The Reign of King Cotton

In 1861, the grandson of President John Quincy Adams (and great-granson of President John Adams) argued that the nature of the cotton trade itself contained the seeds of slavery's demise

Thus over nearly half of the national domain and among a large minority of the citizens of the Republic, the dynasty of Cotton has worked a divergence from original principle. Wherever the sway of King Cotton extends, the people have for the present lost sight of the most essential of our national attributes. They are seeking to found a great and prosperous republic on the cultivation of a single staple product, and not on intelligence universally diffused: consequently they have founded their house upon the sand. Among them, cotton, and not knowledge, is power. When thus reduced to its logical necessities,— brought down, as it were, to the hard pan, — the experience of two thousand years convincingly proves that their experiment as a democracy must fail. It is, then, a question of vital importance to the whole people, — How can this divergence be terminated? Is there any result, any agency, which can destroy this dynasty, and restore us as a people to the firm foundations upon which our experiment was begun? Can the present agitation effect this result? If it could, the country might joyfully bid a long farewell to "the canker of peace," and " hail the blood-red blossom of war with a heart of fire "; but the sad answer, that it cannot, whether resulting in the success of Democrat or Republican, seems almost too evident for discussion. The present conflict is good so far as it goes, but it touches only the surface of things. It is well to drive the Cotton dynasty from the control of the national government; but the aims of the Republican party can reach no farther, even if it meet with complete success in that. But , even that much is doubtful. The danger at this point is one ever recurring. Those Northern politicians, who, in pursuit of their political objects and ambition, unreservedly bind up their destinies with those of the Cotton dynasty, — the Issachars of the North, whose strong backs are bowed to receive any burden,— the men who in the present conflict will see nought but the result of the maudlin sentimentality of fanatics and the empty cries of ambitious demagogues, — are not mistaken in their calculations. While Cotton is King, as it now is, nothing but time or its own insanity can permanently shake its hold on the national policy. In moments of fierce convulsion, as at present, the North, like a restive steed, may contest its supremacy. Let the South, however, bend, not break, before the storm, and history is indeed "a nurse's tale," if the final victory does not rest with the party of unity and discipline. While the monopoly of cotton exists with the South, and it is cultivated exclusively by native African labor, the national government will as surely tend, in spite of all momentarily disturbing influences, towards a united South as the needle to the pole. But even if the government were permanently wrested from its control, would the evil be remedied? Surely not. The disease which is sapping the foundations of our liberty is not eradicated because its workings are forced inward. What remedy is that which leaves a false and pernicious policy— a policy in avowed war with the whole spirit of our civilization and in open hostility to our whole experiment as a government—in full working, almost a religious creed with near one half of our people? As a remedy, this would be but a quack medicine at the best. The cure must be a more thorough one. The remedy we must look for — the only one which can meet the exigencies of the case — must be one which will restore to the South the attributes of a democracy. It must cause our Southern brethren of their own free will to reverse their steps, — to return from their divergence. It must teach them a purer Christianity, a truer philosophy, a sounder economy. It must lead them to new paths of industry. It must gently persuade them that a true national prosperity is not the result of a total abandonment of the community to the culture of one staple. It must make them self-dependent, so that no longer they shall have to import their corn from the Northwest, their lumber-men and hay from Maine, their manufactures from Massachusetts, their minerals from Pennsylvania, and to employ the shipping of the world. Finally, it must make it impossible for one overgrown interest to plunge the whole community unresistingly into frantic rebellion or needless war. They must learn that a well-conditioned state is, so far as may be, perfect in itself,— and, to be perfect in itself, must be intelligent and free. When these lessons are taught to the South, then will their divergence cease, and they will enter upon a new path of enjoyment, prosperity, and permanence. The world at present pays them an annual bribe of some $65,000,000 to learn hone of these lessons. Their material interest teaches them to bow down to the shrine of King Cotton. Here, then, lies the remedy with the disease. The prosperity of the country in general, and of the South in particular, demands that the reign of King Cotton should cease, — that his dynasty should be destroyed. This result can be obtained but in one way, and that seemingly ruinous. The present monopoly in their great staple commodity enjoyed by the South must be destroyed, and forever. This result every patriot and well-wisher of the South should ever long for; and yet, by every Southern statesman and philosopher, it is regarded as the one irremediable evil possible to their country. What miserable economy! What feeble foresight! What principle of political economy is better established than that a monopoly is a curse to both producer and consumer? To the first it pays a premium on fraud, sloth, and negligence; and to the second it supplies the worst possible article, in the worst possible way, at the highest possible price. In agriculture, in manufactures, in the professions, and in the arts, it is the greatest bar to improvement with which any branch of industry can be cursed. The South is now showing to the world an example of a great people borne down, crushed to the ground, cursed, by a monopoly. A fertile country of magnificent resources, inhabited by a great race, of inexhaustible energy, is abandoned to one pursuit; — the very riches of their position are as a pestilence to their prosperity. In the presence of their great monopoly, science, art, manufactures, mining, agriculture,— in a word, all the myriad branches of industry essential to the true prosperity of a state,— wither and die, that sanded cotton may be produced by the most costly of labor. For love of cotton, the very intelligence of the community, the life-blood of their polity, is disregarded and forgotten. Hence it is that the marble and freestone quarries of New England alone are far more important sources of revenue than all the subterranean deposits of the Servile States. Thus the monopoly which is the apparent source of their wealth is in reality their greatest curse; for it blinds them to the fact, that, with nations as with individuals, a healthy competition is the one essential to all true economy and real excellence. Monopolists are always blind, always practise a false economy. Adam Smith tells us that "it is not more than fifty years ago that some of the counties in the neighborhood of Loudon petitioned the Parliament against the extension of the turnpike roads into the remoter counties. Those remoter counties, they pretended, from the cheapness of labor, would be able to sell their grass and corn cheaper in the London market than themselves, and would thereby reduce their rents and ruin (heir cultivation." The great economist significantly adds, — " Their rents, however, have risen, and their cultivation has been improved, since that time." Finally, to-day, would the cultivation of cereals in the Northwest be improved, if made a monopoly? would its inhabitants be richer? would their economy be better? Certainly not . Yet to-day they undersell the world, and, in spite of competition, are far richer, far more contented and prosperous, than their fellow-citizens in the South in the full enjoyment of their boasted dynasty of Cotton.

