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American Slavery: The Newer Exegesis MARCEGNAL Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman. Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1974. Time on the Cross: Evidence and Methods - A Supplement. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1974. 286 and 267 pp. Eugene D. Genovese. Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World The Slaves Made. New York: Pantheon, 1974. 823 pp. Within a single year, two major works on American Negro slavery have appeared, each suggesting a broad reinterpretation of our views on bondage in the Old South. Both have been widely acclaimed; reviews of these books in publications such as Time and Atlantic Monthly indicate an interest extending far beyond the usual academic circles. While the two works share certain common concerns, their methodologies, areas of concentration, and conclusions are strikingly different. Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman base their findings, in large part, on various bodies of quantitative data. They divide Time on the Cross into two volumes, one addressed to the general reader and presenting the authors' conclusions in nonmathematical terms, the other providing the formulae and some of the statistical material that underlie the study. Eugene Genovese's sources are the more traditional ones such as slave narratives and plantation diaries. Unlike Fogel and Engerman, he does not discuss such issues as the profitability of slavery or the "rate of exploitation." On the other hand, his exploration of life in the slave quarters and the relationship between blacks and whites is fuller. How convincing are the hypotheses set forth in these books, and how must we change our views on life and labor in the Old South? Fogel and Engerman's arguments may be summarized in two broad propositions. First, "the material (not psychological) conditions of the lives of slaves compared favorably with those of free industrial workers." (I, 5; the primary volume will hereafter be cited as "I," the supplementary volume as "IL") The slave was well-fed, housed in lodgings better than those enjoyed by Northern laborers, and received competent medical care. He was encouraged by various incentives and a high level of remuneration, and enjoyed a stable family life rarely disrupted by the slave trade. In return, Fogel and Engerman argue, the bondsman accepted his lot (even THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. vr, NO. 1, SPRING 1975 though he would have preferred freedom), worked hard for his master, andwas not rebellious. Second, as a result of the efficiency of slave labor and the managerial talents of Southern planters, plantation slavery was highlyprofitable and more efficient than agriculture based on free labor. Moreover, future prospects for the peculiar institution, both in Southern citiesand countryside, were favorable. We may examine each of these propositions in turn. In seeking to establish the material well-being of the slaves, Fogel and Engerman examine a number of categories, such as the slaves' diet and housing. Any test of Fogel and Engerman's hypotheses must note their insistence that the slaves enjoyed a comparatively high level of material comfort. This question of degree distinguishes these two econometricians from other writers. Even historians like Kenneth Stampp, who have emphasized the poor conditions under which slaves lived, argue that planters provided at least adequate food, shelter, and medical care. On diet, Fogel and Engerman state that "the slave diet was not only adequate, it actually exceeded modern (1964) recommended daily levels of the chief nutrients" (I, 115). But there are problems here. One is that slaves did a considerable amount more physical labor than the "average 0 individual of 1964. Whether the slave diet was adequate for long days of fieldwork is not made clear. Second, Fogel and Engerman are unable to collect direct data on how much each slave was fed. Consequently, they reason from the total output of foodstuffs in the South to individual consumption. Although they assume that whites, per capita, consumed more food than blacks, their procedure is one that introduces a large margin of error. Furthermore, data on the amount of foodstuffs produced in the South are drawn from a biased sample: all the plantations studied have fifty slaves or more. Plausibly, the large estates, which could take advantage of a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 110-117
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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