I. The Growing Distinctiveness of the South
A. Cotton Kingdom, Slave Empire
In the first half of the nineteenth century, Southerners relentlessly pushed westward; by
midcentury, the South encompassed nearly a million square miles, much of it planted in
The South's climate and geography were ideally suited for the cultivation of cotton.
The South's cotton boom rested on the backs of slaves, who grew 75 percent of the crop
on plantations, toiling in gangs in broad fields under the direct supervision of whites.
The slave population grew enormously, and by 1860, the South contained 4 million
slaves, more than all the other slave societies in the New World combined.
B. The South in Black and White
In 1860, one in every three Southerners was black (there were approximately 4 million
blacks and 8 million whites) and only one in 76 Northerners was black.
The presence of large numbers of African Americans had profound consequences for the
development of Southern culture; language, food music, religion and accents were, in
part, shaped by blacks.
The most direct consequence of the South's biracialism was southern whites' commitment
to white supremacy.
Attacks on slavery compelled southern leaders to strengthen their region's commitment to
the institution of slavery.
Intellectuals joined legislators in the campaign to strengthen slavery and defended the
institution as a “positive good” rather than a “necessary evil.”
Champions of slavery employed every imaginable defense, turning to the law, history,
and biblical interpretation as evidence of their claims.
The heart of the defense of slavery lay in the claim of black inferiority.
The system of Black slavery encouraged whites to unify around race rather than to divide
by class; slavery meant white dominance, white superiority, and—despite major class
differences among Southern whites—white equality.
C. The Plantation Economy
As important as slavery was in unifying white Southerners, only about one- fourth of the
white population lived in slaveholding families.
Most slaveholders owned fewer than five slaves, but planters—those 12 percent of
slaveowners who owned twenty or more slaves—dominated the southern economy.
The South's major cash crops—tobacco, sugar, rice, and cotton—grew on plantations, but
after the advent of Eli Whitney's cotton gin, cotton became commercially significant.
Cotton was relatively easy to grow and took little capital to get started; planters produced
75 percent of the South's cotton.
Plantation slavery also benefited northern merchants as well as southern planters but the
economies of the North and South steadily diverged; while the North developed a mixed