Everyone Should Know The Truth About Slavery in America

Engraving of slaves picking cotton on a Louisiana planation in the 19th century. (courtesy of istockphoto.com)

February 20, 2024

This post is my contributions to Black History Month in the U.S.

Nancy Spannaus has made an invaluable contribution to the history of the fight over slavery in the United States, with her new book; Defeating Slavery: Hamilton’s American System Showed the Way. Thoroughly documented, Spannaus exposes the falsehood that America was founded on slavery, or that slavery is in the DNA of Americans. Not only are such untruths historically unfounded, but they are downright folly, and display gross ignorance of the history of the United States. Slavery was a disease, a cancer inside the United States, which sadly is still affecting our society today. However, it is not the basis of the more profound accomplishments of the United States, in its better days.

As anyone who understands real economics would know, it is physically impossible for slavery to begat the creation of the United States as an industrialized power. Slave labor, which dominated a whole section of the southern portion of the United States, is not a driver of economic growth, but rather retards development.

I concur with Spannaus, that if the economic principles of Alexander Hamilton had been fully implemented, the southern slave labor economies would have been driven out of existence. Southern United States, which I know well, still displays the backwardness inherent in its legacy from slavery, which President Lincoln intended to eradicate. Unfortunately, the assassination of President Lincoln, also killed his plans for full  reconstruction of the South.

Bluntly stated, the whole 1619 Project , which erroneously purports that the U.S. was founded on slavery, is a fraudulent attack on the United Staes of America. Our nation is imperfect. Its greatest flaw is an uneducated populace that has been dumb downed over the last half century to submit to popular opinion, rather than investigate the truth  on such critical issues as slavery. Spannaus, in her new book unmasks the actual fight for and against slavery in the U.S. And in so doing, has performed an invaluable service to U.S. and to universal history.

Another valuable benefit to this book is the rich history of the fight for and against the realization of the unique American System of Political Economy, which Spannaus traces from Alexander Hamilton to President Abraham Lincoln

Slavery Has Always Been A Battle

Spannaus boldly states on page one, that contrary to what many uninformed Americans believe, our American Revolution created the first antislavery movement in the world. Do our citizens even know that before the creation of the United States, the colony of Rhode Island banned slavery in 1652, and the colony of Georgia outlawed slavery in 1733? (p. 2) Or that as early as 1688, the Society of Friends in Germantown, Pennsylvania, issued the first petition against slavery? Astonishingly, five decades after 1619, there was only one British colonial territory, South Carolina, which was explicitly founded as a slave economy. (p. 39)

Massachusetts was a leading colony advocating the elimination of slavery. Sam Adams, a leader in the Revolutionary War, in 1766, chaired a town meeting on slavery, which instructed the state’s representatives: that for the total abolishing of slavery among us, you move for a law to prohibit the importation and purchasing of slaves for the future. (p. 63)

Pennsylvania was also a hotbed of the anti-slavery movement. Anthony Benezet, an immigrant, who became a leader and activist in Pennsylvania for the education of black children and the elimination of slavery,  published numerous tracts against slavery. But Benezet did more than write. In 1775 he established a first known organization dedicated to the abolition of slavery anywhere in the world.” (p. 77)

In 1775 , Pennsylvania quakers, under the guidance of Benezet, established the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. Years later its second iteration became, the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting Abolition of Slavery and for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, commonly called the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. (pp. 77-78)

Alexander Hamilton, one of the nation’s founding fathers, first secretary of treasury, and leader in the fight against slavery. (Courtesy of blogs.shu.edu)

Revolutionary figures John Jay and Alexander Hamilton formed the New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, in 1785. The preamble to their association read in part:

The Benevolent Creator, and Father of all  Men; having given to them all equal right to life, liberty, and property, no sovereign power on earth can justly deprive them of either but in conformity to part impartial laws…(p. 134)

Yet slavery spread even with public sentiment against it. To outlaw enslavement of our fellow Americans required our bloody Civil War, at a cost of 750,000 lives. However, after almost 250 years since the founding of our nation, and almost 160 years since the ending of the Civil War, we are still engrossed in fighting the legacy of slavery. Why wasn’t slavery extinguished and how could that have been accomplished?

U.S. Constitution adopted in September 17, 1787, (courtesy of billpetro.medium.com)

Slavery Could Have Been Eliminated

In her book, Spannaus makes a unique contribution to the discussion of the elimination of slavery. She boldly asserts that had Alexander Hamilton’s economic principles been fully executed across the United States, slavery would have been extirpated from American society. While this idea may seem foreign to many, it is actually elementary. It requires people freeing  themselves from the mysterious belief that economic growth is determined by the “invisible hand, or “buy low and sell dear,” or British spawned “free trade.” Once one rejects this deliberate miseducation by our society, and comprehends the principles of physical economy, we understand the following: an uneducated, poorly paid, poorly fed, and over worked labor force is less productive and yields less profit to the economy. A backward slave labor system that squeezes out “profit” from the exploitation of backbreaking manual labor in growing sugar, cotton, and tobacco, cannot compete with the labor force of an industrialized economy.

