African Americans, Slavery, and Thrift from the Revolution to the Civil War

Patrick Rael

in Thrift and Thriving in America

Published in print July 2011 | ISBN: 9780199769063
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199896851 | DOI:
African Americans, Slavery, and Thrift from the Revolution to the Civil War

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This chapter traces the role that notions of thrift played in the history of race in pre-Civil War America. In particular, it highlights how white Americans reserved “the virtues of thrift— industriousness, discipline, and self-control” for themselves, while ascribing to blacks “thrift's antitheses—laziness, improvidence, and profligacy.” In this way, the moral economy of thrift was used to justify the institution of slavery. At the same time, the national discourse of thrift was fragmenting, as the North and South developed competing conceptions of thrift, which reflected the contrasting needs of their economies. The northern states emphasized the bourgeois work ethic, industrialization, and urban life. The southern states stressed a conception rooted in an agricultural and slave-based economy. Northern thrift contributed to the creation of an economy much more diversified and powerful than that of the South, an advantage that proved decisive in the Civil War.

Keywords: race; thrift; blacks; slavery; northern states; southern states

Chapter.  11423 words. 

Subjects: Economic Sociology

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