Did Slavery Build America?


President Clinton spent much of the past two weeks apologizing to people he never wronged. In the same spirit, I’d like to say a few things. I never voted for Clinton, I disagree with most of his policies and suggestions, and I find him repugnant. Nevertheless, I apologize for Clinton. Sorry, people. I really mean it. I’m really, really sorry.

Clinton’s Africa trip has caused some people to think about “America’s debt to Africa.” I have again heard the idea that slavery built America. In the following essay from 1994, I argue against a libertarian who promoted this idea.


You say that “America’s wonderful success is based on 100,000,000 years of slave labor.” I disagree. Something rare occurred after the American revolution. It was like a controlled experiment in economics that just happened. It was like the partition of Germany in certain ways. A single country was divided into two different economic systems. The citizens of the country were nearly identical in religion, morality, education, ethnicity, and outlook. Below a certain line, slavery was practiced; above that line slavery was prohibited.

The results of this division were far more striking than modern portrayals of the South would lead you to believe. The slave owning area became an economic basketcase, morally bankrupt, and educationally backward. Even the direct beneficiaries of slavery would hardly be called successful men in the North. The free area flourished as no country had before.

The Southern abolitionist Hinton Rowan Helper studied the two areas and found that the South was far behind the North in virtually all ways. In one economic table, for instance, he shows that the Northern hay crop of 1850 was worth $142 million. He compares this to the South’s combined cotton, tobacco, rice, hay, hemp and cane sugar crops with a combined worth of $139 million. He concludes:

There is the account; look at it, and let it stand in attestation of the exalted virtues and surpassing powers of freedom. Scan it well, Messieurs lords of the lash, and learn from it new lessons of the utter inefficiency and despicable imbecility of slavery. Examine it minutely, liberty loving patriots of the North, and behold in it additional evidences of the beauty, grandeur, and super-excellence of free institutions. Treasure it up in your mind, outraged friends and non-slaveholders of the South, and let the recollection of it arouse you to an ineffable determination to extirpate the monstrous enemy that stalks abroad in your land, and to recover the inalienable rights and liberties, which have been filched from you by an unprincipled oligarchy.

Some say that slavery built America. I disagree completely. Slavery ruined the South and came close to ruining the whole country.

Lewis Farrakhan and others preach and may believe that slavery built America. In either case, the idea is useful in his quest to get $$$ from the federal government in reparation. I don’t mind his open hatred of Jews and whites but I can’t respect his desire to enslave the present generation of taxpayers to make up for past abuses. From everything I’ve heard, he’s nothing but a black Jim Baker playing to an audience. If he called for a race war or a holy jihad to honestly steal back what was stolen from black ancestors, I could respect him. Begging the white politicians to tax their working constiuents for his pet project is just the same old game. The only difference between him and some pork barrelist is what they call “an attitude.” Did Elijah Mohammed or Malcolm X beg the hated white man for hand outs?

What we call history is nothing more than an account of how different forms of slavery have failed to give the people what they want. You (a libertarian) surprise me. I thought we could all agree on at least one princple: Slavery doesn’t work. That is our fundamental disagreement with all other political systems. At present, our socialistic democracy takes 40% to 50% of all production. Is this the perfected form of slavery or the last desperate trick of the world’s slave masters? I really don’t know.