Slavery in America and England Compared, c. 1750

Historical Context
The pre-Revolution eighteenth century colonial economy in America was an export economy. Early English navigation laws helped establish it. The English wanted to ensure profits from their colonial investments by restricting American manufacturing and by controlling markets for colonial agricultural crops. America, in turn, had stable and constant demand for England's manufactured goods. However, as the American Revolution neared, Americans began realizing the lack of control England really had on the American economy, and colonists sought self-sufficiency while still providing some raw materials to England.  

Meanwhile, in England, the country’s population almost doubled during the eighteenth century.  Scientific innovations in cotton spinning and manufacturing provided the country with a surging cotton manufacturing economy, while the increased population provided the work force. James Hargreaves’ spinning jenny, invented about 1765, planted the seed of cotton's industrial growth in England. This was followed closely by Richard Arkwright’s water frame, a spinning jenny fueled by water power. By 1790, ten times as much cotton yarn was manufactured in England as just twenty years before. Another significant innovation was the use of steam power engines to run the spinning machines. This technology gave cotton factories the possibility of being established anywhere, not just near water.

In the ninteenth century, the demand for American cotton skyrocketed not only in England but also in the growing manufacturing plants in the northeast United States. The textile mills demanded raw materials. Based on supply and demand and international interdependence, economically everything was going well. However, the social impact of the English Industrial Revolution was great. Some ill effects were the exploitation of workers, child labor, and miserable working conditions, similar effects to those the United States would experience during its own industrial movement about eighty years later. In America, the demand for cotton between 1790 and the 1860s institutionalized the plantation economic system and thus slavery.


The significance of these social developments lies in their legacy. In America, the dependence on slave labor led to the last and bloodiest war fought on American soil, the Civil War.  In England, the intense capitalism and the profit-driven society that was created during the English Industrial Revolution led to social and philosophical revolutions.
Essential Question
How do economic factors influence human equality and quality of life?
Check for Understanding
Summarize the main idea of this document and evaluate the impact of economic conditions on human equality and quality of life.
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Slavery. Slavery in America and England Compared, New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_3654
Document Description
A political cartoon that compares slavery in America and England, 1850.
Historical Challenge
Slavery was an issue that divided America and eventually led to the Civil War. What were the two opposing views on slavery during the first half of the nineteenth century? Do these cartoons depict American slave life accurately?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: Colonial America was an export economy. Find out what our national exports and imports are today. Is our GNP or our GDP larger?
Science: Technology such as steam engines and spinning jennys revolutionized the textile industry. Research how those machines worked and make a visual timeline of diagrams to show the progression of this technology.
English Language Arts: Research life in an English textile factory and life as an American slave on a cotton plantation. Create a Venn diagram comparing the two.