The Emancipation Proclamation Origin

Subject: History
Pages: 11
Words: 2783
Reading time:
10 min
Study level: College

The Origin of the Emancipation Proclamation and the start of the Civil War

The origin of the Emancipation Proclamation was based on the progressive movement in the North (Eddlem 34). It began as a social movement within various local areas, which slowly progressed towards the national level. It attempted to address issues such as poverty and the treatment of slaves under the assumption that most of society’s problems could actually be “fixed” by initiating social and political reforms (Eddlem 34). Among these reforms was the idea that “all men under God were equal,” and it was based on this concept that the idea behind slavery and the subsequent treatment of people as farm animals was considered to be immoral (Eddlem 34).

Seeing males, females, and children brought from the ships chained and shackled to each other and sold on an open block was often viewed negatively by various colonial residents as such slave ports needed to be located in areas where the processes behind slavery were not immediately seen. This was one of the reasons why the Civil War started in the first place since there was a difference of opinion regarding the morality of treating human beings like cattle (Austin 61). For those in the South, their rural agricultural culture was entwined significantly with the concept of slave labor. This means that the use of slaves, their presence in society as well as the general attitude of people towards them was an indelible aspect of who they were as compared to the North (Austin 26). It is due to this that when the North proposed freedom of slaves, the South reacted violently since it would have denied them an aspect of their culture (Austin 26).

Economic Justification behind Slave Labor Practices

Understanding the Origin of the Slave Trade

The involvement of the South in the slave trade came as a result of three distinct factors: the expansion of the U.S. into new territories, the need for manpower in order to operate newly established farms, and the economics of free labor that came with owning a slave. Basically, the slave trade was merely the result of economics at work wherein the demand for labor was supplied with slaves captured from Africa (LaFantasie 26).

It is due to this that one of the driving factors behind the continued use of the slave trade in the South was the overwhelming demand of Europe for cheap sugar exports wherein slave labor was the means by which the South was able to meet the demand for its products (Witt 60). As the South expanded, so did the number of its farms and communities, which produced primarily agricultural goods to be shipped to Europe and other regions. The inherent problem with this scenario lies with the fact that agricultural operations require extensive amounts of manpower in order to properly grow crops, which, unfortunately, the various colonies lacked (Glass 74).

The economics behind the Use of Slaves

The economics of the slave trade focused around the perceived cost of production without slaves and the actual cost of production with slaves (Witt 60). The fact is most forms of labor have an equivalent cost in the salaries and benefits accorded to the people working at a particular form of business, for the agricultural industry the perceived cost of operations without slaves would increase exponentially if they were to hire their own fellow citizens to work in the fields thus increasing the overall cost of the finished product (Witt 60). The actual cost of a product with slaves is exponentially lower since slaves are not paid wages, and the cost required for keeping them sheltered and fed is much lower as compared to hiring the same amount of people to do the same type of work (LaFantasie 26).

The Importance of Slave Labor to the South

Profit and Slave Labor

The various plantations in the South primarily relied on slave labor as a form of manpower in order to produce various agricultural products such as cotton, which was then subsequently shipped off to other countries around the world (Tackach 25). In terms of profitability, slave labor resulted in considerable profits for various sectors in the Fledgling American economy, which contributed immensely towards its growth. Slave owners often reached profit margins exceeding 20 to 50% on most trips due to the amounts made from the sale of goods traded for slaves (Austin 61). However, despite the inherent benefits associated with the practice, it was the way in which the slaves were treated and the various stories of torture and abuse coming from escaped slaves from the South that caused a cultural and political divide that created the initial division between the North and the South (Austin 61).

Dependence on Slaves

Plantations that did not use slaves in the South could not compete with the prices of their counterparts that did. As a result of basic economics, plantations simply chose to utilize slave labor because of their inherent cost-saving measures (Letzer 16). The dependence of the region on slave labor was due to its lack of focus on mechanized production as compared to the North and, as such, had to entirely rely on slaves as their primary method of production (Tackach 25).

However, this method had considerable drawbacks in the form of greater inefficiency and the need to engage in a variety of disreputable labor practices (ex: whipping) in order to ensure continued production in the various plantations in the South (Tackach 25). Evidence of the inefficiency of this approach can be seen in the differences in product output wherein only 40 percent of the North was engaged in agricultural production as compared to 86 percent in the South yet it was still able to match it to an extent due to its use of industrial methods of production (Miller 107).

Aside from utilizing slaves as a workforce, the South also actively sold slaves to other places around the world where slavery was still considered legal. Thus, with its plethora of valuable slaves, large plantations, and arable land, the wealth of the South was inextricably linked to the practice of slavery (Bolden 32).

