Slavery in the American colonies was vital for the growth and independence of the country. If slavery had not existed in the early colonies, America would have grown very differently than it did, perhaps never gaining its independence.
A major factor that led to the widespread use of slaves was Bacon’s rebellion. White indentured servants viewed themselves as equals to non-indentured white people. They felt they had rights, and when those rights were trampled, they revolted.
Rich landowners who needed a large amount of labor in order to run their plantations were afraid of an angry workforce that could unify and rebel. With this fear, race based slavery became the dominant system.
Race based slavery was built on the premise that if one group was oppressed into complete submission, there would be less people to revolt and a workforce that was easier to control. This system was safer for plantation farmers because it was much harder for a slave to escape or revolt than it was for an indentured servant to escape or revolt.
Another benefit of race based slavery was working conditions and hours. If indentured servants were abused and forced to work from dawn until dusk every day, it reflected poorly on the abuser. However, if a slave was abused or forced to work long hours, (which happened more often than one would like to imagine) few people noticed, and fewer cared.
Slavery was a terrible and awful system, but for slaveowners it was necessary for their way of life. Slaves in the plantation colonies allowed for the emergence of a wealthier class of people. Many of these people (Thomas Jefferson, for example) wielded their influence in order to shape America the way they liked.
Slavery provided the base for a large amount of American trade. The trade route between the African coast that provided slaves, sugar islands that used slaves, and New England that made sugar into rum helped build the New England shipping economy. Goods produced by slaves in the plantation colonies would have had to pass through England before they could be sold elsewhere. This would have helped to build unrest against the hated navigation laws, which were a major contribution to the American Revolution.
Slavery was important in America because it created a strong economy in the colonies. It brought wealth to the plantation colonies, creating important family groups such as the Washingtons. It strengthened the shipping economy in the New England colonies, and provided wealth to the patriot cause during the revolution. Slavery was a brutal violation of human rights needed for the growth of the America we see today.
Chapter 4 of the American Pageant