10 Interesting Insights from “The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry”

Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 11.24.12 PMBook: “The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry”

Author: Ned and Constance Sublette

Published: Copyright 2016

Why I Read this Book: I’ve been really interested in learning more about the social justice issues that relate to the United States of America, such as exploitation of Native Americans, mistreatment of immigrants, foreign policy, inequality, and, in the case of this book, slavery. I’m aware that, as a product of the United States public education system, I was not given a very detailed, or even accurate, account of the history of slavery in my country of birth. Due to that, I’ve always been curious to learn more, and reading this book was a step in better understanding that history.

#10InterestingInsights from “The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry”

1) Slavery in the United States was just plain awful and horrific, and the more we learn about it’s history, the more awful and horrific we realize it was.

“Over the years we have been researching our nation’s history, we have seen repeatedly that no matter how bad we thought slavery was, it was even worse. There’s no end to it.”[1]

2) American slavery was incredibly systematic at oppressing the Afro-American peoples. One example is that slavery was legally passed through the mother, not the father. This ensured that the children of Afro-American women who were raped by there “owners” (which was very common) were considered slaves, and not free human beings.

“[Slaves were] classified as merchandise at birth, because children inherited the free or enslaved status of the mother, not the father… Partus sequitur ventrem was the legal term: the status of the newborn follows the status of the womb. Fathers passed down inheritances, mothers passed slavery down. It ensured a steady flow of salable human product from the wombs of women who had no legal right to say no.” [2]

3) This systematic oppression was done using the “rule of law.” Another way Afro-Americans were systematically oppressed was through their extreme denial of education and literacy.

“Most enslaved African Americans lived and died without writing so much as their names. The Virgina legal code of 1849 provided for ‘stripes’ – flogging – for those who tried to acquire literacy skills. A free person who dared ‘assemble with negroes for the purpose of instructing them to read or write’ could receive a jail sentence of up to six months and a fine of up to a hundred dollars, plus costs. An enslaved person who tried to teach others to read might have part of a finger chopped off by the slaveowner, with the full blessing of law.” [3]

4) Most of the human beings that were forced to be slaves in the United States were not actually brought over from Africa via the African slave trade, but were “products” of the “slave-breeding industry.”

“By hemispheric standards, the African slave trade to English-speaking North America was petty… only about 389,000 kidnapped Africans were disembarked in the ports of present-day United States… Africans trafficked to the United States territory account for less than 4 percent of the estimated hemispheric total… Africans were only the seed. By 1860, those few hundred thousand Africans had given way to four million African Americans. Each birth was, as Thomas Jefferson described it, “an addition to the capital.” The south did not only produce tobacco, rice, sugar, and cotton as commodities for sale; it produced people.”[4] 

5) 1808 marked an important year in the making and evolution of African-American culture, as it is the year that marked the virtual end of the African slave trade in the United States.

“January 1, 1808, is, from our perspective, one of the most important dates in American history, signaling as it does the transformation of the United States slavery industry. For this reason, 1808 is also an essential date for understanding the making of African-American culture. Kidnapped Africans had been arriving for almost two hundred years, repeatedly re-Africanizing American culture. No longer. The child was separated from the ancestors. With changeover to domestic slave trade, the long-established Afro-Chesapeake culture of Virginia and Maryland was diffused southward over several decades.”[5]

6) Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and James K. Polk. These 3 U.S. presidents really pushed forward the slave breeding industry. Interestingly, two of these three presidents are on our nation’s currency…

“…3 slaveowning politicians loom large in our narrative as principal enablers of the territorial expansion of slavery and, consequently, of the slave-breeding industry: Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and James K. Polk, a Virginian and two Tennesseans. All three were slaveholders, and like all slaveholders, their wealth was primarily stored in the form of captive human beings, so their entire financial base – personal, familial, social, and political – depended on high prices for slaves. To that end, they restricted the supply of captives by keeping the African trade closed; by opening new territory for US slavery to expand into, they expanded the demand for that restricted supply, greatly increasing as they did so the wealth and political power of the slaveowning class.”[6]

7) Thomas Jefferson was all about that slave breeding industry. And he was definitely a white supremacist. 

“…Jefferson, who legally owned more than six hundred people during his lifetime, proactively made sure that importation of persons would indeed be prohibited… To be sure, Jefferson framed ending importation of persons as a humanitarian act, and many historians have treated it that way, but it was not. Ending the African slave trade was protectionism on behalf of Virginia. It kept out the cheaper African imports so as to keep the price of domestically raised people high.[7]

“[Jefferson’s] justification [for chattel slavery] was that the ‘negro’ was inferior – something he seems to have truly believed – and moreover dangerous, and therefore had to be kept in a state of slavery for everybody’s good…”[8]

Quote from Jefferson cited in the book: “The difference [of “the negro”] is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of color in the one preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immovable veil of black which covers the emotions of the other race? Add to these, flowing hair, a more elegant symmetry of form, their own judgment in favor of the whites, declared by their preferences of them, as uniformly as in the preferences of the Oranootan for the black woman over those of his species.”[9]

