King Cotton

King Cotton in the Southland dwells, far in the South alone;
The heavy hoe his sceptre is, the dented gin his throne:
King Cotton in the Southland dwells, and there his court he holds,
And there his servants gather the fleece from a hundred thousand folds;
King Cotton in the Southland dwells, but roams as suits his whim;
And he is free on every sea—no port is closed to him
Though like a cowled and corded Friar in rope and sackcloth drest,
The nations clap their hands for joy when comes their welcome guest.
To build him stately ships they rob the forest of its trees;
They rend the solid rock to rear his hives of human bees;
And from their toiling peasantry they send in every land,
A countless host of servitors to wait at his command.
Wherever in our Northern clime his smile of favor beams,
Arise the castles of his peers on the bands of pleasant streams.
Ay! peers are they whom serfs obey in many a crowded room—
The barons of the spindles and the nobles of the loom.
One time good Gold was got by arms, but now our Cotton Lords
By spinning-jennies win their wealth, and not by knightly swords.
King Cotton is a kindly king—through him, in autumn time,
Green fields grow white in the morning light, with the snow of the Southern clime;
Through him the loaded barges go, drawn on their many trips;
Through him the very seas are flecked with stout and gallant ships;
Through him a myriad shuttles click, and countless spindles whirr;
Through him the smoky towns arise, with all their din and stir.
A rain of woe would pour around were Cotton cold and dead;
Then were not countless millions clad, then were not millions fed.
A blight upon his flowery fields, the world with fear would pale;
From quivering lips in crowded streets break famine’s feeble wail
But while he flourishes in pride, then woe and want are banned,
Swarth labor laughs and sings at toil, and plenty fills the land.

Title:King Cotton

Author:T. Dunn English

Publication:The Daily Picayune

Published in:

Date:April 13th 1862

Keywords:cotton, slavery, slavery


This poem published in a New Orleans newspaper in 1862 emphasises the economic importance of cotton to the Confederate states and associates its commercial supremacy with medieval tropes including the common figure of ‘King Cotton’. The poem correctly suggests that the loss of the cotton industry would lead to poverty and famine, but the last line is offensive in its misrepresentation of the relationship between slavery and the cotton business, repeating the Southern myth of contented servitude. – SR