Wednesday, February 2, 2011

King Cotton and the Sectional Divide

I.                   Status of Slavery in 1787

A.     Falling prices – prices for some of the agricultural goods produced by slaves in the United States—tobacco and indigo—were falling, making it increasingly unprofitable for these products to be grown on plantations, particularly in the Upper South (namely, Virginia and Maryland, two of the leading slave states at the time)

1.     Tobacco – the intense cultivation of tobacco in Virginia and Maryland had largely played out the soil, which decreased the yield per acre in those areas, making cultivation less profitable.

2.     Indigo

B.      Growing Abolition sentiment – during this time, sentiment was growing, particularly in the Northern states, to abolish slavery.  Pennsylvania voted for gradual manumission in 1780; the Court in Massachusetts decreed slavery illegal in the state; other states in the North that had not outright abolished slavery had considered it (New York and New Jersey), and would abolish slavery in the near future.

1.     Great Awakening (ca. 1740) – period of increased religious fervor in the United States, when many areas were visited by intinerant preachers (John Wesley and Methodism in Great Britain; Wesley’s most famous disciple, George Whitfield, traveled to the US and held numerous revival meetings in the country, including the South)

2.     Republican rhetoric – the rhetoric of the new republic, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights (rights that cannot be transferred to another), made many in the North, where slavery was less important as an economic institution, anyway, begin to question the morality of holding another human being in bondage, as property.

C.     Southern insistence upon protections for slavery – these conditions led to the lack of resistance on the part of northern politicians to the insistence of other politicians from South Carolina and Georgia—where slavery was still profitable because of the cultivation of long staple cotton, much in demand because of the textile manufacturing boom then taking place in England—that slavery be controlled by the states, rather than the Federal government.  The vehement opposition of politicians from South Carolina and Georgia led the politicians from other states, who were looking to change the government instituted by the Articles of Confederation into a more centrally-controlled federal style government with the Constitution, to aquiese on this point, and agree that the control of slavery remain in the hands of each state.

1.     3/5ths Clause – Article Two of the Constitution states in paragraph three: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may include within the Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” (From page A-4 of Who Built America?).

2. Section Nine – Paragraph One states – “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight (1808), but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.” (WBA, A-7)

II.                Invention of the Cotton Gin

A.     Long-staple cotton – the preferred form of raw cotton by cloth manufacturers (to this day); long-staple cotton was easier to twist into thread, and the thread made was much stronger.  Long-staple cotton could only be grown in certain areas of the country, however, mainly along the coast and the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia.

B.      Short staple cotton – Short staple cotton could be grown throughout the South; long staple cotton could only be grown in the coastal and sea islands off the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia.  Short-staple cotton made inferior grade of cloth, which could only be used in cheap clothing. Short staple cotton also had many more cotton seeds than long staple, however, and the seeds had to be removed by hand by slaves; the intense labor this needed prevented it from being a profitable crop for southern planters before 1793.

1.     Cultivatable throughout the South

2.     Ready market for cotton in England – manufacture of textiles was the driving force of the early Industrial Revolution; manufacturers in England had already automated the manufacture of cotton cloth.

3.     Difficulty in short staple cotton boll – the boll of the short staple cotton plant has a large number of small seeds, which required the labor a slaves during this time to remove.  This additional labor prevented short staple cotton from becoming a profitable crop.

C.     Eli Whitney – Yankee inventor, living at the time of his invention in Georgia, invented a simple machine—so simple, he had difficulty enforcing his patent on the machine, and therefore never received the recompense he deserved for his invention—that made short staple cotton a profitable agricultural product.

1.     Cotton gin – simply a box that contained combs attached to a cylinder, which was turned by a crank.  This device allowed a worker (usually a slave) to remove the seeds from cotton bolls at a rate ten times faster than a worker removing these seeds manually.

a.      Cotton gin revolutionizes agriculture in the South – this machine encouraged cotton to be grown not only on large plantations, but also on smaller farms.  Once again, the prosperity of an individual depended upon his ability to command the labor of others—just as it did in the early history of the commercial cultivation of tobacco.

b.     Cotton gin guarantees the continuation of slavery in the South – with a new cash crop that could be grown throughout the lower South, and with the center of tobacco cultivation moving westward into Kentucky, Tennessee, and western North Carolina, the demand for slaves means that slavery will not die out, as many had earlier expected, but that the demand for slaves will increase.

c.      Cotton gin generates new demand for land in the South – a similar dynamic that drove the demand for land in Virginia and Maryland during the Tobacco Boom of the 1600s drives a new demand for land at the turn of the 19th century; economic prosperity for a few is dependent upon the amount of cheap land they can acquire, and the amount of cheaply employed labor they can command.

III.             Territorial Expansion – and Sectional Conflict

A.     Abolition of Importation of Slaves – as agreed upon with ratification of the Constitution, the legal importation of slaves ended in 1808.  This did not end the slave trade, however—it simply shifted demand in the United States from “unseasoned” slaves from Africa to “seasoned” slaves already in the country; these slaves were bought in the older slave states like Virginia and Maryland (where demand had lessened) and transported (the slaves mainly walked) to the newly acquired territory in states like Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

1.     Economic outlet – in the oldest slaveholding areas of the United States, where slaveholding had become less economically viable, a new market opened up for “seasoned” slaves; this did not end slavery in the Chesapeake region, but it did shift a number of people from this mature region to other areas of the country.

2.     Break-up of slave families – the growing internal market for slaves increased the likelihood that slave families would be broken up and sold to different new owners.

B.      Territorial Expansion at the Expense of Native Populations – this territorial expansion on the part of whites in the South came at the expense of the native populations there, just as it did in the North.

1.     War of 1812 – The War of 1812 was largely fought to secure rights of white Americans to the large tracts of land that today make up large portions of the Midwest and mid-south.  Fighting of this war was resisted in New England, which even went so far as to threaten succession (a threat that has greater impact when made by other parties later).

a.      Andrew Jackson – the war of 1812 helped make his career as a politician; began by moving against native Seminole population in Florida; fought against natives and their British allies at the battle of New Orleans; his actions during this war helped cement the image of this Tennessee plantation owner as the champion of the “common man” during his campaigns for the Presidency.

C.     Threats to the “Southern way of life” – because of the limited opportunities not only for slaves, obviously, but for most whites as well, population did not grow as fast in the South as it did in the North (which received the bulk of the immigration from Europe), which meant that the creation of slave states became all-important as a way to maintain equilibrium in the Senate and prevent the passage of any law abolishing slavery.

1.     Slave patrols – poor whites were required to participate in patrols to monitor slave activities, even if they themselves did not own slaves.  While many poor whites considered this an unwanted, onerous assignment, the absolute power that they were granted over slaves (who were required to show passes from their masters to these poor whites, who economically they were not much better off than) granted them a kind of “white wage” which became a sort of psychological compensation for their economic status.

2.     Greater population growth in the North – the North not only benefited from greater natural increase among its population but from attracting a much larger share of the immigrant population from Europe.

a.      Natural increase in population exceeded that in the South – diseases like malaria, typhus, etc. were prevalent in the South much longer than in the North, so that many considered the climate in the South less healthy than it was in the North.

b.     European immigration – with the prevalence of slave labor in the South, few European immigrants were persuaded to settle there, because they did not want to compete with slave labor.  Therefore, most immigrants from Europe chose to settle in the North.

2.  Movement northward of disgruntled southern small farmers – white southern farmers—known as “butternuts”-- disgruntled by the domination of Southern life and politics by the planter class moved north to the non-slave states of the West—Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois—where opportunities for advancement were greater.

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