is again climate. The slave population actually increased naturally.
(but it was less suited for the cotton.)


I can suggest the book "American colonies" by Allan Taylor. It got some very good coverage of the way the climate, the society the founders wanted and the economy effected each others... over time.
What worked in Pennsylvanian would not have worked as well in SC or new England. And similar the slave based cotton colonies would not have worked in Pennsylvanian. The 3 things effected each other.

And it don't have the same focus on the English colonies as you often find in English language books.
 

matthew mckeon

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#12
Slavery was either abolished or on the road to extinction in the North, well before the industrial revolution. Slaves would have been well suited to industrial work, which offered continual employment, unlike most farms. In fact slave workers replaced free workers a the Tregador Iron Works in Virginia.

When the factories were finally built, there were no more slavery.
 

matthew mckeon

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#13
Industrialization is much more amenable to free labor than to slave labor. You need mechanics and other high-skilled laborers to keep the machinery operating, and it is much more efficient to have a positively motivated, educated workforce to do this, than an unmotivated, uneducated, and perhaps vengeance-minded, workforce that might even engage in sabotage.

A perfect example of this can be seen in the South itself, where slaves that were used for industrial purposes were given incentives and freedoms that agricultural slaves never had.
I don't know about this. A large portion of the early industrial work force were children, and a lot of factory work is mostly mindless repetition. By the time factories were being built in the early 1800s, there was no more slaves.
 
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#14
Young woman supplied a great deal of the labor in the first fabric mills of New England and the great waves of Irish and German immigrants entering the Northeast in the first half of the nineteenth Century was a huge labor force of independent workers.
Young women and children, both.

Others have posted above about the 'skilled' labor needed in an industrializing economy. There's some of that, but it's mostly grunt labor.

The first great waves of poor, European immigrants in the 19th century were unskilled, uneducated.

Laissez-Faire immigration policy throughout the 19th century ensured a virtually endless supply of these kinds of workers. They were paid poorly (if they could find work) and treated even worse by their adopted society.

Now, I'm going to get accused of suggesting being a slave was a better deal, it wasn't. It's just that overly abundant free labor suited the North's purposes very well. They didn't need slavery the way the South did.
 
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#15
This is something I've been interested in for a while. I welcome both links to books or articles that cover this topic as well as open discussion.

The question is Why did slavery decline in the North?

The further context is that I know the common explanation is that agriculture being more prominent in the South (at a larger scale) combined with the cotton gin resulted in the growth of Slavery in the South. So my curiosity centers around the fact that industry was growing in the North at this time, why didn't those industry related jobs result in a surge of slaves in the North. Maybe I'm missing something obvious but it seems like industrial related jobs like that would be a perfect venue for purchasing slaves. Why didn't the industrial revolution result in a cotton gin like surge of slavery in the North?

The only thing that comes to mind is culture, that an anti-slavery culture was already developing strong enough that they didn't turn to that source of labor. Though I'm sure I'm missing many things.
In order for slavery to work one needs to invest in some sort of coercive armed force to control the slaves.Slave owners could and did depending on their size employ Overseers or slave catchers and many areas had paramilitaries known as"patrollers" . If one has a plantation in a rural area it's easier to capture or kill escaped slaves. Securing slaves in an urban area is not cost effective.
Has others mentioned using slaves in an industrial setting is problematic due to sabotage.
The Nazis tried using slaves in factories and it didn't work out real well despite harsh punishments. Stalin used de facto slaves in the Gulags but not in the factories.
Leftyhunter
 
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#16
Young women and children, both.

Others have posted above about the 'skilled' labor needed in an industrializing economy. There's some of that, but it's mostly grunt labor.

The first great waves of poor, European immigrants in the 19th century were unskilled, uneducated.

Laissez-Faire immigration policy throughout the 19th century ensured a virtually endless supply of these kinds of workers. They were paid poorly (if they could find work) and treated even worse by their adopted society.

Now, I'm going to get accused of suggesting being a slave was a better deal, it wasn't. It's just that overly abundant free labor suited the North's purposes very well. They didn't need slavery the way the South did.
That's what my folks did when they got off the boat.
Leftyhunter
 
#17
Slavery was either abolished or on the road to extinction in the North, well before the industrial revolution. Slaves would have been well suited to industrial work, which offered continual employment, unlike most farms. In fact slave workers replaced free workers a the Tregador Iron Works in Virginia.

