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The culpability of accounting in the practice of slavery in the British Empire and antebellum US
Lookup NU author(s)
Professor Richard Fleischman
Professor Thomas Tyson
Oldroyd D, Fleischman RK, Tyson TN
Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)
Accounting, Business and Financial History Conference
Year of Conference
15-16 September 2005
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The paper considers the culpability of accounting in the practice of slavery in the British Empire and antebellum U.S. from the perspectives of modern professional ethics, notions of virtue in accounting, and the potential of accounting to support emancipation in society rather than repression. It argues that modern professional ethics would not have prohibited accountants from engaging in slavery as long as it had remained legal. Through the eyes of contemporaries it shows that accounting can be condemned as morally unjust in its support of slavery for its alienation of the intrinsic property rights of individuals. However, the role of accounting was not entirely negative. On the one hand, it attempted to align the objectives of the agents with the health and safety of the slaves in order to preserve the value of the inventory. On the other, it facilitated the emancipation of the slaves through the compensation process which was intended to align the objectives of the owners with those of the abolition movement.
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