Literature Study GuidesCotton Is King Speech

Cotton is King Speech | Study Guide

James Henry Hammond

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James Henry Hammond

Year Delivered



Primary Source


History, Speech

At a Glance

  • James Henry Hammond (1807–64) was a senator from South Carolina from 1857 until 1860. He had previously served short terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and as governor of South Carolina.
  • He delivered this speech on March 4, 1858, as part of a debate in the U.S. Senate over whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state.
  • Kansas was a hotbed of unrest. A proslavery constitutional convention had written a state constitution for Kansas known as the Lecompton Constitution, but antislavery settlers had refused to vote on it. President Buchanan allowed the constitution to be submitted to Congress.
  • In his speech Hammond argues that the Lecompton Constitution is legitimate, even if the territorial legislature that led to the constitutional convention might not have been.
  • Hammond also discusses the might of the South and its exports, famously declaring, "Cotton is king."
  • Toward the end of his speech, Hammond stresses the value of slavery. He describes it as the "mud-sill," or basic structural support, of Southern government and society.


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