United States History I & II
United States History I & II

United States History I & II

Lead Author(s): Sara Eskridge

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Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Norton

Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition

MacMillan

Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition

Pearson

Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013

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Average price of textbook across most common format

Up to 40-60% more affordable

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$63.90

Hardcover print text only

$87.99

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$79.60

Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Constantly revised and updated by a community of professors with the latest content

In-Book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

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Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Customizable

Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform

Pricing

Average price of textbook across most common format

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device

Norton

Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition

$63.90

Hardcover print text only

MacMillan

Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition

$87.99

Per volume

Pearson

Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013

$79.60

Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Content meets standard for Introduction to Anatomy & Physiology course, and is updated with the latest content

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Norton

Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition

MacMillan

Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes

McGraw-Hill

McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

In-book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Norton

Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition

MacMillan

Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes

McGraw-Hill

McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

Customizable

Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Norton

Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition

MacMillan

Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes

McGraw-Hill

McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Norton

Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition

MacMillan

Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes

McGraw-Hill

McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

About this textbook

Lead Authors

Sara Eskridge, Ph.DRandolph-Macon College, VA

Dr. Eskridge is a Professor of History at Western Governors University. She specializes in Civil Rights, Cold War, Southern, and Cultural History. She is the author of Rube Tube: CBS as Rural Comedy in the Sixties (University of Missouri Press, 2019) as well as several articles and book chapters on southern mediated images during the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War.

Contributing Authors

Andrew WegmannLoyola University

Michael CarverCalifornia Polytechnic State University

Michael FrawleyUniversity of Texas of the Permian Basin

Linda ClemmonsIllinois State University

Angela HessCameron University

Sam NelsonRidgewater College

Volker JanssenCalifornia State University

Lance JandaCameron University

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Chapter 12: The Antebellum South

Pre-Chapter Discussion

Pre-Chapter Discussion - Level 6

What is your image of the Old South? What images come to mind, and what do you know about southern society at the time?


Chapter Overview

Figure 12.1: Stirrup Branch Plantation, Bishopville, SC, on the 75th birthday of Capt. James Rembert, June 8, 1857 - front view of house shows Capt. Rembert and family. [1]​​

When discussing the Antebellum South, certain stock images come to mind. People may imagine a picture of a stately plantation house with a wide front porch and soaring columns. A family sits on the porch with the father, dressed in a suit, seated in the middle, his wife, wearing a hoop skirt, stands just behind him, and a few children, neatly dressed, on the ground in front of him. Near the back are two old family retainers, one man and one woman, both black, in clean but ordinary clothes, perhaps holding a tray of iced tea or mint juleps. This image, while maintained as the correct view of the region by the upper class of the time, was far from complete (Figure 12.1). The life we just described was not idyllic for all; it was built upon the backs of thousands of enslaved laborers who toiled under the threat of violence, many who had their families ripped apart, all so this scene could be shown to the world. 

Slavery came to affect almost every part of Southern life. The issue of slavery sharply curtailed free speech and free thought, driving out any who spoke against the “Peculiar Institution.” Southern leaders, who were making tremendous amounts of money, never completely understood the region in which they lived. While most supported the continuation of slavery, Southerners still disagreed over many things, such as representation in state governments, education policies, and trade. Moreover, this picture does not include people in the region who lived outside of the plantation belt, such as those who lived in the mountainous interior or the urban areas that were growing and developing across the region, whose occupants had very different economic, political, and social goals. The Antebellum South was a complex place, filled with contradictions that would soon tear it apart.

Chapter Objectives

  • Explain the culture of the Old South and the various defenses of the so-called “Peculiar Institution”
  • Describe the southern economy and explain how it fit into the larger national and international economies
  • Assess the development of the anti-slavery movement and how southern whites responded to it
  • Explore societal expectations connected to gender roles in the Old South
  • Describe the life of African Americans in the Old South, both free and enslaved, and explain the ways in which they offered opposition to slavery


12.01 - Level 3

How many enslaved black Americans were there for every freed black in the Antebellum South?

The Old South and Its “Peculiar Institution”

At its base, the Antebellum South was a slave society. Labor had always been in short supply in the United States. From its founding, the nation was rich in resources and land, but poor in labor. Although colonists attempted several methods for obtaining labor, including transporting indentured servants and enslaving the native population, the only thing that seemed to work was importing large numbers of African slaves. In 1619, the first slaves landed in British North America at Jamestown. Historians still debate the nature of their bondage—whether they were permanently enslaved or sold on an indenture arrangement. Beginning with those 20 enslaved Africans, slavery in the United States would grow until 1860, when almost four million slave workers labored to make the South rich. 

A triangle trade formed between North America, Europe, and Africa, allowing slaves to enter the South while raw materials and other goods flowed out. Once cotton displaced tobacco to become the most important cash crop in the South, a routine developed that would dominate Southern life until the outbreak of the Civil War. Cotton was the basis of most of the nation’s wealth before the war. Because of the value of cotton sales in the region, more millionaires lived in the small city of Natchez, Mississippi than anywhere else in the country. Whites built much of the Antebellum South upon the backs of an enslaved population. There were three primary social/economic classes in the Antebellum South: the planters, the lower-class whites, and the slaves. Smaller groups, such as free blacks, the urban South, and recent immigrants, existed, but did not make up large portions of the population.

Question 12.02

12.02 - Level 2

Why couldn’t European colonists rely on the labor of Native Americans?

Click here to see the answer to Question 12.02.

12.03 - Level 1

Where in the antebellum United States could one find more millionaires than anywhere else?

A

New York City, New York

B

Natchez, Mississippi

C

Boston, Massachusetts

D

Richmond, Virginia

E

New Orleans, Louisiana


12.04 - Level 1

When did the first slaves arrive in the British North American colonies?


Figure 12.2: Eli Whitney’s cotton gin patent drawing [2]

The Development of Slavery and Cotton Culture

Since the establishment of the nation, slavery had dominated political discussion. Some of the Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, hoped that slavery would die out on its own, and for a time this seemed possible. By the time the Constitution went into effect, tobacco cultivation had adversely affected the land used for its cultivation, and the market for American tobacco, which was rather harsh, was drying up in Europe. Sugar grew well in Louisiana, but while it was a better investment than tobacco, it did not grow in many places. Taken altogether, the economy of the region after the Revolution was not doing well. The institution of slavery itself was being questioned—partly by the spirit of liberty which accompanied the Revolution—and slavery was being abolished in one way or another throughout the northern states. 

The invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1794 gave life to the institution in a way no one could have foreseen (Figure 12.2). Short-staple cotton, which grew easily all over the South, was very difficult to process. The fibers clung tenaciously to the cottonseed and slaves had to pull it by hand off the seed, which was very time consuming. Longer staple cotton, which was high-quality and gave up its seed more easily, did exist, but it only grew in a very small area on the Atlantic coast. 

The gin, which was short for engine, changed all of that. The teeth of this device ripped the seed from the fiber at a tremendous speed. Slaves could accomplish in minutes what had once taken a day. Cotton quickly came to dominate the Southern economy, with sugar and tobacco relegated to a distant second and third (Figure 12.3). Farmers developed new strains of cotton that swept the South and ensured that cotton production would become embedded in southern society. Moreover, cheap land was available in the sparsely settled West, upon which new plantations were established. Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas became the center of a cotton empire, known as the Cotton or Black Belt, which brought unimaginable wealth to owners and untold horrors for the enslaved African American population forced to shoulder the burdens of production.

Figure 12.3: Value of cotton exports from the Antebellum South, 1830-1860


12.05 - Level 1

Sort the following years by the value of cotton exported from the American South that year from least to greatest.

