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So, been reading some racist apologia again

Or as you could also term it, the memoirs of Jefferson Davis. And it’s tedious, no doubt about it. With occasional little nuggets. He’s adamant that secession was the right of any and every state, obviously. And one can see interesting little parallels as to how Brussels would react if an EU member decided in 2080 or so that they think they’d really rather like to leave.

However, the one that got me was an odd fact. I think I had known, maybe, that the US banned slave importation in 1808 or thereabouts. There was smuggling but not all that much. And that some 450k Africans were imported. Which, by the time of the civil war, had led to a population of 4 million or so slaves (to which, presumably, one should add whatever number of free blacks there were). And that’s without any further importation (or immigration, obviously) after 1808.

And here’s what surprised me. Davis talks about the massive increase in the slave population, showing that said chattel slavery was very much milder than than that of other forms of it that history records elsewhere. And looking it up there seems to have been a 30% increase per decade in that slave population. Which for a pre-modern population is something of a population boom, isn’t it? Certainly in 18th century Britain urban populations didn’t even reproduce themselves, not sure if that was also true of the first half of the 19th.

So slaves were very definitely at well above subsistence level.

While Davis obviously thinks this worth mentioning as an apologia of sorts, no, I do not think that getting that second bowl of gruel a day is worth the horrors of chattel slavery. But there obviously was something different about American slavery: the African population of the British Caribbean islands nowhere near managed to replace itself while still in slavery, let alone show those sorts of growth rates (no, not even on Barbuda, essentially a stud farm run by the Codringtons).

Anyone got any references to more on this? Because it wouldn’t (probably because I don’t know all that much about the subject) surprise me, given that expansion, to find that this increase was larger than that of the white population at the time: sans immigration, of course.

28 thoughts on “So, been reading some racist apologia again”

  1. I think the why was because of the cotton gin
    https://en.wikipedia.org
    /wiki/Cotton_gin#Effects_in_the_United_States
    “The invention of the cotton gin caused massive growth in the production of cotton in the United States, concentrated mostly in the South. Cotton production expanded from 750,000 bales in 1830 to 2.85 million bales in 1850. As a result, the South became even more dependent on plantations and slavery, with plantation agriculture becoming the largest sector of the Southern economy.[13] ”
    I don’t know about the how

  2. Hey, Tim-

    The place to start is Fogel and Engerman’s Time on the Cross, the first major cliometric study of slavery. It was extremely controversial at the time of its publication because it made several of the points you raise. It started a huge literature on the subject. Fogel responded to his critics with a massive two volume work titled Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery. Fogel was also the great economic historian of the demographic revolution. Hope this helps.

  3. The comparison with the Caribbean is useless: the sugar industry was lethal in a way that cotton, baccy or rice were not. In the former you didn’t even attempt to breed replacements, you just replaced the dead slaves with new adult ones. In the US especially after the ban on imports, they went for deliberate breeding of slaves in the Old South for sale to the Deep South.

  4. P.S. “He’s adamant that secession was the right of any and every state, obviously.” Obnoxious but right. However ignoble the cause, secession was legit.

  5. Thomas Sowell’s Black Rednecks and White Liberals also challenges orthodox views on slavery.

    I don’t think it made it into his autobiography, but Davis did have a great quote. He said: “If the Confederacy falls, there should be written on its tombstone: ‘Died of a Theory.’”

  6. Even the kids were involved in the cotton farming. So handy to grow the population.
    Harder to keep population down than up.

  7. @dearieme, secession was legit, but the state governments that sought to secede weren’t, because large fractions of their populations weren’t represented.

    As for the question that Tim asked, it’s very difficult to answer.

    The numbers we do know are the number of white and black people in each state at the censuses, say 1810 for the start and 1860 for the end.

    We can reasonably conclude from the lack of a surge in free black numbers there that emancipation in the North meant that the overwhelming majority of slaves there were sold South rather than freed.

    We also have the number of white immigrants arriving from port and immigration records. We don’t know how many of them ended up in the North or the South.

    We don’t have internal migration numbers – were white people (net) travelling from north to south or vice versa? Fairly small numbers in one direction would significantly affect the estimates of natural growth in the relevant states.

    We also don’t have smuggled slave numbers – we know there was some slave smuggling across the Atlantic after 1808, but we don’t know how much. There were also a lot of slaves smuggled from the British Caribbean colonies to the US South in the 1820s and 1830s to avoid British emancipation. There was also some smuggling between the US South and Brazil throughout the period (including some number of slaves exported to Brazil towards and even after the end of the Civil War) but we have no real idea how much or which direction it went net..

    There are far too many unknowns to be able to answer with any degree of accuracy across the whole South (or, indeed, North) what the population growth was for white and black populations separately.

    What we do know is that some states, particularly Virginia, ran plantations that primarily grew food crops and exported large numbers of slaves to other states, while other states, notably Alabama and Mississippi, imported large numbers of slaves from the exporting states.

  8. Dearieme’s about right with his comment on the Caribbean – although, to be more specific, it wasn’t sugar production itself that was lethal, but the environment. The West Indies were known as the fever islands, and deaths from tropical illnesses were quite staggeringly high – and not just among slaves.

    Between 1793 and 1796 the British army lost 40,000 men to fever in the West Indies – of, I believe, around 80,000 posted there in that time. A 50% mortality rate in three years. [https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=jxqdnKQrAmEC&lpg=PA236&ots=5OONzeHTmC&dq=%22fever%20islands%22&pg=PA236#v=onepage]

    So, in the Caribbean a major reason for the use of slaves was that you couldn’t pay anyone enough to work on a plantation – and indeed, going forward the plantations employed indentured workers from places like India and China, who were largely conned into going to work there.

