Friday, March 23, 2007

The Wealth in Slaves

These observations and statistics aren't new, but Robin Einhorn sums them up nicely:
For whites, meanwhile, the cotton kingdom produced booming prosperity. We often think of northern businessmen as the richest Americans of this [antebellum] era, but economic historians have shown that the title belonged to the cotton-belt planters -- because the people they owned were expensive. "A man who owned two slaves and nothing else," Gavin Wright explains, "was as rich as the average man in the North." In the South as a whole in 1860, 25 percent of the white households owned slaves. In the cotton kingdom, half of them did. Holdings were concentrated: 60 percent of all slaveholders owned five or fewer, while the 8,000 owners of 50 or more owned 1 million of the 4 million slaves in the United States. James L. Huston illustrates the magnitude of these holdings by showing that more wealth was owned in the form of enslaved African Americans in 1860 ($3 billion) than in railroad and manufacturing assets combined ($2.2 billion). Even counting land, as well as livestock, railroads, factories, and bank capital, slaves comprised 20 percent of all American wealth.

American Taxation, American Slavery at 213-14.

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