A

1845

B

1860

C

1830

D

1835


12.06 - Level 1

What invention allowed slavery to flourish in the Antebellum South?


12.07 - Level 2

Rank these crops in order of importance, from greatest to least, in terms of economic value on the eve of the Civil War.

A

Cotton

B

Sugar

C

Tobacco


12.08 - Level 1

On the following map, click on the largest state within the area known as the "Black Belt."


Figure 12.4: Map showing the distribution of the slave population of the southern states of the United States. [3]​


12.09 - Level 2

Why was cotton not a very lucrative product for 18th-century farmers in the American South?

A

Processing it was very time-consuming and labor intensive

B

There was limited demand for it in global markets

C

It could only be transported under very specific environmental conditions


Slavery became necessary for the region to function, thus, while abolitionist ideas began to take root in the North during this period, Southern leaders curtailed any discussion of ending slavery in the South. The American South was the only place in the world where a slave population self-replicated. Slave owners in the South imported male and female slaves and encouraged their slaves to reproduce; realizing each new slave born represented free property (Figure 12.4). As the main areas of cotton production moved further south and west with the line of settlement, older slave areas, such as Virginia and the Carolinas began to sell their slaves to the Deep South. This reproducing population made their owners a great deal of money as the value of prime field hands rose almost continuously until the outbreak of the war. Slaves were a commodity, and their value rose as cotton production expanded (Figure 12.5).

Figure 12.5: Cost of a prime field hand in the New Orleans slave market before the Civil War


Figure 12.6: Most plantations had a similar set up, including a plantation house, fields, and slave quarters. [4]

Large plantations, upon which many slaves lived, were worlds unto themselves (Figure 12.6). It is difficult to establish what exactly made someone a planter, as just owning a plantation was not enough. Most historians agree that owning at least 25 slaves made someone a planter, but some owned less and some owned many, many more. The plantation house was the center of life for the congregations of enslaved workers. Planters showed off their wealth with grand balls, and the planter could survey his small empire from the front porch. Plantation owners were some of the most powerful men in the nation. For example, the family of future Confederate president Jefferson Davis owned one of the richest plantations in the nation near Natchez, Mississippi, and the Davises moved in the most elite circle of Southern, and national, society. 

Owners and slaves lived closely together, their lives completely entwined. Children of both races grew up and played together, and knew each other well. As they grew up, black children learned to work in the field or at a trade, while white children learned to run plantations. Plantations were like small villages, with slaves performing most of the functions of everyday life. Slave artisans, such as blacksmiths, coopers, tanners, and many others, produced many of the goods that the plantation needed to operate. In addition, slaves grew food to support themselves and even raised livestock on land given to them by their owners. Slaves also performed industrial work, especially building and maintaining cotton gins and processing sugar cane into refined sugar and molasses. Fear and violence, necessary for the system to function, overshadowed the whole operation.

12.10 - Level 1

Approximately how many enslaved laborers did one need to own to be considered a member of the planter class?

A

1

B

5

C

10

D

25

E

100


12.11 - Level 1

What major cash crop did cotton replace as the center of southern agriculture?


Slavery in the Antebellum South: Life, Labor, and Resistance

Slaves were up at dawn and worked until dusk. They plowed, planted, and harvested fields; they were artisans and housekeepers, in addition to performing every imaginable form of labor needed to keep the plantation running smoothly. They performed their labors under the constant threat of physical violence. Any infraction of an overseer’s or owner’s rules could result in draconian punishments, such as the cutting off of fingers for stealing, and the removal of noses and ears for continued resistance. Slaves could be locked in boxes in the blazing sun or locked into stocks for hours on end. Such punishments were uncommon, but happened often enough that slaves lived in fear of them. Moreover, the whip was an everyday part of life, driving slaves to work harder in order to avoid its lash. Slave owners claimed that their rule was paternalistic and that they had the best interests of their slaves in mind, but in reality, profit drove their treatment. Thus, most slaves could expect sale at some point in their lives, even multiple times for many. Slave families usually received no consideration in this process, with wives separated from their husbands and children from their parents.

While planters and other slave owners controlled the lives of their slaves almost completely, the slaves did carve out a small niche of their own. Slaves used the plantation slave quarters as a place where they could attempt to gain some control over their lives, and these small cabins became a place of agency for enslaved African Americans. The quarters were almost like a foreign land for white owners and overseers. Slaves privately contracted marriages, exchanged goods on the black market, and worshipped and celebrated away from the eyes of the white South. Moreover, slaves used their labor to create their own space in Southern society. Owners used punishment for doing wrong to motivate slaves. However, they also paid slaves for overwork as an incentive for them to work harder. Additionally, they sometime provided slaves with money to buy things for themselves, which encouraged more labor out of enslaved workers without using violence, but also weakened the slave system as slaves learned that the system could be manipulated.

Question 12.12

12.12 - Level 4

What level of freedom did the average slave experience in the rural American South? What were some areas of their lives over which they could enjoy particular autonomy? What were some of the ways in which enslaved individuals found and enacted freedom in their daily lives?

Click here to see the answer to Question 12.12.

Historians speculate that slaves did what they could to undermine the slave system in the South whenever they could. Enslaved workers fought back against the system in many different ways. Slaves could feign illness, break tools needed to perform work, or purposely work slowly, all in an attempt to cost owners money and resist their bondage. It is difficult to determine the effectiveness of this kind of resistance, but, as slavery remained very profitable until the Civil War, it did not affect the economy in a significant way. Some historians argue that slaves internalized the Protestant Work Ethic and saw work as a way of determining grace, viewing their labor as a religious obligation. Others argued that slaves made the best of their situation and worked hard to escape punishment and earn extra money to make life tolerable. Most likely, slaves lived by a combination of all of these approaches. Nevertheless, no matter their life choices, all slaves desired freedom, as their recorded words in the Slave Narratives show. Slaves, in their own words, explained the harshness of life under the constant fear of violence, articulating how desperately they sought freedom.

12.13 - Level 1

While the specific experiences of enslaved laborers varied and depended on many different factors, it is all but certain that:

A

They all lived on large plantations

B

They all lived in urban areas

C

They all grew cotton

D

They all desired freedom


Figure 12.7: "Auction & Negro Sales," Whitehall Street, Atlanta, Georgia​ [5]

While not overly common, slaves did try to escape their captivity if the opportunity presented itself. Few slaves escaped in the Antebellum period; it was incredibly difficult due to the distance involved, slave patrols, and others trying to collect rewards for escaped slaves. Escape from the Border States was easier, which could explain why slavery was slowly dying out in the Border South. Because of the fear of slave escapes, owners sold slaves to the Deep South from the Border States in droves (Figure 12.7). However, even when far from freedom, slaves continued to seek it. Thus, the Underground Railroad developed. 

Running from the Deep South to the Border, into the northern states, and finally into Canada, the Underground Railroad helped many slaves to escape bondage. Information travelled along the “grapevine telegraph” from person to person, letting slaves know how the Railroad functioned and how it could support them. Slaves learned that there were certain people and places that would help them in their escape to freedom. These places, known as stations, and people, known as conductors, including the famous escaped slave Harriet Tubman, helped escapes slave reach freedom. There were always slaves willing to attempt escape. Thus, stopping slaves from fleeing and returning escaped slaves, developed into very important issues to both Southerners and Northerners as the fight over slavery became more contentious in the 1850s.

12.14 - Level 2

Click on a state with particularly diverse avenues of escape for enslaved people either within that state or passing through it on the Underground Railroad.


