Accounting for Slavery
Accounting for Slavery
Slavery was business that was profitable and admired by the enslavers. It was a business that was supported by the system for economic purposes and rules and regulation were laid down to ensure the business succeeded. For many people, this was against the rights of the people who were enslaved and forced to work in plantation farms with little or no return on their side. However, for other people, it was the slaves who developed the nation thus, it was a necessary business. There are a lot of documents and scholarly articles which have been fronted to explain how the slavery business was conducted in West Indies and the South in the United States. One thing that is evident is the records that the slave masters used to keep to track down the productivity of the slaves in their farms. In particular, the accounting records that the slave owners used to keep mirrors the modern accounting that corporate companies and organizations are keeping. One of the compelling records that enslavers used to keep is the double-entry books of accounting. This was precisely to allow them analyze and do comparison on the productivity of the slaves. In the modern accounting, organizations and individuals keep double-entry system to record their transactions and keep track of the money they receive and what they spend. However, the modern accounting is more scientific but that does not take away the contribution of the enslavers’ records in the modern accounting.
Accounting for Slavery is a book that delves into the slavery business and the organized structure that had been laid down to guarantee the success of the slavery business. Rosenthal discusses the structures of the slavery business which had three distinct tiers. The slave owners ranked top on the tier with overseers and attorneys who were project managers. The structures discussed by Rosenthal mirrors the modern corporations which has hierarchy of people working in different positions. The author begins her narration by highlighting the historical challenges that the slaves went through in the hands of their masters. Further, Rosenthal explains some of the events that affected plantation operation including the rebellion that was orchestrate by a group called maroon in Jamaica. Although plantation owners were enslaving people to work in their farms for profit, the author narrates that they also had their own share of challenges from rebellious groups. The author goes on to explain the tactics that the farm owners were using to maximize the output from the slaves. Slaves were required to work and ensure they produce as much as possible and those who could not give the best were punished. According to Rosenthal, slaves were branded and tortured as an incentive to force them to maximize their output. This was against the rights of the slaves and the author analyses some of the human rights abuses that were orchestrated by the enslavers. From the author’s narration, it is clear that slaves were being forced to labor against their will. The slaves who tried fighting for their rights were labeled, tortured and some were killed.
Further, the author narrates the collusion that the authorities had with the slave-owners. Every slave-owner was required to give their laborers codes that would identify them and where they were going as they carry out their activities. These codes were also necessary to ensure that the slave-owners maintained the accurate records on the productivity of every slave. Although enslavers had already developed the practices of coding their slaves, the local authorities authorized them to ensure all slaves had codes and this complimented their accounting activities. There is a clear parallelism on what was happening during the slavery and the modern accounting practices. The modern accounting practices requires accountants to code the books of accounts to ensure they track every activity in their businesses. Rosenthal further explains how enslavers furthered their interests in Britain by colluding with the British parliament to ensure that there were laws in place that would protect their interests. Through the laws that were passed by British Parliament, the slavers secured the interest of protecting the market for their sugar and other commodities. Still, these laws outlawed the dumping of products in the designated markets for the enslavers. They also lobbied the British parliament to pass laws that would prevent the abolition of slavery. From the author’s narration, it is evident that the British government assisted the slave-owners to continue suppressing the slaves and using them for their personal gains. The coding of slaves was also against the rights of the slaves and the British government supervised these activities without questioning the atrocities that were meted on the slaves. Although enslavers kept records of their slaves for their accounting purposes, Rosenthal argues that these records was also important to the local enforcement agencies who oversaw how slaves were performing in the plantation farms. The enslavers were required to administer punishment gradually and keep records on the same and this acted as a mitigating factor that regulated how slaves were punished by their masters.
Another important aspect that the author explains in her narration is the plantation accounting that slave-owners adhered to in their activities. There were complete ledgers which indicated the productivity level of every slave. There was also the record of sticks that the slaves were using to account for the livestock under their watch. It is critical to note that there were people who ran the campaigns for abolition of slavery and the accounting records that the slave-owners were keeping was vital in proving their case of abolition. According to Rosenthal, the records kept by the slave-owners detailed how the productivity was lost as a result of slavery. Further, these records also detailed how some slaves lost their lives due to the torture they went through in the hands of their masters.
The author further analyzes how slaves were valued like commodities in the market. Every slave was assessed based on their value and productivity. Rosenthal analyzes the rating system that was used by the slave master which indicates that they were valued and devalued depending on their productivity. The author uses accounting terms in her narrative like depreciation of slaves depending on their productivity. Slaves who were not productive because of their ill health or age were depreciated and the value reduced significantly. Equally, slaves who were not obeying their master were also depreciated. Looking at the narrator’s explanation on how humans were valued and traded, it is evident that the basic human rights was not obeyed. The final part of the Accounting for Slavery book discloses the effects of Civil War and Reconstruction on the slaves and their masters. Although the slave masters relinquished their lands, they had the best bargaining power compared to the slaves. Most of them were learned and they negotiated for better terms. The slaves did not have the negotiation skills and the agreement they signed was influenced by the powers of the people who were in authority. One of the things that makes the book interesting to read and get the history of slavery Rosenthal’s use of primary sources to gather the evidence presented.
In conclusion, Accounting for Slavery provides a lot of insight on the history of slavery and how the authorities colluded with the slave-owners to make fortunes out of the slave trade. The book also brings an interesting aspect of accounting that existed during slavery. Although most of their records were not aligned with the scientific requirements of accounting that is experienced in the modern accounting rules, there is a lot of similarities. During the slave trade, slave-owners were keeping double entry records which is currently practiced by accountants in organizations. Therefore, it is evident that most of the accounting rules that are practiced in contemporary world were borrowed from the slave trade and plantation farms. It is critical to note that the records that the slave-owners were keeping were vital in abolition of slavery. The abolitionist used these records to persuade the leadership of the British government to abolish slavery. These records had details of the atrocities that had been meted on the slaves and the abolitionist had sufficient grounds to persuade the government to abolish slavery. It is a great book with details from the primary sources and this proves its credibility.
Rosenthal, Caitlin. Accounting for slavery: Masters and management. Harvard University Press, 2019.