Slavery, Violence and Capital

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We write today to urge careful consideration of Edward E. Baptist’s recently published The Half Has Never Been Told, above all in the context of recent racial violence in Ferguson and elsewhere.

Through careful analysis of family plantation records, Baptist demonstrates the centrality of slavery within the booming expansion of the American economy during the 19th century:   “In fact, slavery’s expansion shaped every crucial aspect of the economy and politics of the new nation. The idea that the commodification and suffering and forced labor of African Americans is what made the United States powerful and rich is not an idea that people necessarily are happy to hear. Yet it is the truth.”

Baptist offers a concise summary of his research in an excellent interview in Kirkus, excerpted below for DP readers.

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After publishing an obvious and misleading hatchet job of a review, The Economist magazine issued a rare apology:

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Alas, even the apology skews understanding of Baptist’s powerful historical argument, namely that slavery was an immensely profitable and dynamic structural feature of American economic expansion, establishing patterns of dependency, violence and abuse that persist into the present; not Yankee ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit nor the expansion of freedom in pursuit of our manifest destiny, but rather the vast fortunes extracted by way of the “whipping machine” of slave labor and racial subjection.

That violent legacy remains deeply embedded within the American brand.

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