Figure 12.8: 19th Century woodcut depiction of the Southampton Insurrection, from the book Authentic and Impartial Narrative of the Tragical Scene Which Was Witnessed in Southampton County ​[6]

Question 12.15

12.15 - Level 4

Explain how the Underground Railroad operated.

Click here to see the answer to Question 12.15.

Slave owners lived with a constant fear of slave rebellion, especially after the Haitian Revolution from 1791 to 1804 and the Nat Turner Rebellion (also known as the Southampton Insurrection) in Virginia in 1831 (Figure 12.8). While the Haitian Revolution, the only successful slave rebellion in the Western Hemisphere, freed the country from slavery and created the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere, whites quickly put down the Turner Rebellion after the escaped slaves killed around 60 whites. Even though there were no large-sclae attempted rebellions after Turner, Southerners saw conspiracy around every corner, and this affected the everyday lives of all people living in the region. 

Although educating slaves and allowing them to travel without passes or gather in large numbers had long been discouraged, the Turner Rebellion motivated new restrictive “Slave Codes” from state governments as well as more harsh enforcement of those already in place. Often, slaves turned in other slaves or tipped off the white population in hopes of securing better treatment for themselves and their families. Slave patrols became a way of life, as white Southerners gathered together in the evenings to ride the roads to make sure slaves were not moving about without permission. These patrols became a semi-social occasion, bringing together all classes of the white South to participate, often times fueled by alcohol and violence. This ran contradictory to the way that Southerners portrayed their relationship with their slaves. They lived their lives in constant fear of rebellion, but also believed that slaves loved their owners and their lives, and that they did not really want to be free. This paternalism is how Southerners convinced themselves that slavery was permissible even in the face of evidence that actual paternalism rarely existed.

Question 12.16

12.16 - Level 4

Why did state governments strengthen laws against educating the enslaved after Nat Turner’s Rebellion?

Click here to see the answer to Question 12.16.

12.17 0 - Level 2

Click on the location of the only successful slave rebellion in history.


The Arguments of Owners to Preserve Slavery

Figure 12.9: Map of the United States and Texas engraved to illustrate Mitchell’s School and Family Geography [with] Map of Mexico and Guatemala. [7]

Slavery could not exist in any area without laws to support it, such as those dealing with slave patrols, hiring, and sale. Thus, slave owners also had to control the government in order to create pro-slavery laws, such as requiring participation in slave patrols and allowing punishments of slaves with no legal consequences. Without the law to protect it, slavery could not survive. As such, southern leaders suppressed discussions of abolition, supported the open attack of abolitionists, and even allowed the censoring of mail to ensure that abolitionists did not corrupt slaves. 

Southerners dominated the national government in the antebellum period, controlling Congress through party politics, stacking the Supreme Court with slavery supporters, and helping elect presidents who would defend slavery. It should be noted that abolitionists were a minority even in the North, and many Northerners who would not accept slavery in their own “backyards” had no problem supporting national laws that protected it in the South. Slave owners also used religion to keep slaves in line. While slaves were not allowed to learn to read; they could be read to and listen to sermons. Thus, planters used the Bible to keep slaves in line. They encouraged sermons that stressed obedience, explained how the Bible condoned and supported slavery, and argued that obeying their masters would get slaves into heaven, all of which worked to keep slaves passive.

12.18 - Level 1

Southerners attempted to protect slavery in all the following ways except:

A

Introducing enslaved laborers to states that had outlawed the institution

B

Censoring the mails for abolitionist literature

C

Suppressing discussions of abolition

D

Placing supporters of slavery on the Supreme Court

E

Helping to elect pro-slavery presidents


Figure 12.10: John C. Calhoun painted by T. Hicks; likeness from a dage. by Brady; engraved by A.H. Ritchie. ​[8]

John C. Calhoun, a political leader from South Carolina who had served as a United States Senator, Secretary of War, Secretary of State, and Vice President, most likely understood slavery better than any other person in the nation did at the time (Figure 12.10). While slavery did need laws to support its existence, owners also needed to prevent legislation that could infringe upon it. Every time the federal government gained power, it came closer to having the ability to end slavery. This is why Calhoun fought against tariffs, supported nullification, and wanted to reform the American government to preserve Southern rights. Southerners not only had to defend slavery ideologically, but they would also have to fight to protect it, and eventually, this fighting would become literal as well as rhetorical. Others also defended slavery very publicly. For example, in 1832, Thomas Dew, a professor at William and Mary College in Virginia, published a book defending slave owners’ property rights in the aftermath of the Turner Rebellion. Much of the efforts of the Southern intelligentsia focused on preserving the right to own human beings.

Question 12.19

12.19 - Level 3

Why did the South refuse to allow any discussion on slavery or any laws regulating how slaveholders could deal with their human property?

Click here to see the answer to Question 12.19.

Slave owners faced a very slippery slope when it came to their slave property. They needed laws to preserve slavery, like those dealing with patrols and fugitive slaves. But, every time a law was passed that dealt with slavery, the door was opened to further laws that could end it. This was the constant fear of slave owners. Say the federal government passed a law dealing with taxes on property, could not the federal government tax slave property? Then, could they not raise taxes so high on slaves that owners could not afford to keep them, thus ending slavery? This was something all slave owners had to fear, and thus they needed to keep the government as small and weak as possible so their property could be preserved.

Southerners argued that slavery was a superior system to the free labor North, especially criticizing immigrant labor. Slave owners claimed that they took much better care of their workers. A Northern industrial firm would hire an immigrant worker, pay him as little as possible, and care nothing for what happened to him. If the worker could not support and feed his family, the owner of the firm did not care. Moreover, if a Northern worker was hurt, he lost his job, and likely could not fend for himself. There were always more workers to take his place. Southerners said that they cared for their slaves from cradle to grave. They raised slave children, fed them, gave them work when they were old enough, gave them food and clothing, and finally, when too old or injured to work any longer, they took care of them until death. Of course, slave owners never discussed the separation of families and the violence they inflicted.

Abolition was something that most slave owners could not even consider. Slave owners could not perceive of a world without slavery. They based their entire social structure around it. Southerners would need to find a way to live with the freed slave population. Moreover, slaves could not just go back to Africa if slavery were ended, as many suggested at the time. Where exactly could they be sent? Who would pay to send them back? Furthermore, they were Americans just like the white population, having been born in the South and having lived there for generations. Home was not Africa, but the South. American slaves were not a part of some island empire in the Caribbean. They lived intimately with their owners, and thus freedom would mean a complete change in the society of the South. Slavery was not just an economic system; it was also a social one. While the economics of slavery could and would eventually be replaced by a free labor system of some kind, a new social system was not readily available, and the fear of this drove Southerners to hold onto slavery as long as possible.

Southerners were motivated by profit and kept up with nationwide business. Slaves were a good investment, and the return on that investment in slavery was as good as any industrial concern in the North. Moreover, upper class Southern planters were a very worldly and educated group. They traveled, went to school in the North or in Europe, paid attention to world events, and understood the market. They moved in the highest economic and social circles, not just in the United States, but also in the world. All of this was possible because of the work of their enslaved laborers. Thus, many historians believed slavery would never end in the region; if slavery someday became unprofitable in agriculture, new uses would be found for the labor of slaves, and this transition was already beginning as industrial concerns developed across the South.

The Common People of the Antebellum South

The middle and lower classes in the Deep South were very important to the continuation of slavery. These “common people” were, for the most part, small farmers. At best, they owned one or two slaves, but the vast majority owned none. They were subsistence farmers, meaning they grew or raised most of what they needed to live, but they also grew a little cotton on the side to earn some spending money. Why, then, did they care about protecting slavery, a system from which they seemingly did not benefit?

