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Domestic slave trade

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The domestic slave trade, also known as the Second Middle Passage[1] and the interregional slave trade,[2] was the term for the domestic trade of slaves within the United States that reallocated slaves across states during the antebellum period. It was most significant in the early to mid-19th century, when historians estimate one million slaves were taken in a forced migration from the Upper South: Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and the District of Columbia, to the territories and newly admitted states of the Deep South and the West Territories: Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas.

Economists say that transactions in the inter-regional slave market were driven primarily by differences in the marginal productivity of labor, which were based in the relative advantage between climates for the production of staple goods. The trade was strongly influenced by invention of the cotton gin, which made short-staple cotton profitable for cultivation across large swathes of the upland Deep South (the Black Belt). Previously the commodity was based on long-staple cotton cultivated in coastal areas and the Sea Islands.

The disparity in productivity created arbitrage opportunities for traders to exploit, and it facilitated regional specialization in labor production. Due to a lack of data, particularly with regard to slave prices, land values, and export totals for slaves, the true effects of the domestic slave trade, on both the economy of the Old South and general migration patterns of slaves into southwest territories, remain uncertain. These have served as points of contention among economic historians.

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Now, the expansion of cotton production in the US depended on the expansion of slavery. And this meant the actual movement of enslaved people. And in some cases, that movement was accomplished by enslavers who were picking up stakes, pulling up stakes, and moving to Alabama or Mississippi and starting a cotton plantation. Maybe they had once run a rice plantation or a tobacco farm or something like that, and maybe they took their slaves with them. And we can find examples of that. But the majority-- the majority of enslaved people who moved south and west are moved by professional slave traders. And if we look at them for just a minute, we can see this very interesting fact-- that slave traders who seem like figures out of the ancient world-- out of some sort of pre-capitalist past-- are, in fact, if anything, the most capitalist entrepreneurs operating in the 19th century South. Slave traders were businessmen. They paid constant attention to supply and to demand. They kept close accounting records of profit and loss-- closer than planters, typically, in fact. They understood how one market was related to a different market and how the market for the slaves that they were buying in Maryland was related to the market in Mississippi, and how the cotton market in Liverpool or New Orleans was related to that market, as well. And they were constantly securing credit, paying back debts, calling in debts. They were, in fact, modern businessmen in virtually every sense, except one. The commodity that they traded was human beings. And we believe that human beings cannot be commodities. But it was true that slave traders did everything they could to commodify people. They graded them-- number one men, number two men, number three men. They sold them grouped by height, and by age, and by gender. They dressed those groups in the same outfits, trying to suggest to the people who were buying other people that the people who were getting sold were uniform commodities. And they did a pretty good job, if you judge by their success and their profitability. By the 1830s, the slave traders who had emerged as the most important figures in a trade that linked the upper South to the lower South-- particularly through to the central emporium of New Orleans-- they'd emerged as some of the wealthiest Americans-- people like Austin Woolfolk of Baltimore John Armfield of the Washington DC area, Rice Ballard of Richmond, and Isaac Franklin of Tennessee and New Orleans. These individuals were at the peak of their profession, and among the most important economic figures in the South and throughout the United States. They worked closely with the biggest national banks. They were especially friendly with the Bank of the United States, which was very important to their flow of credit. And they were very important to the planters of the Southwest, obviously, since they were the main suppliers of labor. In the early 1830s, the firm in which Isaac Franklin, John Armfield, and Rice Ballard were partners moved several thousand people every single year from Virginia and Maryland to Louisiana and Mississippi. And they sold them at rising prices. In about 1829, a young man-- let's say, 19 or 20 years old, apparently in good health-- would have sold for about $600 in New Orleans. By 1835 or 1836, the same young man would have sold for about $1,600, or about a 250% increase in price. Rises in price were typically linked to not just a rise in cotton prices, but a rise in cotton productivity. In fact, if you look at a graph over time, you can see that it's not cotton price and slave price they tracked together. It is the expected value from the yearly labor of one slave. And remember, that labor was increasing in quantity every year, typically. That times the price of cotton was what tracked with the price of slaves. Now, of course, this was a business that demanded a huge amount of credit. And as I said before, that firm, Franklin, Ballard, and Armfield-- but other firms, as well-- were closely linked-- linked to some of the most important banks in the United States at that time. And in fact, through those banks, they were linked to suppliers of credit worldwide. Through the banks of the United States, the South-- the banks of the South and the National Bank of the United States-- international investors were in fact closely linked to the domestic slave trade in the United States. Now, it was fashionable for some to look at slave traders as scapegoats-- to say that they were different from planters, that they weren't accepted into polite society. But the fact that slave traders were, if you were, a vehicle, or middleman, through which credit was channeled into the hands of slave sellers and slave buyers, and through which enslaved people were moved from one part of the South to another, you can already see that that claim is an illusion. People around the Western world were invested in what slave traders were doing. And you can also see it's an illusion because slave traders really were accepted into polite society in the South, especially the wealthy ones. Isaac Franklin married the daughter of a planter, retired, and bought a big plantation that is today, actually, the site of Angola State Prison in Louisiana. Rice Ballard went on to buy over 10 plantations and become-- and go on to continue to be one of the wealthiest men in the United States through the 1850s. John Armfield also married a wealthy woman and ended up starting the University of the South, or Sewanee. So all of these individuals were deeply linked to elite society, not just in the South, but throughout the world-- throughout the Western world. So slavery's expanding, and many people are taking profit from that process. Many people are taking a share of it. And they would hope-- or they did hope-- to continue to take their share of it. And it looked, by the 1830s, as if that was going to be possible. Textile factories are booming in Manchester and in Lowell. Merchants are experiencing greater and greater sales for not only textiles, but other products around the world. The things that have been learned through the creation of textile factories are spilling over into the creation of new kinds of factories and new kinds of machines, including steam boats and trains. A new financial network has been constructed that links London, Manchester, Liverpool, New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and every single cotton field in the South, in a way, all together. And many, many people are profiting. And they think they're going to be able to continue to do so as long as there aren't too many fluctuations in price, and as long as there aren't so many financial innovations that bubbles are created that might bring about a financial crisis. The only possible thing that those who are most deeply invested in can think of that might bring about an end to this process might be the resistance of enslaved people themselves, such as happened in the 1790s in Haiti, when the first system of sugar production and the first system of slavery was brought down by the resistance of enslaved people themselves. So let's turn to taking a look at how that worked in the United States and whether that was a realistic possibility for bringing down this growing financial and economic network.


