Browsing "Slavery and Cotton"

Hurrying Down to Swift Destruction

Southerners replied to abolitionist tirades with examples of the civilizing aspects of African slavery, as well as reminding them that their own fathers had shipped the Africans in chains to the West Indies and North America. The invention of Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney along with the hungry cotton mills of that State, perpetuated slavery, and new plantation expansion into the Louisiana territory was fueled by Manhattan lenders – all of whom could have helped end African slavery in North America. The following is excerpted from the introduction of “Cotton is King,” E.N. Elliott, editor (1860), and from “Liberty and Slavery,” Albert Taylor Bledsoe.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Hurrying Down to Swift Destruction

“Geographical partisan government and legislation . . . had its origin in the Missouri [Compromise] contest, and is now beginning to produce its legitimate fruits: witness the growing distrust with which the people of the North and South begin to regard each other; the diminution of Southern travel, either for business or pleasure, in the Northern States; the efforts of each section to develop its own resources, so as to render it independent of the other; the enactment of “unfriendly legislation,” in several of the States, toward other States of the Union, or their citizens; the contest for the exclusive possession of the territories, the common property of the States; the anarchy and bloodshed in Kansas; the exasperation of parties throughout the Union; the attempt to nullify, by popular clamor, the decision of the supreme tribunal of our country; the existence of . . . a party in the North organized for the express purpose of robbing the citizens of the Southern States of their property; . . . the flooding of the whole country with the most false and malicious misrepresentations of the state of society in the [Southern] States; the attempt to produce division among us, and to array one portion of our citizens in deadly array to the other; and finally, the recent attempt to incite, at Harper’s Ferry, and throughout the South, an insurrection, and a civil and servile war, with all its attendant horrors.

All these facts go to prove that there is a great wrong somewhere, and that a part, or the whole, of the American people are demented, and hurrying down to swift destruction.

The present slave States had little or no agency in the first introduction of Africans into this country; this was achieved by the Northern commercial States and by Great Britain. Wherever the climate suited the Negro constitution, slavery was profitable and flourished; where the climate was unsuitable, slavery was unprofitable, and died out. Most of the slaves in the Northern States were sent southward to a more congenial clime.

Upon the introduction into Congress of the first abolition discussions, by John Quincy Adams, and Joshua Giddings, Southern men altogether refused to engage in debate, or even to receive petitions on the subject. They averred that no good could grow out of it, but only unmitigated evil.”

(The South: A Documentary History, Ina Woestemeyer Van Noppen, D. Van Nostrand Company, 1958, pp. 265-266)

Healing the Victims of the Avarice of Others

Major Joseph A. Engelhard points out below that the American South did not populate itself with African slaves, this was done by others.  It is true that Providence, Rhode Island was the slave trading capital of North America by 1750, wresting this dubious honor from Liverpool.  Further, the voracious cotton mills of antebellum New England needed slave-produced raw material and Manhattan bankers advanced attractive loans to Southern planters to expend their operations.  Engelhard served in the Thirty-third North Carolina Regiment 1861-65, was elected North Carolina Secretary of State in 1876, and in 1878 encouraged young Southern men at the University of North Carolina to be proud of their forefathers and the country and constitution they created.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Healing the Victims of the Avarice of Others

“If in any part of the United States there exists moral deformity, or outrage, or unseemly appearance of social or political evil, you can say that no portion of it can be traced to our door. It is true, we have been charged with the error and evil of Slavery, but history and the verdict of all men must be that slavery was introduced here against our will, first by the Dutch and afterwards by the Slave Merchants of the North.

Upon the garments of the South there is no stain of the “Slave Trade.” Those infamies and the profits of that traffic alike, belong to others.

Our lot has been to civilize, to humanize, to Christianize the victims of the avarice of others. Like men we fought for the institution, not, however, for its sake, but because through it all our sacred rights were assailed. The men who proclaimed victory at Mecklenburg; the men who fought seven years for it afterwards; the men who built the country’s strongest entrenchments in the Constitution; who extended most widely its area; who illustrated it with most honor in the National Councils, and who exposed and lost all to defend every approach of danger to it, never – never could be truly charged with the responsibility for human Slavery.

