The Profit Of Slavery Essay

1008 words - 4 pages

Despite common beliefs held my many historians today, slavery was, in fact, profitable. The market value alone of slaves suggests profitability. In 1815, a typical U.S. slave was worth $250; by 1839 the price was $500; and by 1860 it had climbed to $900. Prices of slaves would not have quadrupled if they were not a means of profit for the owner. The average price of slaves quadrupled because the average Southern crop production per slave quadrupled. Slaves increased in value because they produced more in salable crops. Three alternative paths all lead to this same conclusion: slavery was profitable.First, thousands of planters bought slaves on credit from traders. Few planters would have borrowed to buy those slaves and pay interest on them if they did not think they could earn at least as much money putting them to work in the fields. The average interest rate charged by traders between 1820 and 1860 was eight to ten percent. Since this rate did not vary much over the years and the slave trade business was booming, it is safe to assume that planters were getting at least ten percent return on their investments.Second, many slaves were hired out by their owners. This usually happened when a planter had a temporary surplus of field hands. The rent charged for these slaves were proportionate to their investment return that year. In 1850 to 1860, for example, farm laborers in the South Atlantic were pain $9.64 per month. West South Central slaves rented for $13.90. Such slaves sold for about $1,070 and $1,400, respectively. Rented slaves in the South, then, earned about eleven to twelve percent of their value for their owners.And Third, look at the approach pioneered by Alfred Conrad and John Meyer. It compares rates of return from slaveholding to other investments. They estimated the market value of prime field hands in the 1850's and 1860's, plus the cost of the land and tools with which the slaves worked with to grow cotton. Then they related that investment to the income made by each slave -- (i.e. bales of cotton grown per slave times the price per bale). Finally, they reduced that income because they were relating the price of a 20-year-old slave to the income he would have produced over 20 years. Their results suggest a rate of return of about six to eight percent. Since other money-making investments such as government bonds and investments in Northern textile firms produced about the same yield, it is safe to assume that slaveholding was economically profitable.These three explanations all lead to this same conclusion: slavery was profitable. Not only were slaves good investments because of their high value appreciation level, but they also produced profits from work done on the plantations. Slavery has been proven to be such a good investment strategy that it is still used today in some South Asian countries. If it was not so morally wrong, slavery would probably still be used in the United States today.The Profit...

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