The United States recently celebrated its independence day on July 4th as the day when the Declaration of Independence was originally written and published by the original 13 colonies in 1776. One only has to read as far as the second paragraph to see the original beliefs of its founders. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This was written in the context of seeing themselves enslaved by the King of England, however I believe America could only have been founded by Protestants who believed in the Biblical principle of individual freedoms that comes from God. This commitment to individual freedoms that was put in these founding documents would eventually be tested and subsequently apply to all who would be called Americans.
Although some suggest that racially based slave labor in the pre-civil war era was capitalism in operation and thus condemn capitalism as an economic system; slavery was in fact practiced by cultures for many hundreds of years in Asia and Africa before those in the West wrongly embraced it. Nonetheless it had to be rooted out of the West because is it was morally wrong and Christians led the fight to do so. In fact the West became a crusader against slavery in Asia up to the end of World War II because the Japanese were literally enslaving many of the other Asian nations at this time.
Biblically, slavery is morally wrong and a violation of the golden rule, “so in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” Jesus said this sums up the whole Old Testament and also in Mark 12: 31 He said, “…Love your neighbor as yourself…” To own a slave is counter to these two commands of Jesus. However, sadly many slave owners were Christians who attended church regularly. In fact Christians in the south (wrongly) quoted the Bible in support of slavery, while Christians in the North (rightly) quoted scripture to condemn slavery.
Slavery was never an expression of Biblical capitalism as we have defined it…“ an economic system that allows people to own personal property and benefit from their own labor…It is based on the understanding that an individual must be responsible for his or her own success. People should be able to use what they have accumulated – their capital – and have it produce more wealth for them (see complete definition below). To seize the labor of someone and not compensate them is theft, pure and simple. Slavery was not Biblical or capitalism because an individual needs to reap the reward of their labor.
From a purely economic perspective historians have asserted the slavery was economically unproductive. The most commonly mentioned reason that historians do not consider slavery a part of capitalism is the lack of wage labor. Frederick Law Olmstead traveled to the slave states in the 1850’s and argued that slavery made the south inefficient and economically backward when compared to the Northern industrialism and capitalism. The North’s view was that a free market for labor was superior and more productive than slavery. With the Civil War, the United States destroyed an economic system that was holding the country back and allowed the Northern capitalists to lead the country to a much greater prosperity.
Ultimately, many would say that it was the industrial strength of the North that allowed the North to win the civil war, which was ultimately fought over the issue of personal freedom for all.
Working definition of Biblical capitalism…
“When we say capitalism we are referring to an economic system that allows people to own personal property and benefit from their own labor, wisdom, education and experience. It is based on the understanding that an individual must be responsible for his or her own success. People should be able to use what they have accumulated – their capital – and have it produce more wealth for them. This means that a person who invented a tool should be able to use that tool to produce wealth…Capitalism is the economic system which has allowed individuals to be creative (in the image of God) and industrious, thus producing the abundance we see in the modern Western world today. It has allowed the human spirit freedom to release its potential, resulting in the advancement of society in almost every area, including agriculture, medicine, manufacturing, transportation, communication and technology.”