Cotton than factories, thus investing into the

       Cotton was often considered the foundation of the Confederacy. The question this essay will examine is ‘To what extent did cotton affect the outbreak of the Civil War.’In order to properly address the demands of this questions, this paper will explore events and economic factors from the 19th century until the the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Cotton’s role substantially contributed to the outbreak of the civil war through economic, political and social impact.

These factors causing the civil war are influenced by cottons drive in southern economic interests, politically impacting states rights and the social rights of enslaved peoples. The basis of this claim aligns with the orthodox perception of the Civil War’s cause. Historians of the orthodox view felt as if the war was a stark moral conflict due to the institution of slavery.

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            America during the pre-civil war era experienced tremendous tribulations. The nation was split between an industrial driven North and agricultural South. One notable resource ties amongst the split nation was cotton.

The cotton industry experienced and exponential boom in 1793 when Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. The cotton gin separated seed from fiber in a much more efficient way. The cotton industry then took off, becoming the most dominant within the south. Between 1800 and 1860, the newly booming cotton industry spread from South Carolina and Georgia westward.

By 1850, 1.8 million enslaved African-Americans worked in the cotton industry. The Cotton’s major contribution to southern economy thus engaged the United States with foreign trade to countries like Britain, but also engaged the United States in controversial morals through its dependence on slavery.  The cotton industry drove the economy interests of the south. The North and South contained many economic differences in regards to industry and urbanisation. The North was much more industrial, Massachusetts produced more manufactured goods than the rest of the confederate states.

The south believed in an agricultural way of life. One example of this is seen in cotton as cash crop in Mississippi. The entire northern half of the state of mississippi was settled into when the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians were driven out between 1830 and 1832. This allowed for cotton production to boom, by 1834 Mississippi produced 85 million pounds of cotton. Two years later, production of cotton increased to 125 million pounds. Through the entire United States, Mississippi produced a quarter of total cotton. Southern plantations owners invested their money into cotton production, rather than factories, thus investing into the institution of slavery.

The growing capital in the cotton industry expanded into a powerful global export source. In 1850 cotton sales made up 50% of US exports. Cotton trade secured prosperity amongst the Southern society. According to a British newsletter published in 1860, imports of cotton from the United States consisted of 9,963,309 cwts out of a total of 12,419,096 cwts.

In just one year, the Southern United States provided England with 80% of its total imported cotton. In return, Britain provided guns and machinery to the South since raw cotton was essential for the European economy. Historian James Ford Rhodes, author of History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850, suggested that the Civil war was a struggle between Southern and Northern economic differences.

Rhodes argues that the Civil War would not have occurred without slavery, and without slavery the Southern economy would not have flourished through the cotton industry. Cotton’s importance in the South provided economic power for a diplomatic strategy in the shifting Confederate states.  Cotton was the South’s main defense in supporting states rights. The South commonly referred to slavery as a “peculiar institution” and that abolitionists were a threat to a state-governed right.

This sparked a quest to preserve the institution of slavery. One factor leading to the outbreak of the war was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was made do to the United States inability to agree on whether or not the institution of slavery would be legal. The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed for new territories to decide if they were a free or slave state through popular sovereignty, while breaking the Missouri Compromise. The Kansas Nebraska act stated, “shall be received into the Union with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of the admission”. The fight over slavery then moved into the unrecognized territory.

Motivated Slavery-supporting Southerners and Northern abolitionists fled to Kansas motivated to either preserve and destroy slavery practices. The voting in determining the outcome of Kansas resulting in seizing of the polls and illegal castings. The increased tensions earned the name “bleeding Kansas” by Horace Greeley. While many Northern arguments in the quest to abolish slavery was out of the question of human morals, Southerners were determined to keep slavery in order to keep cotton. Civil War historian Eugene Genovese argued Northerners felt threatened by Southern economics just as Southerners felt threatened by Northern hostility.

This economic-driven dilema resulted in a political power battle in order to ensure their beliefs longevity, as seen through the Kansas-Nebraska Act.            Northern abolitionists were highly doubtful of the human morals regarding slavery. Although many did not believe African Americans should be granted the same rights as whites were, they did not believe in the morality of slavery. The South supported this institution through referring to it as a “peculiar institution”. Signifying slavery was “peculiar” distracts from the potentially harmful effects it held against African American lives. Southern whites viewed it as an economic and political factor and not a question of human rights. This economic and political perspective on slavery was entirely due to plantations contribution to southern economy as a whole, 50% of which was cotton3. These rights were tested in the case of Dred Scott, preceding the civil war.

A formerly enslaved man to a cotton plantation, Dred Scott, had tried to earn his freedom by traveling North. After filing for his freedom, with a whole decade of living in free territory, his case was dismissed as a technicality in 1847. This decision invalidated the Missouri Compromise, angering Northern states. Like the orthodox interpretation, both the North and the South sought to control their own economic interests through power of the federal government, using a states rights argument as a facade. Historian Allan Nevins argued that the North and South were rapidly changing due to their “”fundamental assumptions, tastes, and cultural aims” referring to contradicting social morals of slavery being a contributing factor of the Civil War . More than just an issue of one man’s freedom, controversy circulated around the issue of slavery.

Slavery meant the continuation of the cash crop cotton but at the expense of human freedom.           Although not commonly considered as the main cause of war, cotton significantly impacted the outbreak of the U.S Civil war. The demands of this paper surrounded the question,  ‘To what extent did cotton affect the outbreak of the Civil War.’Cotton’s role substantially contributed to the outbreak of the civil war through economic and political impact.

Cotton’s importance in the South provided economic power for a diplomatic strategy in the shifting Confederate states, motivated increased tensions in the disputed Kansas territory. Southerners were determined to keep slavery, which cotton was dependant on, in which their economy was dependant on cotton. The political and economic reasonings and tensions affecting the outbreak of the civil war furthered social tensions by the North. The moral question of slavery was depended upon by cotton, impacting the war through social influence. This aligns with the orthodox perception of the civil war, attributing the tensions as inevitable conflict. Historians such as, James Ford Rhodes, Eugene Genovese, and Allan Nevins believed that the central factor of the Civil War was the institution of slavery.

The orthodox claim was not limited to just slavery, but all of its attributes within economics, political rights and moral debates. These attributes all connected in one common thread being cotton.


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