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Slavery Was Necessary to the Growth of the Nation Into a Prosperous and Powerful Country


It is an interesting and complicated thing to discuss whether slavery was a requisite for the development of the United States as a wealthy and mighty country. Although modern sensibilities view slavery as a violation of human rights, it becomes necessary to explore historical settings to appreciate how these factors could have influenced the growth of the nation. This paper intends to defend the proposition that slavery was instrumental in the growth of the nation, including citing relevant examples and evidence. Nevertheless, the opposing argument, which contends that slavery is not essential to the nation’s prosperity and might prove a liability, should also be considered.

The Argument for Slavery’s Necessity

To fully understand the complexity of how slavery helped in the development of the United States, it is necessary to understand the economic, social, and geopolitical aspects it had towards it. The key to the United States’ rise to greatness was slavery, especially in the Southern states, which provided the foundation of such economic prosperity. The practice of slavery was closely interconnected with the Southern agrarian economy that mainly depended on the cultivation of cash crops like tobacco, indigo, and, especially, cotton (Wright, 123-148). The climate and soil were favorable for large-scale productions of these crops in the South, while profits hinged on a cheap labor force. However, the economy’s imperative demanded a sustainable and affordable workforce to optimize the production on plantations from enslaved people.

Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, again revolutionizing the Southern economy (Burnard and Giorgio, 225-244). This invention revolutionized cotton harvesting by automating the process of separating seeds from fibers, making it ten times easier. The cotton gin’s impact on the Southern states cannot be underestimated since it made cotton a very lucrative cash crop. This resulted in an unprecedented increase in cotton cultivation and trading, demanding more slaves. The entire nation was affected economically by the cotton industry. The cotton trade was a crucial source of revenue for financing the early development of the nation’s affairs. The infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and railways, moved the goods and people from one end to another in the expanding country (Inwood, 44-51). Also, the profits made from cotton were channeled into emerging sectors of the United States and paved the way for the Industrial Revolution.

Regarding the economic effect of slavery, the gravity of triangular trade cannot be underestimated. Trade routes linking the American colonies with Europe and Africa developed complex paths through which goods, including enslaved people, were traded. However, this economic interdependence ensured that the American colonies thrived and the United States emerged as one of the leading economies in the world. It was the wealth obtained from the triangular trade, especially from the slave trade, that gave economic power for the development and growth of the nation to a position of power (Pollio, 53-73). Also, slavery had a great deal on the geopolitics. Slavery benefited the American economy, allowing the nation to exercise power over other states. Wealthy and powerful as it was because of profits made from slave labor, the nation was able to build and maintain a fierce military that stood as a giant among equals on the world stage. This, in turn, protected the country’s economic interests, thereby making it possible for it to spread westward.

The economic situation at that time was much more complicated than simply recognizing the obvious moral offenses against slavery. The rich, fertile land in the southern states and the economic value of cash crops were two conditions that made slave exploitation seem a necessary and logical undertaking. In this sense, slavery turned out to be one of the motors that drove this country to be wealthy and mighty.

Opposing View

One major argument against this fact is that the United States would still have achieved prosperity without slavery. The opponents maintain that slavery was immoral and unwarranted, as innumerable other countries managed to prosper without recourse to slavery. The view suggests that other forms of labor, like wage labor or indentured servitude, would have been applicable and avoided slavery in pursuit of wealth creation.

A major point against the requirement of slavery is the claim that advances in technology and innovations would have occurred anyway, regardless of whether there was slavery. Critics argue that the Industrial Revolution, which was a major cause of economic growth in the US, may have occurred through other labor sources (Filler). It cannot be denied that technological development per se could have existed without the institution of slavery. Still, the fact remains that given the actual historical conditions in the southern United States, especially in the plantation economy, it makes an indisputable argument for the economic significance of chattel slavery.

The Southern economy depended on cash crops, and cotton became an extremely profitable commodity. Cotton thrived because of the triangular trade, where the slaves were the backbone. According to the opposing camp, wages or other forms of labor might have been used for cultivating and gathering these crops (Baptist). Nevertheless, plantation agriculture was very labor intensive and posed specific difficulties because plenty of fertile land was available across the South. As a result, slave labor seemed reasonable and profitable.

In addition, critics usually focus on what other nations like Great Britain obtained during economic growth and industrialization, concluding that these outcomes could have been possible without slavery. Certainly, some countries succeeded not in slave labor but under specific and unique conditions. The United States stood out from other industrializing countries on account of its huge expanse of farmland and labor-intensive crops with high demand.

The other facet of the opposing view argues that the economic profit out of slavery could have been attained differently, which would have been ethically right. Although this is a moral argument, its simplicity often fails to do justice to the economic complexities of the era. Faced with the profitability of cash crops in the Southern states, economic pressures weighed much in deciding matters. Slavery was inherently a part of Southern existence, and the thought of a slavery-free prosperous alternative was hard to envisage as being both possible and socially acceptable in the context of that time.

In addition, those in support of the opposing view fail to appreciate the economic interdependence of the Northern and the Southern States. Not only did slave labor generate wealth from Southern agriculture. This helped finance the industrial revolution of the North, which contributed to the national economic growth. However, the interdependence shows the complicated economic net spun up when one domain’s prosperity depended upon another region’s economic practices.

It is also important to acknowledge that there was no lack of alternatives to slavery, like indentured servitude or even wage labor, during those historical periods. On the other hand, the magnitude and profitability of these options in Southern farming were narrow. For instance, indentured servitude was not a viable long-term solution to meet the labor-intensive nature of plantation-based agriculture. At that time, the large amount of fertile land and the demand for labor in Southern states made slavery seem like a reasonable economic choice.


Although it is recognized as ethically repugnant, slavery was pivotal to the economic ascendance of the USA and its rise to dominance. The nation underwent development due to the economic, social, and geopolitical dimensions of slavery that tied up the Southern agricultural economy. While this opposing view is morally justifiable, it oversimplifies the economic dimensions of the USA’s challenges. Unfortunately, slavery played a crucial role in transforming the nation’s economy from being a nascent and weak one into the mightiest and most productive force.

Work Cited

Baptist, Edward E. The half has never been told: Slavery and the making of American capitalism. Hachette UK, 2016.

Burnard, Trevor, and Giorgio Riello. “Slavery and the new history of capitalism.” Journal of Global History 15.2 (2020): 225-244.

Filler, Louis. Slavery in the United States. Routledge, 2018.

Inwood, Joshua FJ. “The Modern Infrastructure Landscape and the Legacy of Slavery.” The Professional Geographer 75.1 (2023): 44-51.

Pollio, Gerald. “Economic Impact of Slavery.” The Rise and Fall of Britain’s North American Empire: The Political Economy of Colonial America. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2022. 53-73.

Wright, Gavin. “Slavery and the Rise of the Nineteenth-Century American Economy.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 36.2 (2022): 123-148.


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