Race-Based Slavery

1103 Words 5 Pages
Power as a Motive, Racism as a Tool: the Institutionalization of Slavery The discovery and exploitation of the Americas catalysed a transition from a feudalistic to a pre-capitalist to capitalist economy in Europe. The subsequent social upheaval in the 17th and 18th centuries granted opportunities to entrepreneurs, who utilised the resources of the New World to gain influence, creating a new class of wealthy planters determined to continue making money. Although some historians argue that racism caused the adoption of race-based slavery in the Chesapeake, the desire of slave owners to keep and expand their power proved a greater factor. In creating a slave society, Europeans were motivated by profit incentives and the reduction of class conflict; …show more content…
In cultivating lucrative crops like tobacco, wealthy colonists in the Chesapeake needed a consistent source of labor, which in turn altered the colonial social structure. In the Chesapeake, an increase in slave importation directly correlated to increase in tobacco production, as slaves were essential to a profitable plantation. To the chagrin of planters, immigration of willing European laborers was fraught with difficulty: high mortality rate in the new world impeded recruitment and the acknowledged rights of white laborers inhibited extreme exploitation (Faragher 104). Under the plantation system, rich planters depended on an unreliable lower class to support their way of life. As such, the importation of black African slaves from the preexisting Caribbean slave trade proved more reliable, as well as giving planters relatively free reign over discipline (Morgan). As the slave-labor system maximized profit, the institutionalization of slavery by colonial entrepreneurs epitomizes the social effects of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. In the transition to a modern economic system, slavery was the most efficient means of collecting sufficient capital to keep upper-class status. (Blackburn). Planters instituted the highly profitable slave society to increase the available supply of cheap labor, thereby increasing …show more content…
In early Chesapeake settlements, from 1619 through the mid 17th century, the treatment of slaves mirrored treatment of indentured servants: Although plantation records listed the slaves as a different asset, their status remained mostly ambiguous (Zinn 24). Around the middle of century, colonial legislators began writing laws, defining slavery and further restricting the rights of slaves, and in many cases, creating further divides between whites and blacks. To stop racial mixing, the Virginia House of Burgesses declared that Christians who “commit[ed] fornification with a negro man or woman” would be subject to heavy fines, while Maryland decreed that a white woman who married a slave would become a slave (Virginia Law 1662, Maryland law 1664). In criminalizing interracial relations, the laws effectively reduced interracial fraternization and promoted a new social hierarchy, with race as a defining factor. In defining social and legal status by race, wealthy colonists responded to growing challenges to their power, aiming to minimize the chances of class conflict. For example, slave laws passed after the Bacon and Culpepper rebellions reflected the planters’ fear of backcountry revolts. Stopping potential cooperation between the slaves and unruly former indentured servants, the anti-fraternization laws were aimed at maintaining the power of the

Related Documents

Related Topics