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The discovery of America by some European explorers in 1942 marked the discovery of a new world. This discovery meant the start of Europe's conquest of Native Americans with the aim of gaining wealth and power through oversea exploitation (Rosenzweig et al. 7). To the Native Americans, it marked the beginning of a great invasion that would see them colonized, conquered and almost wiped out. The European dream of finding wealth in the new world led to a huge demand for labor. Therefore, the settlers used Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans as indentured servants to provide the much-needed labor for exploiting the continents riches (Rosenzweig et al. 38). However, by the late 1600s, this fluid work arrangement became more restrictive and formalized leading to the introduction of a racially oppressive African based slavery in North America. The existing social, economic, political and geographical conditions promoted the use of slaves to provide labor in the settlements. This resulted in the emergence of revolts and resistance labor movement to protect the common interests of workers (James 53). These organized labor unions fought for better treatment of employees, improved wages, and safer working conditions. This paper discusses the factors that led to the imposition of slave labor in the northern America territory and the resultant development of labor movements.
The imposition of slavery in the north of the region was as a result of certain economic, political, social and geographic factors. European settlers managed to colonize the Native Americans and coerce them into providing labor in their tobacco plantations. The natives were unable to resist the invasion as they lacked a unified front. Additionally, they suffered massive losses after 90 percent of their population were wiped out by new forms of diseases such as syphilis and influenza that were brought by the settlers as they lacked immunity. The conquest provided land for building, mining, trade and settlement for the European settlers (Rosenzweig et al. 24). Additionally, the textile industry expanded and wool trade became profitable leading to the expansion of the plantations. The success of these settlements was, however, dependent on the ability to obtain and direct cheap labor in the farms. For that reason, the European settlers used their power to force the Native Americans to work in the settlements. The success realized led to the expansion of the plantations. As a result, the forced labor could not fulfill the colonists demands for cheap labor. Additionally, landlords also failed to compel labor services from peasants who resisted their unfair labor practices. Therefore, they opted to use slaves to supplement their demands.
Changing social circumstances also promoted the institution of slavery. The growth in population and increase in trade provided a ready market for farm products. As a result, large farm owners increased their wealth and social status. The expansion of farms promoted the increase in migration into the New World through promoters. Most of those who gained entry into the new world came from poor areas and were in search of a better life. However, their entry resulted in an increase in indentured servitude (Rosenzweig et al. 38). Indentured servants were people who paid to get into the American by working for some employer for seven years. This labor system helped to provide enough labor in tobacco fields. However, the rise in tobacco farming due to its medicinal properties led to the effacing out of indentured servant ship as they could not satisfy the labor demand created by the increased farming. European indentured servants also declined to due to better economic conditions in Europe. Additionally, indentured servitude proved costly leading to the preference of African slaves as an alternative.
The colonies had an authoritarian political culture that natured slavery in the north. The political elite prevented slave rebellions by justifying white slaveholding. As a result, the provinces instituted laws that prohibited slaveholders from emancipating them, criminalized interracial marriages and abolished the rights of slaves to bear arms. For example, a tyrant Spaniard representing the King of Spain demanded three hundred Indians who all died except thirty by three months. He demanded another lot of slaves three times who all died the same way (Bartolome de las and Poole 42). Additionally, the governing bodies promoted English and Scottish plantations as they proved to be a way of ending poverty in their home countries. These created favorable elements for slave trade which included merchants ready to make profit, ship owners who were ready to transport produce and slaves, land holders who were ready to make profits and a monarchy that was prepared to grant power for promotion of European expansion (Rosenzweig et al. 24). These conditions created a conducive environment for the imposition of slavery. As a result, the indentured servants were replaced by slaves who were brought from West Africa. For instance, Chesapeake which included colonies such as Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina had various agricultural economies which relied entirely on slavery.
Therefore, the region invested considerably in the Atlantic slave trade to provide labor which was the only missing element in the puzzle. Most of the slaves brought from the Atlantic were headed to the Caribbean where large sugarcane plantations flourished. The Portuguese in these had driven the indigenous Brazil people into the forests as they were hard to control and instead bought laborers from Africa (Rosenzweig et al. 40). The tobacco farmers saw this opportunity and diverted some of the slaves to their territories. The Spanish King allowed the sale of African slaves in the 1540s which resulted in a massive distribution of slaves in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies to open up a new form of labor in the plantations. By 1600, there were more than 250, 000 slaves with the numbers increasing rapidly. The slave trade business boomed to become part of a larger commerce referred to as the triangular trade as it involved the movement of goods to Africa, slaves to America and products to Europe (Rosenzweig et al. 26). The West African countries nourished this trade by capturing people from interior ethnic groups and selling them to slavery. An estimated twelve million slaves were sold and moved to America.
The hostile treatment of the slaves led to a series of uprisings in the plantations. The masters had harsh disciplinary systems and punishments such as whipping, torture and hanging for the defiant ones (Rosenzweig et al. 51). Despite the severe punishment, few groups tried to resist the masters. However, the uprisings were uncoordinated in most of the northern colonies and retaliated with brutal force from the masters (James 52). As a result, the slaves did not achieve any significant improvements but rather made their lives worse. The imposition of extreme labor demands provoked more ill-organized resistances that were crushed with ease by the slave owners (James 52). The Spaniards encouraged the slaves to rebel. The San Domingo Revolution led to slight success in the West Indies. It further inspired several revolutions in the coming years (James 54). In 1800, a well-organized revolt took place in Virginia, but it ended in bloody suppression as it lacked support from the elite. Poor whites allied with the Negros in other revolts. The Nat Turner revolt bore fruits as it led to the abolition of slavery in the British colonies (James 53). However, the fear of the coalition between the blacks and the poor whites led the southern territories to kill anyone who opposed it. The provinces of the south continued to practice slavery until after the Civil War.
In conclusion, the social, political, geographical and economic conditions of the 1660s played a huge role in the imposition of the slave trade in the northern territories. During the 1600s, European explorers discovered the American lands. The new discoveries presented an opportunity for Europeans to increase their wealth and improve the social conditions in their countries. Therefore, they established settlements in the northern colonies. The settlements were a way of generating wealth through farming and mining activities. The primary form of labor in these settlement schemes was indentured servitude. The Black Death and the poor social, economic status in Europe created led to immigration into the colonies. The indentured servitude system ensured that the colonies had laborers. However, the increased demand for labor resulted in the elimination of the indentured servitude system and the introduction of slavery. The economic conditions promoted slave trade and created a ready market for the produce thus promoting slavery. The authoritarian political system also supported slavery by authorizing it. Additionally, geographical proximity between the Caribbean trade routes and northern territories provided a constant supply of slaves. However, the development of labor movements through resistance groups led to the abolishment of slavery in the territories of the north signifying the power of unity in dealing with labor issues.
Bartolome de las, Casas and Stafford Poole. In Defense of the Indians. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1974. Print.
James, The Old United States, from A History of Pan-African Revolt (1938) (Chicago: PM Press, 2012): 51-54
Rosenzweig, Roy et al. Who Built America? Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008. Print.
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