Banking on Slavery

in Face Value

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780226629377
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226629391 | DOI:
Banking on Slavery

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In antebellum America, a bizarre and astonishing money system existed whereby people, in the absence of a central bank, made do with literally tens of thousands of types of money. Because there was no central bank, slaves served in place of gold. Aside from their labor, slaves had a value as capital that allowed Americans to speculate and experiment with money. Americans not only “banked on slavery,” but also toyed with the fantasy of a non-negotiable racial identity. This chapter suggests that had Americans established a central bank like the Bank of England, they might have abolished slavery. England did by passing the “Slavery Abolition Act” in 1833 and compensating slaveowners for lost property.

Keywords: slavery; America; gold; money; England; Slavery Abolition Act; Bank of England; central bank; labor; capital

Chapter.  15279 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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