Based on value alone, the sheer number of slaves in the South actually eclipsed the value of all the railroads banks and businesses within the North combined due to slaves effectively being viewed as commodities instead of people (The Emancipation Proclamation 7). This is the primary reason why the Civil War started and increased in brutality since what the North proposed would have effectively wiped out the fortunes of many influential individuals within the South (The Emancipation Proclamation 7).

As such, if alternatives could have been presented, it would have been likely that the war would not have even started in the first place. While the South did have substantial monetary currency, the fact remained that their version of “investments” was often tied to the number of slaves that a person owned. This helps to explain why the South fought so hard since the North, in effect, threatened their source of wealth (LaFantasie 26).

Understanding the Differences in Economic Development

The two regions diverged when it came to the concept of manpower and its place in the grand scheme of production. One focused almost primarily on agricultural production while the other developed its industrial capacity. Since slaves were not paid for their services, the South able to sell products at a lower cost. The lack of slave labor when the emancipation proclamation was put into effect translated into rising costs for agricultural products, which severely affected the South (Miller 107).

It is also important to note that while the North had a smaller agricultural sector as compared to the South; it actually outpaced the production of the latter by 17 times when it came to cotton and woolen textiles production (Taylor 32). While the increase in labor cost was understandable after the Civil War was over, given the change in production methods (i.e. no slaves), what must be understood is that the South did not account for the entirety of the nation’s production of agricultural products and, as such, could not unilaterally raise the price of the products to such an extent that it would make up for the increased cost of production. The end result was that the South had a great deal of difficulty recovering economically from the end of the war, whereas the North’s industrial and agricultural industries were barely affected (Taylor 32).

One of the main differences between the North and the South involved the trade of products such as cotton, sugar, molasses, rum, tobacco, basically any manner of agricultural product (Glass 74). These products from the South (created through the slave trade) were then subsequently shipped back to various European countries. The reason why such products are grown outside of Europe instead of within Europe itself is based on the fact that it is simply cheaper and easier to grow such crops in the U.S. rather than in Europe (Glass 74). This is based on the land being much more fertile, having a more constant temperature, and the fact that slaves can be easily brought in to grow crops (Glass 74).

In comparison, the industrial North focused more on processed goods and products, which enabled them to be more independent of a trade centered on agricultural products (Glass 74). Due to greater levels of efficiency, the north actually accounted for more than half of the country’s corn products, 4/5ths of its wheat, and 7/8ths of its oat production (The Emancipation Proclamation 7). This shows that despite the level of importance placed on slave labor, mechanized production methods were superior. Just as modern day processing creates industrial products that are worth more than agricultural goods, the same aspect was also present at the time wherein products from the north were more expensive and sought after as compared to products from the south (The Emancipation Proclamation 7).

Economic Correlation between Slavery and the Civil War

One of the primary justifications the South had in continuing the Civil War was connected to the high price of cotton and the value of slaves in the global market at the time. The distinct lack of mechanized industrial processes in the region resulted in agricultural operations requiring extensive amounts of manpower (i.e. slave labor) in order to properly grow crops (Tackach 32). Thus, the Emancipation Proclamation was in effect interpreted by people in the South as an affront to their wealth and businesses due to their dependence on slave labor practices. Once the Civil War was the over, the economic dependence that that the South had on the use of slaves manifested itself in the form of a declining economy (Glass 74). The South simply did not have sufficient alternative measures in place to deal with the possibility that slave labor would no longer be available to them (Glass 74).

Economic Impact of the Emancipation Proclamation on the North

The economic impact of the emancipation proclamation on the North was actually more positive since slavery was not widely utilized in the region (Bolden 43). With the devastation of the economy in the South, this enabled farms and industries in the North to “pick up the slack” so to speak when it came to international trade (Bolden 43). Exports of cotton and processed materials boomed in the North resulting in a considerable expansion of the region’s economy. It should also be noted that through the emancipation proclamation, the U.S. was effectively cast in a new and more positive light by the various European countries that had similarly abolished slavery resulting in the creation of more trade agreements (Bolden 43). This yielded even greater wealth for the North which enabled it to recover quite quickly from the ill effects it had suffered during the Civil War (Bolden 43).

Economic Impact of the Emancipation Proclamation on the South

Impact on Labor

The economic impacts of the emancipation proclamation on the southern states after the war was the subsequent increase in the cost of labor associated with growing essential agricultural products and exported goods (Tackach 88). What must be understood is that slavery, in essence, acted as a form of subsidy for southern plantation owners due to the lower cost of labor. With slaves effectively being freed from the control of the plantation owners, this created a considerable lack of manpower for the South which prevented its economic recovery from progressing (Tackach 32).

