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bulk of the members, for on the next day a motion to recommit the bill to
a new committee of seventeen prevailed by a vote of 76 to 46. Among the
members who shifted their position over night were six of the ten from New
York, four from Maryland, three from Virginia, and two from North Carolina.
In the new committee Bedinger of Kentucky, who was regularly on the
Northern side, was chairman, and Early was not included.

This committee reported in February a bill providing, as a compromise, that
forfeited negroes should be carried to some place in the United States
where slavery was either not permitted or was in course of gradual
extinction, and there be indentured or otherwise employed as the President
might deem best for them and the country. Early moved that for this there
be substituted a provision that the slaves be delivered to the several
states in which the captures were made, to be disposed of at discretion;
and he said that the Southern people would resist the indenture provision
with their lives. This reckless assertion suggests that Early was either
set against the framing of an effective law, or that he spoke in mere blind
rage.

Before further progress was made the House laid aside its bill in favor of
the one which the Senate had now passed. An amendment to this, striking out
the death penalty, was adopted on February 12 by a vote of 67 to 48. The
North gave 31 ayes and 36 noes, quite evenly distributed among the states.
The South cast 37 ayes to 11 noes, five of the latter coming from Virginia,
two from North Carolina, and one each from Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and
South Carolina. A considerable shifting of votes appeared since the ballot
on the same question six weeks before. Knight of Rhode Island, Sailly and
Williams of New York, Helms of New Jersey and Wynns of North Carolina
changed in favor of the extreme penalty; but they were more than offset by
the opposite change of Bidwell of Massachusetts, Van Cortlandt of New York,
Lambert of New Jersey, Clay and Gray of Virginia and McFarland of North
Carolina. Numerous members from all quarters who voted on one of these
roll-calls were silent at the other, and this variation also had a net
result against the infliction of death. The House then filled the blank
it had made in the bill by defining the offense as a high misdemeanor and
providing a penalty of imprisonment of not less than five nor more than
ten years. John Randolph opposed even this as excessive, but found himself
unsupported. The House then struck out the prohibition of the coasting
trade in slaves, and returned the bill as amended to the Senate. The latter
concurred in all the changes except that as to the coastwise trade, and
sent the bill back to the House.

John Randolph now led in the insistence that the House stand firm. If the
bill should pass without the amendment, said he, the Southern people would
set the law at defiance, and he himself would begin the violation of so
unconstitutional an infringement of the rights of property. The House voted
to insist upon its amendment, and sent the bill to conference where in
compromise the prohibition as to the coastwise carriage of slaves for sale
was made to apply only to vessels of less than forty tons burthen. The
Senate agreed to this. In the House Mr. Early opposed it as improper in law
and so easy of evasion that it would be perfectly futile for the prevention
of smuggling from Florida. John Randolph said: "The provision of the bill
touched the right of private property. He feared lest at a future period it
might be made the pretext of universal emancipation. He had rather lose the
bill, he had rather lose all the bills of the session, he had rather lose
every bill passed since the establishment of the government, than agree
to the provision contained in this slave bill. It went to blow up the
Constitution in ruins."[30] Concurrence was carried, nevertheless, by a
vote of 63 to 49, in which the North cast 51 ayes to 12 noes, and the South
12 ayes to 37 noes. The Southern ayes were four from Maryland, four
from North Carolina, two from Tennessee, and one each from Virginia and
Kentucky. The Northern noes were five from New York, two each from New
Hampshire and Vermont, and one each from Massachusetts, Connecticut and
Pennsylvania.

[Footnote 30: _Annals of Congress_, 1806-1807, p. 626.]

