Slavery In The River Of Dark Dreams By Walter Johnson

Good Essays
slavery and the enslaved to achieve cotton’s global domination and earn the South’s economic title as the “Cotton Kingdom.”
A major factor in the South’s economic rise was the expansion of slavery. During the first half of the 19th century, America began to acquire new territory. In “The River of Dark Dreams” by Walter Johnson, Johnson explains that with these new states, arguments about whether slavery should continue or be abolished altogether became more and more contentious. Given the Southern economy’s dependence on slave-produced cotton, Southern states vehemently pushed for slavery in the new states so the cotton industry could continue and expand. With this expansion, however, came a newer, harsher form of slavery— one that thrived
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The South was not the sole benefactor from the wealth cotton generated— the entire country, including the “anti-slavery” North, benefitted and shared the wealth. The price of cotton in the North dictated the price placed on slaves, and the cotton produced in the South was shipped North to create textiles in Northern factories (Baptist 198). This network of wealth traveled all around the nation, linking Mississippi planters to Massachusetts manufactures and uniting the entire country’s dependence on and profit from slave labor (Johnson 11).
While we can now see how slavery embodied and shaped modern American capitalism from analysis of Baptist and Johnson’s texts, it is even more important to emphasize that this form of capitalism did not end with slavery— it was re-packaged into the more furtive wage slavery after emancipation. In “Legends of Contract Freedom,” Amy Dru Stanley explains that the idea of the contract emerged from Enlightenment ideas of consent, exchange and, particularly, self-ownership . However, abolitionists reframed the concept of wage contract in such a manner that dissociated labor from the self, so that it could be sold without the connotations of slavery. Abolitionists did this by focusing on the idea that the enslaved could work, and in some cases even more productively, in contract
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