Impact on Agricultural Sales

The sale of agricultural goods in South that came as a result of free labor in the region through the purchase of slaves actually made the price of basic commodities far cheaper than what they should have been (Glass 74). This of course directly benefited the consumers in the South and contributed to the expansion of their consumerist society (Glass 74). However, once the Civil War ended, the South found itself in a situation where there was a subsequent rapid inflation of prices which severely curtailed its capacity to recover economically (Glass 74).

Loss of Trading Partners

The various Southern states that relied on slave labor became markets for factory owners in Great Britain with various textiles and manufactured goods being sold to not only slave regions in the New World but also to various African ports due to their subsequent relations with slave traders (Glass 74). The banks in London were able to gain large profits through fees and interest rates added on to loans merchants used to finance slave ship enterprises, often times such loans were considered safe for banks due to the sheer profitability that the slave industry provided (Glass 74). Once international sentiment grew against the use of slaves as well as the subsequent loss of the South against the North, these investments and trades were subsequently withdrawn which crippled the economy of the South due to a lack of sufficient economic activity (Glass 74).

Migration and Recovery

It should also be noted that there was a migration of families from the South to the North due to the apparent economic opportunities that were available there as compared to the lack of opportunities in the South (Miller 112). Despite attempts at implementing some form of economic recovery, their simply was not enough in terms of agricultural production capability or customers for the South after the war to actually result in sufficient economic recovery (Tackach 65). During the period of transition for the South, there was still a considerable amount of former slaves within the region. Attempts at hiring them back were made; however, there was still a considerable lack of customers for the South’s products due to its prevailing association with slavery.


One of the main reasons behind the different economic effects of the Emancipation Proclamation between the North and the South was the level of economic dependence the latter had on the slave trade. Simply put, the South relied heavily on slaves as a means of cheap labor while the North utilized advanced farming methods in order to grow crops. This was one of the main areas of contention between the two regions and was brought forth several times by the South as a discriminatory practice since freeing slaves would adversely impact the South more than the North.

This is because the North focused on the use of mechanized industrial processes, this enabled the North to far outpace the South when it came to production due to greater levels of efficiency. Once the Civil War was over, what emerged was a far stronger North with an unfortunately weakened South. For the agricultural industry in the South, the cost of agricultural operations without slaves would increase significantly if they were to hire American citizens to work in the fields which would increase the cost of the finished product. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that the South did not have the same focus on mechanized production as compared to the North.

The economic differences between the regions resulted in more people being interested in migrating to the North and, as a result, this further impacted the capacity of the South to recover economically. It was due to this that when the Emancipation Proclamation was announced along with their defeat during the Civil War, this in effect wiped out large portions of the South’s wealth. This particular aspect shows how important industrial capacity is when it comes to economic development. The mere fact that a heavily agriculturally oriented region went up against an industrialized opponent shows just how desperate the South was in upholding its way of life when in the long run it was inevitable that it would lose based on the production capacity of the North which the South severely lacked.

Works Cited

Austin, Patricia. “Dred Scott V. Sandford: Slavery And Freedom Before The American Civil War.” Booklist 109.12 (2013): 61. Print

Bolden, Tonya. Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln And The Dawn Of Liberty. United States of America: Abrams Books for Young Readers., 2012. Print

Eddlem, Thomas R. “America’s Civil War And The Advent Of Total War.” New American (08856540) 30.20 (2014): 34. Print

Glass, Hermina. “Men Of Color: To Arms!.” Atlanta 54.3 (2014): 74. Print

Letzer, Chelsea, and Elizabeth Lewis. “The Emancipation Proclamation Through The Power Of Reader’s Theater.” Black History Bulletin 75.2 (2012): 16. Print

LaFantasie, Glenn W. “Conceived In Liberty. (Cover Story).” American History 49.5 (2014): 26 Print

Miller, Randall M. “Lincoln’s Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation And The War For The Union.” Library Journal 137.13 (2012): 107. Print

Miller, Randall M. “The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views; Social, Political, Iconographic.” Library Journal 131.9 (2006): 112. Print

Tackach, James. The Emancipation Proclamation: Abolishing Slavery In The South. United States of America: Lucent Bks., 1999. Print

Taylor, Gilbert. “Lincoln’s Gamble: The Tumultuous Six Months That Gave America The Emancipation Proclamation And Changed The Course Of The Civil War.” Booklist 111.1 (2014): 32. Print

“The Emancipation Proclamation.” Civil War History 59.1 (2013): 7. Print

Witt, John Fabian. “Lincoln Changes The Rules Of War.” American History 47.6 (2013): 60. Print