The bill then passed the House. Its variance from the original House bill
was considerable, for it made the importation of slaves from abroad a high
misdemeanor punishable with imprisonment; it prohibited the coastwise trade
by sea in vessels of less than forty tons, and required the masters of
larger vessels transporting negroes coastwise to deliver to the port
officials classified manifests of the negroes and certificates that to the
best of their knowledge and belief the slaves had not been imported since
the beginning of 1808; and instead of forfeiture to the United States it
provided that all smuggled slaves seized under the act should be subject to
such disposal as the laws of the state or territory in which the seizure
might be made should prescribe.[31] Randolph, still unreconciled, offered
an explanatory act, February 27, that nothing in the preceding act should
be construed to affect in any manner the absolute property right of masters
in their slaves not imported contrary to the law, and that such masters
should not be liable to any penalty for the coastwise transportation of
slaves in vessels of less than forty tons. In attempting to force this
measure through, he said that if it did not pass the House at once he hoped
the Virginia delegation would wait on the President and remonstrate against
his approving the act which had passed.[32] By a vote of 60 to 49 this bill
was made the order for the next day; but its further consideration was
crowded out by the rush of business at the session's close. The President
signed the prohibitory bill on March 2, without having received the
threatened Virginia visitation.

[Footnote 31: _Ibid_., pp. 1266-1270.]

[Footnote 32: _Annals of Congress_, 1806-1807, p. 637.]

Among the votes in the House on which the yeas and nays were recorded in
the course of these complex proceedings, six may be taken as tests. They
were on striking out the death penalty, December 31; on striking out the
forfeiture of slaves, January 7; on the proviso that no person should
be sold by virtue of the act, January 7; on referring the bill to a new
committee, January 8; on striking out the death penalty from the Senate
bill, February 12; and on the prohibition of the coasting trade in slaves
in vessels of under forty tons, February 26. In each case a majority of
the Northern members voted on one side of the question, and a yet larger
majority of Southerners voted on the other. Twenty-two members voted in
every case on the side which the North tended to adopt. These comprised
seven from Massachusetts, six from Pennsylvania, three from Connecticut,
and one or two from each of the other Northern states except Rhode Island
and Ohio. They comprised also Broom of Delaware, Bedinger of Kentucky, and
Morrow of Virginia; while Williams of North Carolina was almost equally
constant in opposing the policies advocated by the bulk of his fellow
Southerners. On the other hand the regulars on the Southern side comprised
not only ten Virginians, all of the six South Carolinians, except three of
their number on the punishment questions, all of the four Georgians, three
North Carolinians, two Marylanders and one Kentuckian, but in addition
Tenney of New Hampshire, Schuneman, Van Rensselaer and Verplanck of New
York on all but the punishment questions.

On the whole, sectional divergence was fairly pronounced, but only on
matters of detail. The expressions from all quarters of a common desire
to make the prohibition of importations effective were probably sincere
without material exception. As regards the Virginia group of states, their
economic interest in high prices for slaves vouches for the genuine purpose
of their representatives, while that of the Georgians and South Carolinians
may at the most be doubted and not disproved. The South in general
wished to prevent any action which might by implication stigmatize the
slaveholding régime, and was on guard also against precedents tending to
infringe state rights. The North, on the other hand, was largely divided
between a resolve to stop the sanction of slavery and a desire to enact
an effective law in the premises directly at issue. The outcome was a law
which might be evaded with relative ease wherever public sanction was weak,
but which nevertheless proved fairly effective in operation.

When slave prices rose to high levels after the war of 1812 systematic
smuggling began to prevail from Amelia Island on the Florida border, and on
a smaller scale on the bayous of the Barataria district below New Orleans;
but these operations were checked upon the passage of a congressional act
in 1818 increasing the rewards to informers. Another act in the following
year directed the President to employ armed vessels for police in both
African and American waters, and incidentally made provisions contemplating
the return of captured slaves to Africa. Finally Congress by an act of 1820
declared the maritime slave trade to be piracy.[33] Smuggling thereafter
diminished though it never completely ceased.

[Footnote 33: DuBois, _Suppression of the Slave Trade_, pp. 118-123.]

As to the dimensions of the illicit importations between 1808 and 1860,
conjectures have placed the gross as high as two hundred and seventy
thousand.[34] Most of the documents in the premises, however, bear palpable
marks of unreliability. It may suffice to say that these importations were
never great enough to affect the labor supply in appreciable degree. So far
as the general economic régime was concerned, the foreign slave trade was
effectually closed in 1808.

[Footnote 34: W.H. Collins, _The Domestic Slave Trade of the Southern
States_ (New York [1904], pp. 12-20). _See also_ W.E.B. DuBois,
"Enforcement of the Slave Trade Laws," in the American Historical
Association _Report_ for 1891, p. 173.]