"Here," said Wellington, on the Eton foot-ball ground, "we won the battle of Waterloo." Not in angry declamation and wordy debate, in threats of secession and cries for coercion, amid the clash of party-politics, the windy declamation of blatant politicians, or the dirty scramble for office, is the destruction of the dynasty of King Cotton to be looked for. The laws of trade must be the great teacher; and here, as elsewhere, England, the noble nation of shopkeepers, must be the agent for the fulfilment of those laws. It is safe to-day to say, that, through the agency of England, and, in accordance with those laws, under a continuance of the present profit on that staple, the dynasty of King Cotton is doomed, — the monopoly which is now the basis of his power will be a monopoly no more. If saved at all from the blight of this monopoly, the South will be saved, not in New York or Boston, but in Liverpool, — not by the thinkers of America, but by the merchants of England. The real danger of the Cotton dynasty lies not in the hostility of the North, but in the exigencies of the market abroad; they struggle not against the varying fortunes of political warfare, but against the irreversible decrees of Fate. It is the old story of the Rutulian hero; and now, in the very crisis and agony of the battle, while the Cotton King is summoning all his resources and straining every nerve to cope successfully with its more apparent, but less formidable adversary, in the noisy struggle for temporary power, if it would listen for a moment to the voice of reason, and observe the still working of the laws of our being, it, too, might see cause to abandon the contest, with the angry lament, that, not by its opponent was it vanquished, but by the hostility of Jupiter and the gods. The operation of the laws of trade, as touching this monopoly, is beautifully simple. Already the indications are sufficient to tell us, that, under the sure, but silent working of those laws, the very profits of the Southern planter foreshadow the destruction of his monopoly. His dynasty rests upon the theory, that his negro is the only practical agency for the production of his staple. But the supply of African labor is limited, and the increased profit on cotton renders the cost of that labor heavier in its turn, — the value of the negro rising one hundred dollars for every additional cent of profit on a pound of cotton. The increased cost of the labor increases the cost of producing the cotton. The result is clear; and the history of the cotton-trade has twice verified it. The increased profits on the staple tempt competition, and, in the increased cost of production, render it possible. Two courses only are open to the South: either to submit to the destruction of their monopoly, or to try to retain it by a cheaper supply of labor. They now feel the pressure of the dilemma; and hence the cry to reopen the slave-trade. According to the iron policy of their dynasty, they must inundate their country with freshly imported barbarism, or compete with the world. They cry out for more Africans; and to their cry the voice of the civilized world returns its veto. The policy of King Cotton forces them to turn from the daylight of free labor now breaking in Texas. On the other hand, it is not credible that all the land adapted to the growth of the cotton plant is confined to America; and, at the present value of the commodity, the land adapted to its growth would be sought out and used, though buried now in the jungles of India, the well-nigh impenetrable wildernesses of Africa, the table-lands of South America, or the islands of the Pacific. Already the organized energy of England has pushed its explorations, under Livingstone, Barth, and Clegg, into regions hitherto unknown. Already, under the increased consumption, one-third of the cotton consumed at Liverpool is the product of climes other than our own. Hundreds of miles of railroad in India are opening to the market vast regions to share in our profits and break down our monopoly. To-day, India, for home-consumption and exportation, produces twice the amount of cotton produced in America; and, under the mcreased profit of late years, the importation into England from that country has risen from 12,824,200 pounds in 1880, to 77,011,839 pounds in 1840, and, finally, to 250,338,144 pounds in 1857, or nearly twenty per cent. of the whole amount imported, and more than one-fourth of the whole amount imported from -America. The staple there produced does not, indeed, compare in quality with our own; but this remark does not apply to the staple produced in Africa, — the original home of the cotton-plant, as of the negro, — or to that of the cotton-producing islands of the Pacific. The inexhaustible fertility of the valley of the Nile — producing, with a single exception, the finest cotton of the world,— lying on the same latitude as the cotton-producing States of America, and overflowing with unemployed labor — will find its profit, at present prices, in the abandonment of the cultivation of corn, its staple product since the days of Joseph, to come in competition with the monopoly of the South. Peru, Australia, Cuba, Jamaica, and even the Feejee Islands, all are preparing to enter the lists. And, finally, the interior of Africa, the great unknown and unexplored land, which for centuries has baffled the enterprise of travellers, seems about to make known her secrets under the persuasive arguments of trade, and to make her cotton, and not her children, her staple export in the future. In the last fact is to be seen a poetic justice. Africa, outraged, scorned, down-trodden, is, perhaps, to drag down forever the great enslaver of her offspring.

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