Economics of the interregional slave trade

The internal slave trade among colonies emerged in 1760 as a source of labor in early America.[3] In the early years, some colonists traded in Native Americans, but began to favor the use of imported slaves from Africa. Following the American Revolutionary War, expansion of settlement into areas west of the Appalachians, and the abolition of transatlantic slave trade in 1808, the domestic trade became increasingly important, especially as settlers flowed into the Deep South in the 19th century. Some people already established as planters took droves of slaves with them when they moved. Others bought slaves from regional markets to develop and staff plantations.

It is estimated that between 1790 and 1860 approximately 835,000 slaves were relocated to the American South (economists describe them as being "imported" from the Upper South, but they were being relocated within US territories.)[4] Historians most widely use the figure of one million slaves relocated during this Middle Passage.

Analysis by Robert Fogel and Stanley Engelman suggested that 16 percent of the total migration of slaves was due to sale of slaves through domestic trade. Their conclusions were strongly criticized by other economists.[5]

The biggest sources for the domestic slave trade were "exporting" states in the Upper South such as Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and Kentucky. From these states most slaves were imported into South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas.[6] Fogel and Engelman attribute the larger proportion of interregional slave migration (i.e. migration not due to slave trade) to movement as planters relocated their entire slave populations to the Deep South to develop new plantations or take over existing ones (in later years).[5] The new lands in the South attracted many land hungry settlers.

Contributors to the growth of inter-regional slave trade

Historians who argue in favor of soil exhaustion as an explanation for slave importation into the Deep South posit that exporting states emerged as slave producers because of the transformation of agriculture in the Upper South. By the late 18th century, the coastal and Piedmont tobacco areas were being converted to mixed crops because of soil exhaustion and changing markets. Because of the deterioration of soil and an increase in demand for food products, states in the upper south shifted crop emphasis from tobacco to grain which required less slave labor. This decreased demand left states in the Upper South with an excess supply of labor.[5]