At that time, however, there were already in the United States about one
million slaves to serve as a stock from which other millions were to be
born to replenish the plantations in the east and to aid in the peopling of
the west. These were ample to maintain a chronic racial problem, and had no
man invented a cotton gin their natural increase might well have glutted
the market for plantation labor. Had the African source been kept freely
open, the bringing of great numbers to meet the demand in prosperous times
would quite possibly have so burdened the country with surplus slaves in
subsequent periods of severe depression that slave prices would have fallen
virtually to zero, and the slaveholding community would have been driven
to emancipate them wholesale as a means of relieving the masters from the
burden of the slaves' support. The foes of slavery had long reckoned that
the abolition of the foreign trade would be a fatal blow to slavery
itself. The event exposed their fallacy. Thomas Clarkson expressed the
disappointment of the English abolitionists in a letter of 1830: "We
certainly have been deceived in our first expectations relative to the
fruit of our exertions. We supposed that when by the abolition of the slave
trade the planters could get no more slaves, they would not only treat
better those whom they then had in their power, but that they would
gradually find it to their advantage to emancipate them. A part of our
expectations have been realized; ... but, alas! where the heart has been
desperately wicked, we have found no change. We did not sufficiently take
into account the effect of unlimited power on the human mind. No man likes
to part with power, and the more unbounded it is, the less he likes to
part with it. Neither did we sufficiently take into account the ignominy
attached to a black skin as the badge of slavery, and how difficult it
would be to make men look with a favourable eye upon what they had looked
[upon] formerly as a disgrace. Neither did we take sufficiently into
account the belief which every planter has, that such an unnatural state
as that of slavery can be kept up only by a system of rigour, and how
difficult therefore it would be to procure a relaxation from the ordinary
discipline of a slave estate."[35]

[Footnote 35: MS. in private possession.]

If such was the failure in the British West Indies, the change in
conditions in the United States was even greater; for the rise of the
cotton industry concurred with the prohibition of the African trade to
enhance immensely the preciousness of slaves and to increase in similar
degree the financial obstacle to a sweeping abolition.




CHAPTER IX

THE INTRODUCTION OF COTTON AND SUGAR


The decade following the peace of 1783 brought depression in all the
plantation districts. The tobacco industry, upon which half of the Southern
people depended in greater or less degree, was entering upon a half century
of such wellnigh constant low prices that the opening of each new tract for
its culture was offset by the abandonment of an old one, and the export
remained stationary at a little less than half a million hogsheads. Indigo
production was decadent; and rice culture was in painful transition to the
new tide-flow system. Slave prices everywhere, like those of most other
investments, were declining in so disquieting a manner that as late as the
end of 1794 George Washington advised a friend to convert his slaves into
other forms of property, and said on his own account: "Were it not that I
am principled against selling negroes, as you would cattle in a market, I
would not in twelve months hence be possessed of a single one as a slave.
I shall be happily mistaken if they are not found to be a very troublesome
species of property ere many years have passed over our heads."[1] But at
that very time the addition of cotton and sugar to the American staples was
on the point of transforming the slaveholders' prospects.

[Footnote 1: New York Public Library _Bulletin_, 1898, pp. 14, 15.]

For centuries cotton had been among the world's materials for cloth,
though the dearth of supply kept it in smaller use than wool or flax. This
continued to be the case even when the original sources in the Orient were
considerably supplemented from the island of Bourbon and from the colonies
of Demarara, Berbice and Surinam which dotted the tropical South American
coast now known as Guiana. Then, in the latter half of the eighteenth
century, the great English inventions of spinning and Weaving machinery so
cheapened the manufacturing process that the world's demand for textiles
was immensely stimulated. Europe was eagerly inquiring for new fiber
supplies at the very time when the plantation states of America were under
the strongest pressure for a new source of income.

