Cotton Is King.
Title:Cotton Is King.
Date:February 6th 1861
This poem was published in the Confederate-sympathising Alexandria Gazette before the violent commencement of the American Civil War in April 1861, and the Union’s subsequent blockade of Southern ports. It is expressive of the resolute confidence which the Confederacy held in its strategy of “cotton diplomacy”, believing that Britain would recognise the legitimacy of the seceding states owing to its need for cotton. Indeed, the poem echoes the famous statement made on the floor of the senate in 1858 by the South Carolina senator and cotton planter, James Henry Hammond: If the system of slave-powered cotton growing was threatened, Hammond explained, ‘England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her… no power on earth dares to make war upon it. Cotton is king.’* Building on historic ties, the poet offers a striking evocation of the Battle of New Orleans during the ‘War of 1812’, where Andrew Jackson’s American army killed Sir Edward Pakenham, then commander of British forces in North America. Here, according to the poet, cotton had provided a physical ‘fort’ which proved impervious to British attacks. Now, in the poet’s warning to all, cotton will again prove the unconquerable agent, capable of overpowering Lincoln’s political ambitions and forcing British recognition of the Confederacy. JC
*James Henry Hammond in Beckert, Sven, Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism, (London: Penguin Books, 2015), p.244.