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American History 1--HIST 2111 (OER): Chapter 11: The Cotton Revolution

American Yawp Chapter Summary

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, the Southern states experienced extraordinary change that would define the region and its role in American history for decades, even centuries, to come. Between the 1830s and the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, the American South expanded its wealth and population and became an integral part of an increasingly global economy. It did not, as previous generations of histories have told, sit back on its cultural and social traditions and insulate itself from an expanding system of communication, trade, and production that connected Europe and Asia to the Americas. Quite the opposite, the South actively engaged new technologies and trade routes while also seeking to assimilate and upgrade its most “traditional” and culturally engrained practices—such as slavery and agricultural production—within a modernizing world.

Beginning in the 1830s, merchants from the Northeast, Europe, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean flocked to Southern cities, setting up trading firms, warehouses, ports, and markets. As a result, these cities—like Richmond, Charleston, St. Louis, Mobile, Savannah, and New Orleans, to name a few—doubled, and even tripled, in size and global importance. Populations became more cosmopolitan, more educated, and wealthier. Systems of class—lower-, middle-, and upper-class communities—developed where they had never clearly existed. Ports that had once focused entirely on the importation of slaves, and shipped only regionally, became homes to daily and weekly shipping lines to New York City, Liverpool, Manchester, Le Havre, and Lisbon. The world was, slowly but surely, coming closer together; and the South was right in the middle. Chapter 11 from American Yawp

Things to Consider

Questions to be thinking about as you move through the content of this chapter

  1. Why did cotton become such an important crop in the nineteenth century?
  2. What types of technology contributed to the growth of cotton in the 19th century?
  3. Why did the free and non-free population of the South grow so rapidly in the 19th century?
  4. Why was the South so resistant to change (particularly economic change) in the 19th century?
  5. How did "King Cotton" impact the institution of slavery in the American South?
  6. What forms of "resistance" existed for slaves in the antebellum South?
  7. How did cotton (and the technologies that went along with cotton) contribute to the creation of southern cities in the 19th century?
  8. How did cities complicate the traditional social order of the South?
  9. Describe the (broad) characteristics of slave culture(s) in the antebellum South.
  10. In what ways were concepts of honor and violence inextricably bound in the 19th-century South?  How did the concept of honor differ based on gender and race?

Additional Primary Sources

Learning Objectives and Assessment

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Distinguish between primary and secondary materials and decide when to use each
  • Recognize a range of viewpoints in historical narratives
  • Explore the complexity of the human experience, across time and space
  • Seek a variety of sources that provide evidence to support an argument about the past
  • Evaluate a variety of historical sources for their credibility, position, significance, and perspective

Course Objectives

  • Students will be able to identify issues pertaining to governmental systems & the evolution of American liberty from the Articles of Confederation to the end of the Age of Jackson.
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