Human Flower Project
Sunday, November 23, 2008
When Cotton Was King
Can botany equal destiny? In the U.S., the fate of the Old South was bound up with one plant. The EarthScholars and a Memphis museum explain.
U.S. cotton field ready to harvest
Photo: Fahey Byrum III
By James H. Wandersee and Renee M. Clary
EarthScholars™ Research Group
The year was 1858. Cotton had surpassed tobacco as a cash crop in the Deep South after the introduction of the cotton gin. Southern plantations were producing 75% of the world’s cotton supply.
US cotton’s world supremacy led Senator James Henry Hammond of South Carolina to make a famous boast: “Cotton is king.” He was actually echoing the title of an influential pro-slavery book of the time written by David Christy in 1855. By 1860, cotton ruled the South. Cotton was unquestionably vital to the US economy, and it was a major US export to Europe.