Cotton, Slavery, and
the Old South
The South, like the North, experienced dramatic
growth in the middle yrs. of the 19th cent.
Sugar
Rice
Tobacco
Cotton
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
economy
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
system
Southern Trade and Industry
(cont)
South’s inadequate transportation system; the
principal mode of transportation was water
Becoming more & more dependent on the
manufacturers, merchants, & professionals of the
North
Southern Trade and Industry
(cont)
James B. D. DeBow
DeBow’s Review
Magazine advocating
southern commercial &
agricultural expansion &
economic independence
from the North (1846 –
1880)
Sources of Southern Difference


Why did it remain so different from the
North?
Great profitability of the region’s
agricultural system; wealthy southerners
had little left for other investments
Sources of Southern Difference
(cont)
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)
Elaborate
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
people
The “Southern Lady” (cont)
Had less access to education than their Northern
counterparts
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
farmer
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
premises.
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
marriage
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




Unemployment
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
rigid.
The Culture of Slavery



Developing own, separate culture
Slave religion – African Americans throughout
the South developed their own version of
Christianity
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 &
important
Paternalism became a vital instrument of white
control
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Cotton, Slavery, and the Old South