The Economics of Slave Labor Part II
 

 
 

Cheapness of Free Labor, 1823 By Adams Hodgson

Perhaps a majority of those who argued on the efficiency and cheapness of slave and free labor favored the latter system. The friends of free labor pointed out the inherent tendency of man to shirk labor when he had no direct concern in its product, and naturally they concluded that the slave would work no more than was absolutely necessary, and that as a result his output would be less, relative to his cost, than the output of a free laborer. In some cases friends of free labor even contended that free men could be induced to labor for less wages than slaves.

If slave labour were cheaper than free labour, we should naturally expect that, in a state where slavery was allowed, land, ceteris parlbus, would be most valuable in the districts where that system prevailed; and that in two adjoining states, in the one of which slavery was allowed, and in the other prohibited, land would be least valuable in the latter; but the contrary is notoriously the fact. In a late communication from America on this subject, from an intelligent observer, it is remarked: "The system of slave cultivation, as practiced in the United States of America, has likewise a most destructive effect on the soil of our country. The state of Maryland, though a slave state, has comparatively but few slaves in the upper or western part of it; the land in this upper district is generally more broken by hills and stones, and is not so fertile as that on the southern and eastern parts. The latter has also the advantage of being situated upon the navigable rivers that flow into the Chesapeake Bay, and its produce can be conveyed to market at one-third of the average expense of that from the upper parts of the state; yet, with all these advantages of soil, situation, and climate, the land within the slave district will not, upon a general average, sell for half as much per acre as that in the upper districts, which is cultivated principally by free men. This fact may he also further and more strikingly illustrated by the comparative value of land within the states of Virginia and Pennsylvania, the one lying on the south, and the other on the north side of Maryland; the one a slave, the other a free state. In Virginia, land of the same natural soil and local advantages, will not sell for one-third as high a price as the same description of land will command in Pennsylvania. This single, plain, incontrovertible fact speaks volumes upon the relative value of slave and free labor, and it is presumed renders any further illustration unnecessary."

If slave labour were cheaper than free labour, we might fairly infer that, in a state in which slavery was allowed, free labour would be reduced by competition to a level with the labour of slaves, and not slave labour to a level with the labour of freemen; and that in two adjoining states, in the one of which slavery was allowed, and in the other prohibited, labour would be highest, ceteris paribus, in that in which slavery was proscribed. But experience proves the reverse. . . . When in Norfolk, Virginia, in the winter of 1820, was told, that many slaves gave their masters two dollars, or nine shillings per week, for permission to work for themselves, and retain the surplus. I also found, that the common wages of slaves who are hired, were 20s. 3d. per week and their food, at the very time when flour was 4 dollars, or 18s., per barrel of 196 lbs., and beef and mutton 3d. to 4d. per lb. Five days afterward, in traveling through the rich agricultural districts of the free state of Pennsylvania, I found able bodied white men willing to work for their food only. This, indeed, was in the winter months, and during a period of extraordinary pressure.

I was told, however, that the average agricultural wages in this free state, were 5 or 6 dollars per month, and food; while, in Norfolk. at the time I allude to, they were 18 dollars per month, and food. If it should be replied, that in the town of Norfolk wages were likely to be much higher than in the country, I would ask, why they are not so in the principal towns of Russia?

f slave labour were cheaper than free labour, we should naturally expect to find it employed in the cultivation of those articles in which extended competition had reduced profits to the lowest point. On the contrary, however, we find that slave labour is gradually exterminated when brought into competition with free labour, except where legislative protection, or peculiarity of soil and climate, establish such a monopoly as to admit of an expensive system of management. The cultivation of indigo by slaves in Carolina, has been abandoned, and the price of cotton reduced one-half, since these articles have had to compete in the European markets with the productions of free labour; and notwithstanding an additional duty on East India sugar of IOs. per cwt. and a transportation of three times the distance, the West India planters are beyond all doubt reduced to very great distress, and declare that they shall be ruined if sugar from the East Indies shall be admitted on the same terms as from the West.

If slave labour were cheaper than free labour, we might reasonably infer, that in proportion as the circumstances of the cultivators rendered economy indispensable, either from the difficulty of obtaining slaves, or other causes, the peculiar features of slavery would be more firmly established, and that every approach to freedom would be more sedulously shunned in the system of culture. But it is found by the experience of both ancient and modern times, that nothing has tended more to assimilate the condition of the slave to that of the free labourer, or actually to effect his emancipation, than the necessity imposed by circumstances of adopting the most economical male of cultivation. . . .If, then, it has appeared that we should be naturally led to infer, from the very constitution of human nature, that slave labour is more expensive than the labour of freemen; if it has appeared that such has been the opinion of the most eminent philosophers and enlightened travelers in different ages and countries; if it has appeared
that in a state where slavery is allowed, land is most valuable in those districts where the slave system prevails the least, notwithstanding great disadvantages of locality; and that in adjoining states, with precisely the same soil and climate, in the one of which slavery is allowed, and in the other prohibited, land is most valuable in that state in which it is proscribed; if it has appeared that slave labour has never been able to maintain its ground in competition with free labour, except where monopoly has secured high prof1ts, or prohibitory duties afforded artificial support; if it has appeared that, in every quarter of the globe, in proportion as the circumstances of the planter rendered attention to economy more indispensable, the harsher features of the slave-system have disappeared, and the condition of the slave has been gradually assimilated to that of the free labourer; and if it has appeared that the mitigation of slavery has been found by experience to substitute the alacrity of voluntary labour, for the reluctance of compulsory toil ; and that emancipation has rendered the estates on which it has taken place, greatly and rapidly more productive I need not, I think, adduce additional proofs of the truth of the general position, that slave labour is more expensive than the labour of freemen.


 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: The Economics of Slave Labor Part III
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Readings In The Economic History of the United States by Ernest Ludlow Bogart, P h.D. and Charles Manfred Thompson, Ph.D.of the Department of Economics University of Illinois; Publishers: Longmans, Green and Co.-New York 1916
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