What factors allowed the South to become a cotton kingdom? Why did slavery spread with cotton?
Cotton became the most important southern crop because the region's climate and geography were well suited for its cultivation. Although the South encompassed over a million square miles of differing terrain, soil, and weather, the cotton that southern farmers grew was adaptable, and most areas had weather conditions that permitted cotton to flourish. Slavery was an essential component of the southern cotton kingdom because the crop demanded a great deal of labor to cultivate. Slaves of African descent grew 75 percent of the crop on plantations, and as cotton agriculture expanded west, masters took their slaves with them or purchased new slaves through the domestic slave trade business.
What measures did white Southerners take to defend and strengthen slavery in the 1820s and 1830s?
Attacks on slavery from both blacks and white antislavery advocates within the South and northern abolitionists spurred white Southerners in the 1820s and 1830s to defend slavery with intellectual arguments and to strengthen the system with practical legal and political measures. Spurred by intellectuals, Southerners developed the "positive good" argument, which maintained that slavery was not an unfortunate development but instead was a beneficial system that was good for masters and slaves alike and was more humane than the northern free labor ideal. Slavery's advocates also claimed that history and the Bible sanctioned slavery. State legislatures constructed elaborate slave codes to force slaves into total submission to their masters and to the general white society. Not only were slaves required to give their masters unconditional and absolute obedience, but laws gave all whites authority over all slaves whether the slaves belonged to them or not.
What did southern state governments do to encourage diversification of the South's economy? Were their efforts successful? Why or why not?
In the antebellum period, some southern state governments recognized the potential weaknesses of the region's undiversified economy and took measures to try to reverse that trend. State governments helped create banking systems in order to provide credit for industrial and agricultural projects, and they joined with private investors to build an extensive railroad network. However, they did not create some of the essential services that would allow a modern economy to develop; for instance, no southern legislature funded a public school system, which left the illiteracy rate for whites at over 20 percent in the mid-nineteenth century. Moreover, the industries that legislatures encouraged mainly supported the production of staple crops. So, too, the rail lines that states built connected towns and cities, as they did in the North, but they connected only those between port cities and farming areas. Railroad lines did not exist to exchange manufactured goods and agricultural products but instead to speed the export of cash crops.
How did nineteenth-century southern planters characterize the master-slave relationship? How accurate was their assessment?
In the nineteenth century, southern planters described the relationship with their slaves in terms of what historians call paternalism. They denied that the slavery they practiced was brutal and exploitative and instead characterized it as a set of reciprocal obligations between masters and slaves. According to planters, slaves supplied labor and obedience to masters, who in turn provided care and guidance. In fact, the closing of the external slave trade in 1808 made it economically sensible for masters to provide their slaves with a minimum level of physical care, and conditions for slaves improved somewhat in the nineteenth century. Many planters gave their slaves rest periods, and most of them stopped the eighteenth-century custom of punishing slaves by mutilating them physically. Nonetheless, slaves continued to eat substandard diets, live in miserably poor housing, and suffer whippings.
What was the southern ideal of the plantation mistress? How did elite women's reality conform to that ideal?
The elite women of the antebellum South--"southern ladies"--were expected to epitomize the domestic sphere of piety, purity, chastity, and obedience. The southern husband was the patriarch; his ideal wife was cultured and charming but weak and dependent on his chivalrous protection. Yet the reality of plantation mistresses' lives made it impossible for them to conform to the ideal set out for them. They spent long hours supervising the labor of their servants without the help of an overseer or intermediary. They often were responsible for taking care of hen houses and dairies, directing slave hospitals and nurseries, and rationing supplies for quarters; moreover, they bore the burdens of childbearing and child rearing.
How did slaveholders' statements about miscegenation compare with their behavior?
Southern law prohibited interracial sex, and most slaveholders discouraged unions between blacks and whites. However, slaveholders also considered themselves to be the patriarchs with absolute authority over all the dependents in their households. Consequently, slave-owning white men sometimes abused their power and took slave women as mistresses. On the other hand, fear of slave-owner retaliation made sex between slave men and white women rare. Miscegenation was an open secret in slave society, one that produced great anguish for black women coerced into sex with their masters, and which also discomforted white plantation women who had little choice but to tolerate their husbands' sexual license.
What were the advantages and disadvantages of field work and housework for slaves?
Work was the major responsibility of slaves, and the vast majority of them worked in the fields cultivating various staple crops, including cotton, rice, indigo, and sugar. Field work was hard and tedious and involved year-round labor and monotonous routines. Fewer slaves, perhaps one in ten, performed domestic work as house servants. Housework was less demanding physically than field work, the food was better, and the quarters were more comfortable. However, domestic servants worked under the constant and often critical supervision of whites and were constantly on call.
What kinds of families did antebellum southern slaves form? What factors weakened their bonds?
Abolitionists and planters often claimed that black slaves did not have any family life, either because the slave system made it impossible or because they did not have any sense of family obligation. In fact, slaves put a great deal of effort into the maintenance of family life; young slaves married, set up housekeeping in their cabins, and had children. Yet slave marriages were not recognized as legal, and masters had no obligation to honor slaves' bonds. This meant that it was easy for masters to sell one spouse and not the other, making sale the second most frequent cause (after death) of the ending of slave marriages. According to one estimate, 300,000 slave marriages were destroyed by sale between 1820 and 1860.