    As far as I know, while there are parts of the US where the climate is similar to the Caribbean, most of it is so much more survivable that the difference in population growth rates seems to be more than amply explained.

  9. “… chattel slavery was very much milder than than that of other forms of it that history records elsewhere”.

    In ancient Greece, much slavery was not unlike 19th century domestic service in England.

  10. Dearieme’s about right with his comment on the Caribbean – although, to be more specific, it wasn’t sugar production itself that was lethal, but the environment.

    And, presumably, obesity.

  11. Morally odious. But also economically insane. There’s any amount of data about classical Greece, Rome, Persia, Byzantium etc importing slaves and paying good money for them, and then wishing they hadn’t.

    But I suppose if you’re stupid enough to put the slaves in the assets column instead of the liabilities column, then you would encourage them to breed.

  12. ” secession was legit, but the state governments that sought to secede weren’t, because large fractions of their populations weren’t represented.” Bollocks; the state governments were elected in a way entirely justified under the US Constitution and were therefore legitimate. Hell, you might as well say that none of the state governments was legit because none had universal adult suffrage.

  13. So Much for Subtlety

    Theophrastus – “In ancient Greece, much slavery was not unlike 19th century domestic service in England.”

    Oh for f*cks sake! No it wasn’t. Slavery is slavery. Even if you ignore the Athenians working slaves to death in the mines.

    America seems to be the only place where slaves reproduced themselves. After all, if their population was growing so much, it would have been cheaper to pay someone to pick the cotton. The long term minimum wage is, after all, the cost of raising two children. Slaves were getting more than that.

    It is hard to know why this is. I doubt the type of crop has that much to do with it.

  14. The beastly british were exporting whites to Australia for what could well be seen as servitude/slavery.
    Even later they were actually charging whites ten pounds to be exported to Australia.

  15. So Much for Subtlety

    john malpas – “The beastly british were exporting whites to Australia for what could well be seen as servitude/slavery.”

    The British openly sent Whites to America as slaves. Not just indentured servants, which is pretty much how the whole slavery thing started. But actual slaves.

    Slavery (for some White people) was only abolished in Scotland in 1799.

    “Even later they were actually charging whites ten pounds to be exported to Australia.”

    Bastards! Have they no shame?

  16. “Slavery (for some White people) was only abolished in Scotland in 1799.” if that’s a reference to serfdom for coal miners it’s just another wearisome attempt to minimise the horrors of real slavery. Christ that shite annoys me.

  17. “The British openly sent Whites to America as slaves. Not just indentured servants, which is pretty much how the whole slavery thing started.

    Slavery started as indentured servitude? Are you mad?

  18. “The beastly british were exporting whites to Australia for what could well be seen as servitude/slavery.” But only if you are a moron.

  19. So Much for Subtlety

    dearieme – “if that’s a reference to serfdom for coal miners it’s just another wearisome attempt to minimise the horrors of real slavery. Christ that shite annoys me.”

    Is it? Why does it annoy you? There is a serious effort by Western scholars to minimise all slavery that does not involve White people. That annoys me. Pick up any book you like and the chances everyone will be saying “African slavery was so much nicer than American slavery”. I have a copy of Jacques Soustelle’s book on the Aztecs on my desk as I type. Guess what? Aztec slavery was so much nicer than American slavery. So there you go, being tortured and eaten is just fine as long as you are not White it seems.

    So to me, slavery is slavery is slavery. Once we accept that we can talk about to what degree one type of slavery is better or worse than another. But the first step is to say the fundamental divide is between free and slave. Which would put Scottish coal miners on the wrong side of that divide (although admittedly serf systems tend to be much better than slave systems).

    dearieme – “Slavery started as indentured servitude? Are you mad?”

    No, the plantation system began with indentured labour. Later they came to use slaves. Although some people argue that the first slaves were legally assimilated into the category of indenture. Just with very long indentures.

    dearieme – “But only if you are a moron.”

    This is the blog that calls National Service slavery. He did say “slavery/servitude”. I would dispute the slavery but I would not dispute the servitude. Britain did send people to do forced labour in Australia. People who had no choice about the type of work they did and who were flogged if they did not work hard enough.

    Would you dispute the use of slave labour for German recruitment of forced labour in Poland, France and so on? It is common – to the point I would not care to dispute it. Their treatment was certainly very poor and not comparable to that of Australian convicts. But the starvation is not what makes it slave labour. The lack of freedom does.

  20. Morally odious. But also economically insane. There’s any amount of data about classical Greece, Rome, Persia, Byzantium etc importing slaves and paying good money for them, and then wishing they hadn’t.

    Ditto for the Gulag system. Anne Applebaum made a key point that the economics of the Gulag never stacked up, even with “free” labour. A bit like the rest of the Soviet Union, actually.

  21. Around about p 460 of that Peter Heather book Tim was reading, we learn that by the ninth century slaves were overwhelmingly male, and castrated on their way to market.

    So the slave buyer must have worked out that a whole life as a slave was not economic for the slave owner.

  22. “So Much for Subtlety

    Theophrastus – “In ancient Greece, much slavery was not unlike 19th century domestic service in England.”

    Oh for f*cks sake! No it wasn’t.”

    I’d say that SOME slavery in the Roman empire was akin to domestic service in the 19th century. I expect the living and working conditions and getting shagged by the master of the house were fairly similar if you were a house slave. Many were give their freedom (and with it Roman citizenship) as well as bequests in wills.

    Of course if you were working in the fields or in the arena, things were not as jolly.

  23. And of course it still doesn’t happen, does it? It’s purely an economic choice by a serve with dusky hues.

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