How did slavery influence the society and economy of the southern colonies?

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kateanswers eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The enslavement of African people was the foundation of the economy and social structure of the Southern colonies of America from the early 17th century to the late 19th century. The economy of the Southern colonies was based on agriculture and the production of profitable exports such as cotton, tobacco, indigo, and sugar cane. Slaves were brought from Africa as a source of essentially free labor and worked on farms and plantations to raise these crops. Some slaves worked in the homes of their masters as servants and had minimally better treatment, but were still considered objects to be owned with no rights. The labor of People of Color in the American colonies during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries was exploited for economic gain which reinforced the social structure that had come to develop around this system of production.

In this time, the only people who were really counted as "people" were white, land-owning, Christian men. Ownership of  land in particular was a huge factor in a man's status. If a man owned a large amount of land, he had the opportunity to raise profitable crops. Some families were at an advantage, having arrived in the colonies from Europe earlier than others, and had established ownership of land and agricultural production, boosting their socioeconomic status. The most successful families owned very large plantations, but required slave labor to actually work the land and produce raw materials for export. This created a social structure where someone who owned more slaves had a greater economic benefit and were valued more in their society. 

Life in the American colonies offered a "blank slate" of opportunity for many, and those who were  most successful in the South often made their profits on the backs of numerous enslaved African people.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Slavery was a crucial determinant of the economy and society of the South during the colonial period. It was the economic enabler of the plantation system, large-scale farms owned by wealthy slave-owning aristocrats raising cotton and tobacco primarily for export. Because the plantations were mass producers and could afford to buy up large amounts of arable land, yeoman, or small farmers, could not compete, giving rise to a highly stratified society consisting of aristocratic extremely wealthy planters on the one hand and slaves, indentured workers, and other less fortunate people, on the other side.

The plantations, although initially allowing the South to be wealthier than the North, were, in the long term, a drag on the economy, grounding it in low-value agricultural production and export of raw materials, while the North, less blessed in natural resources, developed a strong manufacturing industry.

The long term social legacy of the plantation system was extreme social stratification by wealth and color and an economy which, until the 1950s, tended to look backwards towards raw material production rather than forward to the Industrial Revolution and subsequent growth in industries higher on the value chain.

mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Slavery had a significant impact on the society and the economy of the South. Southern society was impacted because there was always a group of people who had no rights until the Civil War ended. The slaves had no rights and no freedoms. The poorest white people in the South knew they weren’t the lowest group in the South. Conversely, those people who owned lots of slaves tended to have more influence in the South. The South was also very segregated as a result of slavery. For the most part, the slaves didn’t mingle with the white southerners. The system of slavery was reinforced by the racist beliefs of white southerners—beliefs that proved very resistant to change even after slavery was abolished.

The southern economy was impacted by slavery. As more and more cotton was grown, more workers were needed. The slaves provided this labor. The southern economy prospered with more cotton being grown. Additionally, other crops were grown in the South that also positively impacted the economy. Slaves were also used to harvest these crops, such as tobacco and rice.

Slavery had a significant impact on the society and the economy of the South.

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