Cotton, Crimes and Capitalism…
Author: Edward E. Baptist
From the very beginning, historian Edward E. Baptist makes an interesting choice in his history of slavery in the United States. He repeatedly refers to the “enslaved people” who form the core of his narrative, never once calling them slaves. And lest you think this is a trivial distinction, I think his choice clearly makes the point that words truly matter. It’s much easier to treat people as subhuman beasts if you call them something else, denying their actual humanity. It also serves as a clue that The Half Has Never Been Told doesn’t present the traditional account of slavery during the United States’ initial four score and seven years.
As the title alludes, Baptist – an associate professor of history at Cornell University – tells a previously unacknowledged story of slavery, one that is inextricably tied up with the story of American capitalism. Starting at one of the key economic transition points in the history of North American slavery – following the American Revolution – the author describes how slavery switched from primarily sugar cane production in the Caribbean to cotton production in the rich soils of what is now the southeastern US. As the natives were herded westward from their homelands and Louisiana was purchased from the French, more and more land was made available for the ever expanding cotton industry.