The Economic History Review

The contribution of enslaved workers to output and growth in the antebellum United States

Volume 77 Issue 1
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Authors: Mark Stelzner, Sven Beckert
Published online: May 26, 2023DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13255

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States during the first half of the nineteenth century is a crucial building block to better understand the contours of nineteenth-century US economic history, and more generally, the connection between slavery and capitalism. Existing estimates only present a partial picture and are potentially problematic. In this paper, we use data on enslaved person valuations to calculate the contribution made by enslaved workers to regional and national gross national product (GNP) in 1839 and 1859 and to the growth in per capita output in the 20 years before the Civil War. We find that in the United States, enslaved workers were responsible for somewhere between 12.49 per cent and 18.0 per cent of the increase in output per capita between 1839 and 1859.

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