Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist is a fascinating, deep exploration of slavery in the United States, and, as the sub-title suggests, its key role in the development of the American free market.

It seems that most modern studies of slavery have argued whether it was integral to the development of the United States, or some sort of bizarre feudal holdover.  Baptist takes the former position, claiming, in fact, that the United States (especially the north) would not have developed into an industrial powerhouse without it.

I am not qualified to judge if his thesis and conclusion is sound.  But I must say that he musters a great deal of facts to support his argument.  A feudal holdover would not have survived in a capitalist economy; slavery continued, and expanded, because it made money for slaveholders... a great deal of money.  Growing cotton has highly profitably, and investment in slave labor was profitable.  Baptist explores how the reach of the global economy of cotton production, the establishment of lines of credit, banking, land speculation, industrial development in cotton production in the north and England, were tied firmly together, driving slavery, it's expansion and cruelty.

This is a well-written, fascinating work, getting involved in technical details when necessary, but keeping the pace and level of a work of non-fiction for a general audience.

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