Cotton, Slavery, and
the Old South
The South, like the North, experienced dramatic
growth in the middle yrs. of the 19th cent.
The South experienced a much less fundamental
transformation in these yrs. than did the North; “The
South grew, but it didn’t develop.”
The Cotton Economy
Shift of economic power from the “upper
South” to the “lower South.” Growing
dominance of cotton in the southern
The Rise of King Cotton
Upper South – tobacco – VA, MD, & NC;
many were switching to wheat
The Cotton Economy (cont)
Southern regions of the coastal South – SC, GA, &
parts of FL – cultivation of rice
Gulf Coast – sugar
The Cotton Economy (cont)
Short-staple cotton
Demands for cotton increased rapidly w/the
growth of the textile industry in Britain & in the
1820s & 1830s in New England
“Cotton is king!”
Production dominated the “lower South” or the
“Deep South”
Southern Trade and Industry
Other forms of economic activity
developed slowly in the South
Industry remained an insignificant force in
comparison w/the agricultural economy
South had a very rudimentary financial
Southern Trade and Industry
South’s inadequate transportation system; the
principal mode of transportation was water
Becoming more & more dependent on the
manufacturers, merchants, & professionals of the
Southern Trade and Industry
James B. D. DeBow
DeBow’s Review
Magazine advocating
southern commercial &
agricultural expansion &
economic independence
from the North (1846 –
Sources of Southern Difference
Why did it remain so different from the
Great profitability of the region’s
agricultural system; wealthy southerners
had little left for other investments
Sources of Southern Difference
A set of values distinctive to the South that
discouraged the growth of cities & industry –
traditional values of chivalry, leisure, & elegance
“Cavaliers” – people happily free from the base,
acquisitive instincts of northerners; reality of
southern society was rather different
The Planter Class
Only a small minority of southern whites
owned slaves; planter aristocracy
exercised power & influence far in excess
of their numbers
Planters were, in many respects, just as
much competitive capitalists as the
industrialists of the North
The Planter Class (cont)
code of chivalry – defending their honor,
often through duels; those that didn’t become
planters often gravitated toward the military
The “Southern Lady”
Generally centered in the home; less frequently
than Northerners did they engage in public
activities or income-producing employment
Cult of honor – “defense” of women; reality –
men were even more dominant & women even
more subordinate in southern culture than they
were in the North
Vast majority lived on farms, isolated from
The “Southern Lady” (cont)
Had less access to education than their Northern
Birth rate remained nearly 20% higher than the
nation as a whole; slave labor system’s impact on
white women
Many women defended the special virtues of the
southern way of life
The Plain Folk
The typical white southerner was not a great
planter & slaveholder but a modest yeoman
Southern educational system provided poor
whites w/few opportunities to learn
The subordination of the plain folk to the planter
class – Why did the plain folk not oppose the
aristocratic social system in which they shared
so little?
Southern highlanders, “hill country,” “backcountry”
areas cut off from the more commercial world of the
plantation system. Frequently expressed animosity
toward the planter aristocracy.
Non-slaveholders outnumbered slave-holders.
Other southerners who shared almost not at all in
the plantation economy & yet continued to accept its
The “Peculiar Institution”
Slavery isolated the South from the rest of
Am. Society
African Americans under slavery began to
develop a society & culture of their own
The “Peculiar Institution”
Slavery was regulated in detail by law – slave codes
– forbade slaves to hold property, to be out after
dark, to carry firearms, to congregate w/other slaves
except at church. Contained no provisions to legalize
Enforcement of these laws was spotty & uneven
The “Peculiar Institution”
Many slaves preferred to work on large plantations
rather than small
Task system vs. gang system of labor
Slavery in the Cities
Masters often hired out slaves for such tasks as
mining, lumbering, docks, & construction sites
Segregation was a means of social control
Free African Americans
Virtual enslavement
Urban areas
Racism prevalent
Slave Resistance
The dominant response of African
Americans to slavery was a complex one:
a combination of adaptation & resistance
“Sambo” vs. Revolt
Slave Resistance
Actual slave revolts were extremely rare
1800 – Gabriel Prosser
1822 – Denmark Vessey
1831 – Nat Turner, led a band of slaves armed
w/guns & axes from house to house in Southampton
County, VA.
Killed 60 people before being overpowered by st. &
federal troops.
St. laws governing slavery became even more
The Culture of Slavery
Developing own, separate culture
Slave religion – African Americans throughout
the South developed their own version of
Religion was more emotional; emphasized the
dream of freedom & deliverance
The Slave Family
The other crucial institution of African American
culture in the South
Extended kinship networks were strong &
Paternalism became a vital instrument of white

Cotton, Slavery, and the Old South