The revolutionary leader Nathaniel Bacon, a wealthy, aristocratic leader of poor, disenfranchised men, was at the forefront of an uprising that shook colonial Virginia and changed America forever. The indentured servants who came to Virginia seeking land were angry over the governor’s favoritism regarding land distribution and concern over protecting Native American land that arose from his profitable trade relations. While Bacon’s Rebellion seems relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of American history, the consequences affect our society today. There are many such events that shaped America greatly before the Civil War, however the one event that I would most like to change is Bacon’s Rebellion. As a result of the indentured servant uprising, the colonial gentry and political leaders enacted many of the laws that led to slavery being a cornerstone of American plantations. Originally, the differences between groups and status of an individual were rooted in religion and land ownership. When colonial Virginia’s leaders realized that the shared strife of the working class allowed them to bond together and rebel, they began efforts to change that dividing factor to race. By strictly outlining perceived differences between African and Caucasian servants in law, the planters of colonial Virginia were able to control the poor, decrease tensions, and create the slave class as a labor source who would be forced to accept their lack of rights.
If Bacon’s Rebellion had never occurred, the course of America as a country radically changes. A plantation complex was inevitable in America due to the profitability of tobacco and cotton, yet without the landowning gentry’s fear of a servant uprising that resulted from Bacon’s Rebellion, slavery would not have become so deeply entrenched in American society that it came to be the only source of plantation labor. By creating a divide between African and Caucasian servants through slave codes, the leaders of colonial Virginia weakened future uprisings, and created a new target for the anger of disenfranchised laborers. If the indentured servants of the colonial era had never been divided by race, indentured servitude could have endured as the main source of labor for America’s plantation complex. Many of the events that shaped the nation were directly related to slavery, the largest of which was the Civil War. Without slavery being so integral to the South, the fierce debate over the morality of slavery would not have been at the forefront of American politics. African Americans could have been emancipated without war, or the general timeline of African American rights could have been delayed.
The ramifications of this working class uprising are pervasive throughout American society, and as a result the possibilities if it had never occurred are endless. The identity of the South was slavery; it was the foundation of the southern economy, culture, and political policy. Slavery was a negative factor for those who were not rich, as the barrier to entry into slave labor for a plantation was so high. The large amount of capital required in order to purchase slaves, prime land, and deal with logistical costs were insurmountable for poor farmers. While cash crops were the majority of the South’s economic output and hugely profitable, a tiny minority received the majority of those profits, as they were the only ones who could afford startup costs. If the events of Bacon’s Rebellion had never transpired, the foundation of the South could have shifted to another institution, or the slaves of the pre-Emancipation Proclamation United States could have shared that burden with another workforce. Many of the cultural movements for African American rights were and are necessary because of differences that were created in order to justify slavery. America was built on the labor of slaves, and those effects can be seen today. Without Bacon’s Rebellion, America’s history and current culture would change immensely, and America would be a radically different place from the country that we have today.