Southern History Series: Review: Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World

David Brion Davis, The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World

In Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of New World Slavery, David Brion Davis sets the American South within the international context of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the rise and fall of other Slave Societies in the New World.

In 1770 on the eve of the American Revolution, African slavery was perfectly legal and stretched from the Canadian Maritime provinces to Argentina and back up the Pacific coast from Chile to Mexico. By 1888, slavery had been abolished in every country in the Western hemisphere and left behind in its wake a legacy of millions of free blackss who had been deliberately turned loose from captivity by European and American abolitionists.

Inhuman Bondage is a sweeping attempt to explain how and why Europeans created these Slave Societies in the New World as well as how and why they systematically destroyed them over the course of the 19th century.

The Right Ingredients

As I understand the argument that Davis makes in this book, the rise of New World slavery was a perfect storm or a coming together of a number of cultural and economic factors that evolved into an extremely profitable positive feedback loop:

The Greco-Roman Heritage – In terms of the Western cultural inheritance, Ancient Greece and Rome were full blown Slave Societies, and “anti-slavery” was virtually unknown in Antiquity where the Romans had no inhibitions about forcing their slaves to fight to the death in the pre-modern version of the Superbowl.

The Greeks and Romans commonly enslaved barbarians for their labor needs: fellow Mediterranean peoples, northern peoples like the Celts, Germans, and Scythians, Jews and other Semites in the Near East, Berbers in North Africa, even a handful of sub-Saharan Africans, although the negro never had much of a real presence in the Greco-Roman world.

More importantly, Greek philosophers like Aristotle had argued that some men were born “natural slaves.” Plato had also argued that the majority of people have “bronze souls” or “iron souls.” This type of thinking would have a major intellectual impact on Western Europeans after Aristotle and Plato were rehabilitated during the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Christianity – The LORD, an even higher authority than Plato or Aristotle, makes it plainly clear on numerous occasions in the Holy Bible that slavery is justified. For starters, He advises the Israelites to take slaves from among the numerous alien peoples in their midst. He doesn’t abolish slavery either in the Ten Commandments and there is that thought provoking line from Noah in Genesis 9:25, “And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.”

In the New Testament, Jesus never once condemns slavery and his disciples Peter and Paul both positively affirm slavery and instruct slaves to obey their masters. St. Augustine later explained that this world has been corrupted by Original Sin and that slavery was a product of the Fall and that slaves should obey their masters in this world and focus on achieving their own eternal salvation in Heaven. Like the Greeks and Romans, the Roman Catholic Church wasn’t a great bastion of anti-slavery either.

The Arab Legacy – The Arabs greatly contributed to the rise of New World slavery in a number of ways.

It was the Arabs who brought sugarcane from the Persian Gulf to Iberia and Sicily where Europeans were first exposed to sugar. It was the Arabs who created the first sugarcane plantations in these areas. It was also the Arabs who first enslaved negroes en masse to work on their sugarcane plantations. The first negro slave revolt was in Basra in present day Iraq in 869-883 AD.

The Arabs also seem to have pioneered racial theories about black people. The Zanj were often described as being naturally submissive, grossly inferior, and among the dumbest people in the world. Significantly, they seem to have passed on their racial attitudes to the Spanish and the Portuguese during al-Andalus.

The Jewish Contribution – It seems that the Arabs were the first to connect the Curse of Ham, in which Canaan was damned by Noah to be “the servant of servants” unto his brethren, with the particular idea that Canaan had been transformed into the first negro.

What’s more, it seems that the Arabs got this idea from the Jews, who somewhere in their various Talmudic scribblings and commentaries during the Middle Ages came up with the theological innovation of Canaan-as-negro. Somehow this idea was passed along to the Spanish and Portuguese and from them to other Europeans where it would later become the most popular defense of slavery in the Old South.

Capitalism – In between the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Era, the Germans and Italians pioneered capitalism, and after the Crusaders were kicked out of Palestine, the Venetians invested their capital in creating sugar plantations in Sicily and Crete to cater to the expanding European market.

