Front Page Titles (by Subject) Slavery and the Poor - Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Slavery and the Poor - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Slavery and the Poor
“Slavery, Race and the Poor.” In In the Light of History. New York: Dell Publishing Co. 1974, pp. 102–113.
Although racism against blacks in America aggravated the mistreatment of slaves and subjected freed blacks to an unequal color caste, it was more an excuse than a cause of slavery. Virulent forms of English xenophobic racism, having no causal link with slavery, had previously been directed against the Dutch, French, and Irish. A more balanced view of American social history dealing with black-white race relations is needed to supplement the insights of such works as W.D. Jordan, White over Black: American Attitudes towards the Negro, 1550–1812 (1968); Black History: A Reappraisal, Melvin Drimmer, ed. (1968); American Negro Slavery: A Modern Reader, Allen Weinstein and F.O. Gatell, eds., (1968); and Michael Banton, Race Relations (1968).
In reality, the evils of American and English slavery grew from the more general evil of social subordination of servants, workers, the poor, and slaves a like. Both the poor and slaves suffered similar social oppression over the centuries because both groups could be exploited as cheap sources of labor and wealth. The early English slave codes, in fact, resembled legislation to control the Elizabethan jobless poor. The similarities between the treatment of slaves and the poor allow us to see how normal slavery could appear to an earlier society.
Slavery occasioned tensions among America's founding fathers who evaded or postponed the question of abolition. Slavery for the American revolutionaries represented a conflict between the natural rights of all men and the Lockean holiness of property. After 1800, two forces were at loggerheads: the revolutionary heritage of freedom or equal rights and fears about the effects of black emancipation on family life and the social order. Thus, even though slavery might be abolished, racism would continue.
The crucial question of why abolition gained so strong a social support is answerable by again looking at the status of the working class poor. In England the most pronounced antislavery movement occurred among the entrepreneurs of the Industrial Revolution. Quaker industrialists and other businessmen formed a new attitude toward the poor working class. From the perspective of Adam Smith, workers in modern industries would be more productive if they received more incentives, better skills, and improved conditions. Josiah Wedgwood and other imaginative industrialists experimented with higher wages and better working conditions for their workers. Spurred by the incentives of self-interest, workers had great advantages in production over unfree slaves. In the new industrial society, the poor gradually turned into the working class.
Government planning and regulation has had a long history, characterized by noble aspirations and disappointing results. As the following summaries disclose, national and international government intervention has detrimentally affected the mails, charity, schooling, labor, industry, and the economy through war, inflation, and trade barriers.
Professor Hughes's opening summary sketches the ongoing effects of government war planning and regimentation into peacetime. Peacetime government planning continues the inroads toward centralization, control, and bureaucracy initiated during war crises. One underlying reason for the continuity of wartime and peacetime planning appears as a unifying motif in the following summaries: the government's desire to predict and control human behavior even at the expense of personal freedom and diversity. Friedrich Hayek's summary, as well as others, reveal how self-defeating and doomed in the long run are all such government attempts to control the natural, spontaneous social and economic order through artificial planning. The results of planning in the real world include: constricted individual initiative, stifled charity, political expediency, inflation, schooling in conformity, black markets, and planning bureaucracies.