The great Southern planters, with their system of slave labor, created the world’s cotton economy. Without this, small farmers would not have a market for the cotton that they grew. Moreover, small farmers were tied to the major slave owners. They sold cotton to them because the planters were the only ones who could afford to build cottons gins. They worked for the larger slave owners as overseers and as artisans. The major slave owners also supported schools through laws and taxes that allowed all classes the chance at an education. Further, small farmers always had the dream of buying a few slaves and moving up into a higher social circle. Southerners could aspire to slave ownership as a sign of wealth. Thus, ending slavery would completely destroy Southern society, as every part of the South was built on the basis of slave labor.

There were a small number of Southerners unconnected to the slave-owning regime of the Deep South. These were the people of the mountainous areas, who lived by hunting and scrub farming. Living in the foothill of the Appalachian Mountains and other hard-to-access parts of the region, these Southerners existed outside of normal Southern life. The few Unionists who did not support the Confederate government during the war came from this region. These people were fiercely independent, but much of the region ignored them because they had so little economic and political power. Another minority group was the “Crackers” of the extreme lower South, especially Florida and parts of southern Georgia, who lived primarily by stockraising and subsistence agriculture. All had a role to play in the Southern story.

12.20 - Level 2

Click on the southernmost state with a population least likely to support slavery.

Question 12.21

12.21 - Level 2

Explain how and why whites who did not own slaves nevertheless benefitted from the institution of chattel slavery in the Antebellum South.

Click here to see the answer to Question 12.21.

The Urban South

There were cities in the South, and large numbers of people lived in them. Most Southern leaders portrayed a South that was devoid of urban areas. Cities were dens of crime and inequality that Northerners had to deal with, while the South and its pious farms did not have such concerns. Of course, places like Richmond, Charleston, and New Orleans were glaring examples to the contrary. What, then, was the urban South like? Were they really Southerners? Did they matter? How big was the urban South? Moreover, can we consider the people who lived in these cities to be real Southerners as the plantation owners defined the term? Would they support the rest of the region if a showdown were to happen over the issue of slavery?

12.22 - Level 2

Match the southern city with the state in which it resides:

Premise
Response
1

New Orleans

A

Louisiana

2

Richmond

B

Virginia

3

Charleston

C

South Carolina

4

Mobile

D

Alabama


Figure 12.11: Charleston, South Carolina 1849 [9]

Urban areas were very important to the economy of the South (Figure 12.11). Plantations, no matter how self-sufficient they tried to be, could not make everything that the region needed to function. Thus, the urban South supplied the artisans, bankers, merchants, and others needed to form a modern economy. Moreover, these cities served as places for goods to move in and out of the South. Cotton flowed out of them to the rest of the world, while finished goods poured in to supply the needs of the region. They also served as trans-shipment points for the internal slave trade that kept the cotton economy flourishing. Cities were centers of government and political activism. Additionally, newspapers from the cities supplied information to the countryside. The growth of cities in the South also allowed for the creation of a Southern middle class, separate from the plantation elite or the small subsistence farmers. These people created civic aid societies, pushed for education, and partook of everything city life at the time had to offer. Cities in the South, then, were very important for society to function. However, these cities brought with them very special problems that Southerners would always have a hard time dealing with.

Urban areas created a challenge to slavery, as slaves were not as easy to control in urban settings. Owners hired out their slaves with very little supervision. These slaves then gathered with other slaves and interacted with free blacks who lived in these areas. This was a direct challenge to the slave system of the region. Southerners allowed it for one reason: money. Slave owners needed to make money from their slave property. Urban businesses and industries needed labor. Therefore, slave owners rented out their slaves to these concerns, and, as long as the money came in, they did not really care what else was going on. This system demonstrated how adaptable the system was, something that frightened the free labor North.

It is very difficult to judge the effects of the urban South on the larger society of the region. Southerners had a fraught relationship with their cities. They recognized the need for them, and many planters even owned large homes in the city nearest their plantation to participate in urban social life. However, most Southerners still clung to the Jeffersonian ideal of what the United States should look like: a nation of independent farmers, not dependent urbanites. Moreover, with immigrants, free blacks, and hired slaves, Southerners never really knew if the urban population supported the Southern way of life. Were urbanites willing to sacrifice all to support slavery? Only time would tell.

While interconnected, planters, small farmers, and urban dwellers did not constitute a united, monolithic South. There were some internal struggles between poor whites and planters, especially in Virginia and South Carolina. Tidewater and coastal planters fought with upland small farmers for control of state governments in these and many other states. State constitutional conventions called at this time show this infighting, as planters refused to allow new small farm areas the representation that their numbers deserved. The South was not the unified place that many Southerners pretended it was or that many Northerners and outsiders thought it to be.

Figure 12.12: Diagram showing the inundated District Sauvé's Crevasse May 3rd 1849. Facsimile of an old drawing. [10]

New Orleans is an excellent example of the antebellum Southern microcosm. New Orleans was a cosmopolitan city, a hub of the Caribbean, with a French, Spanish, and American background. With a population of 168,000 in 1860, it was the largest city in the South at the time (Figure 12.12). It contained a branch of the United States Mint and one of the strongest banking sectors in the entire South. It had a strong community of free people of color, but slavery was also an entrenched part of life. A great deal of commerce flowed through the city, including cotton, food, manufactured goods, and people. While the state around New Orleans was strongly in favor of supporting the rest of the South and slavery, many wondered where the sympathies of New Orleans citizens lay. These were people of a different cultural background; most were not agriculturalists and had a worldview that went far beyond the region.

12.23 - Level 2

Which of the following is the most accurate summary of Thomas Jefferson's vision for the United States?

A

An industrial and military superpower

B

A force for democracy across the world

C

A nation of small, independent farmers

D

A nation of racially-integrated and multicultural urban centers


12.24 - Level 2

Click on the states where the following cities are located: Richmond, Nashville, Mobile, Charleston.


Free Black Communities

Not all African Americans were slaves. Free Black communities occupied the margins of antebellum Southern society and American society in general. They came from many sources. Some slaves were able to buy their freedom. Some masters freed slaves in their wills; when the master died, the slave was free. Others gained freedom for good service. Some emigrated from elsewhere, while later, others were born free as the children of emancipated slaves. Some were multi-generational descendants of colonial black indentured servants. Overall, however, there was never a large population of freedmen in the region. In 1860, the census placed the number of free blacks at about 262,000 for the entire South. Most lived in urban areas and worked as artisans, servants, or laborers. Moreover, these people never really had a place in antebellum society, but that did not stop them from attempting to carving one out.

Slave owners feared this class of people. They were hard to control and did not fit in with the social system of the South. They were African Americans at least partially free from the control of the white population. They could move around and serve as a source of rebellion for the enslaved population. Whites so feared this group that as the antebellum period went on, more and more states passed laws restricting them. For example, in 1806, Virginia passed a law stating that any freed slave who stayed more than a year in the Commonwealth after receiving their manumission would lose their freedom. Many moved to northern states or even to Canada. Moreover, slave catchers captured some of these free people and sold them back into slavery. Thus, even while technically free, the free black population lived in the same fear that slaves did, at least to a certain degree. They always had to carry their papers with them to prove that they were free, and often, having papers did not mean that the white population would respect or recognize them. Their freedom was at the whim of the white population, but it was still a sort of freedom and therefore caused disruption in Southern society.