Color Prejudice – Even before the Portuguese first encountered the negro when they discovered Guinea, “blackness” in Europe had always been associated with darkness, with the Devil, with the filthy laboring classes, so there were already prejudices against blackness and in favor of whiteness in Medieval Europe, particularly in England.

The Ottoman Triumph – In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottomans and the Turks began their push into the Balkans – this cut the Italian slave traders off from their White slave markets along the the Black Sea. The English word “slave” is derived from Slav, but after the fall of Constantinople, the Slavic slaves would flow to Turkey and the Middle East instead of to Western Europe.

The Columbian Exchange – As everyone knows, Columbus’s discovery of the New World in 1492 unleashed the most destructive virgin soil pandemic in world history, in which an estimated 90 percent of the Indian population of the Americas succumbed to European and African diseases.

This quickly created a severe labor shortage in the New World. In the mid-16th century, the Spanish banned the enslavement of Indians and turned to importing African slaves to work in their mines and on their sugar plantations in Hispanolia and the Greater Antilles.

African Complicity – Arguably, the most important ingredient in the rise of New World slavery was the willingness of Africans to capture and sell millions of other Africans into slavery in exchange for European manufactured goods.

From Senegal to Angola, slavery was legal throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and millions of Africans had already been sold into slavery to the Arabs – either across the Sahara desert, or through ports in East Africa – by the time the Portuguese arrived there in the late 15th century.

The European slave ships that arrived off the coast of West Africa and Central Africa were basically a flotilla of ABC liquor stores, pawn shops, gun shows and dollar stores selling the Early Modern equivalent of bling and must have Nike Air Yeezy IIs. Their eager African business partners were the equivalent of the entrepreneurs you might find standing on the corner in a place like Bankhead Courts in Atlanta.

Primates – Finally, it is probably significant that Europeans first encountered primates like monkeys, chimpanzees and gorillas in West Africa and Central Africa, and this led to considerable speculation about the racial origins of Africans, and this undoubtedly made it easier to see negroes as being closer to animals and more suited to slavery than Europeans.

All of this crystallized at the right time to become New World slavery: the profit motive, an overabundance of land, an inexhaustible supply of cheap African slave labor, an insatiable demand for cheap labor after the decimation of the Indians, the capital intensive sugar plantation, the lack of any other source of cheap labor, color prejudice, racial stereotypes and racial theories about blacks and a cultural heritage derived from Greco-Roman Antiquity and Christianity that positively affirmed slavery.

The Rise of New World Slavery, 1570 to 1776

We’ve already spent a considerable amount of time discussing the rise and spread of the plantation complex: the emergence of the prototype in Madeira, the Canary Islands, Principe, and São Tomé in the Eastern Atlantic off the coast of Africa, how the sugar plantation crossed the Atlantic and established a foothold in northeastern Brazil and how Sephardic Jews who were driven out of Brazil played a decisive role in bringing it to English Barbados, which became the first Slave Society in the Caribbean, and the model for the spread of slavery through the British and French Caribbean.

Plantation slavery spread from Brazil and the Caribbean to the Guianas in northern South America and to North America in four areas: the Northern states, the Chesapeake, the Deep South (which was settled by colonists from Barbados), and Spanish Florida and French Louisiana. African slaves were also imported to Mexico, Central America, Peru, Gran Columbia and Argentina.

Of the estimated 11 million Africans that were brought to the New World, 480,000 (a mere 5 percent of the total) went to British North America, 200,000 went to Mexico, 24,000 went to Central America, 545,000 went to Spanish America, but 3.6 million went to Brazil and another 4.53 million went to the Caribbean and the Guianas.

The Caribbean was the geographic center of New World slavery. It was also sharply divided between rival European mercantalist empires: the Spanish (Cuba and Puerto Rico), the French (Saint-Domingue, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia), Britain (Bahamas, Jamaica, Barbados, St. Kitts/Nevis, Montserrat, Antigua, Trinidad, St. Vincent, Dominica, Grenada), the Dutch (Curaçao, St. Eustatius, Suriname, Berbice, Essequibo, Demerara), and the Danes (Danish Virgin Islands).

