Effects of the Industrial Revolution on Slavery

The Industrial Revolution started in Britain, where population was sky rocketing and demand for goods was increasing. This higher demand forced innovators and scientists to invent machines that would make production much faster than their old ways. Before the push for new technology, goods were being produced through the putting-out system: one where a manufacturer would make part of the product, send it out for someone to finish it, then put it on the market. One of the first steps towards the Industrial Revolution was John Kay’s flying shuttle built in 1733.

This machine allowed for weaving of cloth to be faster so that thread could be produced in surplus. Labor forces were being lowered because machines began to perform jobs humans did at a consistent and more productive rate. As factories developed, agricultural farms began to decline and those labor forces of slaves were sent to work in factories. Soon after this surge of innovation, slavery began to dissipate in places like America, Britain, and France. But many people believe that the Industrial Revolution had nothing to do with the decline of slavery.

On the contrary, slavery began to fall in places where industrialization was occurring because of industrialization itself. Machines were out-producing slaves, laws were passed to stop slaves from taking jobs in the city from white men, and slaves became very expensive.

With all of the new inventions being made, the cotton gin was one of them. Cotton was a main cash crop in the Americas and slaves were the ones on the farms picking it and refining it. Before, the slaves would have to remove the fibers from the seeds by hand, but now with the cotton gin, you place the cotton in the machine and it extracts the fibers with the pull of a lever.

Cotton was being produced faster by less people, there for leaving some people to do nothing. And to the white man that was wasted money. Along with the individuals, fewer farms were producing more than just average farms from the cotton gin and the transportation systems, there was no need for an excess of farms. Many slaves were released back into the Slave Trade.

Although many took comfort in slaves being sent back in the Slave Trade, some slaves moved into the cities along with the white men to get jobs in factories. The slaves would come in and work all different kinds of jobs, whether it is in a factory or on a farm. Feeling that their jobs are threatened, the white men wanted to put a stop to the slaves taking all of the jobs and the money. So due to this, laws were passed banning slaves from taking jobs that are located in the city. To protect the work of the white man, inequality in work was becoming much more prominent with the creation and application of these laws.

One example is the New York slave laws that made skilled black artisans give up their jobs. 20 people were killed in the reinforcement of that law. After a slave revolt in New York, the slave laws only got stricter. Due to this law, slaves were forced to get the harshest of jobs; jobs like in agriculture and mining. New York continued to import slaves though, regardless of the revolts that were going on. Eventually in 1731 New York began controlling everything slaves and freed blacks did, from morning to night.

Even when slaves did get jobs in places like factories before these laws were passed, they were still much more expensive than the average working man. Back then the demand for a job in a factory was extremely high. Some people were out of jobs just because they were all already taken. So with this large waiting list, if one worker got sick or couldn’t work for any reason, they would be instantly replaced.

And the best part about having worker who you don’t own is that you do not have to take care of them. Slave owners would have to pay their slaves for working on top of feeding them, giving them shelter, and paying for them. Slaves became too much of a hassle to keep around in a capitalistic society.

Slaves were sent to the bottom of society and even free blacks were treated poorly as well. Places where slavery was very prominent like the Americas began export slaves as they tried to get rid of the burden and stop the trade. Americans finally stopped participating in the Slave Trade which helped bring it down and restore at least a little bit of equality.

Everyone believes that it was only the Emancipation Proclamation that stopped the use of slavery around the world, when in fact; industrialization had a significant contribution as well. The Industrial Revolution brought machines to the world that could produce products faster and better than humans, it brought laws that protected the white man’s right to a city job, and it brought the realization of the burden of slaves. All of these things greatly added to the decline of slavery and eventually to the end of it.


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  • Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994 [ 1 ].
  • Inikori, Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England: A Study in International Trade and Economic Development, 22 [ 2 ].
  • Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, 56