A New King.

OLD King Cotton is old and gray,
Long hath he held unlimited sway,
Long hath he wielded his iron rod,
Foe to freedom and foe to God,
And he heeded not his glazing eye,--
‘Twas hard for old King Cotton to die;
Shout the loud pean, exultingly sing,
Cotton is dead and Corn is King!
Cotton is dead”—how the echo rolls
Over the hills and down the vales,
And millions of faint and careworn souls
Hail the coming of Freedom’s sails.
Up with the banner! Swell the huzza!
Spread, echoes, spread afar and afar!
Shout the loud pean, exultingly sing,
Cotton is dead and Corn is King!
Cotton sat on a tyrant’s throne,
Hated by every freeman’s son—
Cotton is dead; and the rattle of chains
Fainter comes from the Southern plains,
While on the people’s shoulders borne
Peacefully rides the monarch Corn;
Shout the loud pean, exultingly sing,
Cotton is dead and Corn is King!
Ho! for a right merry monarch is come,
Bearing the balances firm in his hand,
And we greet him with smiles in every home,
And hail him with joy all over the land.
Pile up the baskets with golden grain!
Rattle the ears again and again!
Shout the loud pean, exultingly sing,

Title:A New King.

Author:Prof. Charles L. Porter

Publication:Farmer's Cabinet

Published in:

Date:February 8th 1861

Keywords:slavery, trade


Published in The Farmers Cabinet before the bloody escalations of the Civil War, the poem wrestles with the narrative of cotton as the nation’s monarchic crop. In the months prior to the poem’s publication, the seceding cotton States in the South had invested their efforts in a ‘King Cotton’ diplomatic strategy, where they withheld their exports of raw cotton, hoping to force British recognition of their cause. The poem challenges the perceived dominance of the cotton crop by proposing a more democratic successor to the throne: corn. Indeed, corn was the staple sustenance crop of the Southern states – eaten by slaves and freemen alike – where cotton was a cash-crop, with its plantation farmers profiting from the subjugation of slaves. The poet’s personified character of Corn is a monarch of liberating ambition, who, ‘on the people’s shoulders borne’, succeeds the reign of ‘Cotton sat on a tyrant’s throne’. The transition from cotton to corn marks a peaceful dawn, where joy is universal ‘all over the land’. JC

This poem encourages and celebrates the shift from the textile crop, cotton, to the food crop, corn, for American farmers, equating the former with slavery and exploitation. The justification of slavery had become heavily bound up with the production of cotton for many years in the US, not just because cotton was such a labour-intensive crop, but because the loss of the cotton industry’s financial dominance (hence the common personification ‘King Cotton’) was presented as a politically destabilising prospect. Corn, both for human and animal consumption, was regarded by many as an alternative. Indeed, with the expansion of the railway system the number of people living on farms in the US more than doubled from 1860 to 1880, and a significant proportion of these worked cornfields. – SR