The green-seed, short-staple variety of cotton had long been cultivated
for domestic use in the colonies from New Jersey to Georgia, but on such a
petty scale that spinners occasionally procured supplies from abroad. Thus
George Washington, who amid his many activities conducted a considerable
cloth-making establishment, wrote to his factor in 1773 that a bale of
cotton received from England had been damaged in transit.[2] The cutting
off of the foreign trade during the war for independence forced the
Americans to increase their cotton production to supply their necessities
for apparel. A little of it was even exported at the end of the war, eight
bags of which are said to have been seized by the customs officers at
Liverpool in 1784 on the ground that since America could not produce so
great a quantity the invoice must be fraudulent. But cotton was as yet kept
far from staple rank by one great obstacle, the lack of a gin. The fibers
of the only variety at hand clung to the seed as fast as the wool to the
sheep's back. It had to be cut or torn away; and because the seed-tufts
were so small, this operation when performed by hand was exceedingly slow
and correspondingly expensive. The preparation of a pound or two of lint a
day was all that a laborer could accomplish.

[Footnote 2: MS. in the Library of Congress, Washington letter-books, XVII,
90.]

The problem of the time had two possible solutions; the invention of a
machine for cleaning the lint from the seed of the sort already at hand,
or the introduction of some different variety whose lint was more lightly
attached. Both solutions were applied, and the latter first in point of
time though not in point of importance.

About 1786 seed of several strains was imported from as many quarters
by planters on the Georgia-Carolina coast. Experiments with the Bourbon
variety, which yielded the finest lint then in the market, showed that
the growing season was too short for the ripening of its pods; but seed
procured from the Bahama Islands, of the sort which has ever since been
known as sea-island, not only made crops but yielded a finer fiber than
they had in their previous home. This introduction was accomplished by
the simultaneous experiments of several planters on the Georgia coast. Of
these, Thomas Spaulding and Alexander Bissett planted the seed in 1786 but
saw their plants fail to ripen any pods that year. But the ensuing winter
happened to be so mild that, although the cotton is not commonly a
perennial outside the tropics, new shoots grew from the old roots in the
following spring and yielded their crop in the fall.[3] Among those who
promptly adopted the staple was Richard Leake, who wrote from Savannah at
the end of 1788 to Tench Coxe: "I have been this year an adventurer, and
the first that has attempted on a large scale, in the article of cotton.
Several here as well as in Carolina have followed me and tried the
experiment. I shall raise about 5000 pounds in the seed from about eight
acres of land, and the next year I expect to plant from fifty to one
hundred acres."[4]

[Footnote 3: Letter of Thomas Spaulding, Sapelo Island, Georgia, Jan. 20,
1844, to W.B. Scabrook, in J.A. Turner, ed., _The Cotton Planter's Manual_
(New York, 1857), pp. 280-286.]

[Footnote 4: E.J. Donnell, _Chronological and Statistical History of
Cotton_ (New York, 1872), p. 45.]

The first success in South Carolina appears to have been attained by
William Elliott, on Hilton Head near Beaufort, in 1790. He bought five and
a half bushels of seed in Charleston at 14s per bushel, and sold his crop
at 10-1/2d per pound. In the next year John Screven of St. Luke's parish
planted thirty or forty acres, and sold his yield at from 1s. 2d. to 1s.
6d. sterling per pound. Many other planters on the islands and the adjacent
mainland now joined the movement. Some of them encountered failure, among
them General Moultrie of Revolutionary fame who planted one hundred and
fifty acres in St. John's Berkeley in 1793 and reaped virtually nothing.[5]

[Footnote 5: Whitemarsh B. Seabrook, _Memoir on the Origin, Cultivation and
Uses of Cotton_ (Charleston, 1844), pp. 19, 20.]

The English market came promptly to esteem the long, strong, silky
sea-island fiber as the finest of all cottons; and the prices at Liverpool
rose before the end of the century to as high as five shillings a pound.
This brought fortunes in South Carolina. Captain James Sinkler from a crop
of three hundred acres on his plantation, "Belvedere," in 1794 gathered
216 pounds to the acre, which at prices ranging from fifty to seventy-five
cents a pound brought him a gross return of $509 per laborer employed.[6]
Peter Gaillard of St. John's Berkeley received for his crop of the same
year an average of $340 per hand; and William Brisbane of St. Paul's earned
so much in the three years from 1796 to 1798 that he found himself rich
enough to retire from work and spend several years in travel at the North
and abroad. He sold his plantation to William Seabrook at a price which the
neighbors thought ruinously high, but Seabrook recouped the whole of it
from the proceeds of two years' crops.[7]

[Footnote 6: Samuel DuBose, _Address delivered before the Black Oak
Agricultural Society, April 28, 1858_, in T.G. Thomas, _The Huguenots of
South Carolina_ (New York, 1887).]

