July 16, 2017


The Southern Slave Economy Was Anti-Capitalistic (Luis Pablo de la Horra, July 15, 2017, FEE)

In a nutshell, Fogel and Engerman (F&E) [Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Slavery] concluded that:

i) slavery was economically profitable;

ii) slave labor was more efficient than free labor;

iii) planters behaved as modern entrepreneurs in a capitalist economy; and

iv) the South was not as underdeveloped as it had been suggested in comparison with the North.

In short, F&E suggested that the Southern economy was mostly capitalistic despite being largely based on slave labor. To what extent are these conclusions accurate? [...]

Time on the Cross depicts slaveholders as modern-day entrepreneurs whose investments in the business of slavery were strictly motivated by market considerations. According to this view, southerners chose to allocate their capital in the slavery business after consciously analyzing the market in search of profit opportunities. Investing in slaves was not just a tradition or a way to continue with the family business but a rational business choice made by talented businessmen. Planters did not take advantage of investment opportunities due to their narrow, reactionary mentality.

It should be conceded that slaveowners were forced to manage their plantations as efficiently as possible due to competition in international agricultural markets. Yet the idealized view of slaveholders as modern entrepreneurs conveyed by F&E is deeply misleading, if not fictitious.

Planters did not take advantage of many valuable investment opportunities due to their narrow, reactionary mentality. As pointed out by economic historians Fred Bateman and Thomas Weiss, slaveholders failed to invest capital in industry even though "profits from southern manufacturing were high enough to have made investment in industry a rational choice by planters".

What prevented planters from allocating part of their profits in industrial activities? Essentially, two reasons: first, their commitment to an intensively conservative ideology based on values like hierarchy, tradition, and honor; second, their deep hatred towards the values represented by liberal democracy and capitalism, which were thought to jeopardize the traditional Southern way of life.

The Luddites and the First Contest of Man Versus Machine : Rapid technological change in 18th- and 19th-century England led to violent resistance...by Methodists. (DAVID PARRISH, Christian History)

As mechanisation increased, groups of young men began to attack factories at night and destroy the machines. They used the name of a fictional local hero, Ned Ludd, and became known as "The Luddites."

In 1812 these attacks took a more dangerous turn. William Cartwright, owner of Rawfolds Mill in Yorkshire, introduced new machinery that would weave and finish the wool cloth more cheaply than using the skills of the manual workforce.

One of his workmen, George Mellor, had served in the military, was better educated than many workers, and had natural gifts of leadership. Using his contacts with the local men at work and in the chapel, he began gathering a group of men and taking them into the hills to train and drill in what are now called insurgency tactics. The chapel meetings on Sunday and the Methodist Society mid-week meeting provided a cover for their clandestine gatherings.

William Cartwright heard of what was going on and wrote to Spencer Perceval, the prime minister, and Richard Ryder, the home secretary, and asked for help from the military. Perceval, an Anglican from the evangelical tradition, was sympathetic to reform but was a member of the aristocratic ruling elite and fearful of any kind of revolutionary movement.

On Perceval's instruction, Ryder appointed General Peregrine Maitland, an experienced army commander, to hunt down the Luddites. Some weeks later, Mellor and his men attacked the Rawfolds Mill with muskets, under the cover of darkness. As they crossed Hartshead Moor, Anglican curate Patrick Brontë spotted the raiding party, but though he knew who they were, he took no action. Perhaps his own working class origins made him sympathetic to the men. His daughter, novelist Charlotte Brontë, later recounted how their father often told them the story.

Upon reaching the mill, Mellor and his men found Cartwright had been tipped off and the mill was heavily defended. Even under heavy gunfire, some of the Luddites reached the mill door but could not break in. Mellor and the remaining men fled, leaving two of their men dying on the open ground. These casualties were taken inside and interrogated by the militia, but neither of them gave anything away.

George Mellor went into hiding, deciding to attack and kill another mill owner, William Horsfall, as a warning to other owners not to install machinery. Horsfall hated the Luddites and was quoted as saying he would ride up to his saddle in Luddite blood. One night Mellor and his accomplices laid in wait in a wood alongside the road, armed with long barrel muskets. As Horsfall rode by, they shot and fatally wounded him. Unfortunately for Mellor, Horsfall's neighbor William Parr was on the road just yards behind and saw the men. He helped Horsfall to the safety of a nearby inn, but Horsfall was too badly injured to be saved. Parr was later able to identify Mellor as one of those who attacked Horsfall.

General Maitland began the hunt for Mellor using small groups of troops to check every house and inn. They questioned the Methodist preachers, but the ministers gave nothing away about the actions of the Luddites, even though some were in their congregations. Maitland offered bribes and rewards, and Mellor was eventually betrayed, leading to the arrest of Mellor and the three men who had helped in the killing of Horsfall and 14 others accused of the attack on Rawfolds Mill.

Maitland made sure the trial in York was rigged against them. He arranged for the trial judge to be one who was known for harsh sentences given to working people for offenses like stealing and armed attack. The jury was similarly biased with over half of them drawn from the gentry and business owners.

To make matters worse, the lawyer the men had chosen to represent them was incompetent and failed to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses. The men were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. On a cold day in January 1813, the men were hanged in groups. The gallows were built high off the ground so that the public could see the men's last breaths. [...]

What made devout Christians turn to violence so uncharacteristic of their faith? General Maitland himself was plagued by this question and set out to conduct a survey of the living conditions of the poor. He found that wars with America and France were causing shortages which doubled the price of some foodstuffs. For the poor, where food was around 40 percent of their living costs, these shortages hit much harder than on the landed rich. Mechanization was rapidly destroying skilled jobs and those working in the new factories were paid starvation wages. Often whole families, including children as young as 10, had to find work in order to survive. However, the brutality of the Luddites' executions discouraged further wrecking of machines. It also provoked liberally minded politicians to seek to legislate to improve the conditions of the workers.

Within two years, the wars with America and France came to an end, trade in cotton and wool goods boomed, and wages rose. This created more jobs in the factories, and living standards improved. 

Posted by at July 16, 2017 6:44 AM