Writing in 1857, author Guy Stevens Callender observes below that the discovery of America made the slave trade from Africa inevitable, as Europeans were too few to cultivate such a vast wilderness. The cheapness of land made slave labor necessary, and the willingness of Africans to sell their enslaved brethren ensured a large labor supply for the New World.
Slavery and a Superabundance of Land
“The serfdom of the Middle Ages was for all Europe, what it is for Poland and Russia still, a kind of slavery required by the small proportion of people to land; a substitute for hired labor, which gradually expired with the increase of population, as it will expire in Poland and Russia when land shall, in those countries, become as scarce and dear as it became in England sometime after the Conquest.
Next comes the institution of slavery in America by the colonies of nations which had abolished serfdom at home; colonies in whose history, whether we read it in Raynal, or Edwards, or Grahame, we find the effect and the cause invariably close together; the slavery in various forms of bondage, growing out of superabundance of land.
It was the cheapness of land that cause [Bartolome de] Las Casas to invent the African slave trade. It was the cheapness of land that brought African slaves to Antigua and Barbadoes . . . it was the cheapness of land that caused the introduction of Negroes into Virginia, and produced the various forms of bondage practiced by all the old English colonies in America.
At the epoch of the discovery of America, the population of Europe was small, and it could make only scanty contributions of people to the New World; and as it was just itself emerging from a state of barbarism, it could not extend into new regions any elevated or enlightened civilization.
Slavery was one of the established systems of that period, and the holding of heathen slaves enjoyed the full sanction of the church. And it had so happened, that the value of the Negro in the condition of servitude had been long tried, especially in Spain and Portugal, and was well understood.
What has occurred in America, was, under the circumstances, inevitable. Incalculable resources existed in the mine and in the soil, but by whose hands could they be developed? Where it was practicable to enslave the native people of the country, their physical organization was unequal to the forced labors imposed upon them, and they perished speedily from the earth.
The people who could subdue and cultivate the New World existed only in Africa. Their number was definitely large; and not only did no existing moral and religious scruples forbid their coerced appropriation to that work, but it was considered rather to be in the safe line of religious duty, to subject the Negro heathen to Christian baptism and Christian masters. It is oftentimes loosely said, that America has been settled by the European races . . . The truth really is, that America, including its islands, has been settled chiefly from Africa.”
(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. 745-749)