American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia by Edmund S. Morgan is an in depth book written about Virginia's colonial experience. The emphasis of Morgan's book centers around contradictory institutions of slavery and freedom. He argues that Virginians' definition of freedom and their ability to create a republican political system rested on the creation of African slavery.
As the settlement in America eventually became prosperous and colonists learned to produce tobacco for market, there were labor shortages. To make a profit, planters needed to control large numbers of indentured servants. Unfortunately indentured servants needed only to serve for a limited period before they were free to set up business for themselves. This only created competition for the planters. Planters then made it difficult for freedmen to buy lands of their own. Planters often treated their indentured servants so poorly that as news of their condition drifted back to England, fewer people were willing to indenture themselves.
In the 1670's the Planters began the importation of African slaves. It became cost efficient to buy a servant for life. At first there were restrictions just as with white servants except their terms of service were fixed for life. It is fascinating that as Thomas Jefferson wrote the famous words to the Declaration of Independence he still owned over two hundred slaves. Americans revolted in 1776 to escape what some believed was tyranny by the English, but even as the revolutionaries professed themselves devoted to liberty and equality, they pushed and supported a labor system that was terribly oppressive in its exploitation of men. Nearly a century after independence the bond between freedom and slavery persisted.
Edmund S. Morgan sets for himself the task of telling how the paradox of slavery and freedom came to pass and persisted. Morgan does as...