Aaron CaricoAug 17, 2020
The Slave's Value in National Culture after 1865
University of North Carolina Press 2020
On the eve of the Civil War, the estimated value of the U.S. enslaved population exceeded $3 billion--triple that of investments nationwide in factories, railroads, and banks combined, and worth more even than the South's lucrative farmland. Not only an object to be traded and used, the slave was also a kind of currency, a form of value that anchored the market itself. And this value was not destroyed in the war. Slavery still structured social relations and cultural production in the United States more than a century after it was formally abolished.
As Aaron Carico reveals in Black Market: The Slave's Value in National Culture after 1865 (UNC Press, 2020), slavery's engine of capital accumulation was preserved and transformed, and the slave commodity survived emancipation. Through both archival research and lucid readings of literature, art, and law, from the plight of the Fourteenth Amendment to the myth of the cowboy, Carico breaks open the icons of liberalism to expose the shaping influence of slavery's political economy in America after 1865. Ultimately, Black Market shows how a radically incomplete and fundamentally failed abolition enabled the emergence of a modern nation-state, in which slavery still determined--and now goes on to determine--economic, political, and cultural life.
Aaron Carico received his PhD in American Studies from Yale University.
Derek Litvak is a Ph.D. student in the department of history at the University of Maryland.