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Slavery and American Economic Development

Gavin Wright

Publication Year: 2013

“Slavery and American Economic Development is a small book with a big interpretative punch. It is one of those rare books about a familiar subject that manages to seem fresh and new.”—Charles B. Dew, Journal of Interdisciplinary History “A stunning reinterpretation of southern economic history and what is perhaps the most important book in the field since Time on the Cross. . . . I frequently found myself forced to rethink long-held positions.”—Russell R. Menard, Civil War History Through an analysis of slavery as an economic institution, Gavin Wright presents an innovative look at the economic divergence between North and South in the antebellum era. He draws a distinction between slavery as a form of work organization—the aspect that has dominated historical debates—and slavery as a set of property rights. Slave-based commerce remained central to the eighteenth-century rise of the Atlantic economy, not because slave plantations were superior as a method of organizing production, but because slaves could be put to work on sugar plantations that could not have attracted free labor on economically viable terms. Gavin Wright is William Robertson Coe Professor in American Economic History at Stanford University and the author of The Political Economy of the Cotton South and Old South, New South: Revolutions in the Southern Economy Since the Civil War, winner of the Frank L. and Harriet C. Owsley Award of the Southern Historical Association. He served as president of the Economic History Association and the Agricultural History Society.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Cover, Title Page

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pp. 1-7

Contents

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pp. vii-9

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Preface

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pp. ix-x

These essays were first presented as the Fleming Lectures at Louisiana State University in April 1997. My only excuse for the long lag between oral delivery and printed publication is that I wanted time to flesh out the supporting evidence, update the coverage of the academic literature, and work through the argument...

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Introduction: What Was Slavery?

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pp. 1-13

When Abraham Lincoln said, “if slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong,” he neatly epitomized the tendency to think of slavery as an absolute category, a standard by which all other evils are overshadowed. This conception, often implicit, has a powerful hold on Americans down to the present day. It infuses most writing...

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1. Slavery, Geography, and Commerce

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pp. 14-47

In recent decades, economic historians have rediscovered both the centrality of African slavery for the eighteenth-century expansion of commerce known as the Rise of the Atlantic Economy, and the importance of overseas markets for the industrial and technological breakthroughs known as the Industrial Revolution...

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2. Property and Progress in Antebellum America

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pp. 48-82

For some years debates about the economic character of the antebellum South have fallen into a peculiarly constraining groove. “Was the slave South capitalist?” has been the question, taken to be the same as asking whether typical slaveholders were calculating, acquisitive, and in pursuit of material goals through...

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3. Property Rights, Productivity, and Slavery

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pp. 83-122

A more prudent person might decide to leave the argument at just this point. The first chapter made the case that slavery as a form of work organization has been overemphasized relative to slavery as a set of property rights, and the second chapter argued that the broad contours of southern regional economic development...

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Epilogue: The Legacy of Slavery

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pp. 123-127

Judging a book by its title, some readers may have expected to find here an account of the contribution of slave labor to American economic growth, a topic that has received much attention from legal scholars and advocates in recent years. It is undeniable that enslaved African Americans supplied a substantial...

Appendix

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pp. 129-134

Works Cited

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pp. 135-151

Index

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pp. 153-162


E-ISBN-13: 9780807152751
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807152287

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures in Southern History