Wednesday, January 23, 2013


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By Eric E. Williams

Slavery was not born of racism, but racism was the consequence of slavery. The Indians were the first instance of slave trading and slave labor in the New World. England and France followed the Spanish practice of enslavement of the Indians. The only restraint to Indian slavery was to those Indians who refused to accept Christianity and to the warlike Caribs on specious plea that they were cannibals. Negro slavery involved vital imperial interests. Europeans saw that Indian slavery was unprofitable because it was unsuited to the diversified agriculture of these colonies. In addition the Indian slave was inefficient and the Spaniards discovered that one Negro was worth four Indians. Sugar and cotton required strength in which the Indian lacked and demanded the “cotton nigger”.

The immediate successor of the Indian slave was that of the poor whites. These white servants called “indentured servants”, which signed a contract, indented by law, binding them to service for a stipulated time in return for their passage. There were also others known as “redemptioners”, which arranged with the captain of the ship to pay for their passage on arrival and if they did not, they were sold by the captain to the highest bidder. Another type of white servant was a convict, sent out by the deliberate policy of the home government, to serve for a specified period. This temporary service denoted no inferiority or degradation.

Negro slaves had nothing to do with climate. “Its origin can be expressed in three words; in the Caribbean, Sugar; on the mainland, Tobacco and Cotton”. Sugar, tobacco, and cotton required the large plantation and hordes of cheap labor, and the small farm of the ex-indentured white servant could not possible survive. Planters could no longer offer white servants the main inducement, land. Planters did want to provide employment for the poor whites, and prevent Negroes from being taught to trade. Many whites wanted to see economic growth, and their victims were the Negroes in Africa and the small white farmers. The plantation economy was based upon tobacco and not sugar. At this point it was seen that Negro slavery cheapened the cost of production. “Slavery from being an insignificant factor in the economic life of the colony, had become the very foundation upon which it was established {11)” The Plantation system formed the industrial and social frame of government, while slavery was a code of written laws enacted for that purpose.

My critique of this article is the blueprint it displays about the development of slavery. When it comes to slavery most people including myself, automatically think about African enslavement. This article shows that slavery actually started with the Indians, then the poor whites, and finally with the Africans. This shows that in the beginning, slavery was not based upon race. Instead it was based upon a group of servants who could make a profit for a few white men. It was only when these slave traders, merchants, and farmers found out that Negroes were stronger and more efficient than the Indians and white servants, that they became part of the slave industry. Negroes in the plantation system became very profitable for Europeans and they justified their actions of forced labor on the bases that Negroes were inferior, and with this reasoning came the beginning of racism.

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