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How America's religion, politics and economy shaped Slavery Introducing Slavery can be described as the method in which all the principles of property law are applied to human beings, enabling a specific class of people to buy, own and sell others (Patterson 43-77). It is important to note that a slave is completely unable to withdraw from the slavery arrangement, so the slave is forced to work without remuneration of any kind. It should be remembered that slavery started to occur in numerous societies around the world. An individual could become a slave three of the following ways: birth, purchase or capture. Before slavery was abolished, it was institutionally recognized by most societies but now it not recognized and is outlawed in all the countries of the world. In the United States of America (USA), slavery was legal and it involved the enslavement of the Africans, as well as, the African Americans that lived in the US between the 18th century and the end of the American Civil War. One of the major factors that enable slavery in the US was the influence from the British as it was being legally practiced in the British North America and this made it legal in all the 13 British colonies until the announcement of the declaration of independence in 1776. The things that influenced slavery in the US include international trade, which over time had been focused not only on the trade of goods from one region to another, but also slaves from mainly Africa to the US. This paper will argue that religion and global politics were completely responsible for the slave trade chain that led to the massive movement of the black people from different parts of the world to the US and that the economy significantly benefited from the slavery, thus, the slave masters did their level best to sustain slavery, as it provided to them a cheap source of labor.
The relationship between slavery and religion has been a major issue of discussion for a number of years. It can be established that there are religions in the world during the time of slavery that encouraged slavery, for example, in the Bible, it is clear that some Christians enslaved the non-believers who had been of time converted to Christianity over a long period, however, some elements of their religion fused with those of Christianity. The spread of Christianity across various parts of the world to a great extent coincided with the rise of not only colonization but also slavery and this is because religion made people more amenable and susceptible.
The Christian Mission to Africa Was a Major Source of Slaves
It is true to state that before the beginning of slave trade, the Africans had a lot of African religious beliefs, as well as, customs. It is also important to acknowledge that a great portion of the continent had fallen under the Islamic influence. West Africa, which was the main source of slaves for the transatlantic trade route, as well as other trade routes, had a set of religious belief systems that believed in one supreme creator and had deities of chiefs and priests that offered sacrifices for them to the supreme creator. People from this region, as well as other parts of the world, embraced the religion from the West which was brought into the continent by the missionaries. However, it can be established that the missionaries did not come to the African continent alone; however, they were followed by the white settlers who colonized the Africans and took others into slavery. Christianity played a major role in influencing slavery because it is the missionaries who exposed Africa and its various resources to the Western world. The religion of Christianity also made the Africans amenable and more susceptible, thus, they were easily exploited by their White masters who enslaved them both in their mother continent and overseas to as a cheap source of labor for their farms and industries. It is also important to note that the American religious practices agitated for change on how slaves were being treated. Religion played a significant role in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution, referred to as the Magna Charta, which led to abolition of slavery (Schaff 45).
Politics is another major factor that influenced slavery in the US. It can be acknowledged that the US, especially North American, had been occupied by the British who had already institutionalized slavery in the United Kingdom and the rest of the Western society, thus, for the Southern society, slavery was a material base that provided them with a social system and civilization from the slaveholding class. The presence of the British and their political rule led to the institutionalization of slavery in more than 13 British colonies in the US and this perpetuated the culture of slavery beyond these 13 colonies. By the time the American Revolution was taking effect, the political institutionalization of slavery had been reduced to some form of racial discrimination mainly against those with the African descent. For example, the French defined various racial prejudice among people like the Blacks were represented and strong and masculine humanity, thus, could be subjected to hard labor (Bayly 58).
It can be established that some of the first African slaves arrived in the US as an English colony in 2 major towns, Virginia and Jadestone, in 1916, and this led to the formation of demarcations of areas that had a lot of tycoons who owned a number of slaves (Acharya, Blackwell, & Sen 621). These slaves were brought to the US by Dutch slave traders who had seized the African slaves from a slave ship that belonged to the Spanish. However, it is important to note that the Spanish baptized the African slaves before embarking them (Viswanath 24) and due to the British political policies, as well as, religion, baptized Christians were not to be considered as slaves, thus, they were treated like other indentured servants. Note that a majority of the indentured servants were mainly the White immigrants to the British colonies in America and they mainly included individuals from Germany, Ireland, and Scotland. This did not mean that there have not existed any slaves in America, as most of the British colonial period was marked with slavery in all the colonies. The Constitution of the US was put into effect in 1789 and in it there was the provision regarding slavery. Section 9 of the Constitution forbade the US Federal Government from banning the importation of slaves; additionally, section 2 prohibited various states from freeing slaves that had fled from other states insisting that all slaves were to be returned to their owners as they were chattel property. It is also important to note that a majority of the politicians were slaveholders and the commodity crops that were being produced in the south that greatly influenced the US economy came from farms that highly depended on slave labor, thus, the demand for slaves continued to increase.
Benefits to the Economy
In the North of America, for instance, those who were enslaved mainly worked as craftsmen, artisans, and servants. A majority of slaves worked in the docks of ships and in New York City as servants. In the farming communities, slaves were mainly used as agricultural workers, for example, in long island and New Jersey (Schneider and Schneider 110). The farmers in the south also acquired a significant number of slaves as their economy was highly dependent on commodity crops. It is important to note that these crops were labor intensive, for example, rice, cotton, and tobacco. The prices of slaves rose dramatically prior to the civil war and this reflected the demand that was mainly in the shipping industries and the cotton farms. It can be acknowledged that if it were not for the demand for slaves in the US, the US would have remained backwards (Nunn 148). Cotton production, in particular, was on demand and these farms highly depended on slave labor so that they could realize high profits. Slavery brought financial benefits to the slave owners in the short-term but also provided long-term benefits to the economy. However, it devalued the economic status of African-Americans (Marable 59).
Slavery is the process in which particular individuals in a society are given the opportunity to own others. There is Biblical proof that slavery begun even before the recording of history. In the US, slavery was mainly influenced by religion and politics. A majority of the farms and shipping docks in the US benefited from the free slave labor that was being provided by slave trade routes. A majority of the slave owners in the US were politicians, thus, they passed policies prohibiting different states from freeing slaves that had fled from other states instructing that they should be returned back to their owners as they were chalet property. The US economy was highly depended on the commodity crops that were being produced in the farms that used free labor from the African slaves, thus, slavery continued to grow in demand.
Acharya, Avidit, Matthew Blackwell, & Maya Sen “The political legacy of American slavery”. The Journal of Politics, vol. 78, no. 3, 2016, pp. 621-641.
Bayly, Christopher Alan The birth of the modern world, 1780-1914: global connections and comparisons. Blackwell, 2004.
Marable, Manning How capitalism underdeveloped Black America: Problems in Race, Political economy, and society. Haymarket Books, 2015.
Nunn, Nathan “Slavery, Inequality, and Economic Development in the Americas: An Examination of the Engerman-Sokoloff Hypothesis” in: Helpman Elhanan Institutions and Economic Performance. Harvard University Press, 2007, pp. 148-180.
Patterson, Orlando Slavery and social death. Harvard University Press, 1982.
Schaff, Philip Church and State in the United States: The American Idea of Religious Liberty and its Practical Effects. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2017.
Schneider, Dorothy, and Carl J. Schneider Slavery in America. Infobase Publishing, 2014.
Viswanath, Rupa “Spiritual slavery, material malaise: untouchables’ and religious neutrality in colonial South India”. Historical Research, vol. 83, no. 219, 2010, pp. 124-145.
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