Slavery had a considerable impact on the development of the US economy and society. In this respect, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that slavery had a dubious effect on the US economy and society. On the one hand, slavery contributed to the accelerated economic development of Southern states and strengthening of the US economy. On the other hand, slavery undermined the long-run development of the US and industrialization of the domestic economy because the use of cheap slave labor discouraged Americans to develop new businesses and introduce technological innovations. As a result, the gap between North and South had grown wide, whereas the negative effect of slavery on the US society was even more significant because slavery laid the foundation to the racial inequality and wide gaps between the white majority and non-white minorities.
In this regard, it is worth mentioning the fact that slavery became vitally important when the US economy kept progressing and the industrial revolution was about to start. In this respect, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that the North started to outpace the South in the economic development due to the industrial revolution, but slavery was the main tool which allowed Southern states to remain competitive so far. What is more, the use of slave labor en masse, which was possible mainly due to the slave trade, made American goods more competitive in international markets due to the low cost of production. As a result, Southern states could increase the agricultural production using slave labor and get maximum benefits from it. In such a situation, they did not need consistent, structural changes of the local economy because the slave labor proved to be beneficial for the steady economic development of the South.
On the other hand, the slave trade and slavery had a negative impact on the economic development of the USA since, in a long-run perspective, it is slave trade and slavery that determined the economic backwardness of the South. Obviously, Northern states, where the agriculture was less developed and slavery was not widely-spread as it was in Southern states, were forced to develop new industries in order to survive economically and resist to the economic and political pressure from the part of Great Britain (). In such a context, the industrialization of the North became a natural effect of the lack of other opportunities for Northern states to develop competitive economy. In other words, Northern states needed industrialization because it was the only way and it proved to be the most efficient one to accelerate their economic development. In stark contrast, Southern states did not need industrialization because local agriculture brought considerable profits to landowners and slaveholders. As a result, they preferred to invest in slaves and land rather than in industrial development. Eventually, this led to the enormous gap in the technological and economic development of the North and South, which naturally influenced the national economy at large. The slave trade encouraged the ineffective but profitable agriculture, which though failed to bring as much profits as large plants constructed in the North and large American cities. In such a way, by the time when the slave trade was over, Southern states turned out to be consistently less industrialized than Northern states. However, it is due to industrialization the leading countries of the world had managed to take the dominant position at that time, while the US had to struggle with the backwardness of its Southern states.
In addition, the slave trade and slavery, as its direct effect, led to the outbreak of the Civil War in the USA, which apparently had economic roots. The widening gap between economic development of North and South led to the conflict of interests between Southern states and Northern states and slavery became the major reason and pretext for the war. In such a way, the slave trade eventually led to the Civil War which affected dramatically the economic and social life of the USA (). In fact, it is only with the help of the war, Northern states managed to put the end to slavery, which was engendered by the slave trade. At the same time, many Americans suffered from the loss of their relative during the war.
In such a way, slavery had positive effects on the fast economic development of Southern states but Southern states grew due to the development of farming and cotton production. However, in the course of time, the agricultural South could not compete with the industrialized North. Southern states could not keep pace with the fast progress of the North and the social and economic gaps between North and South grew wider, while slavery became a pretext for the Civil War in the US. As a result, slavery provoked the Civil War, wide social and economic gaps and led to the long-lasting conflict between the white majority and non-white minority.
Carnes, M.C. and J.A. Garraty. (2007). The American Nation. New York: Longman.
Inikori, J.P. (1989). “Slavery and Revolution in Cotton Textile Production in England,” Social Science History, Vol. 13, pp. 343-79.
Solow, B. (1985). “Caribbean Slavery and British Growth: The Eric Williams Hypothesis,” Journal of Development Economics, Vol. 17, pp. 99-115.