Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Blog Post #2

   In the American Yawp textbook, chapter 11, “The Cotton Revolution” by Andrew Wegman, it talks about the history of the cotton revolution and how it came to be. This chapter stood out to me because I have heard about the cotton revolution before and knew its meaning, but I have never learned about its history and other important factors. The author first starts off by talking about Petit Gulf cotton, which was what kicked off this revolution. America has had cotton before this discovery of Petit Gulf, however it was never as good and as smooth when it slid through the cotton gin machine. Petit Gulf cotton was found in 1820 and it drastically changed the cotton market in America. At the same time as the discovery of this cotton, the federal government forced a migration on which all Eastern people had to relocate. After this removal act, farmers had the chance to purchase hundreds of acres in the Mississippi River for very little money. By the end of 1830, cotton had become the primary crop and was distributed throughout the region. In 1835, the main cotton growing states were South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Lousisana, and the American South became the world’s leading producer of cotton. Before cotton, the south’s main crop was tobacco, but as cotton started to rise, tobacco wasn’t as important anymore. However, tobacco wasn’t as good after all. It required a lot of movement, laborers, and massive fields, but all it did was treat the land poorly. On the other hand, cotton grew quickly and was very cheap, and that is exactly what led the South to slavery. By 1840, prices started rising and slavery had become so comon that writers began referring to the are as the Black Belt, based on the skin color of the enslaved laborers. Slavery was used for everything, and without it there would not be so much cotton. Cotton became the foundation of southern economy, and the thought of change, such as anti slavery, never crossed anyones mind. The cotton revolution was also a time of capitalism and competition. In chapter 11, it states “The more wealth one gained, the more land one needed to procure, which led to more enslaved laborers, and more mouths to feed.”Nobody wanted to give up slavery, but it was also hard to maintain. Slave owners had to buy enslaved people, and the wealthier they cotton based on the cotton production, the more they had to spend money on their enslaved laborers. Another negative factor to slavery, was that slave owners were afraid of rebellion. They had hundreds of enslaved people working for them, and were also afraid of a sudden attack, or escape. Therefore, the South strongly benefited from the cotton revolution, and many became wealthy, however slavery continued, and many had questions on what to do next if slavery ever ended.

One thought on “Blog Post #2”

  1. In the future, I’d like your posts to focus on the assigned readings from articles and books, not the online textbook—sorry if this wasn’t clear. This is a fine summary, but the textbook doesn’t lend itself to analysis since it is essentially presenting facts rather than making an argument or interpretation.

    That said, it’s interesting to see you hone in on the importance of Petit Gulf cotton. There is a debate within the recent literature over what drove the exponential increases in productivity in cotton cultivation in the antebellum South, the increased use of whipping or other forms of physical abuse to “drive” enslaved people, or the use of improved strains like Petit Gulf. I would be happy to recommend an article if you’re interested in this for your paper topic.

    A few corrections/points of fact: Native Americans, specifically the Cherokee and other Native groups mostly in the southern states, were forced to relocate in the 1830s, not “all Eastern people.” The term “Black Belt” probably referred to the region’s rich dark soil, rather than the skin color of enslaved people. And to say that “antislavery… never crossed anyone’s mind” seems a misstatement. What about enslaved people themselves, for starters? A handful of white southerners in the period, like the Grimke sisters, did become abolitionists, but for the most part you could say that slaveholding planters were quite fixated on the growing antislavery movement in the North… hence the lengths the went to censor, discredit, and politically marginalize it.

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