Free Minds & Free Markets

Slavery Did Not Make America Rich: New at Reason

Ingenuity, not capital accumulation or exploitation, made cotton a little king.

Hulton Archive/GettyHulton Archive/GettyIn his second inaugural, Abraham Lincoln declared that "if God wills that [the Civil War] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk…as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said, 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"

It is a noble sentiment. Yet the economic idea implied—that exploitation made us rich—is mistaken. Slavery made a few Southerners rich; a few Northerners, too. But it was ingenuity and innovation that enriched Americans generally, including at last the descendants of the slaves, writes Deirdre Nansen McCloskey.

Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty


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