Cotton Is King.

Now let fanatics rant and rage,
And every song of triumph sing,
They’ll find I certainly engage
That cotton reigns supremely king.
Though now they boast of their success,
And to the breeze their banners fling,
Ere long with shame they will confess,
That cotton only will be king.
They thought to conquer all the South
And every slave to freedom bring,
But, when the bread’s gone from their mouth,
Ah! Then they’ll feel that cotton’s king.
When factories stop, and spindles cease,
This cry throughout the north will ring,
There’s something lacking more than grease,
For cotton is and will be king.
The merchants all, both small and great,
Shall at its shrine kneel worshiping,
And every abolition State
Shall own that cotton is its king.
The North will find when its too late
That abolition’s not the thing,
Though Lincoln is Chief Magistrate,
Yet cotton only will be king.
This truth perhaps may cause a sting,
And sometimes almost make them frantic
To feel that cotton will be king,
From Oregon to the Atlantic.
Long-time ago, so says report,
Old Jackson getting mighty fierce,
Of Cotton bales did build a fort
The British bullets could not pierce.
Let this a warning be to all
Who have their eyes on Southern gains
Lest they like Packingham should fall
And dying own that cotton reigns.
King George county, Va.

Title:Cotton Is King.


Publication:Alexandria Gazette

Published in:Alexandria

Date:February 6th 1861

Keywords:cotton, war


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.