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Dixie - King Cotton's People

Deep South Cotton production grew slowly in importance until about 1800 and spread rapidly inland, from the initial concentrations on the Sea Islands between Charleston and Spanish-held Florida. Although privately held small farms were numerous, the plantation form of organization was successful enough that it was carried westward with cotton production and reached its most prevalent form in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana during the first half of the 19th century. Tobacco was similarly carried westward into Kentucky and Tennessee by settlers migrating from Virginia and North Carolina.

Countries with oil or other natural resource wealth fail to grow as rapidly than those without. This is the Resource Curse. This is not a matter of anecdotes or case studies, but is borne out in econometric tests across a comprehensive sample of countries. In the 18th and 19th Century, lands in the Western Hemisphere endowed with extractive industries and plantation crops (mining, sugar, cotton) developed institutions of slavery, inequality, dictatorship, state control, and little else.

Hinton Rowan Helper, writing in 1857, found "when, of two sections of the country starting under the same auspices, and with equal natural advantages, we find the one rising to a degree of almost unexampled power and eminence, and the other sinking into a state of comparative imbecility and obscurity...

"It is a fact well known to every intelligent Southerner that we are compelled to go to the North for almost every article of utility and adornment, from matches, shoepegs and paintings up to cotton-mills, steamships and statuary; that we have no foreign trade, no princely merchants, nor respectable artists; that, in comparison with the free states, we contribute nothing to the literature, polite arts and inventions of the age; that, for want of profitable employment at home, large numbers of our native population find themselves necessitated to emigrate to the West...

"Nothing short of the complete abolition of slavery can save the South from falling into the vortex of utter ruin. Too long have we yielded a submissive obedience to the tyrannical domination of an inflated oligarchy; too long have we tolerated their arrogance and self-conceit; too long have we submitted to their unjust and savage exactions."

The South's spatial organization was decentralized, with small market centers serving as collection and transshipment points; larger cities containing a variety of economic activities were few in number. The transportation network accompanying this pattern was one that allowed the inland products to be moved most directly to the coastal export centers; interconnections between the smaller marketplaces remained few. The major consequence was rural isolation for most of the region's population.

Large-scale plantation agriculture required a sizable annual investment, and much of that investment was in the form of slave labor. Once this practice was established, it restricted population immigration from Europe because potential settlers and urban workers found freer opportunities in the North. Since early in the 19th century, therefore, the South's proportion of foreign born has been lower than any other region of the country. And because significant immigration to the United States from countries outside Britain did not occur until the 1840s, the overwhelming majority of southern whites are of British descent.

Two long-term resident populations that are neither British nor African in ancestry are the Cajuns of southern Louisiana and various American Indian groups. The Catholic, French-speaking Cajuns are descended from French exiles from Canada. The rural Cajun population settled in southern Louisiana and remained culturally distinct in spite of the gradual integration of the remainder of the state into Deep South culture. Most American Indian groups were removed from the South in much the same ruthless manner and at the same time as in the Midwest, but significant exceptions remain. The largest of these are the Lumbee in southeast North Carolina, remnants of the once powerful Cherokee in southwestern North Carolina, the Choctaw in central Mississippi, and the Seminoles in southern Florida.

Another strong element of Deep South culture took root in its agrarian communities and homesteads. The South's population had long been characterized by adherence to evangelical Protestant religions. Small, unpretentious church buildings still dot the countryside, consistently drawing their congregations every Sunday from the scattered rural and small-town populations. Methodist, Episcopal, and other Protestant congregations are numerous across the region, but it is the Baptists who had numerical dominion.

The pervasive use of slaves in the southern colonies lies at the crux of both additional components of southern culture. One impact was the transfer of many elements of the African cultures to the region and the amalgamation of these elements with those of the white population. The first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, only 10 years after the initial James River settlement had been established. Although slaves were not imported in large numbers until the early 18th century, blacks were present in the region and were part of its organization and social environment from the beginning. The impact on patterns of speech, diet, and music in the South is undisputed.

The other indisputable cultural consequence of the slave presence is less positive. To justify the enslavement of other human beings, it was necessary to consider the enslaved group as inferior. The acceptance of this view of blacks by southern whites was no different from the dominant European view until late in the 18th century. By the middle of the 19th century, however, opposition to slavery had gained some strength in those regions where it was of less importance. Justification of slavery became more intense and self-righteous within the region, as pressure to eliminate it arose from outside.

By the outbreak of the Civil War in the 1860s, in which slavery was an underlying issue that pitted the North against the South, the South's geographic pattern of population settlement and economic organization had changed dramatically from its colonial beginnings. Still, it was strongly rural - urban development was limited to numerous villages and small towns, the larger cities were almost all located on the coast or at major transfer points along interior waterways, and transportation and communication networks were sparse.

Production of plantation cotton had become so successful that the region's economy was dominated by this one crop - King Cotton. Other crops were grown - tobacco, rice, sugarcane, and hemp, for example - but primarily as a local food supply or a secondary cash alternative. By 1860, cotton dominated not only the South's economy but also, at least in terms of export income, the entire country's; over 60 percent of the total value of goods exported from the United States during that year was from cotton. Currently produced in significant quantity outside the South, cotton still ranked fifth in value of US agricultural exports in 1996.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2017 19:24:05 ZULU