39. Sir Charles Lyell, Second Visit to the United States, 2 vols. (London, 1846), II,

35; Joseph Holt Ingraham, The Southwest, by a Yankee, 2 vols. (New York, 1835), II, 91.

40. See especially Ulrich B. Phillips, American Negro Slavery (New York, 1918) and Life and Labor in the Old South (Boston, 1929); and Genovese, Political Economy of Slavery.

riculture yielded as great a return on capital as potential alternative investments.41 Maybe, is the answer of still another group of economic historians, who suggest that investments in railroads and mills might have yielded higher returns than agriculture, that cotton was living on the borrowed time of an almost saturated market, and that whatever the rationality of individual planter reinvestment in agriculture the collective result inhibited the economic development of the South as a whole.42 Some evidence points to the South's agrarian value system as an important reason for lack of industrialization. Although the light of Jeffer-sonian egalitarianism may have dimmed by 1850, the torch of agrari-anism still glowed. "Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God . . . whose breasts He has made His peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue," the husbandman of Monticello had written. The proportion of urban workingmen to farmers in any society "is the proportion of its unsound to its healthy parts" and adds "just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body."43 The durability of this conviction in the South created a cultural climate unfriendly to industrialization. "In cities and factories, the vices of our nature are more fully displayed," declared James Hammond of South Carolina in 1829, while rural life "promotes a generous hospitality, a high and perfect courtesy, a lofty spirit of independence . . . and all the nobler virtues and heroic traits." An Englishman traveling through the South in 1842 found a widespread feeling "that the labours of the people should be confined to agriculture, leaving manufactures to Europe or to the States of the North."44

Defenders of slavery contrasted the bondsman's comfortable lot with the misery of wage slaves so often that they began to believe it. Beware

41. Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South (New York, 1956); Alfred H. Conrad and John R. Meyer, "The Economics of Slavery in the Ante Bellum South," Journal of Political Economy, 66 (1958), 95130; Fogel and Engerman, Time on the Cross.

42. Alfred H. Conrad et al., "Slavery as an Obstacle to Economic Growth in the

United States: A Panel Discussion," Journal of Economic History, 27 (1967), 51860; Gavin Wright, The Political Economy of the Cotton South (New York, 1978); Fred Bateman and Thomas Weiss, A Deplorable Scarcity: The Failure of Industrialization in the Slave Economy (Chapel Hill, 1981).

43. Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. William Peeden (Chapel Hill, 1955), 164-65.

44. Hammond quoted in Orville Vernon Burton, In My Fathers House Are Many

Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina (Chapel Hill, 1985), 37; James S. Buckingham, The Slave States of America, 2 vols. (London, 1842), II, 112.

of the "endeavor to imitate . . . Northern civilization" with its "filthy, crowded, licentious factories," warned a planter in 1854. "Let the North enjoy their hireling labor with all its . . . pauperism, rowdyism, mob-ism and anti-rentism," said the collector of customs in Charleston. "We do not want it. We are satisfied with our slave labor. . . . We like old things—old wine, old books, old friends, old and fixed relations between employer and employed."45

By the later 1850s southern agrarians had mounted a counterattack against the gospel of industrialization. The social prestige of planters pulled other occupations into their orbit rather than vice versa. "A large plantation and Negroes are the ultima Thüle of every Southern gentleman's ambition," wrote a frustrated Mississippi industrial promoter in i860. "For this the lawyer pores over his dusty tomes, the merchant measures his tape ... the editor drives his quill, and the mechanic his plane—all, all who dare to aspire at all, look to this as the goal of their ambition." After all, trade was a lowly calling fit for Yankees, not for gentlemen. "That the North does our trading and manufacturing mostly is true," wrote an Alabamian in 1858, "and we are willing that they should. Ours is an agricultural people, and God grant that we may continue so. It is the freest, happiest, most independent, and with us, the most powerful condition on earth."46

Many planters did invest in railroads and factories, of course, and these enterprises expanded during the 1850s. But the trend seemed to be toward even greater concentration in land and slaves. While per capita southern wealth rose 62 percent from 1850 to i860, the average price of slaves increased 70 percent and the value per acre of agricultural land appreciated 72 percent, while per capita southern investment in manufacturing increased only 39 percent. In other words, southerners had a larger portion of their capital invested in land and slaves in i860 than in 1850.47

45. "The Prospects and Policy of the South, as They Appear to the Eyes of a Planter," Southern Quarterly Review, 26 (1854), 431-32; William J. Grayson, Letters of Curtius (Charleston, 1852), 8.

46. Vicksburg Sun, April 9, i860; Alabamian quoted in Russel, Economic Aspects of Southern Sectionalism, 207.

47. During the same period the per capita wealth of northerners increased 26 percent and per capita northern investment in industry rose 38 percent. Data on per capita wealth are from Soltow, Men and Wealth, 67; data on the price of slaves are from Phillips, American Negro Slavery, 371; all other data cited here have been compiled from the published census returns of 1850 and i860.

Although the persistence of Jeffersonian agrarianism may help explain this phenomenon, the historian can discover pragmatic reasons as well. 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 cotton crop consequently doubled to four million bales annually by the late 1850s. Sugar and tobacco prices and production similarly increased. The apparent insatiable demand for southern staples caused planters to put every available acre into these crops. The per capita output of the principal southern food crops actually declined in the 1850s, and this agricultural society headed toward the status of a food-deficit region.48

Although these trends alarmed some southerners, most expressed rapture over the dizzying prosperity brought by the cotton boom. The advocates of King Commerce faded; King Cotton reigned supreme. "Our Cotton is the most wonderful talisman in the world," declared a planter in 1853. "By its power we are transmuting whatever we choose into whatever we want." Southerners were "unquestionably the most prosperous people on earth, realizing ten to twenty per cent on their capital with every prospect of doing as well for a long time to come," boasted James Hammond. "The slaveholding South is now the controlling power of the world," he told the Senate in 1858. "Cotton, rice, tobacco, and naval stores command the world. . . . No power on earth dares . . . to make war on cotton. Cotton is king."49

By the later 1850s southern commercial conventions had reached the same conclusion. The merger of this commercial convention movement with a parallel series of planters' conventions in 1854 reflected the

48. The production of corn, sweet potatoes, and hogs in the slave states decreased on a per capita basis by 3, 15, and 22 percent respectively from 1850 to i860. The possibility that southerners were becoming a beef-eating people does not seem a satisfactory explanation for the per capita decrease of hogs. The number of cattle per capita in the South increased only 3 percent during the decade, and according to Robert R. Russel virtually all of this increase was in dairy cows, not beef cattle. Russel, Economic Aspects of Southern Sectionalism, 203. The data in this paragraph, compiled mainly from the published census returns of 1850 and i860, are conveniently available in tabular form in Schlesinger, ed., History of American Presidential Elections, II, 1128 ff.

49. Planter quoted in John McCardell, The Idea of a Southern Nation: Southern Na tionalists and Southern Nationalism, 1830-1860 (New York, 1979), 134; Hammond to William Gilmore Simms, April 22, 1859, quoted in Nevins, Emergence, I, 5; CG, 35 Cong., 1 Sess., 961-62.

Railroads in 1850

Railroads in 1B60





Or tears


The Southern Economy

| 50 per ten! and uver 1 30 50 percent >jj 10-30 prrccnt

Percentage of Slaves in Total Population, 1860


Staple Crop Regions of the South, 1860

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