When the factories were finally built, there were no more slavery.
Author Leon Litwack agrees with you:
"Although commonly accepted, the economic explanation for northern abolition has not been adequately demonstrated. Plantation capitalism did not root itself in the North; the economy of that region came to be based largely on commerce, manufacturing, and small-scale agriculture. But this did not necessarily preclude the profitable use of slave labor. On the contrary, evidence suggests that the scarcity and expense of free white labor prompted ambitious northerners to make a profitable use of slaves and that these Negro bondsmen could and did perform successfully a variety of tasks — agricultural and mechanical, skilled and unskilled — in a diversified economy. On farms, slaves assisted in the production of foodstuffs and dairy products and in sheep and stock raising; in the cities, they worked in various skilled trades — as bakers, carpenters, cabinetmakers, sawyers, blacksmiths, printers, tailors, and coopers —- and perhaps most prominently in the maritime industry. Wherever utilized, slave labor was still cheap labor. Free labor, on the other hand, involved additional expense."
North of Slavery: The Negr0 in the Free States, Leon F. Litwack, pp. 4-5.
 

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#18
This is something I've been interested in for a while. I welcome both links to books or articles that cover this topic as well as open discussion.

The question is Why did slavery decline in the North?

The further context is that I know the common explanation is that agriculture being more prominent in the South (at a larger scale) combined with the cotton gin resulted in the growth of Slavery in the South. So my curiosity centers around the fact that industry was growing in the North at this time, why didn't those industry related jobs result in a surge of slaves in the North. Maybe I'm missing something obvious but it seems like industrial related jobs like that would be a perfect venue for purchasing slaves. Why didn't the industrial revolution result in a cotton gin like surge of slavery in the North?

The only thing that comes to mind is culture, that an anti-slavery culture was already developing strong enough that they didn't turn to that source of labor. Though I'm sure I'm missing many things.
Slavery was incompatible with fighting a revolution for freedom.

By 1772, as the revolutionary crisis deepened and the Rights of Man became the subject of increased study, [Anthony] Benezet [a Philadelphia Quaker schoolmaster and abolitionist] noted a gradual change in the colonists' attitude towards slavery. His correspondents had told him that Massachusetts was considering a bill to end the slave trade." [Arthur Zilversmit, The First Emancipation: The Abolition of Slavery in the North, p. 88]

"An anonymous Tory (probably Richard Wells) turned the arguments of the patriots against them. After quoting numerous Revolutionary resolutions, he asked Americans whether they could 'reconcile the exercise of SLAVERY with our professions of freedom.' Could the colonists expect the English to believe the sincerity of their love of liberty when the whole world knew that there were slaves in every colony? 'In vain shall we contend for liberty . . . 'till this barbarous inhuman custom is driven from our borders.' He challenged those who claimed 'an exemption from the controul of Parliamentary power' to show by right they held their slaves. If, as the patriots maintained, the colonists had all the rights of Englishmen, then, since a Negro was held to be free the instant he landed on English soil (this was an interpretation of the decision in Somerset's case), all slaves could claim they were free when they landed on American soil." [Ibid., p. 97]

"The First Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia in the fall of 1774, took up this challenge. The Continental Association adopted by the delegates required the cessation of all slave imports and authorized a boycott of merchants who refused to cooperate. Anthony Benezet, seeing a magnificent opportunity to strike a blow for liberty, had worked tirelessly to secure the adoption of this policy, relentlessly pursuing individual delegates to argue in support of the plan. Congressional approval of a ban on the slave trade clearly tied the fight against Negro slavery to the struggle against British tyranny in the manner that many antislavery writers had long been urging." [Ibid., pp. 97-98]

"Men who opposed the continued slavery of the Negroes could argue convincingly that American liberty and the freedom of Negro slaves were not only compatible but were inseparable goals.

"The War of Independence brought with it a direct challenge to the patriot party on the slavery issue. All the talk of liberty and the Rights of Man, designed to bring a hesitant population to join in the fight against Great Britain, could be applied with equal force to the plight of the slaves." [Ibid., p. 109]

So as we can see, it was the Spirit of the Revolution that led to the spread of antislavery feeling throughout the North, and this same Spirit of the Revolution led to their abolition of slavery and their denunciations of slavery in the south.
 

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#19
"Those who maintain that slavery was unprofitable or less profitable than white labor base their arguments on the mental incapacity or ignorance of Negroes and their inability to do the skilled work required in a diversified economy. It is clear, however, that northern Negroes received the requisite training and eventually became highly skilled in a great number of divers trades. Although it is true that newly imported Negroes suffered in their first northern winter, once they became acclimated, they could tolerate the rigors of a northern climate." [Arthur Zilversmit, The First Emancipation: The Abolition of Slavery in the North, p. 52]
 

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#20
"The Revolutionary era also saw an increasing gap between the South as a whole, where slavery survived the challenge to its legitimacy and remained firmly entrenched, and the North, where slavery gradually gave way to freedom, albeit a severely restrictive freedom. Because the Revolution was waged for 'liberty,' and generated an enormous amount of rhetoric about despotism, tyranny, justice, equality, and natural rights, it inevitably raised questions about slavery, questions that seemed all the more pertinent in view of the determined efforts of slaves to gain their own freedom, and it is no accident that the United States was the first country to take significant (although ultimately limited) action against the peculiar institution." [Peter Kolchin, American Slavery, 1619-1877, p. 76]
 



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