8) Slave women had no legal protection whatsoever from rape or sexual exploitation

“To own a slave was to have a license for libertine behavior, because sexual violence was intrinsic to slavery. The slaveowner had the full legal right to do with his property as he saw fit, and sexual abuse was part of the portfolio of privileges.”[10]

“Nor did slave women have legal protection against sexual abuse from enslaved men… the Mississippi supreme court noted that ‘a slave can only commit rape upon a white woman’ and held that ‘the regulations of law, as to white race, on the subject of sexual intercourse, do not and cannot, for obvious reasons, apply to slaves; their intercourse is promiscuous, and the violation of a female slave by a male slave would be a mere assault and battery. There was, then, legally no such thing as the rape of an enslaved woman.”[11]

 “Slaveowners in the antebellum United States enjoyed full legal impunity for any sexual aggression they might commit against their human property… If a slaveowner wanted to enjoy the adolescent daughters of his work force, he had absolute authority over them…”[12]

“Slavery was rape. A person who has no right to refuse has no consent to give, so even absent the use of physical force at the moment of the sex act, an enslaved woman could not have consensual sex with a white man.”[13]

“While a ‘prime field hand’ – young, healthy, strong, and male – was the benchmark of the slave market, the premium-priced captives were young female sex slaves, or ‘fancy girls,’ who were light skinned or even passable as white. A teenaged ‘fancy girl’ purchasable either for private sexual use or pressed into commercial service by a pimp could bring a multiple of what even a ‘prime field hand’ might command.”[14]

9) In order to keep the institution of slavery strong and intact, any opinions or ideas that criticized the validity or morality of slavery were harshly suppressed. It was very inward looking and morally perverted society.

“Up became more down with every passing decade, and more incompatible with the outside world. The build out of the slavery ideology became more elaborate, more radical, and more delusional as each generation began from a more doctrinally inbred point of departure. Meanwhile, it became more belligerent, accompanied by a vigilant suppression of dissent… Antislavery opinions were not to be expressed publicly in the slave states. This was considered traitorous and was repressed with violence that was sometimes spontaneous and sometimes organized. Any perceived slight to the system of slavery could provoke a hair-trigger response. There was not even a pretense of free speech on the subject of slavery in the South, nor did slavery’s defenders want anyone in the North to criticize, or even mention, slavery. The enslaved were, needless to say, not to speak against their captivity. They were to be happy, or else. They love their master, or else.”[15]

10) The biggest motivators behind the institution of chattel slavery in the United States were greed, selfishness, and attachment to material wealth.

“The legal systems of the Southern states were organized around maximizing slaveholder profit… With their enslaved assets fully capitalized, slaveowners were not merely wealthy, they were spectacularly wealthy. At the time of secession, two-thirds of the millionaires in the country lived in the slave states, with most of their wealth in the form of slaves.”[16]

“The South’s 1860 population of 3,953,742 comprised or made viable four billion dollars’ worth of private property… Four billion dollars in 1860 was equivalent to about a hundred billion in 2010. It was more than 20 times the value of the entire cotton crop that year and 17.5 times all the gold and silver money in circulation… Four billion dollars was more than double the $1.92 billion value of farmland in the eleven states that seceded.”[17]

“Mississippi’s declaration of secession [stated] ‘Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery… We must either submit to degradation and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union.’”[18]

“Emancipation destroyed an entire legal form of property, which is why it was a revolution.”[19]

Closing Thoughts: I’ve always known slavery was terrible. I’ve more recently learned how shady and systematic the institution was. After reading this book, I feel much more enlightened into some of the realities of slavery in the history of the United States, but also understand that it only scratches the surface into the day-to-day horrors of the institution. The 10 Insights I’ve listed here are also but a small sample of the takeaways from this incredible piece of literature. I’m definitely planning to delve much deeper into this topic, and would highly recommend this book to others!

If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment!

[1] pg. 668

[2] pg. 3

[3] pg. 3

[4] pg. 10-11

[5] pg. 13-14

[6] pg. 14

[7] pg. 15

[8] pg. 276

[9] pg. 276

[10] pg. 34

[11] pg. 35

[12] pg. 35

[13] pg. 36

[14] pg. 59

[15] pg. 62

[16] pg. 65

[17] pg. 67

[18] pg. 66

[19] pg. 70

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4 thoughts on “10 Interesting Insights from “The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry”

  1. Great insight. Even after slavery was abolished it took another 100 years for blacks to get civil rights. What amazes me is when I hear people say everyone has equal opportunity to succeed.

  2. And they don’t factor in what 300 to 400 years of no education and degradation did to them as a people when they are trying to make a better life in a so called free and equal society.

  3. Great insight to this awful part of American history. The amazing part is it still took another 100 years of suffering, humiliation and protest before blacks were given Civil Rights.

  4. Truly sickening, I try to imagine what slaves went through but there is no way to wrap your mind completely around the absolute disregard for life that these Americans had. To be treated as a piece of property just shows that there is always going to be a lot of bad in this world. I enjoyed reading your insight.

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