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Slavery and Capitalism


Recent historians have overhauled our understandings of slavery's role in the development of American capitalism. Once considered to be a feudal exception to the story of a growing national economy, historians have begun to recognize that the emergence of a free market was closely tied to the bondage of millions of enslaved people. Kentucky had a peripheral role in the cotton economy that fueled slavery elsewhere in the South, though the state enabled that trade by selling men and women to cotton planters and supplying the food and manufactured goods that allowed plantations to sustain themselves. In Kentucky, slaveowners tended to own fewer total slaves, but the number of slaveholding families was among the higest anywhere in the antebellum South. The Civil War Governors documents featured here help begin to show the strength and diversity of a slavery-driven economy at its height and its fragility as it collapsed.