Previously, we have enjoyed enthusiastic debates in re the Civil War and its causes (here and here, for example). I have also promised to facilitate an extended "honest conversation on race." As I am rising to that conversation, I am mindful that our peculiar national history must form the foundation for discussion.

That is, Eric Foner has asserted that whites in America are unified by a common history of fighting to maintain freedom (the American Revolution, of course, is not a war to attain self rule--but a war to maintain the tradition of English liberty). On the other hand, Foner reminds us that the black experience in America is truly a fight to overcome slavery and segregation.

With that in mind, as a starting point, please consider this perceptive description of the antebellum business culture of slavery in America by Bosque Boys reader and contributor, Donald Neal McKay:

Guest Blog: Donald Neal McKay

Re: Slavery - What many who think they know the warp and woof of the ethos of slavery, really don't. For people today to get a true grasp on slavery as it became known over the past 6,000 years, I recommend a reading of Marx' Capital. Volume One should suffice for this purpose. Money paid for a labor commodity converts the laborer into something called property. Seeing men were running the show, the labor commodity (black slave, or a woman or a child) was relegated to the niche called property.

When slavery ignited in the South--post 1793--for most plantation owners, slaves were relegated to the level of property; necessary commodity. Slaves were not human beings. Slaves were three-fifths anthropoids. A slave in good health would average $800 to $1200 when purchased at Charleston. A slave who could shoe a horse and blacksmith as a trade was worth $1800, or higher. We're talking money here.

Some perspective: The Wade Hampton Family - I, II, II, IV - amassed from 3000 - 5000 slaves between the South Carolina and Mississippi plantations.

Plantation owners making an investment in human labor power. If a plantation master needed three more field hands, and happened to have on hand two blacksmiths, then one blacksmith was traded for the three field hands. Or, sold outright. This is business, and business suffers little in the way of human entanglements and emotions. Many of my students cannot get this idea through their natural desire to see a human being... a person... dressed in the ratty clothes of slavery.

Unlike the Wade Hamptons (who actually did treat their slaves as human beings and, when a task was performed ahead of schedule - actually paid them!) who became the wealthiest plantation owners in the United States, and later the Confederacy, most plantation owners had to borrow money to make the initial purchase of their slave power.

Moreover, as the records show, most plantation owners were not good businessmen and fell into the pit of debt. Even the Davis' (Joseph and Jefferson) plantations at Briarwood and Hurricane made money only when the slave family (Ben Montgomery, and sons) ran the place. Joseph Davis, at least, grasped the meaningful idea of rotating his crops. Cotton literally sucks the life from the soil.

Northern investors picked up the tab and lent and invested money into most of the Southern plantations, in some states up to 80-90% were underwritten with massive loans. That is why the 17 January 1861, New York Times front page article I previously cited [which spoke to the intention of South Carolina to default on loans and debts due Northern financiers and stock investors] is so very, very, important to the ignition of the War Between the States. To Northern investors, it sure looked like the Southern plantation owner-debtors were going to default on their debts. Straight forward and simple. Northern businessmen and investors experienced panic in their wallets. And Southern plantation owners did not want to be told by Northerners what to do with their property, even if they really didn't own it totally. After all, I suppose in the case of slaves, possession is nine-tenths of the law.
~~Donald Neal McKay

McKay writes and teaches about the "War Between the States," Reconstruction, the Founding Fathers, Federalists and Whigs, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the U.S. Constitution and the CSA Constitution.