12.25 - Level 2

In the antebellum South, where would you find the largest, most cosmopolitan communities of free blacks?

A

Urban areas

B

Rural areas

C

Plantations

D

Mountainous regions


Figure 12.13: The Underground Railroad [11]

Many of these freed people took great chances with their freedom and worked as part of the Underground Railroad (Figure 12.13). Others were vital in founding African American churches, which were vital to the development of the African American community. Religion was very inspiring for African Americans. Many ministers would become leaders in their communities, especially after the Civil War. Thus, not only did free blacks create a life for themselves, but they also served as an inspiration to those slaves who wanted to be free. Every free black person able to make a life for himself exposed the arguments Southerners made about slavery as untrue. African Americans were able to learn, work hard, and live lives that should not have been possible according to the white South. All of this made white Southerners very nervous.

Spotlight on Primary Source

The WPA Slave Narratives are one of the most interesting and difficult to work with sources on slavery historians have. These narratives were interviews done with ex-slaves near the end of their lives in the 1930s. The interviewers were all white, and thus, these freed people may have been holding back with discussing their experiences. So, while we have recording of these ex-slaves about their lives, we can never be sure how complete a picture they painted for us.


Read the WPA Slave Narratives.  

Question 12.26

12.26 - Level 4

Read three of the interviews in the WPA Slave Narratives. How did the individuals react to gaining freedom, and what was most important to them after freedom?

Click here to see the answer to Question 12.26.



Cotton as the Engine of the World’s Economy

Slavery and cotton drove the industrial revolution that was slowly spreading across the world. The antebellum South, characterized by large plantations and acres of cotton, provided the base upon which the smoke stacks, factories, and large cities of the world rested. One could not exist without the other. Great Britain was the economic engine of the world at the time, driven by the fuel of Southern cotton. The South, perhaps even more than Great Britain, was the perfect place to produce the cotton needed to fuel industry with its combination of cheap labor, new technology, and demand for items like cheap cloth.

The population of Great Britain was increasing and farmers were moving to cities because there was no land available in the countryside, creating cheap labor for entrepreneurs trying to establish new industrial concerns. Technological changes came at a very fast pace, with each new invention feeding on the one before it. The revolution that drove the cotton-laden South to new heights of wealth came from a combination of three main innovations, all made in England at the same time. James Hargreave’s Spinning Jenny and Samuel Crompton’s Spinning Mule allowed the manufacture of cheap cloth; steam power, especially associated with the Watt Engine invented by James Watt in 1775, allowed faster machinery; finally, new iron-making technology, including changes in the fuel source, stamping, and puddling, allowed higher temperatures and thus less impurities, and created ironware.

12.27 - Level 1

Match the important 19th-century technologies to the person who invented them.

Premise
Response
1

Spinning Mule

A

Eli Whitney

2

Spinning Jenny

B

Samuel Crompton

3

Cotton gin

C

James Hargreave

4

Watt Engine

D

James Watt


Groups of English executives then used their money to bring these technologies together in factories, as centralization allowed even cheaper production of goods and took advantage of economies of scale. The northern United States quickly followed suit, even stealing plans for these new machines from the British. These thefts of ideas were the first real cases of industrial espionage in the world, as workers would memorize machines and later come to the United States and re-create them. These shifts led to increased urbanization in both the North and Great Britain as cities grew to meet new industrial ways of life. People lived very different lives in cities than their ancestors had in the countryside, and they were far more dependent on others than before. This worried many Americans, especially Southerners steeped in the ideals of a Jeffersonian United States.

Great Britain used the triangle trade, as discussed earlier, to move their goods around the globe, developing into the Atlantic World. Before England outlawed the slave trade, the triangle trade had a specific rhythm to it: slaves were taken from Africa to the New World, New World raw materials were shipped to England as fuel for their factories, and finally English manufactured goods were sold to the New World and Africa (Figure 12.14). All of this created large-scale global markets and globalization for the first time, with slaves as the first major international commodity. By the time the slave trade ended, international trade and markets were fully developed and did not need slaves to keep it running. Cotton took the place of slaves in the trade and a new explosion of development took place. Everything and everyone had to change to adapt to an economy that was developing by the minute. In the United States, new legislation passed dealing with slavery as it interacted with newly developing industries and markets. For example, new forms of insurance needed creation to protect slave property as slaves found employment in more and more lines of business, such as the processing of primary materials and industrial labor.

Figure 12.14: Stowage of the British slave ship Brookes under the regulated slave trade act of 1788​ [12]

Beyond the changes in a few laws and trade patterns, how did this affect the United States? Cotton production made possible the growth of industry in New England and around the world, and helped to further developments in transportation and communication. Without cotton, the Industrial Revolution may not have been as intense or as centralized. New England became the place for early industrial development in United States. Its plentiful rivers were used to create water-powered factories, some of which would switch to steam before the war. Mill towns developed in New England in an attempt to centralize and control production, with the Slater Mill and the Lowell Mills developing into famous examples. The South did not really participate in this development on a large scale. The South did have factories, but not on the level of the North, especially New England. Moreover, Southerners for the most part never worked toward an industrial goal.

The South and North were both predominantly agricultural at this point. It was not until after the turn of the twentieth century that more Americans lived in urban areas than in rural ones. Thus, on the eve of the Civil War, most people in the nation lived on farms, but the South was not following the North on the path toward industrial development. Natural geographic advantage, not geographic determinism, pushed Southern development. Southern land was so well suited to cotton production that doing anything else with it did not make sense. The North had better access to waterpower, and the South had a better climate. Southerners were not any less capitalistic or adventurous than their Northern counterparts, but cotton was a proven commodity, cotton prices made people rich, and the lower classes could aspire to achieve status by planting cotton. It is interesting to note that the majority of the population in both regions was small farmers, but manufacturers in the North and planters in the South increasingly dominated politics and economy.

The earlier political struggles between Federalists and Anti-Federalists/Democratic-Republicans translated into a North versus South debate. This debate took place over issues such as tariffs, internal improvements, and how the government itself would work as each side grew further apart economically. Political parties would break apart from this North versus South stress. First, the Whigs broke over sectional lines, and finally, the Democratic Party, the bastion of the nation, crumbled on the eve of the war. This created a widening gap between the two sections; each had different goals, but they needed each other for what the other could provide. Each section, then, by pursuing their economic goals, gained a greater separate identity and had conflicting political goals. The North provided manufacturing, shipping, and insurance for Southern plantations, while the South provided the North with raw materials and trade goods to bring in money from the rest of the world.

The economy did not function in the antebellum period as it does today. The Market Revolution was just developing in this country, and the rudimentary systems of communication and transportation available did not allow perfect market development. Moreover, many people resisted participating in the market as long as they could, opting for self-sufficiency. While the idea that a person could be completely self-sufficient was quickly dying, people, and especially Southerners, still clung to this ideal. The nation was pulling apart economically at every turn. It is at this point that we can begin to see the economic reasons for the Civil War. Perhaps we can even point to this period as the moment when North and South became two separate nations.

Figure 12.15: James Henry Hammond, U.S. Senate Historical Office​ [13]

It was at this time that the South formulated the concept of “King Cotton.” James Hammond, a South Carolinian, coined the term in a speech (Figure 12.15). He believed that England had to have Southern cotton or its factories would close, people would be thrown out of work and starve, and riot and revolution would break out in English cities. This meant, according to Hammond, that Southerners controlled the Union, as England would never allow the flow of cotton to come to a stop and slavery could never end. While it is easy to see why this point of view became popular, perhaps cotton was not as great of a monarchy as its subjects felt it to be. The English were not stupid; they could see that problems were developing between North and South, and they began to prepare for when these problems would affect them, stockpiling cotton and developing new sources of the fiber around the world.

