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The Ways Slavery Hindered The Development Of The South

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This study will investigate the question: “In what ways did slavery hinder the development of the South?” Despite it providing free labor, it had its consequences such as impeding the development of industry and cities, resulting in high debts, spurred soil exhaustion, and staggered technological innovation. The significance of this investigation is to look into the impact of slavery in the South to demonstrate that even from an economic stand point it was not advantageous. Following sources will be used:

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and “Not All Inequality Is the Same”. The first source is autobiography of a worldwide known social reformer and abolitionist, who was previously a slave – Frederick Douglass. Autobiography was produced in 1845 with the purpose of informing the public about the malignant nature of slavery and bringing awareness to it.

The second source is the “Not All the Equality is the Same” research conducted by John Majewski who is the Interim Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts and Professor in the Department of History at the University of California. The research was produced in December 2015, in the United States of America in order to inform of the effects of slavery on the economic creativity in Southern states.

Source 1: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave Douglass was a slave at a Colonels Lloyd’s plantations from his birth, which is estimated to be in 1818, and up until 1938 when he made his escape. The value of the origin of this source is that it was created at the time when slavery was at its strongest therefore providing a first-person experience and depicting of how life went on back then. Another value is that Frederick was a slave himself. Because of that, he is able to portray a unique inside perspective of slavery and provide insight that is hidden to the outside observer. Douglass shares a whole spectrum of things starting with the clothes they wore and their treatment, and going all the way to describing slave hierarchies and how the overall system worked. The limitation of the origin is that Douglass was a slave himself, thus he might’ve not been as objective as a person viewing these things from an outside perspective, and might judge things in more negative light than it actually is. The value of the purpose is that it portrays the type of spirit and the type of life that the slave community had at the time. The limitation of purpose is that it comes from the person who was a victim of this system himself. He might express his views in radical way, which might deviate from how things actually were in reality. The value of the content is that it provides details about the life of a slave. Since Douglass was a slave himself, therefore the making his information a primary source. The limitation of the content is that he was at the very bottom of slave hierarchy, meaning that he had little to no insight on what was going on in the other sections of slavery.

Source 2: Majewski, John. “Not All Inequality Is the Same.” Equitable Growth. The value of the origin of the source is that John Majewski is a professional, who is an expert in the field of American subject therefore a credible source for the information in this field. The limitation of the origin is that, because of strong contemporary social stance against slavery and racism, in particular in California, where Majewski is from, which is known for its liberal population, the author could have possibly left out evidence that would speak in favor of slavery. The value of the purpose is that, since the paper was created long after the abolition of slavery, it has little to no bias in terms speaking in favor of it and instead being strictly informational on its negative effects. The limitation of the purpose is that the whole motivation of this research is to disprove the economic creativity of slavery, it might leave out information that suggests the opposite. The value of the content is that the research goes in depth about the lack of investment into education and skills in South, with the effects that it had, while at the same time juxtaposing it to the North. Limitation of the content is that by having such a narrow and specific focus, Majewski could have possibly missed out on the outside factors that had to do with the issue.


Looking back at slavery, it is logical to think that free labor is an advantage that results in higher yields and superiority. This question was extremely relevant at the time since there were a lot of proslavery individuals arguing that with sudden end to slavery, there would be an economic disaster with many of industries such as tobacco, rice, and cotton ceasing to work, due to the historical dependence on the slave labor (The Independence Hall Association). While being partially true, things are not as straightforward as they appear to be. Even though the South’s economy was indeed closely tied to the slave workforce, there were way greater complications with it than just the problems within some industries. Slavery was resulting in moral deterioration of slaveholders, high debts, impeding the development of industry and cities, spurring soil exhaustion, and staggering technological innovation. Before speaking of the economic impacts that slavery had on the South, something that has to be addressed is that it was greatly affecting slaveholders own moral health “Thus is slavery the enemy of both the slave and the slaveholder” (Douglass).

Douglass talks about the irresponsible and corrupt power in slavery that is unnatural for all involved. Frederick speaks on the usual behavioral patterns among the slave holders which consisted of temptations such as rape, adultery, and fathering children with female slaves. The following threatened the unity of the slaver owner’s family often resulting in either selling or in constant punishment of the child. This also had an effect on slave owner’s wife, which would become cruel and hateful. An example of such would be Sophia Auld, a slave owner’s wife that Douglass had met when switching owners. In the beginning, she appeared to be an idealistic woman who had refused to treat Douglass as something less than a human being. However, after time, the irresponsible power of a slaveholder had transformed Sophia Auld into a demon, resulting into her being harsh, critical and controlling.

