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Face ValueThe Entwined Histories of Money and Race in America$
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Michael O'Malley

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780226629377

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226629391.001.0001

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Banking on Slavery

Banking on Slavery

(p.44) Chapter Two Banking on Slavery
Face Value
University of Chicago Press

In antebellum America, a bizarre and astonishing money system existed whereby people, in the absence of a central bank, made do with literally tens of thousands of types of money. Because there was no central bank, slaves served in place of gold. Aside from their labor, slaves had a value as capital that allowed Americans to speculate and experiment with money. Americans not only “banked on slavery,” but also toyed with the fantasy of a non-negotiable racial identity. This chapter suggests that had Americans established a central bank like the Bank of England, they might have abolished slavery. England did by passing the “Slavery Abolition Act” in 1833 and compensating slaveowners for lost property.

Keywords:   slavery, America, gold, money, England, Slavery Abolition Act, Bank of England, central bank, labor, capital

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