Spotlight on Primary Source

James Henry Hammond saw cotton ruling the world. Industrial development was based on cotton textiles, and without it, entire countries would fall into ruin. Hammond’s view was extremely popular in the South, and was the basis for the regions defense of slavery.  

 Hammond’s Cotton is King speech.

"What would happen if no cotton was furnished for three years? I will not stop to depict what every one can imagine, but this is certain: England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her, save the South. No, you dare not make war on cotton. No power on earth dares to make war upon it. Cotton is king." 

Question 12.28

12.28 - Level 4

Why did Hammond, based on his speech, believe that cotton was king? Do you think he was correct?

Click here to see the answer to Question 12.28.

Question 12.29

12.29 - Level 5

Were the North and the South becoming two separate nations in the antebellum period?

Click here to see the answer to Question 12.29.

Reform, Abolition, and Free Thinking in the Antebellum World

The nation, and the South in particular, was expanding both geographically and economically. The population grew throughout the entire period, and many towns and cities developed with this growth. The number of jobs grew, people were making a good living, and a solid middle class was developing. The children of those making money started questioning society, discontented with their prosperity. This discontent in a time of great change led to many reform movements spawning across the nation, all in an attempt to solve the country’s problems, and perhaps to hold back changes that were coming too fast for many. Whether it was from a drive for social justice or a drive for social control, many middle class reformers were looking for ways to change American society from the bottom up.

Urbanization upset many traditional patterns of life. It occurred mostly due to natural increases in population and immigration. People lived longer, and the lower death rate spurred westward migration. Immigration came from two sources. The first was the Irish potato famine, and the second was the failed revolutions of the swept almost all of Europe in 1848. These two events sent millions of non-English speaking refugees to the colonies, many of whom were also Catholic. These migrations altered the demographics of American cities. Potatoes, ironically imported from the Americas during the Columbia exchange, forced the Irish from their homes. Once persuaded to plant them, Irish farmers now starved for the loss of them. When a fungus swept over the potato crop, millions starved to death and millions more fled to America. They flocked to the larger cities of the region, such as Baltimore and New Orleans, and even more so to northern cities. A great deal of anti-Irish sentiment flared up in response. Saloons and restaurants hung signs stating “No dogs, lepers, or Irish allowed.” This caused a great dichotomy in most cities between the wealthy and the poor. Prosperity spurred reform movements, started by people who felt a sense of guilt over their own prosperity and saw the misfortunes of the masses.

Question 12.30

12.30 - Level 3

What general characteristics did many immigrants who arrived in the United States during the antebellum era share?

Click here to see answer to Question 12.30.


The largest reform movement in the nation, at least until the later 1850s, was the temperance movement. This movement pushed for the end of the consumption of alcohol. Temperance reformers were alarmed at the toll that alcoholism was taking on the poor and working classes. Gin, in particular, was cheap and readily available. Some have estimated that 1 in 20 Americans were part of temperance unions. A number of states in the Midwest, as well as Maine, even went dry. Some believe that this movement was not simply for social justice, but rather aimed toward social control. Many immigrants worked long hours in factories performing mind-numbing and dangerous jobs. When they left these jobs, they would go to a local bar and drink before heading home. Their social “betters” just saw drunken immigrants wandering the streets, and this scared them. Therefore, for the immigrants’ own good, reformers pushed for temperance while continuing to drink at home, a double standard that was very common at the time. Southern women participated in this movement to the level allowed by society. However, trying to use the government to control any actions of the people was fraught with peril for the South.

A movement for public schools (aimed at grades 1 through 8) also took root at this time. People who championed this reform wanted to make the curriculum more effective, but also pushed for state funding so that the children of the poor, working classes, and farmers could get an education and make something of themselves. Led by Horace Mann, the public school movement across the country gained popularity quickly, even in the rural South. The wealthiest planters and railroad owners in Georgia supported this movement. With public funds, Georgia had built the longest publicly funded railroad in the United States. In return, the profits of the railroad were to be dedicated to fund a statewide system of public schools. Without having to raise taxes, Georgia was able to create a system of public schools.

Other reform movements also affected the South. The penitentiary movement wanted to turn prisons into reformatories. It was not enough simply to punish criminals; these reformers believed in the rehabilitation of criminals. Asylums, places to incarcerate the mentally ill, also required reform. People came to see madness as a mental disease and not a mark of God’s disfavor. Women’s suffrage also was a powerful movement that allied closely with the last and most contentious reform movement: abolitionism. This movement hoped to gain women the vote. While it was not successful at the time, many of the leaders of the abolitionist movement would become leaders in the women’s suffrage movement after slavery ended. It was not always easy supporting positions such as women’s suffrage. Proponents of women’s suffrage in the South, such as the Grimke sisters, often had to move north because they were calling not just for the liberation of women, but for slaves as well.

Figure 12.16: "Am I not a man and a brother?" Appears on the 1837 broadside publication of John Greenleaf Whittier's antislavery poem, "Our Countrymen in Chains." [14]

The abolitionist movement developed into the most important antebellum reform movement (Figure 12.16). Abolitionists themselves came in a number of varieties. Immediatists called for immediate emancipation. Others, called gradualists, called for the gradual emancipation of slaves. Nevertheless, even in these groupings there were differences. While some immediatists wanted slaves to get equal rights and the vote, some called the return of slaves to Africa. A group of politicians, early abolitionists, philanthropists, and even slaveowners from the American Colonization Society even went so far was to create a colony in West Africa called Liberia as a place to settle free blacks and freed slaves outside of the United States; more than 17,000 Americans of African descent would settle there by the end of the 19th century. The colony formed its own government and declared its independence in 1847 as the Republic of Liberia. Some gradualists called for equal rights for blacks once freed. Most believed that slaves in the South, and poor whites in the North, were the “mudsills” of society that undergirded the upper classes. Therefore, to be an abolitionist did not mean that one was not a racist. Many abolitionists believed that there was no way that people of color could compete with the dominant white race. However, a growing number of people rejected that, claiming that the United States contained many people and races that could live side by side. Lincoln, for example, was initially a gradualist, and believed that blacks and whites were deserving of equal political rights but that they did not share similar talents. It would take years of war and seeing African Americans fighting for their own freedom to convince Lincoln to support African American rights.

At their inception, the general population saw many abolitionists as crackpots, people who rocked the boat for no reason. Over time, as the South entrenched itself to preserve slavery, many came to see abolitionists as the only protection against an aggressive slaveocracy. Men like William Lloyd Garrison, leader of abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, spread abolitionist ideas across the North, and Southerners saw them as vile enemies. African Americans participated in this movement, making people like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass national heroes. Douglass’s autobiography, Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, became a best seller. Other books, such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, would also have a great effect on the abolitionist cause.

12.31 - Level 1

Which colony—today an independent nation—did the American Colonization Society set up for free people of color from the United States?

A

Sierra Leone

B

South Africa

C

Liberia

D

Nigeria

E

Guinea

Question 12.32

12.32 - Level 2

Students of history should not generalize too much about abolitionists. On what issues did the members of this broad group disagree?

Click here to see the answer to Question 12.32.

12.33 - Level 2

Click on the area where the American Colonization Society sought to send free people of color.


12.34 - Level 3

Which of the following figures is best categorized as an “Immediatist”?

