In an idealistic democratic America, one likes to think that everyone is free and everyone is equal. However, this is not the complete truth; we still battle injustice and work to treat everyone fairly every single day. But what is the truth is that we have come a long way and that we have improved over time. Slavery before the Civil War is important in U.S. history because not only was it involved in various significant events; it also shows us how far our society has come.
In the United States, slavery is said to have started in 1619, when slaves were brought to Jamestown, Virginia to aid in the production of lucrative crops such as tobacco (“Slavery in America”). The 13th Amendment, adopted in1865, officially freed all slaves. But what took so long? Why was slavery held on to for more than two hundred years? Slavery, however cruel and unjust, was held on to because it was notable for the United States and its stable economic status.
In order to survive, farming was crucial in the early United States. But when colonists arrived, there was a lot of work to do. There was an abundance of harsh land that required a lot of labor. Indentured servants helped ease this problem; however, it simply wasn’t enough. Slaves were brought to the new world, and fulfilled the need for labor. In the eighteenth century, approximately six to seven million slaves were brought to the United States. The slaves provided an efficient workforce; they were able to do various tasks, such as agricultural work, mining, construction, factory work, etc. They also provided labor for unpopular jobs that many would not willingly do. In the beginning, the slaves mostly worked on rice, indigo, and tobacco plantations, but in the late 1700s, this changed.
In 1793, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a device that efficiently removed the seeds of cotton plants, eliminating the difficulty of removing seeds from cotton fibers by hand. The device was copied by many, and by the early 1800s, cotton became the South’s main cash crop. With the transition from tobacco to cotton for the country’s main cash crop, came the transition from tobacco to cotton for the country’s main labor force. Slaves managed the cotton fields, harvesting the cotton by hand and doing other small tasks that came along with cotton production. By the 1840s, 60% of the world’s cotton was produced by the slave South, bringing in money to the United States’ economy.
On the eve of the Civil War, the slave South had achieved a level of per capita wealth not matched by Spain or Italy until the eve of World War II or by Mexico or India until 1960 (“Was slavery the engine for American economic growth?”) The money slavery provided the United States went towards other things, such as manufactured goods. But not only did bring wealth, it also cut down on expenses and positively influenced the North. Slaves provided very cheap labor—a slave’s only expense was his or her food and...