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King Cotton, the Munificent Slavery and (Under)development in the United States, 1789-1865

King Cotton, the Munificent Slavery and (Under)development in the United States, 1789-1865. Joseph A. Francis. Working Paper. April 2021.

“Slavery made an important contribution to the development of the United States up to the Civil War. Slaves were were necessary for the country’s cotton boom because cotton was not sufficiently remunerative to attract yeoman farmers. Cotton exports then balanced the imports at the Federal Government taxed to obtain most of its revenues. Those revenues were used to fund westward expansion, both directly through the acquisition and conquest of new territory, and indirectly through the policy of retiring the national debt, which pumped liquidity into the country’s nascent capital markets and bolstered the reputation of American bonds among foreign investors. State government could then borrow to finance the transportation infrastructure that connected the new lands to markets, allowing them to be settled. Westward expansion tended to weaken slaveholders’ position in Congress because they were excluded from the rapidly growing Midwest. They therefore seceded. The North would not let the South leave the Union, however, because secession threatened to takeaway the Federal Government’s main source of revenues. As a result, the Civil War began, leading to emancipation. Slavery had thus financed the development of the settler society that would eventually abolish it, while the slaves themselves became an underdeveloped nation within a nation.”

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