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October 27th, 2021
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earl watt mugL&T Publisher Earl Watt

 

On March 14, 1861, Stephen Douglas was sworn in as the 16th president of the United States. In his Inaugural Address, he discussed how the Territories would follow the same rulings as those stated by the Supreme Court for states, and he set two major goals for the nation — the connection of the East and West coasts via rail and the acquisition of Cuba from Spain.

There was no mention of slavery because in 1619, when a Portuguese ship approached the coastline of Virginia hoping to sell 20 African slaves, it was sent on its way since slavery was forbidden in the colonies.

Instead, those slaves were purchased, and we know Africans faced a horrific two-and-a-half centuries of abuse under slavery. After slavery was abolished, African Americans have yet to enjoy the social benefits extended to those from Europe who also called America home.

Many are struggling on how to address this from an historic perspective, holding those in history accountable for the injustice. Others continue to hold the founding fathers in high regard even though many of them once owned slaves.

There have also been calls for reparations to descendants of slaves from some while others claim that slavery has not existed for 150 years and is not the obligation of the current generation.

The stain of slavery in America continues to be a point of discussion as a multicultural and diverse nation deals with racism and inequality.

Solutions have continued to fall short of eradicating racism and raising African Americans to an equal economic status. With poverty and poor education options to African Americans, more legal issues have followed as well, with more African Americans being incarcerated as a percentage of their population compared to other races.

Programs like President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society that provided free housing and expansion of social programs for African Americans ended up as ghettos and institutionalizing poverty.

What would have been the outcome in America had slavery never existed? What would America look like today, what would have been the fate of those Africans who never would have been sold in America, and what would have been the condition of the African continent if the American slave trade was forbidden?

The answers begin on the coast of West Africa at present day Angola where a bulk of the slave trade to the Western Hemisphere occurred.

How many slaves were there?

The Catholic church officially recognized Portugal’s right to explore and exploit Angola, and the Portuguese established relationships with coastal tribes who had captured rival tribes and were selling them as slaves in the early 1600s.

The Portuguese traded for the slaves, offering spices and metal bracelets called manilla that would become currency and a sign of wealth for the Angolan people.

With their cargo of slaves in place, the Portuguese set sail for the New World.

If North American settlements would have refused to purchase the slaves from the Portuguese, that would not have changed the fate of the Africans, it simply would have changed their address.

The Portuguese found other buyers for slaves in South America and on the Caribbean islands.

One of the largest markets for slaves became Brazil. Almost 5 million slaves were sold to Brazilian owners from 1501 to 1866.

Sources vary, but the number of slaves brought to the 13 colonies ranged from 365,000 to 600,000 of the 10.5 million slaves that survived the journey to the New World.

Assuming the largest number of 600,000 sold to the colonies, it is highly likely those numbers would have been absorbed at other ports in the Caribbean and South America, which means that Angola and the African continent would have seen no change had the 13 colonies never accepted slavery.

The only difference would have been those 600,000 slaves would have been relocated to other nations, and, of course, their descendants.

That would mean that populations in the Caribbean and Brazil would be slightly higher than they are today, and the population of the United States would be slightly less.

Southern society

Without slaves working the fields in the South, the development of social society would have been somewhat different.

Rather than large plantations with slave labor, it is more likely that the South would have developed into smaller farming operations with independent ownership.

Since slaves were not given an education, it is highly likely that the land owners in the South would have had educated their children, which would more than likely have been more European and caucasian.

It is also highly possible that the colonies might have been a destination for escaped slaves much like Canada was.

But the South would have remained highly agricultural while the North continued to develop as an industrial power.

With a more economically-balanced society in the South without slavery, it is highly likely that the foreign trade issues that contributed to the South’s secession in 1861 and subsequent Civil War might have been avoided altogether since the price of the goods from the South would have been bringing higher prices since slavery was not utilized and the smaller farmers would have been receiving better prices for their goods. The Northern factories and their representatives in Congress might not have needed foreign tariffs to force the South to sell cotton, tobacco and other products to the North, which would have prevented the Civil War.

 

To secede or not secede?

If those rifts did continue and the South did secede, it might have been highly unlikely that President Douglas (rather than Lincoln who never would have been president without the slavery issue) would have tried to forcibly hold those states in the Union since he believed the slavery issue should be decided at the state level. He died two months after the South seceded, and his vice president, Herschel Johnson from Georgia although it likely would have been Benjamin Fitzpatrick from Alabama would have been hard-pressed to make such a decision. By the time this term was up, the South would have been established as its own nation, and it is not hard to see North America comprised of Canada, the United States of America, the Confederate States of America without slavery, and Mexico.

Quite likely, with the success of Southern secession, the United States may have experienced other dissolutions including a possible Northeastern nation and a Western nation. America might have resembled Europe with a number of smaller yet cooperative nations more than it does a united continental power.

That could have led to a much different outcome in future worldwide actions.

The role of the United States was somewhat limited in World War I and may not have had a significant impact on the eventual armistice that led to Germany basically surrendering in what was a European stalemate.

But without the United States, World War II would have been disastrous for Europe.

If the United States did not remain connected during the Civil War era, it quite possibly could have led to a Hitler-controlled Europe. Hitler would have also had the first atomic bomb at his disposal which would have led to complete control of the Soviet Union as well, and quite possibly North America.

