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Cotton and Race in the Making of America: The Human Costs of Economic Power

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Since the earliest days of colonial America, the relationship between cotton and the African-American experience has been central to the history of the republic. America's most serious social tragedy, slavery and its legacy, spread only where cotton could be grown. Both before and after the Civil War, blacks were assigned to the cotton fields while a pervasive racial animo Since the earliest days of colonial America, the relationship between cotton and the African-American experience has been central to the history of the republic. America's most serious social tragedy, slavery and its legacy, spread only where cotton could be grown. Both before and after the Civil War, blacks were assigned to the cotton fields while a pervasive racial animosity and fear of a black migratory invasion caused white Northerners to contain blacks in the South. Gene Dattel's pioneering study explores the historical roots of these most central social issues. In telling detail Mr. Dattel shows why the vastly underappreciated story of cotton is a key to understanding America's rise to economic power. When cotton production exploded to satiate the nineteenth-century textile industry's enormous appetite, it became the first truly complex global business and thereby a major driving force in U.S. territorial expansion and sectional economic integration. It propelled New York City to commercial preeminence and fostered independent trade between Europe and the United States, providing export capital for the new nation to gain its financial "sea legs" in the world economy. Without slave-produced cotton, the South could never have initiated the Civil War, America's bloodiest conflict at home. Mr. Dattel's skillful historical analysis identifies the commercial forces that cotton unleashed and the pervasive nature of racial antipathy it produced. This is a story that has never been told in quite the same way before, related here with the authority of a historian with a profound knowledge of the history of international finance. With 23 black-and-white illustrations.


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Since the earliest days of colonial America, the relationship between cotton and the African-American experience has been central to the history of the republic. America's most serious social tragedy, slavery and its legacy, spread only where cotton could be grown. Both before and after the Civil War, blacks were assigned to the cotton fields while a pervasive racial animo Since the earliest days of colonial America, the relationship between cotton and the African-American experience has been central to the history of the republic. America's most serious social tragedy, slavery and its legacy, spread only where cotton could be grown. Both before and after the Civil War, blacks were assigned to the cotton fields while a pervasive racial animosity and fear of a black migratory invasion caused white Northerners to contain blacks in the South. Gene Dattel's pioneering study explores the historical roots of these most central social issues. In telling detail Mr. Dattel shows why the vastly underappreciated story of cotton is a key to understanding America's rise to economic power. When cotton production exploded to satiate the nineteenth-century textile industry's enormous appetite, it became the first truly complex global business and thereby a major driving force in U.S. territorial expansion and sectional economic integration. It propelled New York City to commercial preeminence and fostered independent trade between Europe and the United States, providing export capital for the new nation to gain its financial "sea legs" in the world economy. Without slave-produced cotton, the South could never have initiated the Civil War, America's bloodiest conflict at home. Mr. Dattel's skillful historical analysis identifies the commercial forces that cotton unleashed and the pervasive nature of racial antipathy it produced. This is a story that has never been told in quite the same way before, related here with the authority of a historian with a profound knowledge of the history of international finance. With 23 black-and-white illustrations.

30 review for Cotton and Race in the Making of America: The Human Costs of Economic Power

