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American Civil War for Kids - The Economics of Slavery Illustration

American Civil War - The Economics of Slavery

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Slavery existed in America from colonial times until the end of the Civil War in 1865. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ended slavery forever. 

In the North: Slavery was not economical in the North.

African slaves arrived slowly during the first 50 years of American colonization. Some came as indentured servants. Most indentured servants in the colonies were white Europeans who had voluntarily sold themselves for a period of years to pay for their passage to the New World. Indentured servants, both black and white, made up most of the labor force in the early colonial period. People of the time understood the system of indentured servant. In the early days, the northern colonies were remarkable free of racial bias. Free blacks owned land, voted, held elected offices, and sometimes imported their own white indentured servants. The prejudice of the time was that of the English gentry towards the lower classes without regard to color of skin.  

Indentured servants were under the complete authority of their master for the duration of their term as a servant. It was legal for an indentured servant to be whipped, branded, sold, or prevented from marrying by their owner. Indentured servants worked long hard hours, doing jobs no one else wanted to do. Why have slaves?  Why not simply keep indentured servants? Slaves from African had been captured and forced to the New World. Many had been ripped apart from their families in Africa, so they were unhappy. They did not speak the language of the colonists, so they were difficult to train. Business owners did not want the expense of caring for a slave's family until their small children could be put to work. To their owners, slavery in the North was not cost effective. Many slaves, after a certain amount of time, were freed.

In the South: Slavery was economical in the South.

The climate in the southern colonies was ideal for large-scale farming, with long growing seasons. The availability of slave labor was critical to running a cost effective, large-scale farming operation. There were many waterways to use to get crops to market. Crops that made some southern farmers rich included tobacco, sugar cane, and rice. A large number of laborers were needed to plant, care for, and harvest these crops. Not only did an owner receive a lifetime of service from a slave, they also gained a renewable resource - a lifetime of service from the children of female slaves, as these children were born into slavery. In the beginning, a female slave was expected to have 3 kids. As time went on, and farms expanded and needed more labor, a female slave was expected to have 6 kids. As tobacco farms grew in Virginia and Maryland, more slaves were purchased. Rice farming grew in importance in South Carolina. Again, slave labor was economical. Not everyone in the south owned a plantation. There were many small farms and medium sized farms. There were many businesses designed to support the farms. But those farms or plantations with size depended upon slave labor. And many businesses depended upon farms of size.

The invention of the cotton gin, before the Civil War, encouraged the growth of another crop - cotton. Cotton as a major crop spread throughout the South. Between 1790 and 1860 (the year Abraham Lincoln was first elected president), about one million slaves were put to work on the new cotton plantations. That was nearly twice as many slaves as imported during the prior 200 years of slave trade. The South had become dependent upon slavery.

Before the Civil War - Factory vs Plantation

Slave Life

Slavery in America

See Also:

The Civil War for Kids, Index

Civil War Interactive Games & Activities for Kids

Civil War Presentations in PowerPoint format

Civil War Video Clips

Civil War Clip Art for Kids and Teachers

Civil War, Free iPad & iPhone apps

American Civil War Lesson Plans for Teacher

Plantations Lesson Plans for Teachers

Slavery in America lesson plans for teachers