A

Senator Abraham Lincoln

B

William Loyd Garrison

C

John C. Calhoun

D

Thomas Dew


Most of these reform movements did not catch on in the South. Leaders sharply curtailed freedom of thought below the Mason-Dixon Line, especially on the issues of slavery, race, and women’s rights. One could hold such views, but they had to keep quiet or leave, as the Grimke sisters did. Many Southerners, echoing John C. Calhoun, believed that any attempt to change one part of southern society could bleed into another. Treating prisoners better might lead to calls for better treatment of slaves. If women gained more rights, or even the vote, could they not use it to help the less fortunate and end slavery? These fears were never justified, but fear does not need rationality to affect a society, and affect the South it did. Southerners were so afraid of even discussing change that they passed a gag rule in Congress that automatically tabled any abolitionist petitions sent to the government. The national government could not discuss a national issue.

12.35 - Level 1

What was the largest reform movement of the antebellum period?

A

Abolition

B

Women's suffrage

C

Education reform

D

Temperance

E

Asylum reform


12.36 - Level 1

What reform movement advocated for the prohibition of alcohol?

A

Temperance

B

Abolition

C

Common School

D

Penitentiary


12.37 - Level 2

Match the 19th-century figures to the reform movements with which they were most closely associated.

Premise
Response
1

Women's Suffrage

A

Eli Whitney

2

Abolitionism

B

Horace Mann

3

Public schools movement

C

Frederick Douglass

D

John C. Calhoun

E

Grimke Sisters


12.38 - Level 3

Sort the following nineteenth century reform movements by the order in which they won amendments to the Constitution

A

Abolitionism

B

Women's Suffrage

C

Temperance Movement


Societal Expectations and Gender Roles in the Old South

Women throughout the nation had to deal with the custom of separate spheres for men and women. As the nation transformed because of the industrial and market revolutions, women found themselves placed in a sphere of domesticity. Women, labeled as protectors of the home, served as a counterforce to the competition of the market. Known as the “Cult of Domesticity,” authors published many books on the subject, including: The Young Wife by William Alcott, Catherine Beecher’s Treatise on Domestic Economy, Recollections of a Housekeeper by Caroline Howard, Recollections of a Southern Matron by Caroline Gilman, and even magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book. While this idea was very popular in contemporary literature, in reality, women played an active role in Southern society, and the South could not have functioned without the work and guidance of its female population. In general, though, the role of women in the antebellum South was domestic because their main role was to organize the home and raise children, at least as far as the most of the population was concerned.

Gender roles were very important to how the antebellum South functioned. At the top of Southern society were the wives and children of the great plantation owners. Plantation mistresses helped to run their family’s holdings. These women organized the plantation household, overseeing the work of numerous slaves. Moreover, these women raised and educated their own children, with the help of their domestic slaves. They were also the ones slaves turned to for medical care. In short, much of the success of a plantation can be traced back to the efforts of the plantation mistress and how well she organized and cared for the slave population of her establishment. In the North, women of this social stature would have been at the forefront of the reform movements sweeping the nation. However, as noted earlier, this could not happen in the South, and some, like the Grimke sisters, were driven out. Most Southern women at the time were supporters of the South’s slave-based society. Like their male counterparts, they simply could not conceive of a world without slavery. Life was often lonely for a plantation mistress; while the plantation was a center of wealth, it was also very physically isolated.

Social class did affect gender roles. Lower class women had to do much more physical labor to support their families than upper class women did. Many labored on farms with their husbands in addition to performing all of the domestic duties. Thus, as could be expected, life as a farm wife was very difficult and demanding. Nevertheless, no matter how much money a family made, this was a male-dominated society. Society expected women to be pious, pure, and quiet. They raised the children and supported their husbands, and very rarely expressed an opinion of their own. Women could not vote and had no input on the laws that would govern their lives. Husbands supposedly represented their wives in the wider world from which they needed protection. Now, with great societal changes in progress, these roles were changing, and women gained more of a voice, especially in the reform movements mentioned earlier.

Question 12.38

12.39 - Level 4

How was life was different for working- and lower-class women in the Upper and Lower South? In contrast, what similarities did they share?

Click here to see the answer to Question 12.38.

African American women in South had very different gender roles. Most of these women were slaves, subject to the same violence and separation as any other slave in the region. Husbands were often absent because of slave sales, and thus, the raising of children fell to mothers, at least until the child was able to work. Then the forcible ripping apart of slave families often took place. Thus, even being able to carve out a gender role was almost impossible for most slave women, and the basic family unit was almost impossible to maintain. Slave women were also prey to their masters’ desires. Many slave women gave birth to plantation owners’ children and received harsh treatment from plantation mistresses, as these mistresses blamed the slave woman for “tempting” their husbands. Harriet Jacobs, in her book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, explained the difficulties of life as an enslaved woman, including how she had to deal with the sexual advances of her owner and how she coped with being a slave. This made life as a slave for a woman much more difficult than it was for their male counterparts. The law did not recognized slaves as people, only as property. Thus, a slave woman could do nothing to protect herself from anything an owner wanted to inflict upon her.

12.40 - Level 2

Match the author with the work for which they are best known.

Premise
Response
1

William Lloyd Garrison

A

Life of Frederick Douglass

2

Harriett Beecher Stowe

B

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

3

Frederick Douglass

C

The Liberator

4

William Alcott

D

The Young Wife

5

Harriet Jacobs

E

Uncle Tom's Cabin


Conclusion

Figure 12.17: Port Royal Island, S.C. African Americans preparing cotton for the gin on Smith's plantation. [15]

The antebellum South was the creation of the cotton gin. Without the gin, cotton production on this scale would have been impossible, the industrial revolution would have been stunted, and the system of slavery that existed in the South most likely would have been crippled, and perhaps even ended (Figure 12.17). However, did Whitney invent the gin, cotton production exploded, and “moonlight and magnolias” took over the South’s view of itself. Thus, the antebellum South was a place of great contradictions; it was a place where plantations owners jealously guarded their freedoms while taking away the freedom of others, where some families lived in overt opulence while other families were ripped apart and sold, forced to move far away and never to see each other again. It was a place that generated much of the nation’s wealth while driving a wedge between North and South. 

The antebellum South was not some sleepy, backwards part of the United States. It was dynamic, it was capitalistic, and it was holding onto its “peculiar institution” no matter what arguments were brought against it, because, as uncomfortable as it may be to discuss, the slave labor system of the antebellum South worked. Some have argued that the antebellum South was pre-modern, but the entire nation was at this point. Perhaps we can best understand this period as a link, as the connection between the early republic and the modern United States. While many horrible things happened during this time, it is a time which we must understand to see how the nation developed into the place that it is today. Most importantly, we need to understand that slavery was never going to end in the South without some outside action. Slave owners were never voluntarily going to give up their most valuable property, especially as it was still making them a tremendous profit. The South was a slave society; slavery affected virtually every aspect of antebellum life throughout the entire nation, and its effects still reverberate today.

Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Class Discussion 12.01

Class Discussion 12.01 - Level 4

Why were reform movements different in the South than in the rest of the nation?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 12.01.

Class Discussion 12.02

Class Discussion 12.02 - Level 4

Why were there so few large scale slave rebellions in the Antebellum South?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 12.02.

Class Discussion 12.03

Class Discussion 12.03 - Level 5

If the cotton gin had not been invented, would slavery really have died out in the Antebellum South?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 12.03.

Class Discussion 12.04

Class Discussion 12.04 - Level 4

Why could the ideas of the Grimke Sisters not be tolerated by antebellum southern society?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 12.04.

Class Discussion 12.05

Class Discussion 12.05 - Level 2

Why was the urban South so important to the region?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 12.05.