The Europeans each had their own slice of the Golden Circle. Far from being part of the Third World, the Caribbean was once the richest region in the Americas thanks to sugar and slavery and was considered vastly more important by the European imperial powers than their North American colonies. The Dutch gave up New York for Suriname. The French gave up Canada to keep Guadeloupe and Martinique. The British even abandoned Philadelphia during the American Revolution to invade St. Lucia and to defend Jamaica.

As we have already seen, Barbados was the cultural hearth of the Deep South: racialism, slavery, white supremacy, the plantation system and the slave code, not to mention other key aspects of our culture (including whiteness itself), were brought from Barbados to South Carolina, which was spawned as a supply colony for the British West Indies in 1670.

South Carolina, originally a marginal colony in the wider scheme of things (440,000 slaves were brought to all of British North America, as opposed to over 1 million to Saint-Domingue alone), would itself later go on to spawn what was by far the largest of all the Slave Societies in the New World, the Confederate States of America, where by 1861 the original 480,000 slaves had grown to nearly 4 million slaves spread across the Cotton Kingdom from South Carolina to Texas.

Although 95 percent of the slaves brought to the New World went to the Caribbean and Latin America, the slave population in the sugar colonies (with the exception of Barbados and then only much later in the 19th century) wasn’t self sustaining and could only be maintained by constant fresh reinforcements from Africa. The American South was very unusual in that it was really the only place in the Americas where the negro thrived in his new environment.

The Fall of New World Slavery, 1776 to 1888

How did all of this come undone in a little over a century?

Modern economic historians have refuted the myth that African slavery was a backward, dying, feudal institution that was unable to compete with “free labor.” On the contrary, it turns out that slavery was more profitable and efficient than “free labor,” and that the plantation complex was much more like modern agribusiness than its “free labor” counterpart.

Slavery was thriving in Saint-Domingue when the Haitian Revolution exploded in 1791. It was thriving in Jamaica and the British West Indies when the slave trade was outlawed in 1807. It was thriving the American South – slaves prices had never been higher and planters had never been wealthier – when slavery was destroyed during the War Between the States. Finally, slavery was thriving in Cuba and Brazil when it was abolished there in 1886 and 1888.

David Brion Davis is convinced that the demise of New World slavery is attributable to a moral revolution that swept the Western world in the late 18th and early 19th centuries which created secular and religious versions of humanitarianism that were ultimately incompatible with slavery. Before 1650, there was really never had been such thing as “anti-slavery” or opposition to slavery on the basis of principle, and before 1750, there was no language of “natural rights” which could be mobilized to attack slavery.

The American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Haitian Revolution – the whole so-called “Age of Revolution,” which lasted from approximately 1775 to 1848 – is what really destroyed New World slavery, not any inexorable economic decline. It polarized Europeans along ideological lines and fatally committed them to either utopian religious delusions or highminded abstract liberal principles of liberty and equality which were extremely corrosive to slavery.

To name just a few examples, slavery was abolished in the American North during and shortly after the American Revolution. It was destroyed in Saint-Domingue by the Jacobins during the French Revolution who then imposed abolition on all the other French colonies. It was abolished in Britain after the Reform Act of 1832 expanded the electorate. It was abolished in France and Denmark during the 1848 Revolutions. It was abolished in the United States by religious and ideological inspired fanatics in 1865. Finally, it was abolished in Cuba following the “Glorious Revolution” in Spain in 1868.

Great Britain was unquestionably the animating force (and British abolitionists were clearly inspired by middle class evangelical Christians) behind the worldwide antislavery movement and destroyed its own colonies in three successive waves: the abolition of the slave trade in 1808, gradual emancipation from 1834 to 1838 and free trade in 1846. It was Britain which used its hegemony after the Napoleonic Wars to bully France, Spain, Portugal and Brazil into abolishing the slave trade.

The abolition of slavery was an early form of a moralizing European hegemon imposing its ideas on the world. Ever since the Second World War, the whole world lives under this system in the 21st century.