However, had the United States been able to remain one nation without slavery, it is altogether realistic that Hitler would have been defeated just as history shows he was defeated by a unified set of allies including a powerful United States providing the machinery needed to defeat the Nazis.

 

Diversity diminishes

America would not have developed into the diverse nation it is today had those slaves not come to America and instead went to the Caribbean and South America.

Canada is less than 3 percent black, and Mexico’s African population is less than 2 percent.

From the 600,000 slaves that did come to the colonies and subsequently the United States, that population grew to 3.9 million by the time of the Civil War. That was equivalent to 13 percent of the entire U.S. population.

Today, African Americans still make up 13 percent of the U.S. population.

But without slaves being forced to come to America, it is quite likely that today’s African population would have been much smaller, perhaps mirroring Canada’s 3 percent.

And, like Canada’s black population, they would probably be experiencing a smaller racial gap than that in America.

Blacks in Canada still earn less than their white counterparts, but the gap is much closer.

That would likely be the case in the United States had slavery never occurred.

By looking at other nations with a history of importing African slaves, there is a common factor — lower economic gains.

Brazil is the largest example. Even though Brazilians with African lineage make up a majority of the population in that country, they still only earn on average 58.5 percent of what white Brazilians earn.

African Americans do slightly better, earning 61.9 percent.

In Canada, the earnings of Black Canadians are 82 percent of what white Canadians earn.

Had those 600,000 slaves that landed in the 13 colonies actually been shipped to Brazil or elsewhere in the Caribbean, their descendants today would be earning less than their counterparts that ended up in the United States, but not by much. Their standard of living, however, would be greatly less than what is experienced by African Americans today.

America, then, would be more culturally resembling of Europe than the diverse society it is today. Developments like barbecue, for example, would not have occurred since it was the slaves that invented the method of slow roasting some of the less-valued meats, and entertainment, music and movies would also be greatly affected. The labor supplied by slaves would have been replaced by smaller landowners who would provide their own labor or have smaller work forces, much like the agricultural development in Europe did in the absence of lords and serfs.

 

Historic Outcomes

Slavery was an historic abomination, but had America never allowed it, very little would have changed for those 600,000 Africans who were forced to relocate to America. They still would have been forced to relocate, but their new home would not have changed for the better for their descendants.

Very few would have ever migrated to the United States.

And the United States never would have fought a Civil War, which, ironically, cost the lives of 600,000 soldiers on both sides.

With those men not dying, they would have helped bolster the population closer to the levels of today.

Others would have had to perform the roles of the laborer, but in the end, it would have resulted in less concentrated wealth in the South but quite possibly more overall wealth distributed more evenly.

 

The Slavery Stigma Continues

Without the stigma of being a former slave, African Americans would be much fewer in number but would be earning closer to the same as their white counterparts, and racial relations would be vastly improved.

But with the stigma of being descendants from an enslaved race, African Americans carry that historic cross both inside and outside their community, something that has caused great pain for more than a century and a half after slavery was abolished.

The United States would be better if slavery never happened, but it would not have changed much for the Africans and their descendants who would have found homes elsewhere.

America continues to struggle with its past of slavery, but the same historic condemnation would find most of the Western Hemisphere guilty of allowing the practice. Other areas would have enslaved those Africans.

The racism that exists today in America also exists around the world where many cultures have a less diverse society. The Middle East, for example, maintains high restrictions based on religious beliefs and nationality. Asian society is also very ethnocentric.

Europe has shown some acceptance of multiculturalism but their non-European resident are still small in comparison, about 14 percent of the total European population. Of those, Africans in Europe only make up about 1.5 percent of the European population.

According to a study in the United Kingdom, blacks have much smaller savings and work lower paid jobs than their European neighbors.

The study concludes that children of parents without assets “struggle to receive education and training” for jobs and often have to take the first job offered.

 

A Better Path Forward

What Americans could have done would have been to purchase slaves and immediately set them free to start the normal immigration process of building assets. This did not happen, and America will forever be a nation that once allowed slavery.

That caused generations of slaves to have no assets, and now, 150 years after slavery was abolished, African Americans continued to fight an uphill battle in trying to develop assets.

This issue will not be solved in a generation or even two, but the road to providing those opportunities begins with access to education, job training and the ability to compete for high-paying jobs.

This should be considered and implemented in every nation that allowed slavery in the Western Hemisphere.

It also requires an understanding of those factors that created the current situation, and it will require patience. No one law or regulation will ever change what has been created through 14 generations, and assigning historic blame will not solve the issue, either.

The standards of the 1600s through the 1800s could not fathom the cultural advancements that have led to modern multicultural society.

The solution is not in the past but an understanding that those forcibly brought to the Western Hemisphere could have had worse outcomes than landing at the 13 colonies, for themselves and for their descendants is also necessary, and there is promise that the African Americans have a chance at a greater future.

The situation for African Americans will see little change until education becomes the driving force to a better future and policies that will provide that opportunity are implemented.

 

Sources include: essentialcivilwarcurriculum.com, the Manchester Historian, Omar Khan, director of policy research at UK race equality think tank The Runnymede Trust, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. PBS, Encyclopedia Brittanica, The New York Times, BUALA.org, “Memories of the Angolan slave trade,” historian Elikia M'Bokolo, Patrick Manning, University of Pittsburgh, The Guardian “Brazil census shows African-Brazilians in the majority for the first time,” U.S. Census 1860, digitalhistory.uh.edu.

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