To find those responsible for African slavery and its perpetuation, one must first look to the African tribes themselves who enslaved their brethren captured in warfare, and sold many to Europeans in search of cheap labor for their colonies. Next would be King Ferdinand of Spain, who in the early 1500s had already had deported substantial sections of Jews and Moors from his realm as well as approving slaving expeditions for Caribbean Indians to work his colonies. It was also Ferdinand who granted licenses for those carrying slaves to the Americas. This begs the question: had African slaves not been eventually carried to North America in the bottoms of British and New England slave ships, would North and South still have separated into two countries for the same pecuniary reasons, but without the lame New England excuse of slavery being the cause of war?
The Economic Custom of Slavery
“It is strange that it should never have come into the head of philosopher or philanthropist to ascertain the causes of the revival of slavery by all the modern nations of Europe which have engaged in colonization. Political economists were bound to make this inquiry; for without it their science is incomplete at the very foundation; for slavery is a question of labor, “the original purchase of all things.”
Philanthropists, however, have treated it as a moral and religious question, attributing slavery to all times and places, but especially in modern America, to the wickedness of the human heart. [The immediate cause of slavery] is not a wicked or infernal spirit. Neither communities nor individuals keep slaves in order to indulge in oppression and cruelty.
Those British colonies – and they are many – which would get slaves tomorrow if we would let them, are not more wicked than we are: they are only placed in circumstances which induce us to long for the possession of slaves notwithstanding the objections to it.
They are not moral, but economic circumstances: they relate not to vice and virtue, but to production. They are the circumstances, in which one man finds it difficult or impossible to get other men to work under his direction for wages. They are the circumstances . . . which stand in the way of combination and constancy of labor, for which all civilized nations, in a certain stage of their advance from barbarism, have endeavored to counteract, and have in some measure counteracted, by means of some kind of slavery.
Slavery is a make-shift for hiring . . . [and is] on the whole much more costly than the labor of hired freemen; and slavery is also full of moral and political evils, from which the method of hired labor is exempt. [But] when slavery is adopted, there is no choice: it is adopted because at the time and under the circumstances there is no other way of getting laborers to work with constancy and in combination.
It happens wherever population is scanty in proportion to land [and has] never existed in very populous countries, and has gradually ceased in the countries where whose population has gradually increased to the point of density. Of plentifulness of labor for hire, the cause is dearness of land: cheapness of land is the cause of scarcity of labor for hire.
The ancient Greeks were themselves colonists, the occupiers of a new territory, in which for a time every freeman could obtain as much land as he desired: for a time they needed slaves; and the custom of slavery was established.
The Romans, it the early stages of their history, were robbers of land, and had more land than they could cultivate without slaves: it was partly because of slavery that they at last grew to be so populous at Rome as to no longer need slavery, but to ask for an agrarian law.”
(Origin of Slavery in the New World, 1765-1860, Gibbon Wakefield; Chapter XV, The Economics of Slavery; Selections From the Economic History of the United States, Guy Stevens Callender, excerpts pp. 742-745)