The South and the Slavery Controversy
"Cotton Is King!"
Eli Whitney's 1793 cotton gin invention revolutionized the Southern economy. Added to mechanical jennies to spin yarn, power looms to weave, and sewing machines to sew, the demand (and profits) for cotton fiber skyrocketed. Southerners scrambled to plant more cotton.
The land was usually worn out then discarded ("land butchery"). The result was a Southern thirst for still more land. The demand for slaves to work the land also increased.
The "Cotton Kingdom" benefited the North as well since most of the South's cotton was woven on Northern looms. In 1845, cotton made up 1/2 of all American exports. Also, 1/2 of the world's cotton was grown in the American South. (These numbers would each swell to 2/3 in 1861, the year the Civil War began). Notably, Britain relied heavily on Southern cotton. About 1/5 of the British population made their living in the cotton textile industry. 3/4 of the British cotton came from the American South. Southerners believed their importance in the world's economy was set in stone. If war were to break out over slavery, the logic went, Southerners were sure that Britain would have no choice but to come to their aid. This logic, though sensible based on the numbers, never panned out. The Planter “Aristocracy”
The antebellum (pre-Civil War) South was an oligarchy (government by a few elite). Only 1,733 families owned 100+ slaves in 1850. They ruled the South in a "cottonocracy." Southern society is shrouded in myths. The scene, often shown in movies, of huge plantations with the Greek-columned "big house" overseeing hundreds of slaves was true, but only for those 1,733 families. These elite families sent their sons off to Ivy League schools or to military schools like West Point, the Citadel, or VMI. The Southern belles were expected to marry and eventually run the plantation household. Education in the South was lacking. This was because the rich elite simply hired private tutors and were thus unmotivated to establish free public schools. Sir Walter Scott was the author of Ivanhoe and was very popular to Southerners. They liked the medieval world described in the novel and especially its code of chivalry with knights and damsels. In the Southern-elite mind, Southern society was rekindling medieval society with military-trained, bright, and dashing young Southern gentlemen and the gentile Southern belles. Though real in the elite Southern mind, this society was also myth. And even if it came close to being real, it was still built on the backs of slaves. Southern women had unique roles.
The mistress of the plantation managed the household. It was a large job where she gave daily orders to cooks, maids, seamstresses, laundresses, etc. as well as handling any personal issues that inevitably arise with a large "staff." Though clearly to "take a backseat to the men" in terms of politics or officially running a business, these Southern women had real authority in running these areas as they saw fit. Few Northern women had such positions or authority. The mistresses were sometimes very kind to their subjects and at other times very cruel. Slaves of the Slave System
High cotton profits encouraged "land-butchery." New cotton land was always needed. With the desire for more land, the small farmer began to get squeezed out. The small farm was often sold to the large plantation owner. Thus, the elite-run oligarchy society was perpetuated and reinforced. The King Cotton economy had faults…
Debts began to run high since many people over-speculated in land or in slaves. Slaves were profitable (due to their value), but were also risky since they might run away or die. The Southern economy was based on one crop only—cotton. This was profitable, but also risky by "putting all their eggs in one basket." Similarly, Southerners relied on the North for nearly everything, from manufactured goods to food. Also, immigrants did not go to the South. The reasons...
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