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The Fragile Fabric of Union

Cotton, Federal Politics, and the Global Origins of the Civil War

Brian Schoen

Publication Year: 2009

In this fresh study Brian Schoen views the Deep South and its cotton industry from a global perspective, revisiting old assumptions and providing new insights into the region, the political history of the United States, and the causes of the Civil War. Schoen takes a unique and broad approach. Rather than seeing the Deep South and its planters as isolated from larger intellectual, economic, and political developments, he places the region firmly within them. In doing so, he demonstrates that the region’s prominence within the modern world—and not its opposition to it—indelibly shaped Southern history. The place of “King Cotton” in the sectional thinking and budding nationalism of the Lower South seems obvious enough, but Schoen reexamines the ever-shifting landscape of international trade from the 1780s through the eve of the Civil War. He argues that the Southern cotton trade was essential to the European economy, seemingly worth any price for Europeans to protect and maintain, and something to defend aggressively in the halls of Congress. This powerful association gave the Deep South the confidence to ultimately secede from the Union. By integrating the history of the region with global events, Schoen reveals how white farmers, planters, and merchants created a “Cotton South,” preserved its profitability for many years, and ensured its dominance in the international raw cotton markets. The story he tells reveals the opportunities and costs of cotton production for the Lower South and the United States.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Studies in Early American Economy and Society from the Library Company of Philadelphia

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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Series Editor’s Foreword

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pp. ix-x

This is the fifth title in Studies in Early American Economy and Society, a collaborative effort between the Johns Hopkins University Press and the Library Company of Philadelphia’s Program in Early American Economy and Society (PEAES). In The Fragile Fabric of Union: Cotton, Federal Politics, and the Global Origins of the Civil War, Brian Schoen traces the bitter legacy of the American ...

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pp. xi-xiv

This book is about the vast and oft en complicated web of relationships created by the material- minded growth and sale of a commodity. Researching and writing it has forced me to confront some of the basest of human motives, rationalizations, and actions. More oft en than not, however, the process has affirmed my faith in humanity, not least because of the generous people who have helped me ...

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pp. 1-10

Americans past and present have had a difficult time fathoming why slavery in the U.S. South grew stronger rather than weaker as the nineteenth century progressed. That had not been its trajectory elsewhere during the modern age. All Europe an powers but Spain ended the practice in their American colonies by the 1850s. Most of the new Latin American republics abolished it within two or three ...

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Prologue, 1787

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pp. 11-22

The American Revolution left a deep but ambiguous imprint on the two southernmost states of the new confederacy. In dependence from Britain offered white Georgians and South Carolinians republican self- government and the opportunity to determine their own political, economic, and social fate. A humiliating British occupation, however, intensified provincial anxiety over the region’s ...

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1. The Threads of a Global Loom: Cotton, Slavery, and Union in an Interdependent Atlantic, 1789– 1820

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pp. 23-60

A week before the Philadelphia Convention, readers of the State Gazette of South Carolina learned that an improved Atherton spinning machine had enabled the small town of Holywell, England, to spin enough cotton thread “in one day . . . as will surround the globe at the equator.”1 Neither the Gazette’s readers nor the “ingenious correspondent” who shared this information knew how symbolic this ...

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2. Calculating the Cost of Union: Nationalism and Sectionalism in a Republican Era, 1796– 1818

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pp. 61-99

Even as the ligaments of an Anglo- American cotton trade were forming, geopolitical developments on both sides of the Atlantic threatened to rip them apart. The resumption of warfare between Britain and France in 1803 exposed the United States by placing it in a precarious position between its chief trading partner and its old ally. Again their neutral status initially enabled Mid- Atlantic and ...

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3. Protecting Slavery and Free Trade: The Political Economy of Cotton, 1818– 1833

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pp. 100-145

In the midst of attacks against slavery in 1856, South Carolina historian and commentator Louisa McCord exclaimed that though “men and prejudices have gone against us . . . the noble science, not perhaps too justly named Political Economy will and must be our judge.” McCord’s confidence that political economy would justify the Slave South has seemed unfathomable to subsequent scholars who see ...

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4. Building Bridges to the West and the World: Empowerment and Anxiety in the Second Party System,1834– 1848

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pp. 146-196

The end of the nullification crisis brought widespread relief but did not alleviate political or economic concerns in the Cotton South. Debates, primarily over the tariff , called into question the existence of naturally complementary interests within the Union and highlighted the possibility that northern majorities (aided by sympathetic southerners) would pass policies adversely affecting Lower South ...

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5. An Unnatural Union: King Cotton and Lower South Secession, 1849– 1860

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pp. 197-259

The debate over slavery’s expansion, along with concerns over its political and economic security in the Union, propelled the Cotton States toward secession. Early advocates of secession urged that the drastic step needed to be taken at the first sign of defeat: California’s entrance as a free state. That event led William Trescot to declare in 1850 that a “political revolution” had been inaugurated and ...

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Epilogue, 1861

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pp. 260-270

In February 1861 the first six seceding states formed their own provisional government and began drafting a new constitution. They chose as their meeting place and eventually their capital, Montgomery, an eastern Alabama town overlooking the Alabama River. The Confederacy’s first capital reflected cotton’s relationship to the region, and in many ways the story of the new “Old South.” Reportedly ...


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pp. 271-340

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Essay on Sources

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pp. 341-358

This book is largely about how elites, responding to constituents’ interests, defined and articulated political and economic positions to local, national, and international audiences. Accordingly, it relies heavily on materials intended for the broader public, including printed speeches, national and regional periodicals, pamphlets, and newspapers. Records of the debates in the U.S. Congress—some of which were subsequently ...


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pp. 359-369

E-ISBN-13: 9780801897818
E-ISBN-10: 0801897815
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421404042
Print-ISBN-10: 1421404044

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 9 halftones
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Studies in Early American Economy and Society from the Library Company of Philadelphia