Since the earliest days of colonial America, the relationship between cotton and the African-American experience has been central to the history of the republic. America's most serious social tragedy, slavery and its legacy, spread only where cotton could be grown. Both before and after the Civil War, blacks were assigned to the cotton fields while a pervasive racial animosity and fear of a black migratory invasion caused white Northerners to contain blacks in the South.
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Gene Dattel grew up in the cotton country of the Mississippi Delta and studied history at Yale and law at Vanderbilt. He then embarked on a twenty-year career in financial capital markets as a managing director at Salomon Brothers and at Morgan Stanley. A consultant to major financial institutions and to the Pentagon, he established a reputation as a foremost authority on Asian economies. His The Sun That Never Rose remains the definitive work on Japanese financial institutions in the 1980s. Mr. Dattel is now an independent scholar who lectures widely and has served as an adviser to the New York Historical Society and the B. B. King Museum. He lives in New York City. For more information, see www.genedattel.com.
Part I: Slavery in the Making of the Constitution Chapter 1: The Silent Issue at the Constitutional Convention Part II: The Engine of American Growth, 1787-1861 Chapter 2: Birth of an Obsession Chapter 3: Land Expansion and White Migration to the Old Southwest Chapter 4: The Movement of Slaves to the Cotton States Chapter 5: The Business of Cotton Chapter 6: The Roots of War Part III: The North: For Whites Only, 1800-1865 Chapter 7: Being Free and Black in the North Chapter 8: The Colonial North Chapter 9: Race Moves West Chapter 10: Tocqueville on Slavery, Race, and Money in America Part IV: King Cotton Buys a War Chapter 11: Cultivating a Crop, Cultivating a Strategy Chapter 12: Great Britain and the Civil War Chapter 13: Cotton and Confederate Finance Chapter 14: Procuring Arms Chapter 15: Cotton Trading in the United States Chapter 16: Cotton and the Freedmen Part V: The Racial Divide and Cotton Labor, 1865-1930 Chapter 17: New Era, Old Problems Chapter 18: Ruling the Freedmen in the Cotton Fields Chapter 19: Reconstruction Meets Reality Chapter 20: The Black Hand on the Cotton Boll Chapter 21: From Cotton Field to Urban Ghetto: The Chicago Experience Part VI: Cotton Without Slaves, 1865-1930 Chapter 22: King Cotton Expands Chapter 23: The Controlling Laws of Cotton Finance Chapter 24: The Delta Plantation: Labor and Land Chapter 25: The Planter Experience in the Twentieth Century Chapter 26: The Long-Awaited Mechanical Cotton Picker Chapter 27: The Abdication of King Cotton
Gene Dattel turns economic history into a gripping narrative in this sweeping synthesis of an important but underappreciated chapter in the American past. From Whitney's gin to the mechanical picker, Dattel shows just how close the links have been between King Cotton and the race issue. This book is highly recommended. -- Gavin Wright, Stanford University This is a book not just for those who grew up in the cotton fields of Mississippi as I did, but far more than that it is a challenging and compelling account of the complex role which cotton has played in the economic, racial, and political history of our nation. No one is better equipped to present that story than Gene Dattel, a superbly gifted writer, who also happens to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of this fascinating subject. This volume elevates to an important new level our comprehension and appreciation of a largely neglected chapter in our conflicted past. -- William F. Winter, former governor of Mississippi Gene Dattel grew up in the Mississippi Delta, historically the center of cotton production in the United States, and a major target of voter registration workers in the 1960s. Thereafter he spent twenty years on Wall Street. These experiences superbly position him to remind us, in overwhelmingly persuasive detail, that for almost a century and a half cotton was America's leading export; and that before, during, and after the Civil War, white America, North as well as South, endeavored to keep an African American labor force 'contained' in the cotton fields. Thus cotton was the foundation of both the growth of the national economy and of racism in the United States. -- Staughton Lynd, author of "Stepping Stones: Memoir of a Life Together" This is an engrossing and revealing study. It should be read not just by history buffs but by all Americans who want to understand the events and forces that shaped and left their imprint on our country. The book captures with great style and intensity the overwhelming influence of cotton and slavery on our economy, finances, social behavior, and political life. Cotton and slavery prevented the formation of a more perfect union in 1776 and as the author concludes America no longer needs cotton, but still bears cotton's human legacy. -- Henry Kaufman, economist; author of On Money and Markets A very powerful and informative book... Once I started to read it I was hooked... A landmark, combining a firm grasp of finance and its controlling impact on the pattern of rural life in cotton growing regions with human sympathy for both field hands and planters. -- William H. McNeill, Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago, and author of The Rise of the West. A fascinating account of an essential aspect of American history. Gene Dattel brings clarity and insight to a subject we've long known about but not known well. A model for integrating economic, social, and political history-and a terrific read too. -- H. W. Brands, professor of history at the University of Texas and author of The Money Men I am very impressed by the extensiveness of the research, the quality of the writing, and the vigor of the narrative. Gene Dattel has produced an important book that shows how 'King Cotton' could, all too often, be a cruel tyrant. The book will be welcomed by both specialists and the general reader. -- John McCardell, professor emeritus of history at Middlebury College Gene Dattel has produced a superb study of King Cotton's reign over the United States of America. Though exceptionally well versed in the economic history of cotton production, he never loses sight of the human suffering caused by slavery and its consequences. He also gives a first-class account of the politics of cotton. From the Constitution to the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement, each of the key events in the history of the United States looks quite different when you understand the (usually malign) role King Cotton played. -- Niall Ferguson, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History and William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Books about American history tend to be either triumphal or highly critical. Gene Dattel's study of the racial legacy of cotton, America's leading export up to World War II, is neither. Above all, it is informed, honest, and balanced. Dattel explains insightfully just how slavery and racial discrimination came to plague our nation's ideals and the promise of American life. Mostly it was a by-product-north and south, east and west-of trying to earn a buck, of pursuing the Almighty Dollar. His book is a gem-one of the finest works on the American national experience to appear in many years. -- Richard Sylla, New York University Eugene Dattel's command of the details of American economic and social life is impressive in this sweeping study of the relationship between cotton and its human legacy in the treatment of African Americans. The book is full of sage judgments and fresh insights, eminently fair and unflinching in its critical assessments. He shows the power of finance and the search for profit in shaping American attitudes from the Constitutional Convention to contemporary issues of cotton's decline and the search for social justice for the people who worked the fields of this global crop. Dattel skillfully portrays the spaces of cotton's kingdom, from the Mississippi Delta fields to the board rooms of New York City's financial companies, and offers compelling evidence of the materialism that drove American life around cotton, often compromising the better angels of our nature. -- Charles Reagan Wilson, Chair of History and Professor of Southern Studies, University of Mississippi Gene Dattel's book tells the story of the irresistible power of cotton that changed the destiny of the nation-not just the region. America's material obsession blossomed in the cotton fields, where blacks were trapped. Racial hostility-both North and South-was the enabler. His book masterfully captures the history and its painful legacy. -- Morgan Freeman, actor Two themes, one explicit, one implicit, compete in this exploration of the link between the development of American capitalism and the devastation of the African-American community. The price of cotton as the determinant of America's destiny, influencing and even overcoming individual will and ethical behavior is the fully explicit one... The secondary and competing theme is Northern complicity in the slave trade, the cotton economy, segregation, racism and the development of the black underclass in the North and South, with its destructive behavioral characteristics. Publishers Weekly Gene Dattel has written a very important and necessary book, by locating the expansion of cotton production as a driving force not only in the antebellum South, but in the economy at large. He exposes slave-produced cotton's central role in causing the Civil War and as the global economic engine that prolonged slavery. Cotton was coveted by New York merchants and the textile barons of England and New England. He shows that after the Civil War cotton and race remained linked until technology finally displaced black labor. He devastatingly critiques the complicit role of the racist North in containing African Americans in the cotton fields. The legacy of this vital crop was economic growth and the social tragedy of slavery and segregation. No examination of American heritage is complete without an understanding of the force that cotton wrought upon its economic and social landscape. America's racial dilemma cannot be sequestered to one part of the country. -- Roger Wilkins, Clarence J. Robinson Professor Emeritus, George Mason University Don't miss this one. Delta Review This is an epic story with a deeply tragic element to it, as the book's subtitle makes clear; and Dattel explores it with a steeliness that raises the most serious questions about the nature of the American democratic experiment today. -- Lee A. Daniels The Defender Online Blog For many people, Gene Dattel's study will be an eye-opener guaranteed to change their idea of the American experience... A narrative that is both an impressive work of history and an important sociological masterwork. Foreword Reviews Although most of the facts in this book will be familiar, Dattel nicely draws together the literature on the cotton South, financial markets, and northern racism to make the compelling argument that the South's desire for cotton and northern complicity irrevocably altered American racial history... Dattel's choice to conclude with a technological innovation fits well with one of his underlying themes: history is largely shaped by technology and finance. H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews Online This is a highly readable account of the centrality of cotton in any attempt to understand the dynamic historical interplay of race relations and economic development in the United States. Paraphrasing Marx, the book argues that without slavery there would have been no cotton and without cotton no modern industry... Compelling. The Antioch Review Independent scholar Dattel provides a thoughtful analysis of cotton's economic power and the ways in which it helped shape race relations in the U.S... Recommended. CHOICE Cotton and Race demonstrates clearly and coherently the importance of slavery and commodity agriculture to the economic history of the United States... The book provides a satisfying overview of the scholarly literature and its findings... It is the author's tone that makes this book useful, as well as the organization of material... For the average student in a general U.S. history survey, or an upper-level class in southern business or history, Dattel hits the nail on the head. Business History Review The book is as important as it is provocative... Dattel makes a valuable contribution indeed. The Journal Of Economic History Dattel connects these forces in a way that offers a fresh analysis of King Cotton's place in US history... Dattel goes to great lengths to explicate how the arrangements of these banking, transportation, and manufacturing concerns affected life on southern farms... A highly readable non-academic sweep through cotton's impact on American civilization, [the reader] will not be disappointed. Agricultural History In this book Gene Dattel weaves the histories of cotton production and race relations into a critical narrative of the United States from the aftermath of the Revolution through the Great Depression. Journal of Southern History
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