At the end of a recent Black History Month event one participant took great pains to make the point that connecting capitalism and slavery was incorrect due to “the greatness of entrepreneurship, capitalist in building America” and “an unlikely (match-up) pair” even in the age of Reconstruction and the “eighty plus years following the Emancipation Proclamation”. He went on to suggest [addressing the young people] having a “better, broader working knowledge and understanding of capitalism before attempting to make that type of correlation” .
Really? Maybe that capitalist needs to get a better, broader knowledge of slavery. Unfortunately due to time constraints (and the fact I was inside a house of worship) this analysis was the last impression left on the wonderful young people that attended this particular gathering and I didn’t have opportunity to counter. If I had I would have started with the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition:
Capitalism: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market
I also would have mentioned
“Indeed, in the late 1850s, the merchant capitalists of New Orleans were already (“notoriously,” as the British ambassador put it) involved in the slave trade. In 1857 and 1858, somewhere between fifteen and twenty-eight ships either owned or outfitted in New Orleans were identified or interdicted as they attempted to carry slaves from West Africa to the Americas, principally to Cuba, but also to Brazil.” Chapter 14: The Ignominious Effort to Reopen the Slave Trade, River of Dark Dreams-Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom, 2013, Walter Johnson
“African slavery lacked two elements that made American slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history: the frenzy for limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture; the reduction of the slave to less than human status by the use of racial hatred, with that relentless clarity based on color, where white was master, black was slave.” Chapter 2: Drawing the Color Line, A People’s History of the United States, 2003, Howard Zinn
“In assembling the ship’s various and expensive cargo to be traded on the coast of Africa, merchant-capitalists mobilized the energies of manufacturers and workers in Britain, America, Europe, the Caribbean, and India to produce textiles, metalwares, guns, rum, and other items. In building the ship, the merchant-capitalist called upon the shipwright and a small army of artisans, from woodworkers to sailmakers. Strong-backed dockworkers helped to load the cargo into the hold of the vessel, and of course a captain and crew would sail it around the Atlantic.” Epilogue: Endless Passage, The Slave Ship-A Human History, 2007, Marcus Rediker
“Whether a president owned slaves seems to have determined his policy toward the second independent nation in the hemisphere. George Washington did, so his administration loaned hundreds of thousands of dollars to the French planters in Haiti to help them suppress their slaves.” Chapter 5: “Gone With the Wind”: The Invisibility of Racism in American History Textbooks, Lies My Teacher Told Me-Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, 2007, James W. Loewen
“In July 1679 Robert Livingston married the wealthy heiress and widow Alida Schuyler Van Renesselaer. The couple acquired 160,000 acres of land near the village of Hudson and began investing in slaving voyages. Their first venture—the 1690 journey of the Margiet—traded slaves, sugar, and tobacco between Madagascar, Barbados, and Virginia. They bought interests in four additional ships, three with Peter Schuyler, Alida’s brother. The Livingston children then married and maneuvered their way to greater wealth, consolidating about a million acres of land in two generations. The second generation’s Philip Livingston and his wife, Catrina Van Brugh, sent their sons—Peter, John, Philip, and William—to Yale College to prepare them to manage the web of commercial sites and relationships in the Mid-Atlantic, New England, the West Indies, Europe, and Africa that formed Livingston Manor.” Part 1: Slavery and the Rise of the American College, Chapter 2: “Bonfires of the Negros”, Ebony & Ivy-Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities, 2013, Craig Steven Wilder
“…in 1750, London declared the trade to Africa to be even more free and open, which sent a cascade of Africans across the Atlantic to the mainland, with wide consequences hardly envisioned at the time. This enormous influx of Africans laid the foundation for the concomitant growth of capitalism.” Introduction, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America, 2014, Gerald Horne
“Signed…An Educated Brother!”
Very informative post! Thanks for this!