One thing all men must say of us, that the Southern people in two hundred years did more to elevate and render good and happy the African than all the world in all time ever did. And upon that record we stand.”

(Address of the Hon. Joseph A. Engelhard, Before the Philanthropic and Dialectic Societies of the University of North Carolina, June 1878, Edwards & Broughton & Co., 1879, pp. 11-12)

Unfounded Fears of Slavery Expansion

Lincoln receives insufficient credit for his part in defeating the compromise measures of 1860-61 which would have averted war, whose effects are still felt today. The author below asserts that slavery had reached its natural limits and was “a cumbersome and expensive system [that] could show profits only as long as it could find plenty of rich land to cultivate” and a market that would take the product. He adds that “the free farmers in the North who dreaded its further spread had nothing to fear. Even those who wished [slavery] destroyed had only to wait a little while – perhaps a generation, probably less. It was summarily destroyed at a frightful cost to the whole country and one-third of the nation was impoverished for forty years.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Unfounded Fears of Slavery Expansion

“In the forefront of that group of issues which, for more than a decade before the secession of the cotton States, kept the Northern and Southern sections of the United States in irritating controversy and a growing sense of enmity, was the question of whether the federal government should permit and protect the expansion of slavery into the western territories . . . It was upon this particular issue that a new and powerful sectional party appeared in 1854, that the majority of the Secessionists of the cotton States predicated their action in 1860-1861, and it was upon this also that President-elect Lincoln forced the defeat of the compromise measures in the winter of 1860-61.

It seems safe to say that had this question been eliminated or settled amicably, there would have been no secession and no Civil War . . .

Disregarding the stock arguments – constitutional, economic, social and what-not – advanced by either group, let us examine afresh the real problem involved. Would slavery, if legally permitted to do so, have taken possession of the territories or of any considerable portion of them?

The causes of the expansion of slavery westward from the South Atlantic coast are now well-understood. The industrial revolution [in the North and in England] and the opening of world markets had continually increased the consumption and demand for raw cotton, while the abundance of fertile and cheap cotton lands in the Gulf States had steadily lured cotton farmers and planters westward. Where large-scale production was [possible, the enormous demand for a steady supply of labor had made the use of slaves inevitable, for a sufficient supply of free labor was unprocurable on the frontier . . . and slave labor was usually not profitable in growing grain.

This expansion of the institution was in response to economic stimuli . . . [and the] movement would go on as long as far as suitable cotton lands were to be found or as long as there was a reasonable expectation of profit from slave labor, provided, of course, that no political barrier was encountered.

But by 1849-50 . . . and by the time the new Republican party was formed to check the further expansion of slavery, the westward march of the cotton plantation was evidently slowing down. The only possibility of a further westward extension of the cotton belt was in Texas. In that alone was the frontier line of cotton and slavery still advancing . . .

In New Mexico and Arizona, Mexican labor is cheaper than Negro labor, as has always been the case since the acquisition of the region from Mexico. It was well-understood by sensible men, North and South, in 1850 that soil, climate, and native labor would form a perpetual bar to slavery in the vast territory then called New Mexico. [By 1860], ten years after the territory had been thrown open to slavery, showed not a single slave; and this was also true of Colorado and Nevada. Utah, alone of all these territories, was credited with any slaves at all . . . [and] the census of 1860 showed two slaves in Kansas and fifteen in Nebraska.

The Northern anti-slavery men held that a legal sanction of slavery in the territories would result in the extension of the institution and domination of the free North by the slave power; prospective immigrants in particular feared that they would never be able to get homes in this new West. Their fears were groundless; but in their excited state of mind they could see neither the facts clearly nor consider them calmly.

In the cold facts of the situation, there was no longer any basis for excited sectional controversy over slavery extension . . . [but] the public mind had so long been concerned with the debate that it could not see that the issue had ceased to have validity. In the existing state of the popular mind, therefore, there was still abundant opportunity for the politician to work to his own ends, to play upon prejudice and passion and fear.”

(The Natural Limits of Slavery Expansion, Charles W. Ramsdell (1929); The Causes of the Civil War, Kenneth M. Stampp, editor, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965, pp. 86-91)

 

From Eli Whitney to Southern Nationalism

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)

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