Plantation System: Development and Impacts
What was the plantation system?
The plantation system was how enslaved Africans were used as a labor force in the Americas. Enslaved people were forced to share crop tobacco, cotton, indigo, and sugarcane plantations with owners until they died. Slaves could be freed if they agreed but had little choice in their fate after arriving on the plantation.
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Development of plantation system
The plantation system began in the American South after the British arrived in Virginia and divided the territory into Northern and Southern colonies. The North had the main tobacco plantations; the South grew cotton and indigo. Slaves were forced to work on cotton plantations.
Initially, most slaves were used to cultivating tobacco, but they soon became the main labor force in the South, and some planters began to grow more tobacco and less cotton or indigo. These planters increased their profits as they could use slave labor at a lower cost than Northern farmers needed. This created an advantage in the slave trade as Southern planters could buy more slaves for less money. Planters could control the market prices of tobacco and cotton and thus increase the prices of their goods.
Reasons why the plantation system was developed in the South
The following are reasons why the plantation system was introduced in the South:
1. Tobacco was the most important staple crop in the South, which greatly contributed to the expansion of plantations in the South
2. With a booming tobacco market, southern planters needed to increase their production and develop new markets for their tobacco. This increased demand for slave labor even further.
3. Slaves were cheap to buy in Africa and transport to the New World.
4. Most of the southern colonies were located in a warm climate which increased the speed of growth.
5. Europe needed cotton following the textile industry boom; thus, planters expanded their production to meet this demand and made large profits from their productions.
6. The South had a high rate of death and disease, making them unable to work well on plantations.
Impact of the plantation system
1. African slave labor was extremely profitable as only one in five Africans died on the journey to the Americas, compared to 40% of European enslaved.
2. The South would become the richest region of America, with extremely high profits from tobacco, cotton, and other plantation crops.
3. It led to the expansion of slavery in America which affected other colonies as they expanded their slave trade to gain more slaves, making the South even richer.
4. It led to racial discrimination between North and South, where enslaved Africans were treated unfairly by law.
How the plantation system changed the united states’ society
1. Slaves were taken from Africa and traded to different colonies with different rules of slavery.
2. Planters were more financially stable as they could make huge profits from their business.
3. Most slaves were moved to work on plantations; thus, they were separated from family members who often remained in Africa and could not flee to free states or Canada after buying a ticket into America.
4. Eventually, progressive laws were passed to strengthen slavery, such as the act of fugitive slaves in 1793, which allowed slave catchers to enter free states and return runaway slaves.
Role of geography in the plantation system
Geography played a major role in the development of the plantation system. It was mainly focused on big rivers such as the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, and Tennessee rivers which provided easy transportation of crops to international markets. Slaves were transported to plantations via these rivers but were mainly located in the South due to its warm climate and advantageous trade with Europe.
The plantations could also be located relatively close to the sea coast, where they could ship their goods to markets.
The planters needed to develop new markets for their crops and thus had a greater incentive to create slaves further south. So they could transport more goods easier while maintaining control of the market prices by increasing the supply of goods at will.
How the plantation system affected the growth of slavery
The plantation system supported the growth of slavery across the South. Planters pioneered the new system and thus made a great profit, which helped shape its development further.
Planters somehow idealized the plantation system since they could profit more from their crops than from growing tobacco or cotton.
To keep blacks in line and on plantations, many laws, such as the importation act 1790, allowed slave traders to enter free states and return runaway slaves.
How reconstruction affected the plantation system
The reconstruction period (1866–1877) did not have a massive impact on the plantation system. However, the South was hit badly by the civil war and needed to be rebuilt. The South had a low population density with large plantations and needed to rebuild its economy to regain its power. There were three ways that they did this:
1. The South had by far the most slaves at the time of reconstruction (2 million out of 3 million slaves in America)
2. The South also had more land than any other region, which meant they could grow crops and make more profits.
3. The South could develop its textile industry further by utilizing the cotton it had already grown.
Weaknesses of the plantation system
The drawbacks of the plantation system include:
1. The South relied on agriculture, which had limited growth potential.
2. It was an extractive economy that extracted resources from Africa where that could have been used to build industry in England.
3. It paralleled the state of serfdom in Europe, where over half of the European population were serfs tied to their land and unable to join the society and escape their oppression in some ways that slavery did with blacks.
Importance of plantation system
The plantation system was extremely significant in the development of America. It brought benefits to most people, except slaves.
1. The planters made large profits and became wealthy landowners due to their prosperous plantations, which also increased the demand for enslaved people.
2. The trade industry also profited greatly since Europe needed goods to trade with, which led them to buy goods from Africa and transport them via the northern colonies or directly from Africa by ships.
3. Slavery was extremely controversial at the time but was reassuring for many whites who felt threatened by blacks and the danger of losing their jobs due to free trade.
4. The South had low population density and high profits from its plantations which encouraged it to keep up the plantation system and maintain its status quo.
5. The plantation system had a significant impact on the development of America since the South was its richest region contributing to most of America’s wealth.
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