The following deals with events, conflicts, and people during 1793-1860.
DISCLAIMER: This does NOT serve as a replacement for reading Chapter 16.
Slavery was going out of style. It would eventually become unprofitable and cease to exist. That was, of course, before the cotton gin made cotton more profitable than the other southern crops of tobacco, rice, and sugar combined.
As cotton began to make more profit, more planters moved to the South and bought up more slaves and land. The North also began to rely on cotton– they would ship it to Europe and buy manufactured goods there. Everything rested upon slave labor. In 1840, half of our exports were cotton. Britain, the main consumer of cotton, gave the South a feeling of superiority. If civil war broke out, the North would stop shipping cotton overseas. The South thought that they could rely on Britain, who would have to break the Northern blockade by supporting the South. Britain and France ended up getting their cotton from Egypt once the war started.
A very select group of wealthy planters ruled the South in an oligarchy (rule of the few). Many of these elites felt it was their duty to serve the public. However, with cotton as king, the poor-rich gap widened and no one important felt that public education was necessary (the kids of the elites were sent to schools in the North). The wives of wealthy planters were expected to run a household full of female slaves. Naturally, women felt affectionate towards their counterparts-in-bondage, but no Southern women fought for abolition.
Cotton had grown in the southern soil for decades and had completely ravaged it. With not much virgin land left in the original south, it was clear that cotton planting would soon die out. Since smaller operations couldn’t compete with large plantations, many planters sold their small tracts of land to the wealthy elites, creating an monopoly. Slaves were also a bad investment. Some injured themselves on purpose or ran away. Since the South depended solely on cotton, if something bad ever happened to the crop, their economy would collapse. Also, barely any Europeans immigrated to the South because all the jobs were taken by, you guessed it, slaves. The South then developed as the most WASP part of the nation.
The majority of slaveowners owned one or two slaves at best and would work beside them in the fields. Their small farms greatly resembled those of the North, save for the slaves. Most of the South, however, held no slaves at all, grew corn or raised hogs, and were very isolated, as were the plantations. These men and women were the fiercest advocates of slavery, believing it to be the American Dream to own one. Simply because a nerd can’t get laid doesn’t mean he becomes asexual. Also, the slaves were lower on the food chain than them and that fact gave them a feeling of superiority.
There was an area of the South that both hated slavery and the ‘snobocracy’ of the plantations. The Appalachian region housed thousands of traditionalist, independent farmers who would come to support the Union in the Civil War.
By 1860, there were some 250,000 free blacks in the South, mostly concentrated in the upper region. Most of these free blacks were mulattoes, having had a white father. Though many blacks owned land, they were restricted from having certain jobs and testifying against a white person in court. Also, they always came under the threat of being put back into slavery. Alas, in the North, they didn’t fare much better. Many states restricted their entrance and barred them from schools. They were also hated by their competition in the North, the immigrants.
The South liked black individuals, but hated the race. The North liked the race, but hated the individuals. And you question why the US is so backwards sometimes?
Though the importation of slaves was banned in 1808, many slaves were still smuggled in. Slavery mostly grew from natural reproduction. Slave women were encouraged to bear as many babies as possible, and in many cases, the male master joined in on the fun and fostered the growing mulattoe population.
In most slave societies over the course of history, children bore from slaves weren’t automatically bonded as slaves and were instead born free. Starting with the Barbados Slave Code of 1661, everything changed [see Chapter 2]. Since slaves were so costly and profitable, they were saved from doing dangerous jobs, which were out sourced to what little immigrant population there was. Slaves made up a majority of the population in the Deep South states of Mississippi, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana.
Slaves were sold on the auction block, sometimes with cattle and that old Nolan Ryan rookie card you found in your basement. On the block, families were separated and psychological horrors set in. Southerns usually romanticized the condition of slaves, though no matter the region, they toiled from sun-up to sun-down without any political or civil rights. Masters could get away with essentially anything and even the marriage of slaves wasn’t recognized.
The whip was the choice punishment weapon of many slaveowners. We are taught that these whippings were very brutal and common. However, since the slave was so profitable and costly, floggings were kept to a minimum. In the Deep South, slave culture had exploded with two-parent households and marriages. To keep up with their ancestors’ traditions, first cousins couldn’t marry (cough Einstein cough FDR cough Darwin cough) (cough they didn’t marry each other cough) (cough I should have wrote that differently cough).
Many of the slaves had been Christianized in the Second Great Awakening around the 1820s and had mixed in their own African traditions. The tale of Moses inspired many to hope that they may one day be free of bondage. The responsorial style of preaching also became popular with church-goers responding with ‘amen’ or ‘uh-huh, I know dat’s right’ whenever the preacher said something agreeable. This style had been adapted from ringshouts, which was also the foundation of jazz [see Chapter 4].
The aforementioned American version of slavery was drastically different from every other culture we’ve known about. American slaves couldn’t make decisions for themselves, they weren’t educated, and held no responsibilities, which was a bad thing, in this case. Because the slaves had no incentive to work harder, their work slowed down to the bare minimum and many stole food from the master’s house or just poisoned him altogether.
Slave insurrections were common; leaders of them include Denmark Vesey, who led a rebellion in South Carolina in 1822, and good ol’ Nat Turner, whose comrades killed sixty Virginians in 1831. White Southerns lived in habitual fear of slave rebellions and still believed themselves to be racially superior. In doing so, they dragged themselves down to the dregs of society along with the slaves.