A New King.
Title:A New King.
Author:Prof. Charles L. Porter
Date:February 8th 1861
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’.
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