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The Planter as Capitalist


“Only by tracing the powerful influence of liberal capitalism within the South can we understand, first, how the slaveholders exercised and negotiated their extraordinary powers and, second, how the capitalist economy, the liberal state, and western political culture placed equally extraordinary limitations on the slaveholders’ power.” Discuss.

Account for the political power of southern slaveholders in the half century before the American Civil War

Compare and contrast slave-based agricultural capitalism and free-labour industrial capitalism in antebellum America.

“Men of sense have discovered that when they desire to get extraordinary exertions from their slaves, it is better to offer them rewards than to whip them; to encourage them rather than to drive them.” (Frederick Law Olmsted) Discuss.


James Oakes, Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1990), 40-79

William Dusinberre, Them Dark Days: Slavery in the American Rice Swamps (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 387-416.

Richard Follett, The Sugar Masters: Planters and Slaves in Louisiana’s Cane World (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006), 151-94