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King Cotton

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"Cotton is King"

The South's predominant economic principle before the War of Northern Aggression was "Cotton is King." The South, as it was known around the turn of the 19th century, was solely dependent upon its cotton production. Low prices, unmarketable goods, and over-used land were driving the necessity for slavery and the need for cotton production out. Were it not for a Yankee's ingenuity, the South as we study it now may have been vastly different.

As the South lacked the ability to process raw cotton, they were faced with a nearly insurmountable obstacle. They produced too little cotton to be able to cover the costs of shipping it to a processing plant, most likely in the North or England, their primary consumers. Yielding little return on the high-maintenance King (Queen?) of the South, her cotton production spiraled into decline in the years leading up to the 1800's. However, ironically, a Yankee named Eli Whitney helped the South's dependency on slavery to bloom like many never though possible with his invention of the cotton gin in 1793. His machine automated the seed separation process, enabling a single machine to produce up to fifty pounds of cleaned cotton daily, making cotton into the king that it was up until the end of the War of Northern Aggression.

By 1859, the price of cotton had reached an average of fifty-four dollars a bale. The South exported $250,000,000 of cotton alone- a truly remarkable sum, for any time. As Senator L.T. Wigfall, of Texas said, in December 1860, "Two hundred and fifty million exports will bring into our own borders - not through Boston and New York and Philadelphia, but through our own ports - $250,000,000 of imports; and forty per cent upon that puts into our treasury $100,000,000. Twenty per cent gives us $50,000,000." He went on to discuss the multitude of probabilities once rice, tobacco, and other prominent cash crops were figured in. The South was in a very admirable position. Plantation owners had little expense upon them; they were able to process their own cotton, took advantage of free labor, and held the upper hand in any deliberations of war.

In 1858 Senator James Henry Hammond of South Carolina said, "Without the firing of a gun, without drawing a sword, should they make war upon us, we could bring the whole world to our feet. What would happen if no cotton was furnished for three years? England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her. No, you dare not make war on cotton! No power on earth dares make war upon it. Cotton is King!" Hammond was right, too. By 1860, the South exported two-thirds of the world's supply of the 'white gold.' He shared the views of nearly every Southerner, in believing cotton ruled not just the South, but the North, and the rest of the world as well. Cotton indeed drove the economy of the South, affecting its social structure, and, during the War of Northern Aggression, dominating international relations of the Confederacy through "cotton diplomacy."

Southerners saw cotton as the great lever in their war effort, and, at the time, it made sense. More than three-fourths of the cotton used in the textile industries of England and France came from the South. Between one fourth and one fifth of the English population depended in some way upon the textile industry, and over half of England's imports were in cotton textiles. About a tenth of the nation's wealth was invested in the cotton business. The English Board of Trade said, in 1859, that India was completely inadequate as a source of raw cotton, thereby indirectly declaring their dependency upon the South for cotton. This concept of King Cotton led many Southerners to believe that England and France would



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