This is a profoundly revisionist history of American slavery and its place in national history from 1783 to 1865.
A very emotionally difficult book to read, anything about slavery is difficult to digest. This book is about the half that has never been told about slavery.
Edward Baptist does an amazing job, a thoroughly amazing job of telling the story of how America’s capitalistic economy, the cotton industry to be precise was built using slavery.
Stories of slavery are horrific, they are terrible. It is difficult not to read such stories and not be emotional.
Violence, Baptist contends, explains the remarkable increase of labor productivity on cotton plantations. Without any technological innovations in cotton picking, output per hand rose dramatically between 1800 and 1860.
Some economic historians have attributed this to incentives like money payments for good work and the opportunity to rise to skilled positions. Baptist rejects this explanation in this book.
In the 1820s, slave owners held 2 million slaves worth $1 billion, a third of all U.S. wealth at the time.
Baptists talks about slave owners, those who bought slaves to keep and use in the fields and slave traders, those who traded in slaves, bought and sold at a profit.
He looks at the intricacies of how they were treated, how they were packaged and how they were sold.
It even got complex when people took mortgages in order to buy a slave and use in your fields.
The more slaves you had, the more productive your farm became and ultimately, the more richer you became.
What Baptist does very well is link slavery to how the cotton industry in the deep South of America was built.
An important and eye-opening book. We are reminded of how brutal slavery was. People were tortured to force them to pick cotton superhumanly fast and efficiently.
Cotton was *the* commodity of the Industrial Revolution. The American economy, South and North, and that of Britain and Europe, rested on cheap cotton produced by enslaved people.
He shows how entrepreneurs built one of the biggest revenue generator at the time in the South and how slaves were used, transported, and tortured.
He also tells of how through Abraham Lincoln, abolished slavery using his powers and how his decision led to civil war.
Slavery is morally wrong and should not have happened.
That it took a civil war in the USA to end slavery shows the extend of deficiencies of human beings’s moral compass.
War truly was necessary to end slavery. It would not have ended on its own. Powerful people never give up power voluntarily. Southern enslavers controlled U.S. government policy from colonial times until the 1850s. The minute they saw they were not going to get all their demands met, they seceded: *before* Lincoln was inaugurated.
No amount of economic convincing or argument will excuse the immorality of slavery.
This has to be the best book I have read on transatlantic slavery. It is well researched and documented.
If you want to understand what happens to Africans when they left the continent and arrive in the USA, Edward Baptist does an amazing job of researching and writing about various key stories that shaped the rise American economy on the back of slaves.
The book very skillfully mixes a wrenching portrayal of individual human suffering, obtained with difficulty from oral histories of former slaves, with a solid economic history of the U.S. economy during the slave era. It is a powerful combination.
Brilliantly well-written book.
Quotes that stood out
- “Some historians have called lashings “discipline,” the term offered by slavery’s lawgivers and the laws they wrote, which pretended that masters who whipped were calmly administering “punishment” to “correct” lazy subordinates’ reluctance to work.”
- “The idea that the commodification and suffering and forced labor of African Americans is what made the United States powerful and rich is not an idea that people necessarily are happy to hear. Yet it is the truth.”
- “The returns from cotton monopoly powered the modernization of the rest of the American economy, and by the time of the Civil War, the United States had become the second nation to undergo large-scale industrialization. In fact, slavery’s expansion shaped every crucial aspect of the economy and politics of the new nation.”
- “It has been said that the Civil War was “unnecessary” because slavery was already destined to end, probably within a few decades after the 1860 election. Yet this is mere dogma. The evidence points in the opposite direction. Slavery yielded ever more efficient production, in contrast to the free labor that tried (and failed) to compete with it, and the free labor that succeeded it.”
- “Perhaps one unspoken reason why many have been so reluctant to apply the term “torture” to slavery is that even though they denied slavery’s economic dynamism, they knew that slavery on the cotton frontier made a lot of product. No one was willing, in other words, to admit that they lived in an economy whose bottom gear was torture.52 Yet we should call torture by its name. Historians of torture have defined the term as extreme torment that is part of a judicial or inquisitorial process. The key feature that distinguishes it from mere sadistic behavior is supposedly that torture aims to extract “truth.” But the scale and slate and lash did, in fact, continually extract a truth: the maximum poundage that a man, woman, or child could pick.”
- “Enslaved African Americans built the modern United States, and indeed the entire modern world, in ways both obvious and hidden.”