Prior to Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney’s gin of the mid-1790s, cotton cultivation was a labor-intensive and unprofitable operation. The gin led to New England’s cotton mills which needed slave-produced cotton and Manhattan banks offering low-interest loans to planters for expansion into the new territories. This perpetuated slavery in the South, and kept employed the African brought to America in the holds of New England slavers.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
From Eli Whitney to Southern Nationalism
“Except in the rice districts, Southern opinion by 1795 was turning very definitely against slavery and the antagonism was based, not on humanitarian, but on economic grounds. The overwhelming majority of the 2,000,000 Southern people [were] agricultural, and Charleston and Baltimore were the only towns of more than 10,000 population.
But slave labor could be profitably employed only in the production of staples, and of the two staples in the South, rice was restricted to a very narrow area. Tobacco could be grown as far south as the Piedmont of Georgia and South Carolina, but by 1795 its cultivation was unprofitable in the tidewater on account of soil exhaustion and in the back county because of lack of transportation facilities.
Unless the South could find a new staple slavery would be doomed, or else the South would be forced into an extensive program of soil fertilization and internal improvements to aid the tobacco grower.
What happened was that the South obtained a new staple through the invention of the cotton gin. Cotton quickly took its place as a staple complementary to tobacco, not competitive, for the two crops were radically different in their soil and climatic requirements.
The first conquests of “King Cotton” were the upland regions of South Carolina and Georgia, the inhabitants of which had hitherto eked out an unsatisfactory existence by cattle-raising, by a production of food crops, and by a desultory cultivation of tobacco. This was followed by a demand for new lands which resulted in cotton extending its area of cultivation to the Mississippi as tobacco had already done.
It is evident from the number of slaves that Mississippi Territory was a planting community from the beginning. Cotton, in fact, had been cultivated by the Indians even before the Revolution, and the United States had in 1801 established a gin for them on the upper Tombigee at a place which thereafter was called Cotton Gin Port.
Two new States of the cotton kingdom adopted constitutions differing in many respects from those of the eastern States from which their people were drawn. Neither Alabama or Mississippi had a property qualification for voting, both elected their governors as well as their legislatures by popular vote, and both apportioned their legislatures on the basis of free white inhabitants. In all, the cotton kingdom had a population of 1,000,000 of which nearly one-half was slave.
Prior to 1820 South was an indefinite term which could only be defined, if defined at all, as the region inhabited by Southerners. Southerner could only be defined as meaning one descended from the colonial settlers below [Mason and Dixon’s] line. But the controversy over the admission of Missouri gave new meaning to these terms. It reduced the South to the limits of slavery and intensified within those limits the sentiment of unity among the people.
This new intensified feeling of unity deserves to be called [Southern] nationalism rather than sectionalism inasmuch as it was based on sentiment rather than interest. After 1820 there existed among the people of the South a “consciousness of kind” and a feeling of aloofness from the people of the North. They felt, and continue to feel, themselves a separate people: the other people of the United States they consider as aliens.
That the Missouri controversy resulted in the creation of Southern nationalism is clear . . . If northern unanimity [against slavery then] was due to a devotion to principle, it must be conceded that the devotion was of sudden growth for there is no indication of any deep-seated anti-slavery feeling in the North prior to this time.
The Northern States, to be sure, had either outlawed slavery or “put it in the course of ultimate extinction,” but their action had been the result of economic realism rather than of moral indignation. The attack on slavery was perhaps designed for the purpose of forcing Southern congressmen to give up Texas. The northeast wished to surrender Texas, not because Texas was Southern, but because it was Western; the jealousy of the East toward the West was the result of conflicting interests and had often been displayed in our early history.
(The Old South, R.S. Cotterill, Arthur H. Clark Company, 1939, pp. 108-109; 117; 125-126; 142-145)