With the forced Indian Removal by the US making new lands available in the Deep South, there was much higher demand there for workers to cultivate the labor-intensive sugar cane and cotton crops. The extensive development of cotton plantations created the highest demand for labor in the Deep South.[7][8] At the same time, the invention of the cotton gin in the late 18th century transformed short-staple cotton into a profitable crop that could be grown inland in the Deep South. Settlers pushed into the South, displacing the Five Civilized Tribes and other Native American groups. The cotton market had previously been dominated by the long-staple cotton cultivated primarily on the Sea Islands and in the coastal Lowcountry. The consequent boom in the cotton industry, coupled with the labor-intensive nature of the crop, created a need for slave labor in the Deep South that could be satisfied by excess supply further north.[5]

The increased demand for labor in the Deep South pushed up the price of slaves in markets such as New Orleans, which became the fourth-largest city in the country based in part on profits from the slave trade and related businesses. The price differences between the Upper and Deep South created demand. Slave traders took advantage of this arbitrage opportunity by buying at lower prices in the Upper South and then selling slaves at a profit after taking or transporting them further south.[5] Some scholars believe there was an increasing prevalence in the Upper South of "breeding" slaves for export. The proven reproductive capacity of enslaved women was advertised as selling point and a feature that increased value.[5]

Although not as significant as the exportation of slaves to Deep South, farmers and land owners who needed to pay off loans increasingly used slaves as a cash substitute. This also contributed to the growth of the internal slave trade.[5]

Estimates of slave prices, trader income, and alternative labor comparisons

Using an admittedly limited set of data from Ulrich Phillips (includes market data from Richmond, Charleston, mid-Georgia, and Louisiana), Robert Evans, Jr. estimates that the average differential between slave prices in the Upper South and Deep South markets from 1830-1835 was $232.[5] Although this differential deals only with price and does not account for transport costs and other operating costs (e.g. clothing, medical costs), the price gap displays a potential arbitrage opportunity (assuming costs were low enough).

Evans suggests that interstate slave traders earned a wage greater than that of an alternative profession in skilled mechanical trades.[5] If skilled mechanical trades can be considered a reasonable alternative occupation for slave traders, then it appears that inter-regional slave traders are made better off, at least in monetary terms.

However, if slave traders possessed skills similar to those used in supervisory mechanics (e.g. skills used by a chief engineer), then slave traders received an income that was not greater than the one they would have received had they entered in an alternative profession.[5] But most traders likely did not possess the skills of a railroad president or chief engineer.

Economic implications of the inter-regional slave trade on the Old South

Irish economic theorist John Elliot Cairnes suggested in his work The Slave Power that the inter-regional slave trade was a major component in ensuring the economic vitality of the Old South.[5] Many economic historians, however, have since refuted the validity of this point. The general consensus seems to support Professor William L. Miller's claim that the inter-regional slave trade "did not provide the major part of the income of planters in the older states during any period."[9]

The returns gained by traders from the sale price of slaves were offset by both the fall in the value of land, that resulted from the subsequent decrease in the marginal productivity of land, and the fall in the price of output, which occurred due to the increase in market size as given by westward expansion.[10] Kotlikoff suggested that the net effect of the inter-regional slave trade on the economy of the Old South was negligible, if not negative.[10] Speculators created slave trading companies which operated on both ends of the market, with firms such as Franklin and Armfield, based in Alexandria, Virginia, with offices in Louisiana, enjoying immense profits.

The profits realized through the sale and shipment of enslaved people were in turn reinvested in banking, railroads, and even colleges. A striking example of the connection between the domestic slave trade and higher education can be found in the 1838 sale of 272 slaves by Jesuits to Louisiana when Georgetown University was facing financial instability.[11] The flow of slaves from the upper to lower south continued to run until the outbreak of the Civil War. Slaves were sold south even during the hostilities, as plantations, businesses and households continued to operate.

Economic historians have offered estimates for the annual revenue generated by the inter-regional slave trade for exporters that range from $3.75[9] to $6.7 million.[5]

Effect of the inter-regional slave trade on westward migration

The primary issue that faces such analysis is determining the westward migration of the inter-regional slave trade from that incidental to the relocation of a slave's master.

Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman estimated that the slave trade accounted for 16 percent of the relocation of enslaved African Americans, in their work Time on the Cross.[5] This estimate, however, was severely criticized for the extreme sensitivity of the linear function used to gather this approximation.[12] A more recent estimate, given by Jonathan B. Pritchett, has this figure at about 50 percent, or about 835,000 slaves total between 1790-1850.[5]

Without the inter-regional slave trade, it is possible that forced migration of slaves would have occurred naturally due to natural population pressures and the subsequent increase in land prices.[9] Professor Miller contends that, "it is even doubtful whether the interstate slave traffic made a net contribution to the westward flow of the population."[9]

The nature of the market

The argument has been made that the inter-regional slave trade was one that resulted in "superprofits" for traders. But Jonathan Pritchett points to evidence that there were a significant number of firms engaged in the market, a relatively dense concentration of these firms, and low barriers to entry. He says that traders who were exporting slaves from the Upper South were price-taking, profit-maximizers acting in a market that achieved a long-run competitive equilibrium.[5]

Within this market, the demand for prime-aged slaves, given by the ages 15–30, accounted for 70 percent of the slave population relocated to the Deep South.[5] However, due to the fact that the ages of slaves were often unknown by the traders themselves, physical attributes such as height often dictated demand in order to minimize asymmetric information.[5] With slaves moving further south through the slave trade, conditions and treatment of slaves were understood to decline as they moved further south. In comparison to working in relatively small groups and perhaps alongside some farming families in the Upper South, they were forced to do field work in large gangs under close white supervision, and had less control over their time. The dense trees and underbrush of many riverfront areas in Louisiana and Mississippi were being cleared for the first time to develop plantations, adding to their struggles.

Slaves most feared being sold to planters in Louisiana. The state's grueling climate, with high heat and humidity, as well as the pressures of cultivating and processing the labor-intensive crops of sugar cane and cotton, resulted in harsh conditions for labor. With demand high for both commodity crops, planters and overseers were known to be physically abusive to slaves. The slaves feared being sent to Louisiana as a "Death sentence".[13]

See also


  1. ^ Jr., Henry Louis Gates. "What Was the 2nd Middle Passage?".
  2. ^ Lab, Digital Scholarship. "History Engine: Tools for Collaborative Education and Research - Episodes".
  3. ^ "Domestic Slave Trade". In Motion.
  4. ^ Pritchett, Jonathan B. (June 2001). "Quantitative Estimates of the United States Interregional Slave Trade, 1820-1860". The Journal of Economic History. 61 (2): 467–475. doi:10.1017/S002205070102808X. JSTOR 2698028.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Evans, Jr., Robert (April 1961). "Some Economic Aspects of the Domestic Slave Trade, 1830–1860". Southern Economic Journal. 27 (4): 329–337. doi:10.2307/1055531. JSTOR 1055531.
  6. ^ Freudenberger, Herman; Jonathan B. Pritchett (Winter 1991). "The Domestic United States Slave Trade: New Evidence". Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 21 (3): 447–477. doi:10.2307/204955. JSTOR 204955.
  7. ^ Deyle, Steven (Spring 1992). "The Irony of Liberty: Origins of the Domestic Slave Trade". Journal of the Early Republic. 12 (1): 37–62. doi:10.2307/3123975. JSTOR 3123975.
  8. ^ Pritchett, Jonathan B. (Summer 1997). "The Interregional Slave Trade and the Selection of Slaves for the New Orleans Market". Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 28 (1): 57–85. doi:10.2307/206166. JSTOR 206166.
  9. ^ a b c d Miller, William L. (April 1965). "A Note of the Importance of the Interstate Slave Trade of the Ante Bellum South". The Journal of Political Economy. 2. 73 (2): 181–187. doi:10.1086/259008. JSTOR 1829535.
  10. ^ a b Kotlikoff, Laurence J.; Sebastian Pinera (June 1977). "The Old South's Stake in the Inter-Regional Movement of Slaves, 1850–1860". The Journal of Economic History. 2. 37 (2): 434–450. doi:10.1017/S002205070009700X. JSTOR 2118765.
  11. ^ Curran, Robert (2010). A History of Georgetown University: From Academy to University, 1789-1889. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press. pp. 129–130. ISBN 978-1-58901-688-0.
  12. ^ Carstensen, F.V.; S.E. Goodman (Autumn 1977). "Trouble on the Auction Block: Interregional Slave Sales and the Reliability of a Linear Equation". Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 2. 8 (2): 315–318. doi:10.2307/202791. JSTOR 202791.
  13. ^ Deyle, Stephen (2007). "Carry Me Back: The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life". America: History and Life with Full Text.
This page was last edited on 23 May 2019, at 17:22
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