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Did tobacco positively influence the southern colonies?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/6/2017 Category: Society
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 629 times Debate No: 98747
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When John Rolfe came to Jamestown in 1610 he brought tobacco to the suffering colony. Tobacco became the first cash crop in America. A cash crop is a crop produced to earn money rather than to use yourself. The demand for tobacco was growing back in England and the colonists were running low on supplies because they had to pay them to the British. They were able to make a deal to trade tobacco equally for some other supplies that helped to boost the American Economy. These are a few examples on how tobacco positively influenced the colonies.


A historical debate! How intriguing. This is a first for me. Thank you for the challenge!

I will argue that tobacco, on balance, negatively influenced the Southern colonies. I'd like to make a few brief points before I delve into my main contentions:

1) My opponent and I must consider the Southern colonies holistically, as per the resolution. We are NOT solely considering the economic implications of tobacco on the Southern colonies, but the societal implications in general. This bridges the gap between my argument and my opponent's, as I will discuss the social implications of tobacco as well.

2) I will be using Wikipedia in this debate. It ought to be noted, however, that every statistic I pull from Wikipedia is pulled from a different, academic/credible source. I realize not everything on Wikipedia maintains this same level of credibility.


Let's get started.


Let it be noted that my entire argument essentially stems from the history of slavery. I will be tracking some major historical continuities that stretch centuries, so I will be trying my best to articulate these patterns most accurately and clearly. A lot of this information is already very well-known.

1) How can slavery be viewed as an effect of the rise of tobacco in colonial America?

The American slave trade has its roots in the needs for labor. Until the 18th century, indentured servitude was the primary source of menial labor in the colonies. This system of labor served as a way to attract Europeans looking for a fresh start and a guaranteed place in the new colonial society after their contracts expired. Indentured servitude significantly fed the colonial population and the Southern labor force. [1]

However, this system was soon replaced, for many reasons. Indentured servants had began to threaten the property-owning elite of the South, and thus, tobacco planters were forced to seek out a new source of menial labor. What better than the free, life-long labor a slave provides? Slaves began pouring into the Southern colonies by the thousands. [2]

The prevalence of slaves was simply a product of the need for sustainable labor. But why tobacco? Because tobacco created that vacuum of labor supply, which led directly to the mass importation of slaves in the first place. In fact, it is estimated that the slave population in the Chesapeake region alone increased from 100,000 to 1,000,000 over the course of the 18th century, just to fill that demand for labor on tobacco-growing establishments. [3]

2) What were slavery's long-term effects on the Southern colonies?

Now that it is well-established that slavery's rise in the Southern colonies can be originally attributed to the tobacco boom, let's examine the effects of slavery to prove, unequivocally, that tobacco was not a good thing for the South.

Colonies became states, and slavery became political. Fast-forward to the very foundation of the United States, and we can see that the issue slavery was a ticking time bomb. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 set in motion the rise of sectional politics, transcending party lines and veritably tearing the nation apart. Slavery was not the cause of the Civil War, but the issue that characterized the entire Civil War era, including the war itself.

The Civil War was the first instance of true national crisis in American history. It was the boiling point of America's murky political past. It may have ended slavery as an institution in Southern society, but Reconstruction brought on discrimination in a new, more sinister form. The Black Codes perpetuated slavery's racial hierarchy in Southern society. [4] Sharecropping systematically eliminated any ounce of hope Southern blacks had at climbing the social ladder. [5] Essentially, slavery was continued under a different guise.


These racial issues continued to haunt America, and still do today. We still see racial division in our schools and neighborhoods, and where should we look? Let's look back to the very moment that Rolfe set foot in Jamestown and offered them their first chance at a stable, economically strong society, because even if the Southern colonies reaped the benefits early on, our nation still suffers today.

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