Plantation Society and Race Relations: The Origins of Inequality

By Thomas J. Durant Jr.; J. David Knottnerus | Go to book overview

were interpreted by Fogel and Engerman as involving not low income for the South, but abnormally high income for the northeastern section of the United States. That the South was far behind the North in industrialization and manufacturing was consistent with the South having a comparative advantage in agriculture in that period.

A major finding from the continuing research on the period after slavery in the southern United States is that the economic well-being of the former slaves actually decreased. Research by Atack and Passell suggests that the decline in economic performance in the South after the Civil War was due to a lack of flexibility in making the economic transformation out of agriculture.

The South's unimpressive economic performance in the first postwar decade was almost inevitable. Free African-Americans could not be expected to work like slaves. Nor could the South control the declining fortunes of cotton in the world economy. In part the continuing misery of African Americans after emancipation is attributable to economic exploitation and to racial discrimination in everyday life. But the great portion of blame must go to the failure to provide ex-slaves with property comparable to that of landed whites or to provide access to the education and jobs vital to social mobility ( Atack and Passell 1994:400).


We have presented the views of the Classical economic school on the question of profitability in a slave-using economy, along with recent empirical research on the topic of slavery in the antebellum South. The Classical economists were aware that slavery could prove profitable in the short run. The limitations that Cairnes theorized for the system of slavery are still valid; however, the correctness of his assumptions as they relate to the southern experience are in question. Given the constraints on the system identified by Cairnes, slavery should theoretically become unprofitable and deteriorate in the long run.

Recent studies by Conrad and Meyer ( 1964), and Fogel and Engerman ( 1974) conclude that slavery in the southern United States was profitable. Slavery returned a normal profit to entrepreneurs. The indictment that slavery retarded southern economic development, therefore, would tend to be illogical. The question becomes whether slavery was the appropriate system to adopt in order to develop the South's economy. This is the question that Classical economists were concerned with in their analyses.

The Classical economists differed to some degree on the minor details as to when and under what conditions slavery would prove profitable to the entrepreneur; however, they all saw slavery as a barrier to long-term economic advancement and believed it would create major problems for society once it became unprofitable to the firm. Thus, the Classical economists condemned slavery as a major step backward for economic and social development. Society would experience tremendous social costs associated with improving social and economic conditions and opportunities for ex-slaves in a society still wrought with racial prejudice and discrimination.


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Plantation Society and Race Relations: The Origins of Inequality
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Introduction xvii
  • Bibliography xx
  • I Theoretical Perspectives 1
  • 1: The Slave Plantation Revisited: A Socoiological Perspective 3
  • Conclusion 13
  • Notes 14
  • Bibliography 14
  • 2: The Slave Plantation System from a Total Institution Perspective 17
  • Conclusion 25
  • Bibliography 26
  • 3: Plantation-Style Social Control: Oppressive Social Structures in the Slave Plantation System 29
  • Conclusion 39
  • Bibliography 39
  • 4: The Construction of Racial Meaning by Blacks and Whites in Plantation Society 41
  • Conclusion 49
  • Bibliography 50
  • II Social Institutions 51
  • 5: The Social Influence of Plantation Religion Among Anglo-American Colonists and African Slaves 53
  • Conclusion 61
  • Notes 62
  • 6: Up from the Plantation: The Survival of Rural Black Farm Families of Northeastern Louisiana, 1930-1970 65
  • Conclusion 73
  • Bibliography 74
  • 7: "I Looked for Home Elsewhere": Black Southern Plantation Families, 1790-1940 77
  • Conclusion 85
  • Bibliography 85
  • 8: The Profitability of Slavery: A Review of the Classical Economic Position 89
  • Conclusion 98
  • Bibliography 99
  • 9: Law and Race in the Slave Plantation System 101
  • Conclusion 109
  • Bibliography 110
  • III Race, Gender, and Social Inequality 111
  • 10: Plantation Slavery Among Native Americans: The Creation of a Red, White, and Black America 113
  • Conclusion 123
  • Bibliography 124
  • 11: Gender Roles in Slave Plantations 125
  • Conclusion 133
  • Bibliography 134
  • 12: Status Structures and Ritualized Relations in the Slave Plantation System 137
  • Conclusion 145
  • Notes 146
  • Bibliography 146
  • 13: The Social Demography of Plantation Slavery 149
  • Conclusion 159
  • Bibliography 160
  • IV Social Changes and Social Transformations 163
  • 14: The Plantation Lifeworld of the Old Natchez District: 1840-1880 165
  • Conclusion 177
  • Bibliography 178
  • 15: The Social Transformation of Plantation Society 181
  • Conclusion 190
  • Bibliography 190
  • 16: Plantations Without Slaves: The Legacy of Louisiana Plantation Culture 193
  • Conclusion 202
  • Bibliography 203
  • 17: "Gone with the Wind" Versus the Holocaust Metaphor: Louisiana Plantation Narratives in Black and White 205
  • Conclusion 218
  • Bibliography 219
  • V Conclusions 221
  • Conclusions and Suggestions for Future Research 223
  • Bibliography 229
  • Index 247
  • About the Contributors 253


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