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Lecture 3: Slavery and a Peculiar Society

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James Broomall

on 22 January 2014

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Transcript of Lecture 3: Slavery and a Peculiar Society

Slave Distribution
Investments in slaves paid as well as investments in the bonds of railroad companies, the closest equivalent to our modern stock market. In this and other ways the slave South resembled the free North more than contemporaries believed.
When contemporaries called the South backward, they often were thinking of its concentration on agriculture at the expense of manufacturing; implicitly or explicitly, they compared the region to New England.
Slaveowners in the South adapted their “peculiar” institution to their economic needs in a wide range of work.
Profits and Prosperity
Three main methods of moving slaves:
First, Traders gathered slaves in the cities of the Chesapeake, especially Alexandria, Virginia, to ship them around the Florida Keys to ports on the Gulf Coast, especially New Orleans
Second, slaves sold “down the river” from places close to the border with the North to the plantations surrounding Vicksburg, Natchez, and Baton Rouge
Third, other slaves forced to walk or take trains across the middle of the South, journey could take as long as seven weeks
Internal Slave Trade
A plantation was a business. Its owner’s main capital investment consisted of slaves.
Much “paternalist” behavior was good business practice. Violence might make people work, but too much violence could cripple or kill a slave or provoke the slave to run off.
Between 1820 and 1860, nearly 900,000 slaves were taken from southeastern states to those in the southwest.
The Business of Slavery
Between 1820 and 1860, Southerners experienced dramatically different developments than Northerners.
Of the 8 million white Southerners in 1860, only 338,000 owned slaves.
of those 338,000 slave owners, most owned very few slaves. More than 60 percent of slaveowners owned only 5 or fewer slaves, and only 3 percent owned 20 or more slaves.
Defense of Slavery
"Without the firing of a gun, without drawing a sword, should they [Northerners] make war upon us [Southerners], 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
After 1793, Eli Whitney promoted a new invention called the cotton gin, which transformed agriculture.
A slave could now clean 50 pounds of cotton a day, as compared to only 1 pound a day by hand.
The Cotton Economy
The 1850s were boom years for cotton and for other southern staples. Low cotton prices in the 1840s had spurred the crusade for economic diversification. But during the next decade the price of cotton jumped more than 50 percent to an average of 11.5 cents a pound.
The way into the Southern aristocracy was through the ownership of land and slaves, and the way to get land and slaves was to grow cotton: the crop provided the cash and credit to buy both. At this time, too, the cotton kingdom pushed ever westward with planters searching for new and richer soils to grow more white cotton with the labor of more black slaves.
By 1860, cotton ruled the South, which annually exported two-thirds of the world supply of the "white gold." Cotton ruled the West and Midwest because each year these sections sold $30 million worth of food supplies to Southern cotton producers.
Why Cotton Was King
“This dispute is like no other that ever came into this house, that was ever before the legislative body of this nation. Party spirit, I know, has at times run high, but the great danger from this question as it relates to the safety and integrity of the Union, is this, that it is not the same state divided into parties; it is not the state in the same section of the Union divided against each other. It is the north and east against the south and west. It is a great geographical line that separates the contending parties. And those parties, when so equally divided, shape mighty empires to their centre, and break up the foundations of the great deep, that sooner or later, if not settled, will rend in twain this temple of liberty, from the top to the bottom. My friends reply to me, and say, how can you compromise? how can you surrender principle?”
Benjamin Hardin, 1820
South Carolina saw tariffs imposed by the national government on foreign imports not for general revenue purposes, but to help domestic, manufacturing industries located mainly in the North. With depressed cotton prices and reduced foreign demand for raw goods from the South, the 1828 and 1832 tariffs eventually provoked South Carolina to desperate measures.
South Carolina went so far as to call a state convention that declared the Tariff Acts of 1828 and 1832 "null, void, and no law, nor binding upon" the state.
Tariffs and Nullification
“And we, the People of South Carolina, to the end that it may be fully understood by the Government of the United States, and the people of the co-States, that we are determined to maintain this, our Ordinance and Declaration, at every hazard, Do further Declare, that we will not submit to the application of force, on the part of the Federal Government, to reduce this State to obedience; but that we will consider the passage, by Congress, of any act . . . to coerce the State, shut up her ports, destroy or harass her commerce . . . as inconsistent with the longer continuance of South Carolina in the Union.”
South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification, 24 November 1832
“Now, it is possible that even if there were no express provision giving supremacy to the Constitution and laws of the United States over those of the States, can it be conceived that an instrument made for the purpose of ‘forming a more perfect Union’ than the of the Confederation could be so constructed by the assembled wisdom of our country as to substitute for that Confederation a form of government dependent for its existence on the local interest, the party spirit, of a State? ...

I consider, then, the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one state, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which it was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed. ...

Having the fullest confidence in the justness of the legal and constitutional opinion of my duties which has been expressed, I reply with equal confidence on your undivided support in my determination to execute the laws . . . [and] to preserve the Union by all constitutional means.”
Slavery & a Peculiar Society
King Cotton
James Henry Hammond, 1858
Why cotton? Textile manufacturers in England found an almost insatiable worldwide demand for cheap calicoes and muslins.
Nullification Crisis
President Andrew Jackson's Proclamation to the People of South Carolina, December 1832
Defending Slavery
Pro-slavery writing was a defense of the South's enslaved workers. It assumed a coherent social philosophy.
Social order
Laboring systems
Full transcript