Aftermath

These destructive new ideas decisively shaped the world that emerged in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery. The “free labor” system was applied everywhere in the former slave states. “Liberty” was applied to blacks everywhere. In some cases, “democracy” and “equality” and “civil rights” were applied to blacks in the colonies, and in the most extreme case, which would be Haiti, white supremacy and imperialism were completely overthrown and there was a genocide and fatal land redistribution to the black underclass which immediately brought civilization to a crashing end and created the Haiti we are all familiar with today.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter that these terrible secular and religious humanitarian ideas never worked in practice and produced many of the social and economic calamities which we have endured down to the present day. The strength of a fantasy ideology or a religious delusion is that it is impervious to experience. It is irrefutable. In a nutshell, that’s why the world is such a f***ed up place today and this book points us toward the roots of how it all got started.

About Hunter Wallace 9528 Articles
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent

20 Comments

    • This is a myth.

      The destruction of slavery decimated the Southern economy. Non-slaveholders were the hardest hit. No one had pellagra under slavery and incomes were steadily rising until the postwar period.

  1. “Modern economic historians have refuted the myth that African slavery was a backward, dying, feudal institution that was unable to compete with “free labor.” On the contrary, it turns out that slavery was more profitable and efficient than “free labor,” and that the plantation complex was much more like modern agribusiness than its “free labor” counterpart”

    That slavery cannot compete with free labor was proved by the war itself. One year into the Civil War, Confederate economy tanked. In 1863 there were bread riots in several cities, including Richmond. Graybacks bacame complete worthless after 1863. By 1864 many Southerners were in rags.

    That the South was a backward society can be seen by the incompetent administration and management of Confederacy’s resources. The only industry functioning in the Confederacy was the ordnance industry, only because it was run by a Northerner Josiah Gorgas.

    • 1.) The South was one of the wealthiest, most industrialized societies in the world. It had less use for railroads though because our river system is far superior to the North.

      2.) Capitalism had sculpted the Southern economy into what it was in 1860. The South had an export-oriented economy that grew cash crops like rice, cotton, tobacco and sugar. The East was the industrialzed section. The Midwest grew food crops for both. Sure, the Northern blockade crippled the Southern economy, which was the whole point of that military strategy.

      3.) The South had fewer factories and railroads and more plantations because it was less suited to industrialization and agriculture was just as profitable

      4.) The proof that free labor is inferior to slave labor is that the Southern economy collapsed and didn’t recover for 75 years after the war. The same thing happened in the Caribbean.

      • Oh, The South was “wealthy” alright. But most of that “wealth” consisted of slaves. The price of slaves had skyrocketed from late 1840s onwards. If you owned few healthy slaves you were like a millionaire by modern standards. In terms of actual wealth, the South badly lagged behind the North.

        Why do you think that the North successfully managed to blockade the South? Why do you think Yankee gunboats dominated the Southern river systems? The South lacked the industry or wealth to produce enough gunboats or ships to challenge the North. Why, the Confederate commissary even struggled to feed their soldiers properly.

        The South’s poverty after the war was not due to free labor, but rather due to the lack of any sort of labor. The South was blessed with vast natural resources but cursed with niggers and white trash. The Niggers were of course were useless for anything apart from picking cotton, and the white trash of the South were not much better than the Nigs. That was the reason for poor economy, not the Yankees or free labor.

        • 1.) In the South, slaves were a capital investment no different than any other form of property. The abolition of slavery wiped out all that wealth and cratered the Southern economy which went into a tailspin that ricocheted through every other sector of the Southern economy. Thanks to Abraham Lincoln, non-slaveholding yeoman farmers lost their land en masse and went bankrupt because even if they didn’t own slaves their fate was tied to that of the local economy in which people did have slaves and bought goods and services from them.

          2.) The South didn’t “badly lag” behind the North in anything including railroads and industrialization. There was less of that here because 1.) due to our rivers in the Gulf Coastal Plain and Atlantic Coastal Plain and 2.) because the South was geologically less suited to industrialization for the same reason. Even still, the only countries in the world at the time which were more industrialized and had more railroads were Belgium and the Netherlands.

          3.) New England had been the “navigating” states since colonial times. As the poorer section of colonial America, it didn’t have a staple crop like all the colonies to its south including the Middle Colonies, so it developed a shipping industry. Free-market capitalism within the Union led to regional specialization before the war: the East specialized in industry and international commerce, the Midwest in agriculture and livestock and the South in cash crops like cotton and tobacco. The “Invisible Hand” sculpted the Southern economy and made it intertwined with that of the North.