Alexander Hamilton expressed this concept as early as 1774, two years before the revolution.

Were not the disadvantages of slavery too obvious to stand in need of it, I might enumerate and describe all the tedious train of calamities, inseparable from it. I might shew that it is fatal to religion and morality; that it tends to debase the mind, and corrupt its noblest springs of action. I might shew, that it relaxes the sinews of industry, clips the wings of commerce, and introduces misery and indigence in every shape. (p. 165)

Spannaus summarizes that Hamilton emphasized two concepts that are central to industrial progress: the productive powers of labor and the need to stimulate the creative powers of the human mind. Both are starkly antithetical to the feudal slave labor system. (p. 166)

Hamilton opposed slavery because it debased human beings, and he knew that slave based agriculture system would weaken the United States. The British not only ran the transatlantic slave trade but invested in the southern slave labor economy as a means of breaking apart our Republic, while making huge profits in the process.

Industrialization Required

Henry Charles Carey, chief economic adviser to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. (courtesy of en.wikipedia.org)

In his Report on Manufacturers,* Hamilton argues the necessity for the United States to become a manufacturing society, but also to exploit, if you will, the capital of the human mind. In the above cited Report, Hamilton writes that manufacturing, unlike slave-labor, serves: to cherish and stimulate the activity of the human mind, by multiplying the objects of enterprise. (pp. 170-171)

As Spannaus underscores throughout her book, industrialization of the United States was the means to eliminate slavery before the Civil War. Having Failed to accomplish that, a comprehensive full-throated reconstruction effort for the defeated Southern slave-economy following the war was required. This is what the well-known followers of Hamilton, and proponents of the American System, such as President Lincoln and Henry Carey, understood.

Henry Carey was a towering intellectual force in the nineteenth century. He was an American System economist, advisor to President Abraham Lincoln, and authored the Slave Trade: Domestic and Foreign, and How It May be Extinguished, (1853). Carey wrote on the negative effects of slavery. Spannaus refers to Carey extensively throughout her book and devotes almost the entirety of chapter sixteen to his thoughts. Typifying the outlook of the advocates of the American System, Carey wrote in 1865:

Had our legislation been of the kind which was needed for giving effect to the Declaration of Independence, that great hill region of the South, one of the richest, if not absolutely the richest in the world, would long since have been filled with furnaces and factories, the labourers in which would have been free men, women, and children, white and black, and the several portions of the Union would have been linked together by hooks of steel that would have set at defiance every effort of the ‘wealthy capitalists’ of England for bringing about a separation. Such, however, and most unhappily, was not the course of our operation. (p. 224)

Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. Giants in the fight against slavery. (Courtesy of history.com)

Constitution Not Pro-Slavery

Many poorly informed detractors of the U.S. Constitution denounce the framers by selecting a word, a phrase, or a sentence, which they allege  proves the United States is racist nation founded on support for slavery. This conclusion is usually reached without any serious intellectual investigation of the historical and factual context. It has now become popular to attack the Founding Fathers in obeisance to the latest politically correct dogma. The U.S. Constitution was written by mortal human beings with imperfections. However, this noble document, the Preamble in particular, articulated principles that transformed the world. It helped to ignite liberation movements against British colonialism across the globe, including in Africa.

The great American statesman, Frederick Douglas, who was born a slave on a plantation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, understood this well. Douglas became an informal advisor to President Lincoln despite some  disagreements. He distinguished himself by breaking  from the abolitionists because of their support for the dismemberment of the Union. Americans and non-Americans alike, would benefit from reading Douglas’ writings. In his remarks below, Douglas responds to the provision in the U.S. Constitution that set the date of 1808, for the banning of importation of slaves. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Douglas recognized the importance of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence and insisted that the United States deliver on its noble intention. Speaking in 1860, seven decades after the Constitution was ratified and a year before the outbreak if the Civil War, Douglas spoke on the constitutional banning of slavery:

American statesman, in providing for the abolition of the slave trade, thought they were providing for the abolition of the slavery. This view is quite consistent with the history of the times. All regarded slavery as an expiring and doomed system, designed to speedily disappear from the country. But, again, it should be remembered that this  very provision, if made to refer to the American slave trade at all, makes the Constitution anti-slavery rather than for slavery…Thirdly, it [Constitution] is anti-slavery, because it looked to the abolition of slavery rather than its perpetuity. Fourthly, it showed that the intentions of the framers of the Constitution were good not bad. (p. 157)

It will be well worth your time to read Spannaus’ new book.

Defeating Slavery: Hamilton’s American System Showed the Way, by Nancy Spannaus. Defeating-Slavery-Hamiltons-American-System  

*See Chapters on Report on Manufacturers, Spannaus, Bradeen, Hamilton Versus Wall Street: The Core Principles of the American System of Economics, iUniverse, 2019

Read my earlier post: Nations Must Study Alexander Hamilton’s Principles of Political Economy

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is a teacher, writer, public speaker, and consultant on Africa. Mr. Freeman strongly believes that economic development is an essential human right. He is also the creator of the blog:  lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com