[Footnote 7: W.B. Seabrook, _Memoir on Cotton_, p. 20.]

The methods of tillage were quickly systematized. Instead of being planted,
as at first, in separate holes, the seed came to be drilled and plants
grown at intervals of one or two feet on ridges five or six feet apart;
and the number of hoeings was increased. But the thinner fruiting of this
variety prevented the planters from attaining generally more than about
half the output per acre which their upland colleagues came to reap from
their crops of the shorter staple. A hundred and fifty pounds to the acre
and three or four acres to the hand was esteemed a reasonable crop on the
seaboard.[8] The exports of the sea-island staple rose by 1805 to nearly
nine million pounds, but no further expansion occurred until 1819 when an
increase carried the exports for a decade to about eleven million pounds a
year. In the course of the twenties Kinsey Burden and Hugh Wilson, both of
St. John's Colleton, began breeding superfine fiber through seed selection,
with such success that the latter sold two of his bales in 1828 at the
unequaled price of two dollars a pound. The practice of raising fancy
grades became fairly common after 1830, with the result, however, that for
the following decade the exports fell again to about eight million pounds a
year.[9]

[Footnote 8: John Drayton, _View of South Carolina_ (Charleston, 1802), p.
132; J.A. Turner, ed., _Cotton Planter's Manual_, pp. 129, 131.]

[Footnote 9: Seabrook, pp. 35-37, 53.]

Sea-island cotton, with its fibers often measuring more than two inches in
length, had the advantages of easy detachment from its glossy black seed by
squeezing it between a pair of simple rollers, and of a price for even its
common grades ranging usually more than twice that of the upland staple.
The disadvantages were the slowness of the harvesting, caused by the
failure of the bolls to open wide; the smallness of the yield; and the
necessity of careful handling at all stages in preparing the lint for
market. Climatic requirements, furthermore, confined its culture within
a strip thirty or forty miles wide along the coast of South Carolina and
Georgia. In the first flush of the movement some of the rice fields were
converted to cotton;[10] but experience taught the community ere long that
the labor expense in the new industry absorbed too much of the gross return
for it to displace rice from its primacy in the district.

[Footnote 10: F.A. Michaux, _Travels_, in R.G. Thwaites, ed., _Early
Western Travels_, III, 303.]

In the Carolina-Georgia uplands the industrial and social developments
of the eighteenth century had been in marked contrast with those on the
seaboard. These uplands, locally known as the Piedmont, were separated from
the tide-water tract by a flat and sandy region, the "pine barrens," a
hundred miles or more in breadth, where the soil was generally too light
for prosperous agriculture before the time when commercial fertilizers came
into use. The Piedmont itself is a rolling country, extending without a
break from Virginia to Alabama and from the mountains of the Blue Ridge to
the line of the lowest falls on the rivers. The soil of mingled clay
and sand was originally covered with rich forest mold. The climate was
moderately suited to a great variety of crops; but nothing was found for
which it had a marked superiority until short-staple cotton was made
available.

In the second half of the eighteenth century this region had come to
be occupied in scattered homesteads by migrants moving overland from
Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, extending their régime of frontier
farms until the stubborn Creek and Cherokee Indian tribes barred further
progress. Later comers from the same northeastward sources, some of them
bringing a few slaves, had gradually thickened the settlement without
changing materially its primitive system of life. Not many recruits had
entered from the rice coast in colonial times, for the régime there was not
such as to produce pioneers for the interior. The planters, unlike those of
Maryland and Virginia, had never imported appreciable numbers of indentured
servants to become in after years yeomen and fathers of yeomen; the slaves
begat slaves alone to continue at their masters' bidding; and the planters



Online LibraryUlrich Bonnell PhillipsAmerican Negro Slavery A Survey of the Supply, Employment and Control of Negro Labor as Determined by the Plantation Regime → online text (page 14 of 48)