  1. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    Essential reading for anyone with an interest in slavery's relationship to the cotton trade during,and after, the Civil War. The author details the struggles of Southern planters with fluctuating crop prices, weather, and other factors that impacted profit margins. The author relies on first hand quotes to support his conclusions. Although I didn't find the narrative to flow particularly well, it still read as a concise history of plantation living. Essential reading for anyone with an interest in slavery's relationship to the cotton trade during,and after, the Civil War. The author details the struggles of Southern planters with fluctuating crop prices, weather, and other factors that impacted profit margins. The author relies on first hand quotes to support his conclusions. Although I didn't find the narrative to flow particularly well, it still read as a concise history of plantation living.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    An outstanding book - and apparently the only one written by the author - on the subject of US slavery and the links between the institution, a commodity crop, economics, and technology. Historians have made many observations on the US founding fathers in terms of their failures regarding or ambivalence towards slavery when establishing the Constitution. This narrative adds another twist to the record - maintaining that slavery was indeed on its way to withering during the Constitutional debates An outstanding book - and apparently the only one written by the author - on the subject of US slavery and the links between the institution, a commodity crop, economics, and technology. Historians have made many observations on the US founding fathers in terms of their failures regarding or ambivalence towards slavery when establishing the Constitution. This narrative adds another twist to the record - maintaining that slavery was indeed on its way to withering during the Constitutional debates of the late 1780s - but the equation changed dramatically in the early 1790s when Eli Whitney's cotton gin made the crop a suddenly productive and profitable enterprise. Instead of laboriously separating the tiny cotton seed from the fibers, the new machine in one technological leap forward, moved cotton from a dubious crop only worth its while when labor was "for free" into a growing commodity that soon became a monopoly and all involved in its trade became ensnared in ensuring its success. The disaster was in human terms - cotton for exploding factories in England, as a lucrative cash crop for the South as well as enriching the budding financial center of New York City - as slaves became the basic labor unit of a wealthy economic force. From 1800 to 1861, cotton exports to England from the US rose from 59 million pounds to nearly 1.4 billion , while the number of slaves in the US rose from 700,000 in 1790 to 4 million in 1860. The story moves along, the author methodically (and exhaustively) recording the dynamics of the US-England trade, the financiers in the US North who profited by an enterprise they publicly condemned, the planting class, the slaves, and all the merchants involved in shipping, baling, extending credit, etc. As the civil war nonetheless erupted - based in large part by Southern bravado that its cotton crop could be used to buy quick European recognition - and concluded 4 bloody years later, the major learning was how racial animosity resulted in the North rejecting movement of former slaves into their states, and ultimately fed the resurgence of cotton wealth and commerce and restrictive black codes in the South. Mr Dattel notes that due to unremitting hostility in spite of their freedom, "Blacks were without a fundamental American trait - mobility." The author explores a variety of economic aspects to the cotton trade and the years of slavery and sharecropping which took its place. Cracks in the financial trade-business empire of cotton began to appear with World War I when blacks were finally accepted in numbers from the South to work in northern factories. Even then, the ghettos of today were the result of strict social restrictions on where blacks could live in the manufacturing centers of Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, etc. King Cotton was finally felled with another technological advance in the 1930s - the mechanical cotton picker (that and herbicides). The need for cheap labor was finally broken with these two steps "forward" and cotton was delinked from the African American. In even more irony, overproduction of cotton from these advances soon led to a loss of profitability and reluctant diversifying into other enterprises. What a story of a small plant and its impact around the world.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Peg - The History Shelf

    This book was a rare find. Who knew that one crop would have such an inordinate influence on American history and race relations?! This was an eye-opening exploration of how cotton--and the greed it inspired--pretty much ruined the nation for a century and why we still deal with the fallout. Highly recommend.

  4. 4 out of 5

    John Senner

    This is a carefully researched review of the role of cotton in the development of America. America had a monopoly on cotton. Blacks monopolized cotton labor and the South monopolized the blacks. The ties could not be broken until the cotton picker was invented and WWII created a manufacturing labor shortage that got the blacks out of the south. The North may have supported abolition, but they certainly didn't want to deal with any blacks who wanted to move there. This is a carefully researched review of the role of cotton in the development of America. America had a monopoly on cotton. Blacks monopolized cotton labor and the South monopolized the blacks. The ties could not be broken until the cotton picker was invented and WWII created a manufacturing labor shortage that got the blacks out of the south. The North may have supported abolition, but they certainly didn't want to deal with any blacks who wanted to move there.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

    This is a almost a secret history of the relationship been US and cotton. Cotton was the US's leading export for 130 years(!) and yet it's price fluctuated wildly so while extreme demand it was hard to get to a stable point where it guaranteed profits. This book also points out how hostile the North was to black migration which I had never seen spelled out so definitively. If you want to know how the US was really was and why, then this is the book to read. This is a almost a secret history of the relationship been US and cotton. Cotton was the US's leading export for 130 years(!) and yet it's price fluctuated wildly so while extreme demand it was hard to get to a stable point where it guaranteed profits. This book also points out how hostile the North was to black migration which I had never seen spelled out so definitively. If you want to know how the US was really was and why, then this is the book to read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Scott Smith

    Found this in the library and was super thrilled. It is exactly what I was looking for to help in my big paper I'm writing. A lot of useful information in there, but maybe my good score was mostly due to how appropriate it was for my project. Found this in the library and was super thrilled. It is exactly what I was looking for to help in my big paper I'm writing. A lot of useful information in there, but maybe my good score was mostly due to how appropriate it was for my project.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    A thought-provoking history of the relationship between black labor and cotton agriculture. Some eye-opening insights into the extent of racism in the North. Full review to come.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mark Cheathem

    See my review: http://mcheathem.wordpress.com/2010/1... See my review: http://mcheathem.wordpress.com/2010/1...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Mueller

  11. 4 out of 5

    John Mitchell

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

  13. 5 out of 5

    Stevie Evans

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ronnie Hamilton

  15. 4 out of 5

    Josh

  16. 4 out of 5

    Devon

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tim

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  19. 4 out of 5

    Betty Lane

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jess Write Jones

  22. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

  23. 4 out of 5

    Doug Herbert

  24. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jim Samsel

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kim Blake

  27. 4 out of 5

    Licia Dattel

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

  29. 5 out of 5

    David Morrison

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dan Rasmussen

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