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1793 - The Common Thread: Slavery, Cotton and Atlantic Finance from the Louisiana Purchase to Recon

This dissertation focuses on the relationship between cotton, slavery and finance. At its core is a consideration of the Atlantic credit networks that supported the cultivation of cotton across the antebellum South. Planters relied on credit to finance their operating costs from year to year. The credit they received from British merchant banking houses made slavery a tenable labor regime in the antebellum South and enabled the plantation complex to function. This in turn contributed to the expansion of the American economy.

The evolution of banking practices and credit mechanisms prompted by the burgeoning trade in cotton and the banking infrastructure developed to support this activity stimulated British industrialization and economic growth. The links between slavery and the development of an Anglo-American financial world are traced here through an examination of cotton sales, consignments and advances made to Southern planters. This dissertation highlights how cotton and the long reach of international finance in turn shaped banking practices across the Atlantic world.

The role cotton and slavery played in the growth and development of banks and financial houses as well as British and American economies is made clear when looked at from a perspective larger that moves that of the Nation-State or national economy. This dissertation utilizes an Atlantic perspective to make sense of slavery, cotton production and economic development. In this light, slavery does not seem perversely unique to the American landscape. In fact, it looks like an externalized labor practice that markedly boosted British economic growth. In fact, this is more or less how nineteenth-century contemporaries understood the world they had created. In the end, the world of cotton and finance was one the slaves made, and although they do not have center stage here, they are at the heart of this story and the most fundamental argument of this dissertation: slave labor was vital to financial development and the evolution of banking practices in both the United States and Great Britain.

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