Monday, July 07, 2008

Civil War Slavery (Some Surprises)..

A few days ago, Megan McArdle had a much larger list of (potentially) surprising statements about the nature of slavery in the US at the time of the Civil War. The full list in her post is worth reading, but here are a few that struck me as particularly counter to the connotation given it all when it was covered in school:

4. Slave agriculture was not inefficient compared with free agriculture. Economies of large-scale operation, effective management, and intensive utilization of labor and capital made southern slave agriculture 35 percent more efficient than the northern system of factory farming.

6. The course of slavery in the cities does not prove that slavery was incompatible with an industrial system or that slaves were unable to cope with an industrial regimen. Slaves employed in industry compared favorably with free workers in diligence and efficiency. Far from declining, the demand for slaves was actually increasing more rapidly in urban areas than in the countryside.

8. The material (not psychological) conditions of the lives of slaves compared favorably with those of free industrial workers. This is not to say that they were good by modern standards. It merely emphasizes the hard lot of all workers, free or slave, during the first half of the nineteenth century.

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