The southern life during the antebellum era- the years before the Civil War-was transformed and built economically through slave labor. Slavery shaped the society and culture of the south that rested white supremacy and the vision of America as White mans republic (Ford 261). This paper discusses the role and significance of King Cotton in Southern life during Antebellum America, and address why Southerners felt that slavery was important to the cotton industry.
Cotton emerged as the major crop in the South (Boyer 340). White slaveholders send their slaves to clear land, grow and pick the lucrative crop. The slaves built the Southern economy by first clearing land, planting and picking the crop. Planting happened between March and April when seeds were planted in rows by the slaves (Ford 261). In April and August, the slaves carefully tended the plants and weeding the cotton rows required significant time and energy (Ford 261). After the cotton plants flowered and gave rise to cotton bolls, slaves men, women, and children worked extensively to pick the crops (Stone 89). The effort of picking cotton was laborious, and Whites employed many slaves to work as quickly as possible. The Whites projected the amount of cotton harvested based on the number of slaves they had and controlled (Ford 266). White planters expected each slave to work ten acres of land or pick about two hundred pounds of cotton daily (Boyer 345). A master or overseer measured the daily yield of each slave. There was much pressure to meet the expected daily amount of cotton picked because some masters whipped slaves who could not pick less than anticipated. Cotton picking happened seven times every season and slaves worked from sunrise to sunset with a few minutes break for lunch (Boyer 356). The day of the slaves did not end after picking the cotton; they had to take the cotton to the gin to be weighted (Stone 89).
The cotton sector boomed in the South because of their dependence on slaves who were critical in planting and harvesting cotton. Slavery endured the American Republic and developed the countrys economic success. Slave-produced cotton becomes the driving force for the expansion of trade between the United States and Europe (Stone 109). The owner of cotton brought wealth to the South and increased the economic dependence in the South. Thus, Slavery was critical and intertwined in the 19th-century economy because cotton plantations were dependent on the large force of slave labor (Boyer 360). The US ban on slave labor and the demand of slaves importation from Africa drove prices of slaves higher making it profitable for smaller farmers to sell their slaves at cost-effective prices.
In summary, Cotton King became a phrase describing the growth of American economy during the antebellum America. The slogan was describing the plantation economy of the slave states in the South (Ford 261). The invention of gin increased cotton production by slaves. The economic importance of cotton to the economy of United States was primarily based on the on a large force of slave labor. The sudden and phenomenal explosion of cotton industry gave slaves a new lease of life because it was seen as an institution to be cherished. The Cotton was King and well understood in the South; it became a foundation of Southern pride, culture, and economy.
Boyer, Paul S., et al. The enduring vision: A history of the American people. Cengage Learning, 2016.
Ford, Lacy K. "Self-sufficiency, cotton, and economic development in the South Carolina Upcountry, 18001860." The Journal of Economic History 45.02 (1985): 261-267.
Stone, Jeffrey C. Slavery, Southern Culture, and Education in Little Dixie, Missouri, 1820-1860. Taylor & Francis, 2006
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