[APUSH Essay] The Libidinal Productivism of Slavery in the Southern Colonies


Slavery is the exclusive focus of this essay, and this begs the question: “What is slavery?” Slavery is, firstly, a method of organizing labor, and then, secondly, a form of employing that organization of labor, and lastly, a mode of utilization of that which is produced by slave labor. In regards to this understanding of slavery, the identifable interal concepts that compose the concept of slavery are threefold: 1. a mode of production (and, therefore, production itself) 2. as a corollary of the first, the accumulation of that which was produced 3. and, as a corollary of the second the growth which comes from the consumption of that which is accumulated. Because production, accumulation, and growth compose the concept of slavery, they are the focuses of this essay. Now, any factor which led to the growth of slavery is going to come from desire. But, because the first desire one has is the desire to produce, all factors that led to the expansion of slavery has to do with production and, therefore, accumulation and, therefore, growth.[1] Thus, the factors which motivated the expansion of slavery within the Southern Colonies from 1607 to 1754 all have the colonist’s desire to produce, accumulate, and grow on an economic level at their bases.

First and foremost, one can see that the desire for production was the primary factor motivating the expansion of slavery within the Southern Colonies due to the sheer fact that slaves were used for labor. Labor is productive negation. An individual man transforms the world that he inhabits through labor, and this transformation negates its state into a new one, and therefore it has produced this new state. Slave labor is a form of labor that does not entail monetary compensation.

Within the Southern Colonies, one can see that slave labor was used for a multitude of activities, but was overwhelmingly employed in an agricultural manner (85). It was employed in this manner because of the great return cash crops yielded. For example, planter-merchants who grew and sold sugar “drew annual profits of more than 10 percent on their investment” (79). This money that cash crops yielded only led to the expansion of slavery. As Brody et al. says, “These massive profits [that cash crops, specifically sugar, yielded] drove the expansion of the slave trade” (79). Thus, when one asks the question “The production of what for what?” one can answer “crops” and “cash” (capital).[2]

Nevertheless, production is at the bottom of this, but so is the accumulation of cash, and then the reinvestment of capital into the means of production which entails the growth of the means of production. “The factor of capital” demonstrates the thesis succinctly. Not only is production at the very root of capital’s existence, capital’s existence is also for production, or, more specifically, for the reproduction of capital. In essence, the factor of the planter-merchant’s desire for capital, reveals production and its two corollaries, accumulation and growth, to be its foundation.[3]

Secondly, one can see production, and specifically its corollary accumulation, at the basis of the other factor of slavery: non-capital money and assets. While (the desire for) capital was identified as the first stratum (“factor”) of slavery, which had as its substratum production and its corollaries, the next stratum in the strata of slavery is non-capital money and assets, money and assets not used to generate more money.[4] Brody et al. explains, “The planters [of the Chesapeake] used Africans to grow food as well as tobacco; build houses, wagons, and tobacco casks; and make shoes and clothes. By making their plantations self-sufficient, the Chesapeake elite survived the depressed tobacco market between 1670 and 1720” (90). Thus, slave labor’s productive capacity was directed toward creating non-capital assets like houses, clothes, etc. and these were accumulated in a manner similar to a lot of family homes in the North. This is to say, the function of a plantation was dual: firstly, it sought to sustain itself by itself, much like the subsistence farms of the North; secondly, it sought to expand itself by way of reinvesting the profit it made on market. This duality of the plantation also perfectly reflects the non-capital/capital split that has been noted thus far.

In this way, accumulation was at the bottom of things when it came to non-capital assets and money, for no profit was to be gained, no capital was involved, and therefore, the teleology, that is the “functional” end, of accumulation here had nothing to do with production in the sense of the reproduction of capital that is integral to production’s primacy in regards to capital. This perfectly affirms the thesis in that accumulation is shown to be at the other motivating factor of slavery and its expansion in the South: security.[5] In short, the factor of the desire for (familial) security grounded in non-capital assets and money reveals accumulation, its corollary, growth, and its predicate, production, to be its base.

As for growth, it must be noted that growth is integral to both of the latter two processes. In terms of capital assets and money, growth is necessitated by the fact that to make more profit, one must expand the means of production. In regards to non-capital assets and money, growth is required in a less excessive manner, but it is nonetheless required for sustaining the families and slaves as the number of both increased. So, one can see a priori that growth is key to both of these processes.

In conclusion, the colonist’s desire to produce, accumulate, and grow on an economic level were all at the origin of the factors which motivated the expansion of slavery within the Southern Colonies from 1607 to 1754. Looking toward the factors that were capital money and assets, one can see that production is the basis, specifically in regards to the cash crop trade within the Chesapeake. Looking toward the factors that were non-capital assets and money, one can see accumulation as the base, specifically in relation to the “subsistence farming” found in the South. As for growth, it has been demonstrated that it underlies the other two processes. To end, these processes of production, accumulation, and growth still pervade almost all of our actions in the everyday, and this prompts the question “Besides the level of coercion employed to cause labor to happen, what has really changed?”


[1]: The first desire a man has is the desire to produce because one must produce themself, that is to say, one must continually reassert themself against that which limits them (all that which is outside their body, i.e., the world), and this continual reassertion of one’s being-in-the-world can only come through the bodies production of movement and forces, i.e., action. The desire for production first arises out of man’s desire to conquer the seemingly indivisible continuity that is nature, as man only springs from nature out of horror. This movement out of nature is the creation of man, or the movement of man out of nature, his differentiation of himself from animality.

[2]: Capital is not merely money, but money which is used to generate more money. Money which is used to buy food that is to soon be utilized (consumed) by the buyer is not capital, as it is not generating more capital. The money that planter-merchants accumulated was primarily used to buy more slaves, tools, etc. in order to make more money, and, therefore, the money of the planter-merchant was capital. Capital is also assets, or property, which is used to generate money.

[3]: Production, accumulation, and growth are therefore all caught up in desire (this will continue to be demonstrated throughout the rest of this essay, but only noted here).

[4]: Note that there is already a conventional understanding of non-capital and capital assets, but this essay does not use this conception. Rather, in accordance with money that generates more money, property that generates more money is also seen as capital.

[5]: Accumulation is integral to the second motivating factor of slavery’s expansion in the South, that factor being (the) security (of, generally, a family, or some other group of people), because security requires that one have assets to secure, and to secure, that is, ground themselves in.

Work Cited

Brody, David, Lynn Dumenil, and James A. Henretta. America’s History. Sixth edition, Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2008.



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How sweet terror is, not a single line, or a ray of morning sunlight fails to contain the sweetness of anguish. - Georges Bataille