How did slaves resist the demands of the slave system? What factors limited their options?
One of the mildest forms of resistance was by use of the oral tradition of folk tales, in which weak characters got the better of strong ones and gave enslaved listeners a vicarious sense of victory over their masters. Slaves also used different strategies to resist masters' demands for their labor; they would work slowly, pretend to be too stupid to understand simple instructions, break their tools, feign illness, or load rocks in their cotton bags before they were weighed. Although few slaves ran away permanently, "lying out," which deprived masters of their slaves' labor for as long as a few weeks, was not uncommon. Occasionally, slaves turned to outright rebellion, but this practice was rare because existing conditions made success virtually impossible; communication between plantations was difficult, and there was not much wilderness in the South into which rebels could retreat.
How were planters and yeomen tied together in the plantation belt of the antebellum South? How did yeomen feel about their better-off neighbors?
In the plantation belt, planters and yeomen were connected to each other in a variety of ways. Small farmers grew food crops, but they also devoted a portion of their land to cash crops, especially cotton. Because they could not afford expensive machinery and did not have links to merchants in port cities, yeomen relied on larger planters to help them process their cotton and get it to market. Planters encouraged friendly relationships with their poorer neighbors by helping them in times of need, occasionally providing the use of slaves at peak times or hiring overseers from among the sons of local families. Small farmers generally did not resent the planter regime but instead hoped to join it through careful planning and hard work.
What kind of labor force was typical of the upcountry regions of the antebellum South? How did the labor system affect upcountry yeomen's attitude toward slavery?
The upcountry regions of the South were not suited geographically or climatically for staple crop production for the market. The area was dominated not by plantations but by independent farms on which entire families performed labor. There were few slaves in the upcountry, and slave owners tended not to have the large slave labor forces that were typical of the plantation belt. Despite the relative absence of slavery, the fiercely independent upcountry yeomen favored slavery and white supremacy with the same enthusiasm as other Southerners. Upcountry yeomen supported slavery because they associated it with white supremacy and the defense of their freedom and equality with other more affluent whites.
Compare and contrast outsiders' stereotypes of southern poor whites with the reality of their lives.
Observers from the North and Europe perceived the South's nonslaveholding whites as uniformly poor and culturally and morally backward. They claimed that poor whites were sickly and lazy people who preferred drinking and fighting to work. In reality, a minority of the South's nonslaveholding whites owned no property. Those who were truly poor fought and drank on occasion, but so did wealthy planters. Poor whites participated in the religious revivals that attracted farmers. Like the yeomanry, most poor whites worked hard and aspired to improve their material circumstances. Disease ravaged poor families living in ramshackle housing, but except for those disabled by disease (people whom travelers often mistook as being lazy), most poor whites toiled hard throughout the year.
In what sense did southern politics become more democratic in the nineteenth century? How did democratization change the electoral process?
For white men, southern politics became quite democratic in the first half of the nineteenth century. By the 1850s, and usually much earlier, every southern state had abandoned property or wealth requirements for voting, and most of them had removed the property requirements for holding state office. Also, more officials, including justices of the peace, judges, and militia officers, were selected by voters. The spread of suffrage led to strong electoral competition and extremely high rates of voter turnout. For example, in 1810, South Carolina still had suffrage restrictions, and voter turnout was around 43 percent; by 1824, in the absence of restrictions, voter turnout had risen to 76 percent.
How did the Whig and Democratic parties differ in the South? What did these political parties have in common?
In the South, as in the rest of the country, Whigs and Democrats disagreed sharply over economic issues. Whigs wanted government to intervene in the economy by aiding banks, railroads, and corporations. Such assistance, Whigs argued, would spur economic growth and create more opportunities for individuals. Democrats opposed state intervention in the economy on the grounds that it gave special favors to economic interests that were already privileged in relation to ordinary voters. Democrats thought that individual opportunity flourished when government left people alone to pursue their own interests. Despite vigorous arguments about the economy, southern Whigs and Democrats shared much in common. Planters exercised influence in both parties that was disproportionate to their share of the electorate. Not surprisingly, in light of planter influence, both parties loudly defended slavery. However, when Whigs and Democrats campaigned, candidates for both parties tried to outdo each other in presenting themselves as the defender of the common man and criticizing their rival as an advocate for aristocratic privilege. In their appeal to the masses and their attacks on privilege, southern Whigs and Democrats operated within the tradition of republican populism that the South inherited from the Revolution.
How did elite southern politicians use state government to protect slavery?
Planters in southern legislatures used the state government to protect slavery by giving themselves economic privileges and also by suppressing criticism of the system. In 1850, for instance, planters in Georgia kept the tax rate on slaves at about one-fifth of that levied on land; because land taxes were still fairly low, they were able to pay less in relation to other whites without inspiring resentment from nonslaveholders. Planters benefited more than other groups from the limited public spending undertaken by states: State financing of railroads, the most expensive public projects of the antebellum South, tended to help larger farmers by carrying their crops to market. Southern legislatures also determined that slavery was too important to debate only and made it virtually impossible for Southerners to advocate its abolition publicly or even learn about arguments against the system.