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Slavery Case

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Europeans had begun to import Africans into the

American continents as chattel slaves, converting

them to Christianity in the process. Consequently, by

the close of the sixteenth century Europe, the Americas,

and Africa had become linked in a vast transatlantic

economy that extracted material and agricultural

wealth from the American continents largely on the

basis of the nonfree labor of impressed Native Americans

and imported African slaves.

Beginning in the sixteenth century the importation

of African slaves and the use of slave labor were

fundamental to the plantation economy that eventually

extended from Maryland to Brazil. The slave trade

intimately connected the economy of certain sections

of Africa to the transatlantic economy. The slave trade

had a devastating effect on the African people and

cultures involved in it, but it also enriched the Americas

with African culture and religion. ■

Slavery had its most striking impact on the lives of the

millions of humans who were torn from their birthplaces,

their families, and their cultures. African slaves suffered from

high mortality and sharply reduced birthrates; they were subjected

to harsh working conditions and brutally dehumanizing


Beyond the egregious harms done to individual slaves

and their descendents, slavery influenced political, economic,

and social history throughout the Atlantic world. The

slave trade corroded the political and social structures of

African societies. Some historians have suggested that the

plantation economy's efficient organization and use of labor

created models of efficient productive organization and use

of labor that became adapted in the Industrial Revolution in

Europe and North America (see Chapter 20). Recent historical

scholarship has highlighted ways in which the inherent

contradictions between the institution of slavery, Enlightenment

ideals of human will and behavior, and new political

chattel slaves: they were outright possessions

of their masters, indistinguishable from any material

possession; they were not recognized as persons under the

law, so they had no legal rights; they could not claim any

control over their bodies, their time, their labor, or even

their own children.

African societies suffered immense political, economic,

and social devastation when they were the chief supplier of

slaves to the world. The New World societies that were built

to a great extent on the exploitation of African slavery also

suffered enduring consequences, not the least of which,

many believe, is racism.

By the eighteenth century

slaves were the predominant African export.


The French and the English

came into the trade only in the late seventeenth century,

yet during the eighteenth century, which saw the

greatest number of slaves shipped, they carried almost half

the total traffic. Americans, too, were latecomers but avid

slavers who managed to make considerable profits before

and even after Britain and the United States outlawed the

transatlantic slave trade in 1807 and l808 respectively.




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