One of the major reasons why the North was so superior, is because South had a major stratification of the wealth issue. This happened mostly due to the fact that large slave holders owned most of the regions slaves. Slave holders held very significant portions of productive land, leaving middle class with a relatively small proportion of the region’s property. Cotton farming was so large and concentrated in so few hands, that by 1850, 17 percent of the population held two thirds of all cotton growing land. The following had resulted in Southern economy being hindered by high rates of personal debt. Southern states government was forced to keep spending and taxation, at much lower levels compared to the states in the North. The main issue that it brought up was that in comparison to the Northern states, Southern states had invested less into improvement of the public education.

This had a major effect on illiteracy rates. While New England in 1850, had the illiteracy rate of less than half of 1 percent, in the South, 20 percent of all the white adults could not read or write. Poor education, had stagnated that creative culture of the South. Instead of encouraging education, it was focused on the production on certain commodities such as sugar, rice, cotton, and tobacco. Since the industry’s way of increasing or at least retaining the yields was to expand into new lands, it had low interest into any sort of innovation. Even though South held 30 percent of all the population in the United States, it was accounting only for 5 percent of the nation’s patents.

Northerners on the others side, had democratized the access to education and innovation. The attendance in various educational facilities such as libraries, scientific organizations, mechanic institutes, etc., had increased, leading to major improvement in creative culture. “By the 1840s, Northerners had the highest patenting rates in the world, outstripping even Great Britain, the undisputed economic power of the Atlantic World”. By looking at the database of more than 3,000 patents that were issued from 1848 to 1952 it can be concluded that slavery posed a severe ideological and education barrier in terms of investment into education and innovation.

Not only did high levels of personal debt effect investment towards the public education, but it had also resulted in underdevelopment of “urban centers for commerce, finance, and industry on a scale equal to those found in the North”. The lack of development in these fields had a great effected on population in the South. In 1850, Virginia’s largest city had a population of only 15,274. In Wilmington, the biggest city in North Carolina, was made up of 7,264 inhabitants. Not speaking of the Vicksburg and Narchez, two largest cities in Mississippi, that had less than 3,000 of white inhabitants. The underdevelopment had also effected the work force in the South. In 1860, North had approximately 1.3 million industrial workers, compared to the South which had 110,000. In the United States, North was responsible for producing nine-tenths of the industrial goods.

A failure to develop diverse economies was the reason behind Southern cities being so small. It had also led to Southern states to hardly ever become processing or finishing centers. Southern ports had rarely engaged in international trade, which would have provided the South with greater opportunities and most importantly independence. The primary function of these states was to “market and transport cotton or other agricultural crops, supply local planters and farmers with such necessities as agricultural implements, and produce the small number of manufactured goods, such as cotton gins, needed by farmers”.

Due to the fact that South was so focused on the slave-based agriculture lead it neglected to the improvements in the transportation and industry. This had resulted in Southern railway system to be devastated, especially when compared to the one in the North. In the South, it extended for 1,460 miles from Baltimore to New Orleans, but riding it meant switching to 5 different railroads, two stagecoaches, and two steamboats.

Another problem with the railroads was that they were primarily suited for the transportation of cotton, and would not be as efficient in transporting other goods. The primary objective was to bring cotton to the southern ports, where it would be shipped by northern vessel to either a British or a northern factory. By South being extremely focused on the agricultural industry, it had eventually suffered the most. Due to the fact that agricultural techniques were primitive and the goods grown, were extremely demanding, the soil eroded badly. This was particularly true of cotton that was exhausting the soil severely. Since big plantation were constantly forced to expand to obtain fertile land to keep up and increase their production, many of the yeomen farmers were pushed off of their territories. The percentage of whites holding slaves was declining significantly. If in 1850, white population holding slaves was one third, by 1860 this had dropped to one fourth. Because the land and slave ownership was continually being concentrated in the hand of a few, the constantly growing number white’s due to the economic pressures had move to urban centers.

Even though it doesn’t seem obvious at first, but slavery was indeed in many ways detrimental for the Southern states. Apart from damaging the moral health of the slave owners, slavery had also effected the Southern economy with main issue being the stratification of the wealth, which therefore resulted problems like moral high debts, impeding the development of industry and cities, spurring soil exhaustion, and staggering technological innovation.


A historian is a person with a wide range of knowledge in a given subject or multiple subjects. Due to the fact that they a person holding such a great amount of knowledge they are expected to stay professional and avoid bias as much as possible to provide the rawest information. One issue raised by this study relating to the methods used by historians is the challenge of not being biased by the surrounding, as with the case of Majewski, who is from California, a strongly liberal state. This might have influenced some of his conclusions, since he would have trouble expressing facts revealing some benefits of slavery. I tackled this issue by only focusing on the raw facts and statistics that were provided within the research, without referring to some of the conclusions that a historian has drawn.

Another issue raised by this study relating to the methods used by historians is the challenge is that since historians tend to use secondary sources, they might be selective in terms of facts and statistics to draw their conclusions. In many cases this may create a bias, since there could be information opposing the statements in the research that is just not included. I tackled this issue by comparing the facts that with other sources, and eventually keeping only the ones that were justified by numerous sources.

11 February 2020

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