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Suggested Additional Material

  • Barnes, L. Diane, Brian Schoen, and Frank Towers, eds. The Old South’s Modern Worlds: Slavery, Region, and Nation in the Age of Progress. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.
  • Kolchin, Peter. American Slavery 1619-1877. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.
  • Lebsock, Suzanne. The Free Women of Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860. New York: W.W. Norton, 1984.
  • Scarborough, William. Masters of the Big House: Elite Slaveholders of the Mid-Nineteenth Century South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003.



Answers to In-Chapter DiscussionQuestions

Answer to Question 12.02

Native Americans were more familiar with the region than the colonists were. Thus, running away from captivity, blending in to the area, and finding outside support was much easier for Native Americans and escape was easier. Also, Native American would refuse to work and died very quickly from the disease brought over by the colonists, making it very hard to work for the colonists.

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Answer to Question 12.12

Slaves did not have a great deal of control over their lives. They were told when to wake up, when to eat, what to eat, and what labor to perform. The lived in constant fear of punishment and separation, and could do little about this situation beyond run away, a difficult prospect at best. While slaves did have some agency and found ways to carve out a niche in society, especially in the slave quarters, in day to day life they did not really have much control over their own lives.

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Answer to Question 12.15

The Underground Railroad was a loose collection of people and places that slaves could use to escape captivity. By word of mouth slave learned the locations and names of people willing to help them escape. At each stop the slaves would find food, clothing, and obtain help making it to the next stop, until the eventually reach the North or Canada. This was a very dangerous undertaking for both the slave and the people helping, as beatings and even death could be visited on both.

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Answer to Question 12.16

States increased laws against education to keep events like this from happening again. Without the ability to read or write, communication between slaves would be extremely difficult. Moreover, a slave that can read and write can understand more of the world and would perhaps strive more for freedom, becoming more un-content with their place in life as they can read about more of the world.

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Answer to Question 12.19

Slave owners faced a very slippery slope when it came to their slave property. They needed laws to preserve slavery, like those dealing with patrols and fugitive slaves. But, every time a law was passed that dealt with slavery, the door was opened to further laws that could end it. This was the constant fear of slave owners. Say the federal government passed a law dealing with taxes on property, could not the federal government tax slave property? Then, could they not raise taxes so high on slaves that owners could not afford to keep them, thus ending slavery? This was something all slave owners had to fear, and thus they needed to keep the government as small and weak as possible so their property could be preserved.

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Answer to Question 12.21

Slave owners faced a very slippery slope when it came to their slave property. They needed laws to preserve slavery, like those dealing with patrols and fugitive slaves. But, every time a law was passed that dealt with slavery, the door was opened to further laws that could end it. This was the constant fear of slave owners. Say the federal government passed a law dealing with taxes on property, could not the federal government tax slave property? Then, could they not raise taxes so high on slaves that owners could not afford to keep them, thus ending slavery? This was something all slave owners had to fear, and thus they needed to keep the government as small and weak as possible so their property could be preserved.

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Answer to Question 12.26

Slaves, while talking fondly of life under slavery, rejoiced in their freedom. The told stories on rebuilding families and tracking down lost relatives and attempts to build new lives. Most slaves attempted to find work, raise children, and live quiet happy lives. Looking back on the narratives, the most important point seems to be that ex-slaves had the same hopes and dreams as any other American and, while they still held these dreams when they were interviewed, not a great deal had changed for them in the 70 years that they had been free.

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Answer to Question 12.28

Hammond believed that the need for cotton around the world, especially in Great Britain, would keep the South in control of their own destiny and would preserve slavery. If cotton stopped flowing then people in England would be out of work, this would eventually cause civil unrest, something England would not stand for, at least as far as Southerners like Hammond were concerned. Was he correct? Well, the war was fought and England never intervened, so cotton was not as kingly has Hammond thought.

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Answer to Question 12.29

Perhaps. Each section was growing economically, and while their economic interests were complementary, they were very different. The South was pushing forward with slave based agriculture, while the North was pushing free labor industry. While the entire nation was still very rural, these two tracks came to dominate thinking, and each wanted control of the federal government to push their agendas. While both had similar cultural and historical backgrounds, they were growing apart in this period. An argument can be made both ways in this debate, but we can see there are many growing differences between the sections as the antebellum period went on.

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Answer to Question 12.30

Refugees from famine and political revolutions in Europe. Many of them were Catholic and many came from Ireland.

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Answer to Question 12.32

Abolitionists disagreed about many things. Perhaps first, and most important, was when should slaves be freed. Should it be immediate, or should there be a period of time where they were taught how to be free and how to function in society. Another disagreement was where freed slaves should be allowed to live. Should they stay in the United States, or should they be sent back to Africa. Should slave owners be compensated for their loss of property. Should ex-slaves have equal rights and should they be allowed to vote. As we can see, the issue of abolition had many different facets.

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Answer to Question 12.38

For all women, regardless of class, their place was in the home. Women were expected to run the household and raise children, not work or educate themselves. Now, based on class, the ways of performing these function were very different. Lower class women had to make their own cloths, cook meals, clean, perhaps till a small family field, and take care of children. Upper class women delegated many of these duties to slaves or servants, spending most of their time supervising others and managing the household of a great plantation. Moreover, upper class women did have at least some chance at education that most lower class women were barred from, but, it was not expected of them or encouraged for the most part.

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Answers to Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Answer to Class Discussion 12.01

Reform movements were different in the South because of slavery. If reformers were allowed to alter parts of southern society, then they perhaps could alter slavery by agitating for better treatment or education. Once that happened, slavery could be put on the road to extinction as reformers could push for abolition once they had made changes in other parts of society.

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Answer to Class Discussion 12.02

There were so few large scale rebellions because planning one was difficult. Slaves were spread out across the countryside. It was very hard to communicate. Moreover, slave owners were always on the watch for rebellion and were heavily armed. They patrolled roads and got slaves to turn on one another for special treatment. At the slightest hint of rebellion, real or imagined, slave owners reacted with hangings, whippings, and sale of slaves south. Also, slaves had families to keep safe, and rebellion could too easily end badly and risk the lives of those they loved.

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Answer to Class Discussion 12.03

While it may have died out, it is hard to see how. While the gin gave new life to slavery, slaves were already in the South. Owners had invested a great deal of money in them, and, moreover, did not want to see slaves free in the region. Also, slaves could be used profitably in many enterprises, such as other types of agriculture and industry, thus they could, and most likely would, be turned to such pursuits.

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Answer to Class Discussion 12.04

For the same reason that no reform movements could be tolerated. Any challenge to the current social system could have an effect on slavery. With slavery under attack from the North, any admission that southern society needed to be fixed could quickly lead to the idea that slavery had to be ended to fix society. Thus, the Grimke Sisters were a major threat, even more so because they were southerners themselves, attacking their own society from within.

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Answer to Class Discussion 12.05

The Urban South possessed all of the things that made cotton production possible at scale. Cities had the banks to float credit and transfer money. They had the insurance companies and trading firms to allow cotton to be sold. They had the slave markets to acquire new field hands. They performed governmental function and allowed society to gather and work with and learn from each other. All of these required urban areas to take place.

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Image Credits 

[1] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[2] Image courtesy of the National Archives ARC# 305886 in the Public Domain.

[3] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[4] Image courtesy of the National Archives ARC# 2641472 in the Public Domain.

[5] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[6] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[7] Image courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

[8] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[9]  Image courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

[10] Image courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

[11] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[12] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[13] Image courtesy of the United States Senate Historical Office.

[14] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[15] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.