          4.) The South’s poverty after the war had everything to do with abolition which destroyed our economy, the death of 1 out of 5 White men of military age, the collapse of our financial system and the destruction of our infrastructure. It was made many times worse than that by all the ingenious ways the Republican Party came up with to preserve its power and redistribute wealth within the Union to the East from the South and West.

          5.) Abolition had the same effect on the economy everywhere it was implemented.

          • Hunter – when you were a part of the Yang Gang – you were completely into the concept that AI and technology creates wealth. Because [it] can and does. Having travelled through certain parts of Beautiful Dixie (and our land IS beautiful. This continent has amazing resources from top to bottom) I fully understand what you are saying about river systems vs railroads. As well as regional specialization.

            I disagree with some of your other assertions. The North industrialized. The South did not. Shelby Foote, the Mischling Jew from TN, expounded on this subject. Technology won. And I am not happy about this. I think the Civil War was a DISASTER for this country.

            Abolition has had a disastrous effect on this country, because Negroes were freed, and allowed to stay. Negroes are corrosive bio weapons.

          • It is true the slave system was thriving in the U.S. in 1860, especially in the Deep South. However, New England throughout the first half of the 19th century had higher per capita income growth than the South, due to the increasing failure of the latter to absorb poor Whites. The South in 1860 was nowhere near as exceptionally rich relative to the rest of the U.S. as it had been ninety years prior:

            https://voxeu.org/article/america-s-revolution-economic-disaster-development-and-equality

      • Thunder on the River: The Civil War in Northeast Florida

        Gives a good description of the industry and railroads in and around Jacksonville, Florida.

        Industry consisted of sawmills, foundries, cotton gins and implement and mill machinery manufacturers.

        The railroads built all of their rolling stock in house. A few even had the capacity to build their own locomotives.

        Norfolk and Western did for many decades until the 1960’s.

  2. The wage slavery of today is just an inversion of chattel slavery in the antebellum South. Today, white folks work and pay taxes for their huge negro/brown overseer class that lives off the public dole.

    Free school, free food, free housing, free medical – negroes ain’t gotta work so long as whitey toils in the cubicle farm.

  3. > Great Britain was unquestionably the animating force (and British abolitionists were clearly inspired by middle class evangelical Christians) behind the worldwide antislavery movement and destroyed its own colonies in three successive waves

    There must be a genetic component to the messianic “Roundhead” complex that led to the English Civil War, the abolition movement, and the War Between the States. Once those crazed fanatics get something in their brains, they won’t stop until they slaughter their enemies in order to implement their utopian leveling dreams.

    It’s time to nuke East Anglia from orbit – it’s the only way to be sure…

    • Ironically, East Anglia today is one of the most conservative regions of England. Norwich, Yarmouth and King’s Lynn are beautiful places to visit, if one likes to meet some old-fashioned English people.

  4. Why do do Northerners have an adversarial and hostile attitude towards the South and all of the states to the west of Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois? (Except for their Pacific Coast colonies)

    Who taught them this, and why?

    Why does it still persist to this day?

    Who benefits?

    • James, you’ve previously mentioned how the attitudes of people from places like Minnesota towards “Rebels” isn’t hostile. You’re right; it isn’t hostile, it’s condescending. If you would meet Minnesotans, you would know that we were taught (like all Northerners) about how backward (read: stupid) and cruel you Southerners were. We HAD to fight you in the Civil War to save democracy from the slavers that hated freedom for all mankind, which is the obvious intent of the Founders as written in the Declaration, blah, blah, idiotic blah. So naturally, as we were programmed to think that you were all backward and evil, those ideas became imprinted in our minds. We may seem polite (the “Minnesota nice” we’re renowned for), but it’s the Scandinavian kind of smiling friendliness that masks a judgmental nature. Just my two cents. I don’t hold those views on Southerners, btw.

  5. I would not have signed up to kill whites and end slavery in a different part of the country, but I certainly would have signed up to keep it the hell out of my part of the country.

Comments are closed.